Democracy: The Failure of a System become Religion

What is democracy? The answer given by civics textbooks and constitutional law treatises has the merit of being simple. Democracy has its origins in the Greek demokratia, formed from demos, “people,” and kratos, “power.” It is the power of the people, the government of the people; a political system where the people are sovereign. It is close to the republic, but it is not confused with it. The word “republic” comes from the Latin res publica, which means “the public good,” “the public thing.” The republic is the political system in which power is not exercised by one person, a hereditary monarch, but by elected representatives of the people. Democracy and republic, therefore, have very similar etymological meanings, but they cover different historical realities. In theory, in a pure democracy the voting majority has unlimited power; whereas in a pure republic a set of fundamental laws, a constitution, protects the rights of all against the will of the majority. Of course, in practice, modern nation-states are neither pure republics nor pure democracies.

Lawyers and political scientists distinguish between direct democracy, where citizens meet in assemblies and exercise power directly, and representative democracy, where citizens choose representatives to exercise power on their behalf. They point out that in a democracy, rulers are chosen through free elections, based on universal suffrage and free and secret ballots. They also point out that power is exercised by the elected representatives of the majority party, who have the legitimacy to govern, but under the control of the opposition, which has the freedom to criticize the government. Finally, they agree that the system can only function when there is a separation of powers (legislative, executive and judicial, not to mention the media, which has acquired the status of a fourth power since the 20th century) and, above all, a broad social consensus around values and legal provisions, which, in the case of France, are summarized by the motto of the Republic: liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity).

Democracy as a Modern, Secular Religion

Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America (1860-1865), is said to have once declared that democracy is “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” meaning that sovereignty belongs to the people, who choose those who govern them. To this day, this principle is the theoretical foundation of Western democracies.

But to say that the people should be sovereign does not mean that they are. There is the admirable ideal and the prosaic reality. Paradoxically, the word “democracy” has become a cliché, a demagogic commonplace, a superstition, a mystification. Democracy has become over time a substitute, a surrogate, a semblance of faith, a kind of secular religion, even a religion of war. To cite only one example, that of the United States of America, the military interventions and aggressions committed by the US in the world in the name of democracy and freedom (the “democratic crusades” of the “benevolent policeman of the world” or of the “indispensable nation”), are countless.

It is not only the few cases from the turn of the 21st century, repeated in the mainstream media, nor the 400 interventions over two centuries in the whole of Hispanic America, as meticulously listed by the Argentine historian, Gregorio Selser (Cronología de las intervenciones extranjeras en América Latina, 4 vols., 2010)—the balance sheet is in fact far worse. The United States has fought or fomented government overthrows all over the world: the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, Cuba, Lebanon, Congo, Brazil, Peru, Dominican Republic, Iran, Guatemala, Ecuador, Haiti, Chile, Angola, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Sudan, Somalia, Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Kosovo), Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Indonesia. Since its inception in 1776, the U.S. has been more or less at war 80 to 90% of the time. Today, it has 175 military bases in 130 countries. By comparison, France, the United Kingdom, and Russia between them have barely 30 bases abroad. In 2019, the defense budget of the United States and its NATO allies amounted to more than $1 trillion (52% of the global defense budget), while Russia’s budget amounted to $65.1 billion.

Under the guise of good intention and the defense of democracy, Washington defends above all the interests of American companies. We all know Theodore Roosevelt’s formula: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Soft power to seduce and convince, and hard power to hit and punish! But rather than colonizing territories and peoples, US governments have made the wise choice of controlling decision-makers and gaining access to raw materials and national markets for their corporations or multinationals. The hawks in Washington are doing in Europe and around the world what they did in Central and South America—they are making sure they dominate militarily as well as economically. To do this, colonizing the elites is the most effective way. And in the end, the Empire’s allies are not simply friendly states, but rather protectorates or vassals with no real say in the matter. In the end, all have to obey. De Gaulle, who was to be a faithful, even unconditional friend of America in the most difficult moments of the Cold War, understood this well. He knew that Roosevelt hated him, that he considered him a “madman” and that he wanted to bring him down in one way or another because of his desire for sovereignty and independence.

The American myth of liberal democracy has slowly collapsed in favor of a plutocracy or corporatocracy. The values of the Founding Fathers have gradually disappeared in favor of the financial-industrial-military complex that Eisenhower warned against in 1961. And this situation was not new then. The nineteenth U.S. president, Rutherford Birchard Hayes, had already expressed concern about the evolution of such a system in his diary on March 11, 1888: “The real difficulty is with the vast wealth and power in the hands of the few and the unscrupulous who represent or control capital. Hundreds of laws of Congress and the state legislatures are in the interest of these men and against the interests of workingmen. These need to be exposed and repealed. All laws on corporations, on taxation, on trusts, wills, descent, and the like, need examination and extensive change. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations.”

In a November 21, 1933 letter to Edward House, a former Wilson advisor, Roosevelt also made this admission: “The truth is that, as you and I know, a financial element in the great centers has owned the government since the days of Andrew Jackson.” Significantly, 15 billionaires now control the US media.

American democracy has undoubtedly turned into an oligarchy. The people still have some influence at the local level, but they no longer have much of a say at the federal level. At the top level, a tiny number of people make the decisions and reap most of the benefits. Blinded by the material comforts that the system has provided for decades, the American people have not been able or willing to see that their democracy has been progressively confiscated by their elites, that these elites have hijacked power for their own ends, and that the “deep state” has other ambitions than to help the American people, the real deep state. This lucid diagnosis is not the monopoly of dangerous radicals, anarchists, Marxists or other “anti-capitalist” revolutionaries. It is the work of a great many authors (and sometimes even presidents of the Republic) with the most diverse political sensibilities, such as Howard Zinn, John Perkins, Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, Eliot A. Cohen, William Blum, Noam Chomsky, Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Carroll Quigley, Christopher Lasch or Paul Gottfried, who denounce this situation of capture or perversion of the democratic system and of dangerous overextension of the Empire. Among them, the vast majority have as their essential concern the scrupulous respect of the principles of the Founding Fathers, collective security and the common good of the American people.

On this point, the “conventional” and somewhat “angelic” thesis of historian Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman (American Umpire, 2013), built around the slogans “we are exceptional,” “we have made the world a better place because of our activities abroad,” “we are not an Empire” because “we are a democratic republic,” proves to be confoundingly biased and shallow, especially when compared to the historically and geopolitically sound argument of Nikola Mirkovic’s recent book (L’Amérique Empire, 2021).

However, it is rare to hear someone declare or “denounce” himself as a “skeptic” or moderate democratic, and even less as a “non-democratic” or “anti-democratic.” Even more so, no political regime would dare to define itself in this way. Democracy has been, for more than a century, a true political messianism that pursues the realization of the ancestral myth of the perfect City, of the ideal City and of the new Man. Not so long ago, Stalin (at least that’s what Yuri Zukhov says), and all the Bolshevik socialists, such as Lenin, Trotsky, Mao or Pol Pot, wanted to be partisans of a “new democracy.” Mussolini proclaimed the rejection of the “conventional and absurd lie of political equality and collective irresponsibility,” in favor of an “organized, centralized and authoritarian democracy,” “the purest form of democracy.” Not to be outdone, the doctrinaires of National Socialist Germany condemned, like their counterparts in the Soviet Union, “formal, bourgeois democracy.” The “Fuehrer State” was supposed to be, according to them, “directly democratic in the best sense of the word.” One can always dream about intentions and deny realities.

Most Europeans and Westerners today believe that freedom goes hand-in-hand with democracy, just as the stars go with the moon. There are of course false notes in the polite speeches of the “elites,” as when the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, issued his startling warning: “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties” (Figaro, June 29, 2015). There are also scandalous manipulations of the popular will, as when in 2007, President Sarkozy had the National Assembly ratify the Lisbon Treaty on the new European Constitution, even though it had been rejected by the people in the referendum of May 29, 2005. (In the Netherlands, it was the Senate that was responsible for adopting the same treaty first rejected by the people; and in Ireland, the voters had to vote and re-vote until they finally said “yes”). As the somewhat chameleonic and communist-courting poet Bertolt Brecht wrote in the aftermath of the East German uprising (June 17, 1953): “Since the people vote against the government, the people must be dissolved.”

However, the voters whose eyes are permanently unblinded are not legion and many are disillusioned. Democracy and freedom are taken for granted (even more so when the Western media compare the situation of their countries with the rest of the world), whereas in reality both are only partially implemented and sometimes even largely forbidden. In such a political and social context, to question the value and foundations of democracy, or to express doubts about the possibilities of its practical realization, is to attract the wrath, contempt and hatred of the high priests of the cult and other opinion-makers. To be accused by the media and the champions of virtue of the capital sin of antidemocracy is to expose oneself to the danger of a condemnation to silence, to a life of a pariah. A political regime and those who serve it rarely understand that one criticizes it or that one does not accept to sing its praises. Strangely enough, modern censors and neo-inquisitors have forgotten that generations of prestigious historians, jurists, philosophers and political scientists have carried out for almost two centuries, in an honest, rigorous and disinterested way, the most implacable analysis and dissection of Western democracy.

In the 1920s, the liberal philosopher José Ortega y Gasset had already denounced “morbid democracy.” In his famous lecture “De Europa meditatio quaedam,” in 1945, he warned Berlin students that the word “has become prostituted,” because it has many meanings that coexist. The word “democracy,” he said, has become “stupid and fraudulent;” its daily use, for whatever reason, resembles the invocation of a civil religion. The philosopher of law, Hans Kelsen, also wrote as early as 1929: “Democracy is the slogan that generally dominates the minds of the 19th and 20th centuries. But that is precisely why it loses its true meaning—like any other slogan.” No less lucid, the economist Joseph Schumpeter, noted in 1942 that “residual democracy” is “an organized hypocrisy.” It is reduced, said Gonzálo Fernández de la Mora (La partitocracia, 1977), to the opportunity that the partitocratic oligarchies offer to the governed to periodically pronounce on an option, generally limited, after having carried out a great operation of informing, or marketing to, the public opinion. In Du pouvoir (1945). Bertrand de Jouvenel was no less severe: “Discussions about democracy, arguments in its favor or against it, are struck with intellectual nullity, because one does not know what one is talking about.” Significantly, many intellectual and academic personalities, with openly democratic convictions, prefer to speak of “deficient democracy,” “precarious democracy,” “democratic deficit,” “impolitic regime,” “fatigue” and “exhaustion” of the Welfare State, “end of the democratic ideal,” “twilight” or “winter of liberal democracy.” Such is the case with Guglielmo Ferrero, Giovani Sartori, Angelo Panebianco, Stephen Krasner, Gaston Bouthoul, Julien Freund, Michel Sandel, Danilo Zolo, Guy Hermet, Michel Maffesoli and many others.

The Various Meanings of the Word “Democracy”

The reality is that the concept of democracy has multiple meanings that can satisfy everyone. The word has served and serves to designate and ennoble contrary doctrines and practices. With the exception of the last disciples of traditionalist thinkers, such as Maistre or Bonald, for whom only an order inspired by God is legitimate, and even of the last positivist monarchists of the Action française, everyone today declares himself in favor of democracy. But which democracy?

Historically, democracy, or rather a form of democracy, was established in Greece in the 5th century BC. But the current forms of government that claim to be its heirs only borrow its name. In the Athens of the 5th century B.C., out of a population of 400,000 inhabitants, only 10% of the men were recognized as citizens and represented their families (less than 200,000 souls); women, metics and slaves did not participate in political life. The Greeks also considered the election as an antidemocratic and aristocratic process that gave a notorious advantage to the most educated, the richest, the most gifted and the most cunning. The drawing of lots was, according to them, the only device capable of ensuring the democratic character of government.

On the other hand, neither Plato nor Aristotle claimed to be democratic. Plato believed that it violated freedom and dignity under the guise of equality. As for Aristotle, he preferred the “mixed” regime, a subtle mixture of democracy, monarchy and aristocracy. Ancient democracy thus remained for a very long time an object of study reserved to the scholars. The medieval proto-democracy having led to a dead end, and the revolutionaries (1642, 1763 and 1789) having not given their trust to the people any more than their counter-revolutionary opponents, it was not until the first waves of democratization in the 19th century (in the United States with Andrew Jackson in 1829 and in Europe with the revolutions of 1848), and especially after the First World War that mass democracy and universal suffrage began to develop in Western Europe and the West.

Democracy can be considered from two approaches: normative or descriptive. From a normative point of view, political democracy is above all a principle of legitimacy. Thus conceived, it is both the smallest and the only common denominator of all democratic doctrines: power is legitimate when it derives from the authority of the people and is based on their consent.

Let us immediately point out a major difference here. For the realist normativist (moderate liberals or conservative-liberals, who have not ceased to multiply throughout history the procedures aimed at diminishing the influence of universal suffrage, despite the fact that it is proclaimed by them as a constitutional principle), the end cannot justify the means. On the other hand, for the idealist or utopian normativist (liberal-Jacobin, socialist-authoritarian or Marxist-totalitarian), the use of non-democratic means for ends deemed to be democratic is always ultimately justified.

The example taken from French political history is eloquent. What matters for the French utopian normativist is not that the democratic system guarantees social order and the common good, internal harmony and external security, but that it maintains above all and at any cost the humanitarian values of the revisited ideal of the Enlightenment. All those who do not accept the rules of the game are thus excluded ipso facto. The power is held by the people and the “values” are in theory a function of the will of the people; but in reality, for our “progressives,” “defenders of the Republic and of Democracy,” the people can never have the power to question the “republican and democratic values,” these being able to be altered or redefined only by the members of the self-proclaimed republican elite. The same is true of the social-democratic theorist Jürgen Habermas. In the name of “constitutional patriotism,” the German philosopher wants to be the intractable censor of historical-cultural or social-identitarian patriotism. He intends to save the possibility of a “universal consensus” of substance; and to do this he expressly excludes those who are “clearly and voluntarily” (according to his own criterion), “beyond the borders of society.”

American neoconservatives and neoliberals (Alan Bloom, Wolfowitz, Hanson, Kagan, Podhoretz, Kristol, etc.), but also many of Strauss’ disciples (with their French epigones Bernard-Henri Lévy, Jacques Attali, Alain Minc, etc.) are all on the same ideological page when they defend the right to interfere, or the right to humanitarian intervention all over the world, in the name of “equality, freedom and human rights”) and advocate the universal application manu militari of the American or Western democratic model.

The irony is that since the 19th century, the arguments of European colonialists have also generally been developed on a triple register: economic (search for markets and raw materials), political (imperatives of grandeur and power) and moral (benefits of science, reason, education, progress, civilization, the Enlightenment, human rights, secular morality and/or religion). The origins and justifications of the Western right to interfere can be found much further back, not only in the Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) or the economist John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), but also in the theologian and founder of the School of Salamanca, Francisco de Vitoria (1483-1546). According to the Dominican Vitoria, the following are legitimate grounds for intervention: natural law and the law of nations, the right of natural communication, the right to preach the Gospel freely, the tyranny of the indigenous rulers, the agreement or approval of the majority of the indigenous people, the alliance and the appeal for help from friendly peoples and, finally, a ground that he considers more debatable, the temporary incapacity of the indigenous people to administer themselves. One is tempted here to quote Ecclesiastes: “What was, will be; what was done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

In this case, American democratic interventionism at the turn of the 21st century, so often described as hegemonism or imperialism by its opponents, is neither new, nor original, nor modern. Strauss was fond of explaining that one should always judge political thinkers by the fruits of their ideas. But in view of the havoc wrought in the name of his ideas by his followers, one cannot help but return the argument. Relativism, historicism, non-interventionism and, more generally, the democratic realism of authors like Tocqueville, Ortega y Gasset, Buchanan, Mearsheimer or Paul Gottfried is infinitely less dangerous than the democratic humanitarianism of the Straussian warmongers or the neoliberal globalists.

From a second point of view, no longer normative but descriptive, political democracy is a system based on the competition of parties and elites, a competition arbitrated by the masses, as well as on the limitation of the power of rulers. Within this system, the majority must respect the rights of minorities. The reasoning here is centered on the concepts of electoral participation, selection of leaders, representation, opposition, control, limitation of power—but it is not at all centered on the idea of a self-governing people. However, in a democracy, the key notion is neither the number, nor the suffrage, nor the election, nor the representation—but the participation of all the citizens in public life. Everyone must play an active role as a member of the community, as part of a whole. The maximum of democracy merges with the maximum of participation.

In fact, depending on the convictions of its exegetes, democracy rests on different, if not contradictory, foundations. It can be founded either in reference to the individual without belonging—this is liberal democracy; or in reference to the masses, or to the working-class as the potential negation of other classes—this is popular democracy; or, in reference to the people conceived as a collective organism and as the privileged authors of all historical destiny—this is organic democracy. “Liberty, equality, fraternity,” proclaims the French Republican motto. Liberty is attached to liberal democracy. Equality has been exploited by popular democracies. Fraternity is at the heart of organic democracy.

Let us recall a key element that is at the heart of popular, social-Marxist democracy. At the time of its creation and development, socialists and Marxist communists castigated universal suffrage as essentially mystifying. The revolutionary minority was not to abdicate to the average opinion. “True democracy” was the one imposed and guided by the “conscious minority.” The “revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat” had to act without taking into account the refractory mass, the unconscious majority, charged with the great mission of awakening men to freedom. The exercise of universal suffrage in Western democracies could be, in this optic, only a simple propaedeutic to revolutionary action and to the seizure of power that was expected from it, at the same time as an exceptional occasion of agitation and propaganda. Lenin and all Marxists announced as the last stage of their regime the stateless and classless society; but the stage of “dictatorship of the proletariat” in charge of oppressing the bourgeois class was quickly converted into a permanent and definitive dictatorship of the minority of the Party over the whole society.

Third type of democracy: organic democracy. Here, representation takes place, partially or totally, through the municipality, the family unit, the region, the union, the professional associations or the corporations. These different forms of participation are themselves supplemented by the practice of referendums. Organic democracy is almost always held by its opponents (especially Anglo-Saxon Protestants) to be the exclusive invention of authoritarian or even totalitarian regimes (that of Franco’s or Italian Fascist doctrinaires) or of Catholicism (that of Catholic-socialist or traditionalist authors, such as Ketteler, Le Play, La Tour du Pin, Toniolo, Chesterton, Belloc, etc.). But this assertion is totally false. Social organicism has its origin in German idealism (Hegel, Fichte, Ahrens and Krause). Later, it is found in eminent liberal and socialist authors, often Freemasons, such as Renan, Carlyle, Durkheim, Duguit, de Man, Laski, Weber, Prat de la Riba, Madariaga or Besteiro. For the proponents of organicism, any political doctrine whose implementation favors the disintegration of peoples, or the erosion of popular consciousness in the sense of a consciousness of belonging to the organic entity that is the people, must be considered undemocratic.

That said, the problem of terminological confusion and the correct meaning of the word “democracy” is not reduced to the simple triad of liberal democracy, popular democracy and organic democracy. Other meanings have spread with varying degrees of success. We speak of representative or liberal democracy to describe a system based on the power of parliamentary assemblies. We evoke polyarchic democracy to emphasize the plurality of pressure groups and decision-making centers. We refer to direct democracy to name a model based on the practice of referendums. Direct or plebiscitary democracy is opposed to representative, partitocratic, pluralist or polyarchic democracy. The former, supported by the national and/or populist right, is criticized on the right and left, often with arguments reminiscent of those of the traditionalist right. Referendum democracy would be an open door to demagogy, madness, passions and irrationality. The argument is strong, but in representative democracy, the delegation, the exercise of the mandate, does not prevent the manipulation of parliamentarians by lobbies, economic arms of strong, invisible powers, nor the taking of ill-considered decisions, questionable or prejudicial to the interests of the people.

We also speak of social democracy, to define a way of life characterized by the levelling of differences in condition, or of economic democracy, to signify the will to equalize wealth. The State (Welfare State) is entrusted with the task of compensating for socio-economic inequalities through measures to protect the most disadvantaged and to redistribute wealth. Industrial democracy is also referred to as self-management or direct self-government in the workplace; or local or grassroots democracy, to avoid using the term organic democracy. Since 1997, reference has also been made to illiberal democracy, to qualify and criticize the regimes of Eastern Europe (notably Hungary and Poland) which oppose liberal globalization, without denying freedoms, and which claim control over the collective destiny and cultural integrity of their peoples. Finally, the concepts or terms of moral, populist, citizen, absolutist, prophylactic, belligerent, ballistic, strategic democracy have appeared, as well as those of market democracy, technocratic democracy, internet democracy, teledemocracy, “cyber-democracy,” “democratic governance” (a system that in reality reserves “serious” decisions for the small number of technocrats), participatory, deliberative, diversitarian, multicultural, global, globalized democracy, etc. Welcome to Orwellian newspeak!

With the latest “progressive” fads, classical democracy has been turned against itself to become a real enterprise of permanent deconstruction of Western values and institutions. Citizenship is no longer based on the equality of rights between citizens. The new social struggles claim to be articulated around identity, cultural and racial struggles. Multicultural democracy is in charge of enforcing political correctness, using coercion if necessary. It must pursue equality between groups by refusing the norm that is imposed on all. It must neutralize the majority for the benefit of the different cultural minorities. Consequently, the popular referendum must be prohibited as an instrument and expression of the tyranny of the majority. It is no longer a question of representing a pre-existing people (whose existence is denied), nor a relatively coherent collectivity, but of setting up a mechanism of representation allowing the various particular identities (homosexuals, LGBT, decolonial indigenous people, racialists and others) to assert themselves and to emancipate themselves. Democracy, writes political scientist Dalmacio Negro Pavón, “is thus reduced to political correctness defined and sanctioned by governments with the active or passive assent of the governed, previously infantilized by massive propaganda” (La loi de fer de l’oligarchie: Pourquoi le gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple, pour le peuple est un leurre [The Iron Law of Oligarchy: Why government of the people, by the people, for the people is a sham], 2019).

Aristotle, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Jefferson, etc. explained that democracy is impossible without a limited territory, an ample middle-class balancing the extremes, and a high degree of homogeneity or socio-cultural cohesion. Montesquieu taught that “political virtue,” which he identified with love of law and country, was indispensable to democracy. Generations of political scientists have insisted on the cultural (Tocqueville, Mill) or economic (Lipset) conditionality of democracy’s development. Others (such as Juan Donoso Cortès, Lord Acton, Christopher Dawson, Julien Freund, etc.) pointed out that all forms of democracy are conditional on the development of the state and have argued that all known civilizations have drawn their strength and stability from religion; that the fundamental ideas that shape Europe and the West (universalism, recognition of the value and natural dignity of the individual, distinction between religion and the State, importance of the election of assemblies since the Middle Ages) are practically all of Christian origin or have been re-elaborated or re-adapted by Christianity, and that the decline of Europe and of Western civilization has its origin in the rebellion, the abandonment or the negation of Christian roots.

Still others have emphasized the inevitable political and social consequences of the demographic suicide of the West (the famous work of P. Chaunu and G. Suffert, La peste blanche [The White Plague] now dates from almost half a century ago). But the deconstructionists and other modern utopians don’t care about that. They blithely and thoughtlessly take the exact opposite view of classical political science. In the final morbid phase of modern democracy, the totalitarian temptation is irresistible. The Orwellian newspeak is at work. Is it necessary to underline further the extent of the semantic and ideological confusion that reigns around the magic word of “democracy?”

Criticisms of the Liberal-Democratic Model

The theoretical critique, whether radical or balanced, of the liberal-democratic model has been systematized by multiple authors on the right and the left. Jusnaturalists, defenders of metaphysical natural law, have resorted to dogmatic arguments, such as the divine right of kings. Others have argued philosophically that what is true and just is independent of its recognition by the majority. German idealism (Hegel, Krause), elitist socialism (Saint-Simon, Fourier), anarchism (that of the republican Proudhon of the Solution of the Social Problem, 1848), Comtian positivism, Le Bon’s social psychology, Le Play’s empiricism, Maurras’ monarchist nationalism, Guénon’s integral traditionalism, all deny the individualistic and inorganic principle of the political representation: man is not a solitary being who constitutes the state by means of a pact, as if it were an anonymous society. He is born into a community, and his voice can only really be expressed through the intermediary bodies into which he is really inserted: family, municipality, region, professional body, etc. The jurist Carl Schmitt, for his part, has shown that there is a contradiction at the heart of the liberal-democratic regime: liberalism denies democracy (the logic of identity) and democracy denies liberalism (the logic of difference). There is an invincible opposition between the consciousness of the individual and democratic homogeneity, which presupposes the identity between rulers and ruled. In the eyes of Schmitt, liberal thought overlooks the political, because its individualism prevents it from understanding the formation of collective identities.

On the other hand, the Marxist, anarchist and syndicalist-revolutionary schools (Sorel, Labriola, Valois) have denounced in the liberal-democratic model a system of formal liberties, which become real only for the bourgeoisie. Political realist sociology (Ostrogorski, Pareto, Mosca, Michels) has demonstrated that political elites are never the product of the will of the masses, but that minorities select themselves by means of competition and self-affirmation, that political leaders are not the agents chosen by the people, but oligarchies, all the more closed in on themselves, as they belong to structured and organized parties.

All the criticisms of democracy can be grouped into two categories. Some of them concern the democratic principle itself and are generally anti-democratic. The others deplore the fact that democratic practice rarely conforms to the ideal and propose various solutions to remedy this. But often the authors adopt successively one or the other position, so that it is not easy to situate them clearly. Most of these criticisms are well known: democracy is par excellence the reign of division, instability, endemic civil war, rhetoric, the dictatorship of quantity (“the superior cannot emanate from the inferior”), disguised oligarchy, incompetence, mediocrity, corruption, influence peddling and the omnipotence of money. Democracy has no other philosophical foundation than skepticism and relativism. Until recently, many of the authors of these critiques were not so much fighting parliamentary and representative democracy in principle as the capitalist or market democracy in which it is embedded. The problems of social justice, of class struggles and of socio-economic exploitation were not then considered as accessory or subsidiary. The “social sciences” did not yet claim to have “discovered” the “real” enemy of redeemed humanity that is Western civilization dominated by the white, heterosexual, colonialist, slave-owning male, responsible for all discriminations.

Comparing “constitutional ideology” to “political reality,” many legal scholars and political scientists have criticized the abstractions, metaphors and fictions of liberal democracy.

The first example of a fiction is the principle of the division of powers (executive, legislative and judicial). In reality, the parliament regularly invades the domain of the executive when it legislates in concrete, not general, matters; the government promulgates decree-laws of general content and thus assumes the functions of the legislature; and the judges of the constitutional court exercise the supreme legislative or even constitutional function when they interpret an ambiguous, fundamental precept.

The second example of fiction: the main justification for parliament is that it streamlines discussion, ensures political transparency and expresses the national will. But the reality is quite different. Most deputies or representatives are not those whom the people consider the best, but those who belong to the class of “politicians.” Their non-imperative mandate is not enough to ensure their independence, as they are usually subject to the discipline or instructions of their party. The voter puts a ballot in the box and the parties then arrange to form a coalition government or not at their convenience. The more important the deliberations, the more secretly they are conducted by senior party officials. The same applies to the selection and nomination of candidates for election and the appointment of offices. Nor is parliament the instrument of political integration, of the submission of divergent wills to a single national will, but the means by which a political faction occupies the entire state and imposes itself on its opponents.

Third example of fiction: the liberal-democratic State intends to ensure the equality of power to all deputies and the equality of vote of all citizens. But then, why does the simple majority in the constituent assemblies undemocratically provide that qualified majorities will be needed to reform the Constitution? Why do most electoral laws establish very high electoral thresholds (5 to 10%) and majority bonuses (of 25 or 50%), so that some ballots are worth more than others? Wouldn’t the basis of the anti-democratic spirit finally be to consider that the primary goal of an election is not to allow the people to express themselves freely but to force them to elect a “stable majority” of an oligarchic nature?

To this, the realist democrat retorts that a regime based on the plurality of parties, the limitation of powers and the respect of minorities, may be execrable, but that the others are even worse. We know Churchill’s ironic or cynical phrase, “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In Democratic Theory, the famous liberal political scientist Giovanni Sartori agrees that “anyone who wants to prove that the democratic system has a rational basis is at a dead end…. It is no accident that in the realm of rationalist philosophy one rarely encounters theories of democracy.”

The only exception to the rule is that of the rationalist Rousseau; but he is forced to resort to the fiction of the general will in order to better evade the fallible and changing will of all. In truth, it is difficult to affirm that there is more rationality among the supporters of democracy than among its opponents. The liberal Hans Kelsen, for example, readily admits that he finds it difficult to believe that the people and only the people possess the truth and the sense of the good; for this would imply a belief in a divine right of the people as inadmissible as the belief that a man is king by the grace of God. Kelsen goes even further. He admits, as do many other lucid democrats, that the cause of democracy is hopeless, if one starts from the idea that man can attain absolute truths and values. The liberal philosopher Pierre Manent also concedes that “under the guise of democracy, it is in reality an oligarchy that thrives.” He does not hesitate to add: “the minority of those who possess material and cultural capital manipulate political institutions to their benefit.”

The “democracy or dictatorship” dilemma, in which idealistic democrats seek to confine their opponents, is more seductive than it is well-founded. No political procedure is an absolute guarantee against autocracy and despotism. Even the least brilliant student of the history of political ideas knows this. Tyranny and dictatorship represent a corruption that is always possible and that also threatens, in different forms, the totality of political systems.

Real Western Democracy

Historically, the world has never known any other form of government than that of the few, of the ruling minority (the oligarchy, the establishment, nowadays the European-American-globalist “elite bloc,” i.e., all the financial, industrial and media elites, without forgetting Gramsci’s “organic intellectuals” and, of course, the so-called “experts” of the consulting firms). Moreover, every government needs the support of public opinion. Behind all known forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy—according to the classical classification; democracy and dictatorship—according to modern classification), there is always a minority that dominates the immense majority. The multiple possible variants depend on the mode of renovation of the minority and the limits and controls to which this minority submits in the exercise of power. The positions of power are never contested by the masses; they are contested by the different factions of the political class. The governed are spectators, sometimes facilitators, but rarely arbiters. When a political oligarchy is discredited, it is replaced by another in search of prestige, of legitimacy of exercise, ready if necessary to use demagogy. All political power seeks to simulate, to operate in secrecy, to control information, to manufacture consent through the mass media.

The works of Gustave Le Bon (The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, 1895), Edward Bernays (Propaganda, 1928), Lord Ponsnonby (Falsehood in War-Time, 1928), Sergei Stepanovich Chakhotin, (The Rape of the Masses. The Psychology of Totalitarian Political Propaganda, 1939), or Jacques Ellul (Propaganda, 1962) or Anne Morelli (Principes élémentaires de propagande de guerre, 2001) to name but a few, have explained in great detail how propaganda (or “communication” as we hypocritically call it today), whether “good” or “bad,” “white” (for the Good) or “black” (for the Evil), works in Western democracies. They have demonstrated that it is, paradoxically, an invention of liberal democracies and not, as is often heard, the creation and practice of totalitarian or authoritarian states alone. When today’s politically correct journalism (opinion journalism camouflaged behind the cloak of so-called news journalism) criticizes, not without corporatist ulterior motives, the “fearsome character” of the new cyber propaganda, it is the hospital that mocks the charity. In reality, the often-vaunted pluralism of the Western mainstream media is nothing but a deception, fully described by the allegory of the horse and rabbit stew.

On the evening of the re-election of French President Emmanuel Macron (April 24, 2022), an independent journalist mischievously asked in the columns of a non-conformist blog: “What is the name of the country where almost 100% of the subsidized press supports the government? What is the name of the country where all taxpayers finance, forced and coerced, media “committed” to the same side, that of the elites, the power and a huge hegemonic party that criminalizes its opponents? What is the name of the country where half of the citizens no longer trust any major media?” (G. Cluzel. BV, April 24, 2022). Of course, the almost unwavering attachment of the people of the United States of America to the First Amendment of its Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, press and expression, makes all the difference and seems to protect them from a similar situation. But while the American citizen-voter can ignore the precepts of political correctness and say in theory just about anything he or she wants, he or she cannot do so without risking serious disadvantages in his or her professional and social life.

Politics, said the poet Paul Valery, “is the art of preventing people from meddling in what concerns them.” But public opinion is much more aware of this today. The consequence is that the oligarchy or “elite bloc”—increasingly fearful—tightens the screws that subjugate the demos. We know the hostility, contempt and fear that populist movements and popular rebellions such as the “Yellow Vests” arouse. People fear the power to which they are subjected—but power also fears the community over which it rules.

To conclude, real Western democracy is, after all, only an oligarchy elected by the people. It excludes the use of physical violence but not moral violence (unfair, fraudulent or restricted competition). Two conditions would make it possible to reform it in depth for the benefit of the people. First, the represented should be able to recover the freedom to directly control their representatives or elected officials, a freedom that has been abusively taken away from them. This would require the introduction of an electoral system with an imperative mandate; representatives would thus be obliged to respect the mandate of their respective electors. Then, for the people to be able, if not to direct and govern de facto, at least to participate durably in political life, it would be necessary for the principle of direct democracy to be widely accepted [with, of course, the referendum of popular initiative (RIP) or citizen initiative (RIC)]. A realistic ideal, which, one can well imagine, is not close to being achieved. The crux of the matter is, however, to prevent those in power from being mere transmission belts for the interests, desires and feelings of the political, social, economic and cultural oligarchy.

As the political scientist Dalmacio Negro points out, “The only effective attitude in politics is the rational criticism of reality in order to keep the spirit of collective freedom alive.” Realistic and lucid, he wisely adds that there is an essential condition for political democracy to be possible and for its corruption to become much more difficult if not impossible. It is necessary that the attitude towards the government be always distrustful, even when it is a question of friends or people for whom one has voted. Bertrand de Jouvenel said in this regard: “the government of friends is the barbaric way of governing.”


Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECDHe is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.


Featured image: “World’s Constable.” Cartoon by Louis Dalrymple. Published in Judge, January 14, 1905.

Did Christianity “Divinize” Jesus?

Has Jesus been “deified” by Christians? This debate, which is quite recurrent in academic circles, is essentially determined by an external view of what Christians are supposed to believe. The idea is to compare the divine dimension of Jesus as expressed in the New Testament with the divinization of the Roman emperors after Augustus—or possibly with forms of divinization in this or that other ancient civilization. However, from comparison we often pass quickly to conflation.

Let us address the question head-on. Does the New Testament “deify” Jesus in any way, or is it something else? This debate is not incidental; it has serious consequences, six of which are defined and analyzed below, even if not everyone will readily recognize them as such. It is important to point out at the outset to what extent they imply each other in a logical sequence, from “B” to “G,” if we state “Proposition A” as the idea of the divinization of Jesus.

Let us begin by mapping Proposition “A”:

A: The presumed Christian idea of divinizing a man comes from, or corresponds to, a tendency in the Greco-Roman world, or more broadly in the pagan world—it is also found in various forms in Eastern Gnosticisms, the question remaining open of locating the origin of the latter in actual history.

On “A” is then built an entire sequence of logical inferences.

From Proposition “A,” the following is then deduced:

Proposition B: Since this presumed “divinization” could in no way be the work of Jews, it was therefore the work of non-Jews, namely of “Christianized” pagans (of the Roman Empire).

From Proposition “B,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition C: It is therefore these pagans who composed the Gospels, which are thus late (after the year 70 AD; this stretch of time needed to manufacture the “divinization”). And, of course, these pagans could only have composed the Gospels in Greek.

[An impressive and lavish publication of more than 700 pages, subsidized by the French Ministry of Culture, Après Jésus, l’invention du christianisme {After Jesus: The Invention of Christianity} (edited by Roselyne Dupont-Roc and Antoine Guggenheim, Albin Michel, 2020), largely defends this thesis of the late fabrication of a Christianity that does not owe much to Jesus, “except for a meal in memory of him, and a prayer, the Lord’s Prayer” (we read on page IV). The rest has been “invented,” which requires time—on pages 21-22, Mark’s Gospel is dated 71 AD, Matthew’s and Luke’s between 80 and 85 AD, and John’s 98 AD.]

And a further consequence of “C”: Thus, before these Greek compositions [the Gospels], the Jewish Christian communities produced nothing (or almost nothing); and the traces of this “almost nothing” in the Greek Gospels would suggest that they saw Jesus simply as a man.

It is then deduced from Proposition “C” that:

Proposition D1: It was Paul, whose writing period we know (between 51 and 64), who first deified Jesus; [Among the many discussions on this subject, this one is quite comprehensive.]

Proposition D2: Under the impulse of the Emperor Constantine, the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) contributed in a determining way by making the dogma of the “Trinity,” in answer to the Arianism which made of Jesus simply a kind of superman.

From Proposition “D,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition E: Since there were Christian communities speaking Aramaic (the language of the Jews of the first century)—and even today, at least one million Aramaic speakers—and since they always professed the divinity of Jesus, they could only have come to exist in dependence on Greek Christianity, and therefore not before the end of the third century; they must only be an outgrowth of Greek Christianity in the Syriac East of the Roman Empire, or the result of the deportation of some Greek-Roman populations to the Parthian Empire.

From Proposition “E,” it is then deduced that:

Proposition F: The Aramaic (or Syriac) texts of the New Testament or Peshitta NT were therefore translated from Greek. [Peshitta simply means, “without gloss.”] Thus, these texts must be of no interest. For an exegete, it is therefore unthinkable (and dangerous for his career) to spend time systematically comparing the versions in these two languages in order to find out which is the most original. One does not do research for which one already knows the answer.

From Proposition “F,” it is then deduced:

Proposition G: The Semitic-speaking groups that held Jesus to be a man (not a God) would be, according to research, the true Christians who retained the Christianity of the Apostles. These groups, sometimes called “Judeo-Christian sects,” are referred to as either “pre-Pauline” or “pre-Nicene.” Some traces of them are to be found in the Qu’ran (which is convincingly argued—but are they pre-Pauline or later groups?).

The logic of this sequence of seven propositions from A to G is unstoppable. It rests fundamentally on proposition “A”: to speak of the divinity of Christ is to speak of his “divinization.” We shall therefore look carefully at this postulate, and then, more briefly, at its six successive implications, in particular to see if they correspond to what we know of historical reality.

PROPOSITION “A”

What do Christians believe? Is Proposition A a legitimate interpretation of their faith, or not?

In the context of this analysis, the postulate of A can be presented as follows:

“Christians believe that God is present in a man (Jesus)” means “Christians have deified a man (Jesus).” Such an understanding of the first proposition would be legitimate, if there were not a completely different understanding than that of A. Indeed, “God is present in a man (Jesus)” is clearly to be understood as meaning “God has made himself present in a man (Jesus);” the totality of Christian writings indicating this. Is it rational to arbitrarily impose another understanding?

If we analyze the problem further, we perceive that the two understandings are radically opposed. The Christian faith undoubtedly mentions a descending movement (on the part of God; more precisely what has been called “Incarnation”); whereas Proposition A supposes an ascending movement (raising a man to become “god”)—it obviously confuses a “descending” movement with an “ascending” one.

We can therefore speak of a serious misunderstanding. But this is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, the faith of the Hebrews was the victim of many misunderstandings on the part of the surrounding peoples. For pagans inclined to “deify” humans, what could the Jewish (and Biblical) expectation of a God who comes to visit His people mean? In their mind, what was the value of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was the place of an invisible and impalpable presence, following the initiative of a God to “come down?” And what could they think of the idea—or rather the hope—that this God would really come to visit His people, according to prophecies where the how is not at all clear? Moreover, were they happy that the Jews considered their practice of putting a statue in a temple and then declaring it a “god” an abomination? Throughout history, Hebrews have sometimes been tempted to reconcile these irreconcilable positions—one might say that this temptation to amalgamate Jewish and pagan cults is the ancestor of Proposition A.

This can be said all the more so since the answer to this amalgam was given in antiquity already, by a Jew. In the early 40s AD, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo († 45) noted in a passage of his Legatio ad Caium, after coming to Rome and seeing the emperor Caius Caligula there publicly displaying himself disguised as Jupiter: “God could rather change into a man than a man into God.”

As a Jew, he was shocked by this masquerade (he wrote it after 41 AD, once Caius had died). This philosopher of Alexandria perfectly understood and expressed the radical opposition existing between the Jewish religious vision and that of the pagans. He may have formulated it on his own, but it is also possible that he had heard of the Christian faith—in Alexandria he could have met many Jewish disciples of the Apostles. [According to the Acts of the Apostles (18:24-25), a former disciple of John the Baptist, Apollos, a native of Alexandria, was traveling through Asia Minor around the year 44 to speak about Christ—Paul, in Antioch, spoke to him about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which he had not heard of. Thus, this Apollos had not yet met any of the Apostles or any of their disciples; but, the text says, “he had been instructed in the way of the Lord”—in Alexandria?] Philo’s expression, “change into a man” corresponds in fact to the way of speaking of the first Jewish Christians—it is found in the apocrypha.

[In some “apocrypha,” one can read very similar formulations. Those given below are essentially taken from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. For this very complex question, see Le messie et son prophète, Vol. I, 2005, section 1.4.2.1, “Thématique de la venue de Dieu et double Visite” [Theme of the Coming of God and the Double Visit], pp. 166ff.]

In an amplified and clarified form, it is found in the New Testament, notably in this passage by Paul, where he speaks of the “descent” of God into human nature: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form…” (Letter to the Philippians 2:6-7).

No parallelism should therefore be intellectually possible between the Christian faith and pagan cults. It is by virtue of an internal logic, foreign to Christianity, that a system of thought can produce this confusion. To illustrate the problem, let us take the example of Islamic discourse.

For Islam, the Qur’anic text is literally revealed by God through the word of an angel dictating the text to the messenger (rasul) Muhammad. One of its verses reads as follows:

“When God says: ‘Îsa (Jesus), son of Mariam, did you say to people:
Take me and my mother for two deities, beside God?” (Sura 5, verse 116)

The internal logic of Islamic discourse therefore requires that Christians have Jesus, Mary and God as the Trinity—it is written in the Qur’an, so God has said it literally. This is taught everywhere in Islam, at least where Christians have little influence, so that this assertion is not immediately ridiculed. And if a Christian disputes this, the answer to him is already prepared in the Qur’an: “See how they lie against themselves” (Sur. 6, v.24).

In fact, the ancient Muslim commentators [Tabari, al-Baydawi, al-Zamahšarî, al-Jalalayn and other lesser-known scholars all indicate that this verse (5:116) refers to the Holy Spirit and not to the Virgin Mary. See Azzi Joseph, Le prêtre et le prophète: aux sources du Coran, p.169]—still knew that the expression “mother of Jesus” (here, “my mother”) refers to the Holy Spirit, according to a way of speaking proper to the tradition of the Aramaic Church (even today), and as the oldest Syro-Aramaic spiritual writings testify. [For example, in Saint Aphrahat (known as the Wise Man of Persia). The “maternal” dimension of the Spirit is so common in the theology of the Church of the East that Saint Aphrahat applies it to the Christian: there is a danger, he writes, that the one who marries forgets “his Father and the Holy Spirit his mother” (The Demonstrations [written between 336 and 345)].

The irony of verse 5:116 relates to the role of judge of Christians, attributed to Jesus, and not to a classical Trinitarian formulation in the Syro-Aramaic context. But a serious problem of internal Islamic and Islamological logic arises. Indeed, if this context constitutes the obligatory explanation of a verse of the Qu’ran, it also determines the framework of the birth of Islam—one is thus led to consider for Islam an original place in northern Arabia. This is unacceptable for Islam. Nor did islamology, at least for a hundred and fifty years, want a place other than Mecca, since it took the Islamic discourse as its starting point. In fact, Islamologists even invented the existence of “Mariamites” to justify the literal Islamic understanding of this verse (5:116). This invention, based on an error, has been taken up by current Islamic propaganda to comment on this verse by mocking the faith of Christians. [Cf. the presentation by Hichem Djaït in Jésus et l’islam. Indeed, it happens that in the suburbs and living only among themselves, Muslims never see a single Christian; so they believe anything about the Christian faith.] It was not until the year 2005 that this gross error was denounced, although it would have been enough for any researcher to go and ask any Aramaic (Chaldean or Assyrian) Christian for this error to be disproved.

We can see, therefore, that internal logic can prevail over knowledge or simple information, even in a milieu of researchers. This is also the case of the confusion between the Christian faith and pagan conceptions, which concerns us here. It is possible that convenience has something to do with it—one always brings back what one knows badly to what one already knows. Hearing about groups of Jewish descent who denied the divinity of Christ early on, often in summary form, some scholars have concluded that their purely human conception of Jesus is the original, true Christianity; and, therefore, that to speak of the presence of God in Jesus is a later belief, influenced by Greek pagan thought. This is logical, but wrong—the so-called “Judeo-Christian” groups to which they refer in this discussion are in fact “ex-Judeo-Christians,” in the sense that they had first been Christians then Jews. Let us read what the apostle John writes in his first letter about these ex-Judeo-Christians who “deny the Father and the Son”:

“They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).

What is generally overlooked in the discussion is that those Jewish Christians who first adhered to the message of the Apostles and then turned it around to do something else were thus creating a new religious phenomenon, which would even be the source of many subsequent avatars. The opposition is not, therefore, between a Jewish monotheism and a pagan polytheistic influence—but between the Christianity of the Apostles, which has a Jewish foundation, and the doctrines opposed to that of the Apostles, which also have a Jewish foundation, and which warrant the designatio of “post-Christian.”

In fact, the confusion inherent in Proposition A has created a vagueness that obscures a whole area of research on the formation of the oppositions to the Apostles. The Adversus haereses of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, which has been available to us since the mid-sixteenth century (this book, along with The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, previously unknown), still does not seem to be taken as a reference book for the study of early Christianity and the groups that derived from it.

It appears, therefore, that Proposition “A” does not present the faith of the Apostles, but rather presents a kind of inversion of it. This is unfortunate from a scientific or even a rational point of view. And the successive consequences which follow from it, and which form a set of convictions quite widespread in the academic world, are serious.

Let us review these consequences, B to G.

Proposition B

This proposition follows from A: the “divinization” of Jesus must have been done by non-Jews, namely by “Christianized” pagans (from the Roman Empire).

If there was no “divinization” of Jesus, the question of its alleged authors is settled. However, a word should be said about the historical framework, the lack of knowledge of which favors adherence to proposition B.

The Apostles were Jews, as were the first Popes and the vast majority of Christians for at least a century. As Paul explains, non-Jews were added to the strong Hebrew-Aramaic olive tree—and it had to be a strong olive tree because, from the beginning, the Apostles and their followers went to evangelize every part of the world then accessible, as far as India and China. The result was very quickly a diversity of communities; the common Hebrew-Aramaic “olive tree,” both Biblical and cultic, ensured unity, especially liturgical unity (the Indians of Saint Thomas still celebrate in Aramaic today). When one discovers the extent of the Hebrew-Aramaic Christianity of the Apostles in the world of that time, the idea of an influence of “Christianized pagans” leaves one scratching one’s head.

Proposition C

Preceding from the previous one, this proposal assumes that it was these Christianized pagans who composed the Gospels, and therefore late (after the year 70 AD, the time of the fabrication of the “divinization”); and, of course, they can only have composed the Gospels in Greek. Consequently, the Jewish Christian communities produced nothing (or almost nothing) before these Greek texts, and the traces of this “almost nothing” in the Greek Gospels must suggest that they saw Jesus simply as a man.

Here we come to the fundamental problem of Western exegesis, posed by German Protestants from the end of the 16th century onwards. Because of their anti-Romanism, they turned exclusively to the Greek manuscripts, considering them a priori better than the Latin texts of the Catholic Church. Of course, other languages were not forgotten—in Pantagruel, Rabelais still indicates that it is necessary to learn Aramaic (Chaldean, he writes)—but, in practice, manuscripts in these languages were greatly lacking. These became available only at the end of the 19th century, because of the scarcity of contacts with Eastern Christianity before then; and in the 20th century, following the massive immigration of persecuted Eastern Christians, more numerous links were established.

Nevertheless, even today, no serious place is given to these Christians in the academic world among teachers, and the Gospels are still presented as the fruit of Greek writers—even though one is beginning to wonder whether they are not originally narrative compositions rather than redactions. In any case, almost no one has yet undertaken a systematic comparison of the best Greek manuscript texts (divided into seven or eight irreducible families, which poses a serious problem) with the Syro-Aramaic manuscripts (which form a single family). And one continues to affirm, in a dogmatic way, that the Aramaic texts were translated from Greek. [For example, here is a random example of this dogmatism: Muriel Dubié states peremptorily that “as early as 170, the Gospels were translated from Greek into Syriac”]. Those who have doubts and want to compare the texts, like the Protestant Jan Joosten, risk a lot.

Rationally, it is however very difficult to believe that the Jewish Christians did not compose stories in Aramaic, which was their language (and that of Jesus), when they were evangelizing in all directions of the world and when Aramaic (and not Greek) was the lingua franca, the English of its time. And that’s not all. The Jews were part of an oral civilization, even though all men had to be more or less able to read the sacred writings during the synagogal worship. Thus, for the Christian Jews, if the important thing was the transmission by word of mouth and from heart to heart, writing down as an aid to memory was an original necessity. What is a sacred transmission must be engraved on stone—on parchment in this case—like the Scriptures. The Gospel in its original sense of “announcement” made of various Gospel recitals (cf. Gal 2:2; Rom 2:16 etc.) is given this rank of Scripture, as is shown by the First Letter to Timothy, probably dating from the year 57 AD.

In fact, Paul quotes a saying of Jesus in parallel with a quotation from the Torah: “The Scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain [cf. Deut. 25:4; 24:15] and again, The worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). But the second quotation exists only in Mt 10:10 and Lk 10:7.

[There is a small difference as to what the worker is worthy of: in Mt 10:10 he is worthy of saybbārā/Greek trophe, “food;” while in Lk 10:7 he is worthy of ‘agreh/Greek misthos, “wages.” In Aramaic, the key word is the verb šâw’é, expressing the idea of “suitability” (rendered in Greek by axios, “worthy,” for want of a better word): “the worker is šâw’é (it is suitable for him, he deserves) his food” (Mt 10:10—commented translation of the Peshitta by Mgr Francis Alichoran). But in Greek, what one is worthy of should not be food but honor or a reward-wage (as in Mt 20); axios estin o ergastès tès trofès autou is obviously an Aramaicism that reveals a translation.]

In the eyes of a Jewish Christian in the year 57 AD, what text could have the authority of sacred Scripture, if not an aide-memoire, such as the Gospel according to Matthew which was then used (primarily) in the liturgy as had been the Torah?

Moreover, the conviction that the Gospels existed in written form well before the first “Jewish war” (66-70 AD) is not uncommon among exegetes working on Greek—the case of John being special, as this Gospel was composed in two stages. But few still perceive that the aide-memoire of public recitation in Aramaic is the source of the translations into Greek (and into other languages), directly or on the occasion of simultaneous translations written down—it is systematically in Aramaic that the Apostles and other witnesses of the Resurrection gave their testimony; which, if necessary, was translated into Greek or Latin by interpreters, e.g., Mark, for what Peter said. [“Paul had Titus as his translator-interpreter, just as blessed Peter had Mark whose gospel was composed, with Peter speaking and Mark writing down” (St. Jerome, P.L. 22, col 1002)].

It is possible that the first writings in Greek or Latin were private, since the people of these languages no longer had an oral culture (but a written one) and were less able to memorize than the Aramaic speakers. In any case, the need for official writings was felt early on, also because of the dispersion of the Jerusalem community around 37 AD, threatened by unrest, which set the liturgical tone for the other Christian communities: Matthew urgently needed to establish a reference document for the liturgy.

[The sources that place the Gospel of Matthew in Aramaic before the Gospel of Mark in Greek allow us to place the first one around 37-38 AD, by virtue of the famous passage in the third book of Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyon, where there is found the matter of the publication of Mark’s Gospel. This passage presents a difficulty, however, since it seems to say that the community of Rome was founded by Peter and Paul—this is inaccurate, since in 42 AD Peter founded this community alone—and since it already existed, Paul had no intention of going there, as he wrote in Romans 15:22. The most likely explanation is that the words “and Paul” were added by a Latin copyist in honor of the Roman feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Here is the amended text: “Thus Matthew published among the Hebrews in their own language a written form of the gospel about the time when Peter [and Paul] was evangelizing Rome [until 42] and founding the Church there. After his departure [exodos, “departure,” which never means “death”], Mark, Peter’s translator, also transmitted to us in writing what Peter preached. Luke, Paul’s companion, also published the gospel while he was in Ephesus in Asia” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III 1,1).

In order to date Mark late, some exegetes have attributed to the word exodos the meaning of “death,” so that the publication of Mark’s Gospel would be later than the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, thus after 64 AD. But they are then in opposition to Eusebius of Caesarea who, quoting Clement of Alexandria († 215) and Papias († ±230), clearly indicates twice that Peter is alive at the time of the publication-translation into Greek: “They [Peter’s hearers] made all kinds of entreaties to Mark, the author of the gospel which has come down to us and Peter’s companion, that he would leave them a book as a memorial of the teaching given orally by the apostle, and they did not cease their entreaties until they had been granted… Peter … rejoiced at such zeal—he authorized the use of this book for reading in the churches. Clement reports this in his sixth Hypotyposis and the bishop of Hierapolis, Papias, confirms it with his own testimony” (Hist. Eccl. II,15 par. VI,14 6).]

The challenge of exegesis then is to rediscover the interplay of Aramaic orality, from the testimonies rigorously repeated by the witnesses themselves and then by their disciples from the 30s AD onwards. If there is a difficulty in discerning these narrative testimonies in our Gospels, it is because they are frequently intertwined. This is because of the very nature of the Gospels—they are organized for liturgical use, and therefore according to the Church calendar. They are lectionaries [Apart from exegetes working on Aramaic and aware of orality, some have nevertheless asked themselves the question of the synoptic Gospels as lectionaries, such as Gordon W. Lathrop, of the United Lutheran Seminary of Pennsylvania, in Après Jésus, l’invention du christianisme, p.160]—with the exception of John, which is organized for another purpose—The Gospel of John is organized according to oral patterns in a complex structure of meditation; it is not made for basic evangelization.

This major discovery, made possible by Aramaic oral studies, sheds light on the trial and error that began nearly four centuries ago and that leads each exegete working on the Greek to imagine his or her own plans for accounting for the Gospels—and no two agree. And of course, the idea that the Aramaic Christians of Asia (and of the eastern Roman Empire) lost their texts as a result of Tatian’s Diatessaron, and then had to re-translate them from Greek in the 5th century, with Bishop Raboula of Edessa, is a kind of academic myth—a convenient myth to avoid having to take a serious look at the Aramaic texts.

Proposition D

Proposition D seeks to clarify how the divinization of Jesus would have been invented—first by Paul and then by the Trinitarian definition of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD).

It does not matter that Trinitarian definitions had existed before. The problem is a misunderstanding of the so-called Christological discussions, which some scholars have believed to be about the divinity of Christ itself, when in fact they were about how to express it. It is true, on the other hand, that “Arianism” denied the divinity of Christ. But no Arian was invited to the Council of Nicaea, which met precisely against this denial.

At the time, Christian leaders were faced with the difficulty of agreeing on formulas of faith that would enable them to cope. The discussions at Nicaea and the subsequent councils were held in Greek and were marked by Byzantine ways of seeing and reasoning, which wanted to give conceptual definitions to everything. But sometimes this created more problems than it solved. Take the example of the Aramaic term qnoma, used by Jesus and found several times in the Aramaic New Testament: it was at the heart of certain divergences, because it corresponds neither to the Greek concept of ουσια (“nature”) nor to that of υποστασιϛ (“hypostasis”). The Council of Nicaea did not take sufficient account of the differences in culture and language, which eventually led, at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), to the exclusion of the non-Greek speaking apostolic churches, which would be called “pre-Chalcedonian.”

One can understand then the confusion caused by a certain number of inter-faith academics and by Islamologists. They believe that these sidelined churches (the Arameans of the Church of the East from now on designated under the sobriquet of “Nestorians,” and the Copts and the Armenians) defended Christologies comparable to those of groups opposed to the faith of the Apostles, that is to say, catalogued as heretics. And, in the past (and we can go back to medieval scholars), under the influence of Islamic legends, some even imagined that the Christology of Islam (which violently denies the divinity of Christ) was inspired by that of the Aramaic Church of the East—whereas, around 735, John of Damascus compared Islam with Arianism and in no way with the thinking of the Church of the East.

In fact, the idea was to link Islamic Christology at all costs to the Christological discussions of or after Nicaea, for lack of understanding but also for lack of serious research on the origins of Islam. We read until recently: “The Koran… belongs to a movement of Christians who remained pre-Nicene, i.e., churches or Christian communities that did not accept the dogma of the Trinity defined at the Council of Nicaea.” [In particular, it is the legend of the Nestorian monk Serge-Bahira who is said to have recognized the “prophet Muḥammad” while still a child and to have transmitted his Christology to him.]

In the end, only rather crude confusions seek to justify Islamic “Christology” by Christian theological debates; whereas Islam is rooted in a much earlier, post-Christian-Jewish phenomenon, which in fact goes back to the end of the Apostolic period.

It is true that a question, subtle for the historian, lies behind these confusions: what criterion can distinguish what is Christian from what is not? Is it adherence to definitions—but in what language? Before the definitions of the Councils, was there only a vast vagueness? Is belief adhering to definitions—assuming one understands something, which requires explanations that are not always clearer either? Or is it something else? In other words, are definitions fundamentally enlightening—which is what the Byzantines hoped for—or are they merely signposts?

If Christianity is primarily a life, it cannot be put into concepts and definitions. In the Gospels, in Greek, we read six times “Your faith has saved you,” or as in Mt 1:21: “he will save the people from their sins;” where the Aramaic means “Your faith has made you alive,” and Jesus gives life back to the people from their sins. Certainly, the Greek verb sozo has something to do with healing; but taken out of context, the statement “faith saves” could be understood in relation to a conceptual eternal salvation, or one disconnected from concrete life; whereas it is first of all a question of life (re)given here below by Jesus.

Therefore, if there is a criterion of Christianity, it can only be this: the Christian, whether Hebrew-Aramaic or from another cultural or linguistic area, is the one who believes that Jesus holds in Himself the power to vivify. Those who believe that Jesus is under the power of an Other, that is to say that He does not save by Himself but simply intervenes as a superman, or else believe that He is simply a model to be followed, that is to say that everyone must save himself by following this model, do not share the faith of the Apostles but another faith. They adhere to distortions of the Christian Revelation, whether they are of the first or the second type.

These distortions have generally been called heresies, thus creating an unclear catch-all (the Greek word ‘aïresis, which gave rise to “heresy,” simply means “opinion”). This vagueness does not facilitate the distinction between what is Christian and what is not, and often focuses attention on secondary aspects. What determines the Christian faith is that if Jesus saves by Himself, then the God revealed in the Old Testament is present in Him, for God alone can save-vivify. As for the way in which this presence is expressed, this is certainly already an object of the New Testament and will subsequently be the subject of many theological debates—but it is secondary. Unfortunately, these debates have often pitted different, but legitimate, cultural perceptions and expressions of the mystery of Christ against each other. In fact, all the apostolic Christian communities of the world today recognize each other fully and mutually in their faith, expressed in different languages (often not transposable from one to another—that is the difficulty).

Proposition D also leads one to call writings “Christian” that are not, either because they present Jesus as a messiah in whom God acts as an external mover or inspirer (according to the Arian-Messianist perspective), or because they present Him as a guide who, out of compassion, shows how to save oneself (such is the core of all Gnostic systems). Such writings are not Christian, and the groups who wrote them cannot be called “Christian”—nor can they be called “heterodox Jews;” they are in fact also in opposition to rabbinic Judaism (which repays them with the daily curse against the minim). This is why, instead of using the illegitimate term “Christian” for them, serious research leads to the qualification of these groups, which came after apostolic Christianity, as “post-Christians”—they exist historically and logically only in relation to the latter, from which they derive doctrines that would not otherwise stand by themselves.

The confusions linked to propositions A, B and C lead to those linked to proposition D, which is quite logical.

Proposition E

If faith in the divinity of Christ is a late invention, the Aramaic-speaking Christian communities must also be late, and they can only have existed in dependence on Greek Christianity, therefore not before the end of the third century—this is a logical necessity. It is said that they were only an outgrowth of this Greek Christianity in the Syriac East of the Roman Empire, or the result of the deportation of some Greco-Roman populations to the Parthian Empire.

This denial of apostolic antiquity of the Eastern Christians is expressed in numerous writings, for example by Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, in her contribution to a book with the evocative title, Après Jésus: L’invention du christianisme (After Jesus: The Invention of Christianity). She speaks of a “staging” by Eastern Christians of a “conversion to Christianity” going back to the Apostle Thomas (p. 570). And in Paul-Hubert Poirier, one reads that “the expansion of Christianity” beyond the borders of the Empire dates from the 3rd century, with “the Christians beginning to use” Latin at the end of the 2nd century, Syriac at the beginning of the 3rd century only, Coptic at the end of the same century, Armenian in the 5th century, and other languages later still (p. 53). Did they not exist before? What is thus obscured is that from the first century until the great massacres by Tamerlane, Asia had more Christians than Europe. Of the twelve Apostles, only three (James, brother of John, Andrew and Peter) went West; the others went elsewhere, with the exception of James the Just, who remained in Jerusalem, considered the center of the world. To think that Christians existed only in the Roman Empire until the end of the third century is simply the result of a postulate; and this negationist postulate is fundamentally rooted in Proposition A.

Proposition F

Since the Syro-Aramaic churches are presumed to have existed only in the late period of time, their New Testament texts were therefore also presumed to have been translated from the already existing texts—i.e., from Greek.

But if the reverse is true, i.e., if early Christianity is no further West of Jerusalem (in the Greek Roman Empire) than East of it (in the Parthian Empire), it becomes essential to compare the best Greek and Syro-Aramaic manuscripts. And then, the Aramaic texts turn out to reflect a state of the text much earlier than the best Greek manuscripts, which appear to be the work of translators (various in fact and in various Greek dialects, which is the main reason for the existence of seven or eight irreconcilable families of Greek Biblical manuscripts). These Aramaic texts can shed light on most of the obscurities of the Greek or Latin texts, even if there is reason to believe that the translators did their best in the context that was theirs.

Proposition G

Since there were groups of Semitic language holding Jesus only as a man, one imagines that they preceded the churches of the same languages (Aramaic, Coptic); and that it was they who preserved the true Christianity of the Apostles (the Greek Christians having invented the divinity of Jesus). They are often referred to under the vague term of “Judeo-Christian sects,” or pre-Pauline or pre-Nicene groups. We have seen above how these labels are misleading. If Semitic or even other language groups speak of Jesus in opposition to the faith of the Apostles which is really known to us through the New Testament (which we can understand through the Aramaic texts even better than those in Greek or Latin), they are post-Christian groups.

The concept of “post-Christianity” was coined to designate the phenomenon of “leaving Christianity” that marked the 19th and 20th centuries, from the point of view of institutions (we also speak of “secularization”). But there is no reason to take into account only the institutional aspect. If we consider the theological aspect (or in other words, that of the Apostolic faith), we can and must look at the phenomenon that begins towards the end of the Apostolic era, that of groups of Judeo-Christians who questioned the faith they held from the Apostles, and who then organized themselves into groups and doctrines opposed to the Apostles (while keeping many traits of original Christianity).

These groups and doctrines, which would later be called “heresies,” are strictly speaking counterfeits (in the sense that a counterfeit is made to resemble the model, but it is no longer the original). These counterfeits, which constitute exactly post-Christianities, are fundamentally and historically of two types, corresponding to the two axes of Christianity (and thus to the two possible ways of counterfeiting it. See here):

Conclusion

The Propositions, from A to G, form a logical system. For this reason, it is enough that only one of these seven propositions turns out to be contrary to the data of serious research for the whole to be invalidated. There is no lack of reasons to question each of these propositions, starting with the first one, which is the most important—and which is even the key to the others. There has never been a “divinization” of Jesus, but rather a consideration of the plan of a God who revealed Himself in order to come and save humanity, which only He can do. The question remains open as to what God will do next, as a Second Coming of Christ is foretold. This is another question, which is not simple either, since Muslims also expect a second coming of Jesus, but it is not the same. It is understandable that some minds find all this very complicated and try to reduce their perception of Christianity to their logical and ideological schemes, from A to G.

It is therefore a new coherent and logical approach to Christian origins that must be promoted and explored, in accordance with Revelation and historical and anthropological data that are not censored or distorted by postulates. Such new orientations will not go without opposition—the seekers of truth are rare—but this is a characteristic of our time in almost all areas, alas.


Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial  Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. See Roots of Islam and the Great Secret. Father Gallez also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.


Featured image: “Traditio Legis,” mosaic, Santa Costanza, Rome, 4th century AD.

Catholicism and Democracy: The Misunderstanding

Positioning the Problem

If there is a dilemma that remains unresolved, it is that of the relationship of Catholicism to liberal democracy. This dilemma is based on two fundamental factors. While, for many centuries, Catholicism has developed its attachment to the concept of the person, liberal democracy is intrinsically linked to the philosophical concept of the individual. Moreover, upstream of this divergence are two concepts that are opposite in nature. The Catholic one is rooted in the political philosophy of Aristotle, according to which man is a social animal, a postulate taken up by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The liberal one is based on the idea that men (individuals) do not live politically at first, but in a state of nature and war with each or against each (Hobbes), or in a positive state of nature but destined to degrade (Locke); hence the need to establish a contract between individuals in order to access political life. In other words, whereas in the first case, political life is immediately qualified positively; in the second it is qualified positively only by necessity.

This is what Pope Leo XIII opposed at the end of the nineteenth century and what the Second Vatican Council continues to oppose. But the political teaching of the Roman Magisterium has evolved nonetheless. This is what I would like to examine, by first restating some of the major points of the encyclical Immortale Dei (on the Christian constitution of states) and then restating those of Gaudium et spes (the Church in the Modern World) of the Second Vatican Council. Yet from one to the other of these two teachings of the Roman Magisterium, the historical misunderstanding of what democracy means persists.

The Encyclical Immortale Dei (1885): A Response to Liberal Democracy

In the context of the publication of Immortale Dei, four major facts should be brought to mind. Leo XIII was the first pope who never had a temporal state; he was grappling with the Kulturkampf in Germany and with the secularization of school education in France. Finally, the encyclical is contemporary with the rise of socialism. This is why the political teaching of Leo XIII was completed in 1891 by his social teaching; these two doctrinal bodies being the two legs without which the Catholic Church could not walk in the modern world, which was less and less favorable to it at the end of the 19th century. Five aspects of Leo XIII’s thinking in the encyclical Immortale Dei are evident. All of them oppose the fundamental principles of liberal democracy, by recourse to the political philosophy of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, according to which man, a naturally political animal, seeks the common good with his fellow human beings.

But this naturalistic principle had to be complemented by New Testament teaching that all political power comes from God, regardless of the form of the regime. This is the central problem. The modern (liberal) world, anxious for its autonomy from any religious foundation, was turning away from God, the theological and political principle that had organized Christian Europe for centuries. The result for Leo XIII was the need for public worship and the opposition to religious freedom. Leo XIII rejected it because it would lead to the collapse of public worship, which can only be given to the one true God and thanks to which the solid and necessary unity of the political order is guaranteed. There is no legitimate authority without the support of truth, and no viable society without it; but there is also no public worship without recognition of the true God, of whom the Church is the depository through its spiritual leaders, the pope being the head.

The same is true of freedom. The Christian order, which comes from God, does not dispute its relevance, but it is not valid unto itself, being an “element of perfection for man,” which “must be applied to what is true and what is good.” Finally, the representative system of liberal democracy is at most evoked, and in a negative way with the explicit fear that it generates “the right to riot” because of its correlative link with freedom of opinion. Much more important for Leo XIII was the political status accorded to “the people” who have “their greater or lesser share in government,” which share is “not only a benefit, but a duty for citizens.” However, nothing is said about the concrete procedure by which the people take “their share in government.” This matter of democracy in magisterial teaching came back on the agenda at the Second Vatican Council with Gaudium et spes. This raises the question—did the Second Vatican Council embrace liberal democracy, or does it not rather propose a Catholic understanding of democracy?

Gaudium et spes: A Liberal or a Catholic Conception of Democracy?

In the wake of the last world war and the two totalitarian regimes of the Nazis and the Soviets, the Roman Magisterium has undoubtedly evolved; but it has not abandoned its fundamental concepts, especially those of the search for the common good and the political authority required to achieve it. What has changed is that the correlation between the common good and political authority combines the “free will” of citizens to choose their leaders with the traditional idea that “the political community and public authority have their foundation in human nature and through it are subject to an order fixed by God.”

It should be noted, then, that from Leo XIII to Vatican II, there is great continuity in magisterial teaching. It is, however, within this tradition that Gaudium et spes accredits the principle of democracy as the legal functioning of the political community, something that Leo XIII could not accept in such a clear-cut manner. Nevertheless, just as Leo XIII did not want to rally French Catholics to the Republic for philosophical and theological reasons, Vatican II did not advocate rallying to liberal democracy for the same reasons. The Church is therefore faithful to her vision of man in society, especially since the reception of the thought of Thomas Aquinas, while reconsidering it in the light of the norms of liberal democracy. The latter is acceptable, provided that it is rooted in an order of nature that is in every respect opposed to the modern conception of nature of the 17th and 18th centuries.

In other words, Vatican II gives itself the theoretical instruments to think about a Catholic conception of democracy, while accepting in a practical way the achievements of liberalism (freedom of association, of assembly, etc.). Let us also note the conciliation of a Catholic conception of democracy with liberal achievements. This is explicitly demonstrated by the “guarantee of human rights” and the rejection of “all political forms… which impede civil or religious liberty;” or the idea that a political authority which contravenes the common good, “citizens” must “defend their rights… respecting the limits set by the natural law and the law of the Gospel.” This Catholic conception of democracy is corroborated by the defense of religious liberty. Whereas Leo XIII conceded only the tolerance of religions, Gaudium et spes calls for “the right to express personal opinions and to profess one’s religion in private and in public.” It is perhaps this reconciliation that gives the false impression that democracy as defended in Gaudium et spes is basically the Catholic version of liberal democracy. Hence the continuation of the historical misunderstanding that has been simmering since the end of the Council and which is now coming to light through recent societal developments.

Liberal democracy and the Catholic understanding of democracy: a historical misunderstanding that is still relevant today

With Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council undeniably made a great leap forward in allowing Catholics to have their own conception of democracy, not thought of as a counter-society, but as a means of acclimatizing liberal democracy to Catholic culture and vice versa. But what could have been a beautiful symphony did not achieve its goal. Either Catholics secularized themselves into the liberal democratic mold by adopting the rhetoric of humanistic values. Or they sought a self-referential Catholic anchor that looks more like a Christian neo-democracy than a Catholic conception of democracy. Yet it is this ambition that must be pursued so that Catholics can spearhead a revitalized conception of democracy which needs it most.


Father Bernard Bourdin o.p. published, with Philippe Iribarne, La nation, une ressource d’avenir. The nation, a point of balance between the universal and the rooted. This article appears through the generosity of La Nef.


Featured image: “Procession in church,” by Guillaume van Strydonck; painted ca. 1900.

Antoine Arjakovsky: An Ecumenical Metaphysics

Antoine Arjakovsky directs the Politics and Religion Department at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris. He is also Director Emeritus of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University.

His research focuses in particular on Russian religious philosophy (Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Shestov), as well as on issues of the theology of politics, such as democracy, justice and fraternity (Votez Fraternité ! Trente propositions pour une société plus juste [Vote Fraternity! Thirty Propositions for a more Just Society]). He has just published Éssai de métaphysique œcuménique [Essay on Ecumenical Metaphysics]. in which he analyzes our troubled times and, above all, proposes a new epistemology based on ecumenical science.

This conversation comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT. [Translated from the French by N. Dass]


PHILITT (PL): In the introduction to your book, you begin by making an observation. Contrary to those who say that our world is going well, and that the impression of the contrary is only a distortion effect, proper to a Western consciousness that has always been haunted by the idea of decadence, you affirm that, on the contrary, our societies are facing a “poly-crisis.”

Antoine Arjakovsky (AA): Yes, but it is not to be a great prophet to note this. You just have to look at the many reports of the United Nations or the IPCC on this subject. For example, the latest Oxfam report published in January 2022 explains that the health pandemic has considerably increased social inequalities in France and in the world. The top five wealthiest people in France have doubled their wealth since the beginning of the pandemic. They by themselves own as much as the poorest 40% in France. Since March 2020, the world counts a new billionaire every 26 hours, while at the same time 160 million people have fallen into poverty.

Antoine ArjakovskyDR.

Everything that formed a coherent whole in the 1990s has disintegrated in less than twenty years. There is, of course, the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis, with the dramatic consequences that we know about, with the coronavirus pandemic. But there is also the crisis of international relations, the rise of social violence, etc. Some consider that these crises have always existed, that there has always been war, violence and injustice. But the truth is that these inequalities and the devastation of forests and oceans have taken on proportions unknown in the past. Add to this the progression, at the speed of a galloping horse, of the postmodern paradigm within most political or media elites—that is to say, of a worldview according to which there is no truth but only interpretations—then you understand why this poly-crisis is deep, long-lasting and, to put it bluntly, quite worrying.

PL: One could use the come-back that this triple economic, ecological and philosophical crisis is purely conjunctural, linked to certain contemporary mutations of the market, of technology and of ways of thinking, and that the system will eventually resolve it.

AA: The current poly-crisis has deep causes, which have to do with the fact that postmodern thinking deprives man of the spiritual energy that would allow him to truly act on the world. Indeed, in such thinking, only the individual can have sufficient resources to survive and transform a world characterized by its power relations, its senselessness and its violence. But this obviously is not the case. On the contrary, we can see that this conception renders man completely powerless. It is time to recover the elementary truth that budgets are moral documents. This is the guarantee that new public policies are possible in order to build not, according to the vision of the Moderns, a sovereign and all-powerful State, but, in a more spiritual way, a State at the service of fraternity.

PL: If I follow you, since the crisis originated in a worldview and epistemology that is both utilitarian and individualistic, its solution can only be to return to a more spiritual epistemology.

AA: Alongside the postmodern paradigm, there is another crystallization of consciousness, which can be called spiritual, that was carried into the 20th century by very different thinkers such as Nicholas Berdyaev and Kate Raworth, Victor Frankl and Karol Wojtyla (later John Paul II). This challenged not only the classical and modern worldview but also its postmodern conception.

I will take here only the example of the realization of the Austrian and Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. On October 19, 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis. On his return from deportation, he gave a famous lecture in Vienna in which he explained that modern psychoanalysis failed to understand the world because of a faulty epistemology:

“Having an atomistic, energetic and mechanistic concept of Man, psychoanalysis sees him in the last analysis as the automaton of a psychic apparatus. And it is precisely there that the existential analysis intervenes. It opposes a different concept of man to the psychoanalytical concept. It does not focus on the automaton of a psychic apparatus but rather on the autonomy of spiritual existence. ‘Spiritual’ is used here without any religious connotation, of course, but rather simply to indicate that we are dealing with a specifically human phenomenon, unlike the phenomena we share with other animals. In other words, the spiritual is what is human in man.”

This shift in consciousness from a postmodern conception to a spiritual worldview has occurred in an often discrete way in just about every discipline in the 20th and 21st centuries. Today agnostic philosophers, such as Dany Robert Dufour for example, do not hesitate to trace manifestations of the spirit in the life of the world back to the metaphysical and theological figure of the Trinity. Here is the conclusion of one of his recent conferences at the Collège des Bernardins: “I am an atheist betting on a new ecumenism (convivialism) and invoking the Trinity to ward off the devil.”

PL: This new spiritual worldview must, according to you, be developed in what you call an “ecumenical metaphysics.” However, this term seems at first sight to be difficult to understand. In fact, the term “metaphysics” does not have a very good press today, and since Kant it has been associated with the idea of an outdated or even misguided philosophy.

AA: It is urgent to get out of the current schizophrenia of the university which consists in separating the two spheres of belief and rationality. Kant himself, in The Conflict of Faculties, was opposed to such a division. He, the philosopher of pure reason, explained at the end of his life that he was also a Lutheran believer who would like to be able to converse with theologians. The misfortune was that in his time theological rationality was entirely dependent on political power. Today, we are no longer in that situation. On the contrary, we can see how much theological rationality and philosophical rationality have to say to each other in the same way that the Catholic faith has understood that it could be enriched by contact with the Protestant and Orthodox faith. Hence the interest for me to think today about the bases of an ecumenical metaphysics capable of thinking together the universal and the personal, but also the real world and the spiritual world.

In reality, ecumenical metaphysics is a global vision of the world that seeks to understand all reality and to participate in it. Here the term “ecumenical” is understood as the Kingdom of God that comes to earth whenever human beings actualize divine justice. This conception of universality becomes personal and communal. It also breaks down the ancient representation of space-time. History is neither cyclical nor a long empty corridor. It has a vertical meaning, one might say. The kingdom of God on earth is fullness in spirit and truth. This is why I explain in my book that Wilhelm Visser’t Hooft was right when he explained in his book The Meaning of Ecumenical that there is a somewhat forgotten meaning to the term “ecumenical—that of a universality that gives access to reality in a meta-confessional, meta-religious and meta-convictional way. From the Christian point of view, this can be perfectly justified by the fact that Christ himself announced to his disciples: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). But, of course, this personal sense of universality must also be understood in its sapiential dimension, its dimension of wisdom.

PL: You have said on many occasions that this ecumenical metaphysics must be “sapiential,” but also “personalist.”

AA: For Aristotle, metaphysics had to be katholou; that is to say, it had to be capable of taking the whole thing. Metaphysics, when it rediscovers its spiritual sources, in a sapiential and personalist way, becomes fully ecumenical. It is a question of holding together in its entirety God, the world and the human being as a thinker. This is why it is necessary to understand the individual in his infinite dignity as a person, both microcosm and macrocosm. It is also a question of rediscovering the intuitions of figures as different as the author of the Book of Proverbs, of Rumi, of Paracelsus or of Shankara in order to grasp the being in all its sapiential depth, which is at the same time unobjectifiable yet nonetheless describable. This leads to a non-dual understanding of the world, as in the Eastern religions but also in the great Western mystics.

This metaphysics, because it poses a tension between the created and the uncreated world, makes it possible to reconcile four major understandings of truth in the history of philosophy: truth as correspondence between the thing and the intellect (Aristotle); truth as fidelity to a promise (Augustine); truth as coherence between what one says and what one does (Rescher); and finally truth as consensus between the members of a community (Peirce). This existential and “in tension” conception of truth is opposed in this sense to the voluntarist vision of truth, dominant today, which conceives it only as that which functions in relation to what is (Bacon); that is to say in a technocentric way, which leads to the transhumanist utopia, as Franck Damour has shown well.

PL: This ecumenical metaphysics appears to be a culmination of your work, in particular that of Russian religious philosophers, such as Berdyaev, Bulgakov or Chestov, whom you quote extensively in your book.

AA: The Russian religious thinkers of the 20th century, such as Nicolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov or Lev Shestov were among the first to understand that it was possible to understand the universal as a personal and symbolic reality. These thinkers knew German thought very well, from Kant to Marx. They understood with Nietzsche that the modern metaphysics that separated the domain of “why” (which was reserved for special metaphysics) from the domain of “how” (which was reserved for general metaphysics) was absurd. They recognized with Heidegger that Western rationalist thought had enclosed being in objectifying concepts, and that it was henceforth a question of recovering all the depth and all the freedom of it.

For the Russian religious thinkers, although they did not always go to the end of their intuitions, it is appropriate to associate the logic of the subject as Person (Berdyaev), the logic of the verb as Wisdom (Bulgakov), and finally the logic of the predicate as self-consciousness (Shestov). This post-idealist and post-phenomenological worldview has the great merit of renewing metaphysics, as soon as one grasps the complementarity between these thoughts, as I try to show in my book.

Thus, for example, Shestov showed how rational thought was, since Aristotle, based on the principles of identity, non-contradiction and the excluded third. This meant that all reality was equal to itself, that one could not say one thing and its opposite and that there was no third term that was both A and non-A. Rational binary thought, based on these principles, relied on the adequacy between the thing and the intellect to understand the world. And it defined “proof” as the explanation of a phenomenon by its universalizable repetition.

But this is a vision of the world which the different religious traditions, from the East and the West, say is a form of naivety with respect to the non-dual organization of reality. Man, who has however an infinite dignity, must in this rationalist conception submit to the order and to the appearance that the phenomena want to give of themselves. It is, according to Shestov, a form of passivity which leads to fatalism or to war. This form of thinking leads to a priori judgments which force to understand all reality as an abstract and uniform thing. It consequently denies to think truth as the fruit of a personal experience.


Featured image: “The Last Supper,” by the Master of the Amsterdam Death of the Virgin; painted ca. 1485-1500.

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Stumbling Block

I

Alexis de Tocqueville is a great mind of the hedgehog variety. Writers, Isaiah Berlin said, are roughly divided into two species: hedgehogs who stay in the same intellectual place for life, and foxes who scamper from place to place. The political writer Tocqueville deliberately chose the tactic of the hedgehog (minus the prickles); he centered his thought around a few core ideas whose facets he explored and whose implications he pursued tirelessly. What are these core ideas? They are three in number:

  1. The great business of the modern world is democracy or equality;
  2. The great cause par excellence is freedom, or more precisely freedom associated with the spirit of religion;
  3. The parasite or the nuisance is revolution, or rather the revolutionary spirit.

Tocqueville’s entire intellectual life is summed up in a reflection on these themes, a stubborn and tormented reflection from which came two great books: De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America] (1835 and 1840), the first volume of which made him a famous man at the age of thirty. Second, after the coup d’état of December 2, 1851 made him an author once again, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution [The Ancien Régime and the Revolution] (1856), the second volume of which remained unfinished. In the interim, Tocqueville had engaged himself wholeheartedly in politics—he was a deputy from 1839 to 1851 and a minister for a time under the Second Republic—but he always remained a politician on the fringe, and his ambitions were disappointed. In all circumstances, he remained unwaveringly faithful to the same cause, the one that inspired his whole life: the liberal cause (Tocquevillian version).

The second book is a great work, which however is an incomplete effort. Tocqueville did not succeed in solving the problem that is at the heart of his thought—he groped, rectified, resumed and never succeeded. The problem is this—how to think in one go about this great democratic or egalitarian revolution that is today generating a new world and that formidable and singular event that was the French Revolution? How to think about the dynamics of equality and the dynamics of the Revolution together? Or more precisely, how to fit the dynamics of the Revolution into the dynamics of equality?

A New World

On the one hand, Tocqueville was deeply convinced that in the new lands of America and in the old societies of Europe, times had changed or were changing. The same destiny commanded both: the Americans are born equal; the Europeans are becoming equal. The great democratic revolution that had been working on Christian humanity for centuries had reached a threshold—one world was dying: that of the old aristocratic society, and a new era was opening up: that of modern society, characterized by the democratic social state. From one world to the other, the relations between men have changed in nature. The modern society is radically new and this novelty is due to the spirit which animates it, the democratic spirit—men think, feel equal there.

On the other hand, Tocqueville was very close to this French Revolution, which stunned the world, and which sent to prison or to the scaffold his parents, grandparents and his great-grandfather (Malesherbes), and which seemed to set French political history apart. How to decipher what contemporaries perceived as an unprecedented storm? For Tocqueville, the general meaning of the event was clear—it followed from his vision of History: The French Revolution was part of a movement which exceeded it. It was a “democratic revolution,” in the sense that it was inserted into the march of the modern world towards equality.

But why did this march towards equality take on this unbridled and bloody pace? How to think about democratic movement and Jacobin crimes together? The difficulty tormented Tocqueville and fed his concern about the political future of France. There was, he explained, during this democratic revolution, a parasitic element that grafted itself onto it. The Revolution began with the magnificent impetus of 1789, where the spirit of equality and the spirit of liberty were combined. Then it quickly slipped under the sway of this parasitic spirit, a spirit of rupture, violence and tyranny, which he names, after Royer-Collard, “the revolutionary spirit.” Tocqueville was here in tune with the other liberals of his time. He was led to sort out within the Revolution and its inheritance the good grain from the chaff. The politician Tocqueville opposed Guizot; he nevertheless shared the same objective—to purge post-revolutionary France of the survivals of the revolutionary spirit, in this sense to finish the Revolution.

The Revolutionary Spirit

But the difficulty remained. What is the origin and the posterity of this revolutionary spirit that has engendered so many misfortunes? In Tocquevillian terms, the question becomes more complicated— where does this parasitic spirit of democratic times come from? What is its future in democratic societies? And finally—what is the relationship between the revolutionary spirit and the democratic spirit? Tocqueville never stopped stumbling over these questions.

He mulled over them again and again in Democracy in America, and especially in the second volume, where there is an implicit comparison between the American version of democracy, a democracy without revolution (no “Old Regime” to be destroyed), and the French-style democracy, born in the form of a democratic revolution. But Tocqueville hesitated, oscillated, and in the end seemed to step back. He first presented the revolutionary passions as democratic passions pushed to the extreme; then he opposed them by explaining that the democratic spirit tends to extinguish revolutionary passions.

The issue is not clear-cut, nor is it clarified in The Ancien Régime and the Revolution, where he again operates on two fronts. On the one hand, he vigorously develops his famous thesis, faithful to his basic idea, which brings the Revolution into line—the revolutionary subversion only continued the monarchic subversion of the old aristocratic society and perfected in its turn the centralized State that would be culminate in the work of Bonaparte. The Revolution was thus only one moment among others, even if it was particularly turbulent and violent, of the continuous march towards equality. But on the other hand, he laid bare the components of another interpretation wherein the Revolution took on the colors of a new phenomenon, unprecedented in History—principles that were a “new religion,” actors who were “new beings,” “of an unknown species”—in other words, this revolutionary spirit, which had something irreducible and on which Tocqueville’s basic idea always stumbled. A part of the Revolution remained enigmatic; and until the end, Tocqueville would continue to come up against this enigma. Here is what he wrote a year before his death to his close friend Kergorlay, while he was working on the second volume of The Ancien Régime and the Revolution:

“There is moreover in this disease of the French Revolution something particular that I feel, without being able to describe it well, nor to analyze the causes. It is a virus of a new and unknown species. There have been violent revolutions in the world; but the immoderate, violent, radical, desperate, audacious, almost mad and yet powerful and effective character of these revolutionaries has no precedent, it seems to me, in the great social agitations of past centuries. Where does this new race come from? Who produced it? Who made it so effective? Who perpetuates it? Independently of everything that can be explained in the French Revolution, there is something in its spirit and in its acts that is unexplained. I feel where the unknown object is, but I can’t lift the veil that covers it. I feel it as if through a foreign body which prevents me either from touching it well, or from seeing it” (2).

II

Let us resume. Seen by Tocqueville, the modern scene looked like this: the cause of equality has won but the cause of liberty is still in the balance. The cause of equality has won because aristocratic society is dead or dying irrevocably. The aristocratic spirit is fading away, which was a false spirit, but of which we must nevertheless try to preserve one element: the spirit of excellence. On the other hand, the cause of liberty, the one to which Tocqueville was attached with every fiber of his being, is in abeyance, threatened by the possible consequences of the democratic movement, directly threatened in France by what survives of the revolutionary spirit. From this, stem the two questions that are at the heart of Tocqueville’s thought and from which we have seen that he never dissociated himself:

  1. What is the logic of this democratic spirit. and what dangers does it pose to human freedom (and human excellence)?
  2. What is the origin and the posterity of this revolutionary spirit that has poisoned French politics since the Revolution?

But it is by wanting to think of these two questions in a single way that he condemned himself to the grindstone. Tocqueville considered the revolutionary spirit only as an abusive mistress or a bastard daughter of the democratic spirit; and thus he forbade himself to think, or to think to the end, this revolutionary spirit as a rival in its own right of the democratic spirit and of a nature to subvert the democratic spirit totally. Convinced that the modern world was shaped first and foremost by the democratic spirit, he remained trapped in an overly homogeneous vision of the world and thus of the French Revolution. Tocqueville was the brilliant analyst of the democratic spirit. His stumbling block was the revolutionary spirit. He brought to light the dynamics of equality; he failed to decipher the revolutionary dynamics.

Perhaps Tocqueville was also trapped in another way by the democratic spirit. I want to say this: the privileged actors of History according to Tocqueville are the ordinary men, their ideas and their feelings. It is the average men who animate, lead democratic societies; in the case of the French Revolution, it was “the French” or “the nation” who generally made History. Tocqueville underestimated the role of minorities within the revolutionary process and perhaps also within the egalitarian dynamic. No doubt, he notes on several occasions, the role played by minorities under the Revolution and the practices of usurping the will of the people. But he never thinks through this subversion, which not only corrupts political democracy but transforms it into a fiction or an appearance. The impulse of his mind always brought him back to general causes and to the democratic logic that is the basic idea of his interpretation. In this, he gave in, it seems, to a flaw in which he himself saw a tendency of the democratic mind—the abuse of general ideas.

In the United States, Tocqueville saw a people masters of themselves. In France he heard, resounding through the memory of time and his own research, the revolutionary rhetoric invoking tirelessly the “will of the people.” Was he not a victim of what Augustin Cochin called the great fetish of the French Revolution—the “People” as actors in their own History?

III

If this interpretation is correct, Tocqueville was an incomparable guide to understanding much of the modern world—but not all of it. In fact, history has both confirmed and denied him.

In the second volume of Democracy in America, there are, as we have noted, many variations; but there is nevertheless a dominant tone—the risk of revolution tends to disappear in democratic societies, thanks, so to speak, to the democratic spirit which leads to a peaceful life, withdrawn into the private sphere, oriented towards well-being and devoid of political passions. The culmination of this analysis is the famous chapter in which the author takes the exact opposite view of the common opinion and of the justifications given by Guizot to the “politics of resistance” that he advocates; that is to say the chapter in which he explains “why great revolutions will become rare” in democratic centuries.

Tocqueville’s concern then changed object—no longer the risk of a new political revolution—the French Revolution was over—but there were now the possible or foreseeable consequences of the democratic movement: social atomization, extreme individualism, the development of a new form of despotism (a tutelary power, invasive but far-sighted and gentle, a welfare state, an extreme version, as it were).

A Premonitory Vision

But Tocqueville anticipated History and in particular the History of France. This peaceful democracy, where individualism triumphs; this quiet society where the spirit of equality and material ambitions irritate souls but do not arouse any political passion, it is not the France of the 19th century where the revolutionary spirit remained, it is the French society of today, where revolutionary traditions are dead; it is more generally the Western society of our time, where egalitarian individualism has recently unfolded its full force. Reread today, Democracy in America shows a brilliant genius as a sociologist. By digging into the dynamics of equality, Tocqueville deciphers our social life and gives us the keys to understand our relations with our fellow human beings.

On the other hand, he wrongly prejudged the political future of France. The denial—the revolution of 1848—was not long in coming, sounding the death knell of his illusions. He confessed them himself in a passage of his Memoirs where a feeling of despair pervades: Will the French Revolution ever end? Will France ever be able to reach harbor?

“Constitutional monarchy succeeded the Ancien Régime; the Republic, the Monarchy; the Republic, the Empire; the Empire, the Restoration. Then came the July Monarchy. After each of these successive mutations, it was said that the French Revolution, having completed what was presumptuously called its work, was finished—it was said and it was believed. Alas! I had hoped it myself under the Restoration; and still since the government of the Restoration had fallen; and here was the French Revolution which started again, because it is always the same one. As we proceed, its goal moves away and grows murky… I do not know when this long voyage will end. I am tired of making for the shore in the deceptive fog, and I often wonder if this dry land which we have sought for so long indeed exists, or if our destiny is not rather to batter the sea eternally” (3).

It will take time for France to reach the port and the time of revolutions is not yet over. In the twentieth century, the Bolshevik Revolution took over, whose actors presented themselves as the heirs of the French Revolution. The Bolsheviks also toppled an old aristocratic society and built on its rubble a new social order that prided itself on embodying the truth of democracy. Yet the dynamics of this revolution clearly escaped Tocqueville’s categories, and his analyses are of little help here. There is something else. Tocqueville speaks of gold, but only in one sense.

IV

Tocqueville does not explain the whole French Revolution; he does not explain the whole modern world. The one and the other are linked. There are several dynamics at work within the modern world; there are several dynamics born of the French Revolution: the dynamics of equality and the one we call the dynamics of ideology. The French Revolution is thus not a block, it is composite. But it should not be broken down in the classical way, that of the liberals of the 19th century who opposed 1789 and 1793. The distinction, it seems, was made as early as 1789.

This composite character explains why the French Revolution could be sometimes opposed, sometimes related to the American Revolution. On the one hand, the French Revolution was animated by its own dynamic which made its singularity and whose heritage largely explains the specificity of French political History. It is this same dynamic or a dynamic of the same type that animated the Revolution in the East and whose acquired strength broke with the collapse of the Soviet regime; and it is this heritage that has just been erased from French politics. In this sense the French Revolution is over.

On the other hand, the French Revolution is of the same family as the American Revolution: it marks the entry into the world of equality. And it is this dynamic of equality that is redoubling today, dragging along both American and French society. In this sense the Revolution (French or American) continues. This explains, it seems to us, the end of the French exception.

If this analysis is correct, the contemporary period is a period of rupture, even if it is not always perceived as such. The French Revolution not only provoked a formidable explosion that shook the world and lit a blaze whose fire has only just been extinguished, it also, along with the American Revolution, set off a repeated bomb whose effects are working on our societies as never before since the “explosion” of the 1960s. The status of politics and the nature of social relations have been profoundly modified.

Tocqueville, saddened, died under the authoritarian Empire. He who had never reflected on history, except to enlighten the future and to promote the cause of a regulated and dignified freedom, saw the present: an adventurer turned despot, the rascals in power, the shameless servility, contradicting his analyses and his hopes. Would he be delivered today from his sadness or his anxiety? Certainly, the French Revolution as a political revolution is finished. But the democratic revolution, whose consequences he feared, brims over on all sides. Endless Revolution.


Philippe Bénéton is Professor emeritus of Rennes I and is the author of Le dérèglement moral de l’Occident, Les fers de l’opinion, Introduction à la politique, Le conservatisme.

Getting Past Post-Truth

The first condition for human sociability to exist lies in the truthfulness of language, itself judged by reality: if everything is a trick, man becomes for man at least a fox, if not a wolf. It is more difficult than ever to take the word of those in positions of power or political influence. “Lying is frowned upon; yet it is a key element in the political game. A reflection on the lie is essential for those who want to know the political game… It is a weapon that one must know how to use intelligently—or else one will be excluded from the game” (Pierre Lenain, Le mensonge politique [Political Lying]. This author, while François Mitterrand was President of the Republic, was saying out loud what everyone else was thinking. What would he write today?)

Moreover, what we know about what is happening in the world comes to us almost exclusively through the media; that is, through a mode of knowledge by testimony, which is only valid if the witness is credible. But in the present conditions, it is difficult to discern the true from the false, except by carrying out real investigations to try to understand certain facts, which endeavor is given only to a small number endowed with aptitudes and time, and sometimes without guarantee of ever being able to succeed.

The massive deculturation brought about by the subversion of teaching methods, the loss of elementary common sense, the socially dominant impact of the philosophies of doubt and deconstruction, the ideological manipulation of history, the mimicry of artificial processes of information processing, the nominalism that transforms words into conventional signs with mutable meaning, all contribute to increasing disarray. The result is the emergence of a mass skepticism that makes people indifferent to the idea of truth. The neologism “post-truth” expresses this state of affairs. One could say that post-truth is the counterpart of practical atheism, which has simply ceased to ask the question of God and has even made it impossible to understand that such a question could be of any interest.

It is not surprising that post-truth can be established where liberalism dominates, since it associates, in the name of freedom of thought, the reduction of truth to opinion, and its philosophical theorization claiming it is impossible to go beyond the knowledge of phenomena alone. All this without forgetting that we are under the reign of juridical positivism, which authorizes to transform, from one day to the next, by means of legal constraint, a version of the facts or a historical conclusion into “narratives,” in conformity with the usefulness that the latest possessors of power find there.

Recent events have illustrated this massive expansion of post-truth, whether it be the pandemic or all the declarations, political justifications, influence-games and contradictions that have constantly accompanied it, in France and elsewhere. The American election episode has added grist to the same mill. These are very significant facts of a change of scale in the order of the ordinary lie, a change that one perceives as brutal, although it has been established progressively, and for a long time; brutal and thus highly disruptive of a relationship to the world in conformity with the nature of things.

We will address here only a few aspects of the problem, first by taking advantage of a very systematic study of Western military and diplomatic interventions in the last decade, and then by paying attention to conspiracism (or conspiracy) as the double result of a spontaneous and clumsy reaction to lies and as an argument recovered to better spread them.

****

Swiss colonel Jacques Baud, an expert in terrorism and asymmetric warfare [type of conflict between conventional forces and armed gangs], has had the opportunity to intervene in various theaters of “peacekeeping” operations under the aegis of the UN. From this experience and from his practice of intelligence, he has written a book, recently published, entitled Gouverner par les fake news [Governing by Fake News]. It is a meticulous work, based on abundant documentation, much of which is directly accessible online, which allows one to verify the author’s claims and greatly reinforces his credibility.

Jacques Baud is very hard on the political, military and diplomatic personnel with whom he was in contact for many years. He begins his work by questioning, successively, the power usurped by a bureaucracy pursuing only its own interests—the deep state, in the initial and limited sense of this expression—the “weakness of the higher echelons of command,” judged to be devoid of intelligence in the presence of adversaries who do not fit into their categories, and their “cowardice when it comes to advising the political echelon, based on the facts, and an almost total absence of a sense of responsibility.”

Diplomats, he writes, may be more educated, but they are also more corrupt, and equally incapable of understanding asymmetric phenomena. This statement probably reflects a certain bitterness, following numerous unfortunate experiences; however, it should be taken into consideration carefully, at least as an indicator of a general trend. Jacques Baud goes so far as to state a judgment that leaves one speechless: “[W]ith simulacra of strategy, which are only an erratic sequence of tactical actions, we seek solutions to our perceptions, and not to the reality on the ground.” These criticisms are extended to the media complex, which is supposed to enlighten the world, but which is caught between deliberate lies in the service of undisclosed interests, suggested by ad hoc agencies, and laziness or overreach in the face of the complexity of situations, often leading to the use of experts invested by the same agencies.

The author, who has personally experienced the distressing effect of such behaviors, limits his ambition to raise a “reasonable doubt” about the information that is abundantly delivered to us. Reasonable, because, he writes, and on this point we can only follow his lead, “the information is there, available, provided that we take the trouble to look for it.” In other words, it is through a patient effort of research and analysis that we can hope to extricate ourselves from the jungle into which the arrival of the post-truth era has plunged us.

The book is articulated in twelve substantially contemporary case studies, from Afghanistan to Venezuela, through Iran, terrorist organizations, Syria, the Ukrainian crisis, North Korea, Sudan, and the cyberattacks attributed to Russia. Each time, we go into detail about the way Western actors have dealt with the situations, whether in terms of identifying the data or responding to them; knowing that this treatment generally results in acts of war with very heavy human consequences, provoking reactions of extreme violence, massive population displacements, or at least maintaining the unhealthy climate of a powder keg close to an explosion. One assessment of the war in Iraq can be used as a basic rule in this regard: “Built on lies, the war in Iraq is a disaster. Not only is it criminal, but it has been conducted in a stupid way from the beginning.”

The starting point for diplomatic and military action, in all the situations mentioned, is always, as it should be, information on the threat, real or imaginary, to which one is preparing to respond. There are two obstacles that make this artificial. On the one hand—and it is bad faith that comes into play—self-interest, greed and rivalry determine the objective of an intervention and lead to the falsification of the reasons supposed to justify it. The “coup” of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction is emblematic; but it has often been repeated thereafter, illustrating the saying, “he who wants to drown his dog accuses it of having rabies.” In this hypothesis, agents of influence and the media deploy all the arsenal of their sophistry to fabricate false testimonies made to measure. Jacques Baud often insists on the role played by certain television programs in the staging of biased presentations of situations, among others the program C à vous, under the direction of Patrick Cohen, on France 5.

Sometimes the subterfuge is not even hidden. For example, this recommendation by one of the many American think-tanks, the Brookings Institution, gives this advice for policy towards Iran: “It would be much better if the United States invoked an Iranian provocation to justify air strikes before launching them. Obviously, the more outrageous, lethal and unprovoked the Iranian action, the better for the United States. Of course, it would be very difficult for the United States to induce Iran to carry out such a provocation without the rest of the world detecting the scheme, which would undermine it. (One method that might be successful would be to revive efforts at clandestine regime-change in the hope that Tehran would retaliate overtly, or even indirectly, which could then be described as an unprovoked act of Iranian aggression” (Kenneth M. Pollack et al., Which Path to Persia? Options for a new American strategy toward Iran, cited by Baud, p. 68).

Examples of reasoning of this sort abound in Jacques Baud’s book, which, let us keep in mind, is entitled, Governing by Fake News; in other words, by the editing of fake news and provocations (false attacks, falsified expert reports intended to prove, for example, the massive use of toxic gas by Bashar al-Assad against the population of the Ghouta plain, in the immediate vicinity of Damascus, at the heart of one of the most elaborate storytelling of that period, etc.).

Of course, such methods are not new. But since the Ems Dispatch, the role of the media has grown enormously; it is now essential, and all the more useful—of course, the rapid downgrading of information helps—and the “fake-news” launched at one moment can easily be changed into its opposite sometime later. This role is obviously linked to the need to direct public opinion, both in so-called democratic countries and in other regions that react differently, such as the Arab countries.

We are thus reminded of the functioning of the media, where the agents of influence amalgamate, who are ever attentive to imposing their version and discrediting any other interpretation and who are never confused by the final revelation of their untruths. On this point, Baud again quotes Patrick Cohen, in relation to Syria, referring in April 2018 to “revisionists who question the reality of the chemical attack attributed to Assad when everything showed that it emanated from jihadists (cf. 216ff). It is worth noting that in this particular game, the State of Israel is often involved, although not exclusively or uniquely. “Benjamin Netanyahu exploits the servility of some Western journalists, while former Mossad directors, such as Ephraim Halevy, warn against this overdramatization. In fact, our traditional media tends to become propaganda organs, just like Pravda in the Soviet Union.”

If the manipulation is blatant and dominant, it is still necessary to specify the reason why it succeeds, and also to note that it can be held in check under certain conditions. And, in fact, the two aspects are one and the same. The exponential development of falsifications has as its best ally the weakness of the majority of those who create and transmit them. “Let us therefore begin by discarding all the facts, for they do not touch upon the matter.” The method posed by Rousseau in the Introduction to the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men seems to be widely shared. Jacques Baud, for example, explains how a series of violent Islamic movements, though distinct in origin and possibly antagonistic, have been brought together under the single stamp of al-Qaeda—a generic Arabic term meaning “base” and used by a number of distinct groups. The simplification is convenient; and it also gives the impression of a single movement growing like a hydra around the world, constantly reborn, despite the announcement of the elimination of one or another of its major leaders.

****

To this form of reductionist laziness is added ignorance about the area, and in particular of concrete cultural data. It seems that the Christians of the East, especially in Syria and Iraq, have had to pay the price of this lack of culture. The demonization of al-Assad and the invention of the concept of democratic opposition to his regime are the result of this constructed blindness, even if this opposition is composed of rival jihadist groups that commit crimes against the population. But after all, isn’t this blindness made to facilitate changes, of course, according to the overall evaluation of the interests pursued? Jacques Baud takes, among others, the example of Ukraine, a country in which a nationalist political movement including neo-Nazis (Svoboda and Pravyi Sektor) remains, a fact carefully ignored or minimized by moral witnesses such as Bernard-Henri Lévy, whose soothing words Baud quotes (p. 294). However, Baud asserts, the Ukrainian population as a whole is much less Russophobic than this minority that is militarily helped by the West to maintain a climate of war in the East. This is only one case among many others.

The conclusions of Jacques Baud’s book introduce us to one of the most obvious perverse effects of the situations he describes in great detail—post-truth generates skepticism, conspiracism, and in turn the latter feeds its double, anti-conspiracism, which finds in it an argument for better acceptance of falsified data. [A poll conducted in 2019 showed that “for 29% of French people ‘it is acceptable to distort information to protect the interests of the state’… In other words, a significant part of the population accepts that the truth is hidden from them” (395-396)].

The world is then divided into two camps, those who believe without thinking, or pretend to believe the assertions of governments, the media and other anti-conspiracy activists, and those who practice a generalized doubt against any somewhat official information. “It would be wrong to believe that fake news masks a will” (393). The sentence, to be taken literally, contradicts many of the demonstrations present in the rest of Jacques Baud’s work, starting with its title. But one can agree, especially by thinking of the way in which the crisis of the coronavirus was and remains “managed,” with the sentence that follows: “In fact it is the opposite—we act without understanding the situation or in haste, and then, in order to hide the errors of governance, we invoke fake news.”

The tendency to understand and explain events in a summary way or in the form of a system is old, as well as the fact of caricaturing it to better deny the part of truth. To take an example, among the clichés often repeated in connection with critical analyses of the French Revolution, one of the most constant consists in ridiculing the explanations of Abbot Augustin Barruel. Whatever reservations one may have about the value of the interpretations he drew from his documentation, as to the role of the Bavarian Illuminati sect and of Freemasonry in general, and which still remain debatable, that is, worthy of being critically scrutinized rather than dismissed as the work of a maniac.

But Barruel’s work still serves as a useful foil. One of the current organs of denunciation of fake news, Conspiracy Watch, posted on the subject, in 2019, the article of an historian, tempered in expression but denying any value, not only to the work of the former Jesuit, but also to that of Augustin Cochin (who was opposed to Barruel’s theses) and his recent disciples, the historians Fred Schrader, François Furet, Reinhart Koselleck. The author of this rebuttal, who described the Masonic origin of the trilogy “liberty, equality, fraternity” as a “myth,” denied the part played by what he calls “the Order” in triggering the revolutionary process. Relying on the easy criticism of Barruel’s interpretive model, this historian then amalgamated with the latter the authors of the most serious works, and finally disqualified the whole—a method frequently followed in the refutation of conspiracism.

The contributors to Conspiracy Watch regularly labor to establish the falsity of all sorts of current doxa-resistant discourse. It is interesting to read the “About-Us” of this small political pedagogy organization. First of all, the initiative is posed as a response to the irruption of the new means of communication, for the moment poorly or not controlled: “The Internet has totally disrupted our access to knowledge and information.” The statement suggests the idea that previously the control of information was easier, and also that this mode of circumventing ideological censorship had not been foreseen.

The first major investigation conducted by this organization and its powerful associate, the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, dates from late 2017, which is quite recent. “Stimulating minds in search of global and definitive explanations, at times claiming rationalism and the Enlightenment, going so far as to pass off their beliefs as critical thinking and to endow themselves with a veneer of respectability, many of these ‘conspiracy theories’ compete with the so-called ‘official’ theses. In the eyes of many, some of these theses manage to impose themselves as ‘alternative’ truths. Hence the development of this online news service devoted entirely to information on the conspiracy phenomenon, Holocaust denial and their current manifestations.” What “negationism” are we talking about in this case?

The list of proposed publications deal with the growing fear about the effects of vaccines, the thesis of the “great replacement” of the original population by mass immigration, the loss of confidence in the reliability of elections, etc. We are far from the sole denial of the gas chambers. The negationism in question would thus be a form, if not of contestation, at least of disbelief towards any expression of the dominant discourse considered a priori as threatening and manipulative. Let us note that the term conspiracism in itself carries a negative judgment about its object, which it only needs to illustrate without further demonstration. In this respect, the current health crisis provides grist for the mill for the militants of the recovery of good thinking

The fight against conspiracy is now the subject of columns in the press, of special programs on television, and benefits from public-institutional support in France and from the European Union. {The European Commission runs a propaganda office called “Fighting disinformation,” which mixes basic advice, such as “beware of people online claiming to have found a ‘miracle cure,'” with a clear defense of the EU “line,” mainly focused on vaccines). In all cases, it is a preventive action intended to prevent any form of disagreement, identified as active disinformation, or even counter-attacks.

Just recently (November 2020) a widely viewed and discussed documentary, Hold up: retour sur un chaos (Hold up: Return to Chaos), about Covid-19 and the policies followed to deal with it, has overexcited all the parties concerned. The film mixes factual elements, interviews with personalities of recognized competence and questionable or purely hypothetical elements, on which the agencies fighting against deviance rely to reject the whole. The methods of investigation about the risks of recuperation by sects, or of prevention of Islamist “radicalization,” are thus taken up in an attempt to muzzle criticism of the policy concerning the health crisis. The following comments were made: “How did you react when your daughter, mother, brother or friend started to put forward explanations about the pandemic that turned into conspiracies? Does this relative respect the safety measures all the same? Do all your discussions revolve around this topic? Has your relationship been affected? Have you been able to maintain a dialogue, and how? Beyond this private relationship, are you concerned about sharing conspiracy theories about the pandemic?”

Such is the climate, very contradictory from the epistemological point of view, since on the one hand the very idea of truth tends to disappear, and on the other hand the fight against (true or false) false information is becoming more and more demanding. It is not difficult to see this as power propaganda, in the same way as the obligation to adhere to vintage versions of certain historical facts.

Giorgio Agamben wrote on this subject on July 10, 2020: “In the controversies of the health emergency, two infamous words appeared, which obviously had the sole purpose of discrediting those who, in the face of the fear that had paralyzed minds, still held to their view: ‘negationist’ and ‘conspiracy’…. As always in history, there are men and organizations that pursue their legitimate or illicit objectives and try by all means to achieve them, and it is important that those who want to understand what is happening know about them and take them into account. To speak, therefore, of conspiracy adds nothing to the reality of the facts. But to call conspirators those who seek to know historical events for what they are is simply vile.”

In Gouverner par les fake news, Jacques Baud indicates that in the United States, the FBI seeks to detect individuals at risk. “Deviant elements, alternative political thinking or belief in conspiracy theories are considered manifestations of mental disorder, and therefore potentially of terrorist radicalization” (392). Such preventive action may be justified, since psychotics can indeed act on their obsessions. But the problem of disbelief in the official version of events, and that of adherence to simplistic substitute versions—an old-fashioned habit that has fed so many café discussions—is quite different, stemming above all from a lack of culture and verbal prudence. And it is dishonest to confuse this clumsy and morally dubious reaction with a mental pathology.

Very significantly, the denunciation of conspiracism ignores serious studies on the subject, which can be much more nuanced. “In any case, it seems delicate to fight conspiracy theories by claiming to be ‘the’ scientific truth, as the organizations claiming to fight against fake news perhaps do a little too naively… as if the truth were an objectifiable fact that can be ‘verified’ once and for all. We are witnessing an astonishing hardening of the rationalist posture, to say the least: the scientific statement becomes not only objectified, but prescriptive and normative.”

The author of this judgment, Julien Cueille, immediately concluded that the conspiracists have “good reason to argue that such a ‘reason’ comes from a very impure source, since it immediately mixes theoretical considerations and political interests.” The same author provides numerous analyses of existential reaction behaviors to the way of life imposed by the current de-socialization and the form of slavery called corporate management. For him, the hasty and simplistic interpretation, even aberrant of the events can translate a reaction of rejection towards the inhuman character of the imposed way of life and to the conscience of being manipulated. It is a social symptom drawn up in front of the hypocrisy of a reputedly democratic regime which is in reality a manipulative oligarchy. He also points out the existence of professional liars in the ranks of scientific experts who attest to untruths on behalf of this or that multinational, either by order or by sycophancy, which should invite anti-conspiracy to be more humble—if that were possible.

****

From all of the above, we can at least conclude that post-truth is a current reality, the result of a historical evolution that has seen ideological propaganda, now drowned in a daily life that Zygmunt Bauman has described as “liquid.” The term applies well now, when all political decency seems to be disappearing, leaving almost nothing of the trappings with which the formalism of democratic rules and the once fashionable “transparency” were adorned. This atmosphere is conducive to all kinds of manipulation. These manipulations can be on a down-to-earth level, that of in-culture, of carelessness in the treatment of business, of a real and shameless competition between those who aspire to reach the oligarchy, and of an unvarnished greed.

These manipulations can also be attributed to much larger forces seeking to impose their hegemony on a global scale. But in any case, the disappearance of “hard” ideologies and the expansion of post-truth appear under two concomitant features—one is the great difficulty of identifying the places of power, the exact intentions of those who occupy them, the true nature of events whose protagonists and beneficiaries are barely known—the other is, in such a context, the fact that this general blurring of knowledge of the world in which we live constitutes a very effective form of control over the masses, because of the effects of anguish and stupefaction that it produces.

Post-truth is thus special in that it not only conceals reality, but also dissuades from trying to apprehend it. In a way, when Leviathan is nowhere, it is everywhere.


Bernard Dumont publishes the influential revue, Catholica, through whose kind courtesy we are able to bring you this article. Translation from the French by N. Dass.


Featured image: fable of the tortoise and the scorpion, illustration to the Anwar-I-Suhaili, 1847.

Christopher Lasch: Historical Continuity and Memory

The American historian and sociologist Christopher Lasch (1932-1994) expressed his distrust of the ideology of progress in the context of the New Deal. His works analyzed in particular the new mentality generated by the consumer society (The Culture of Narcissism, 1979), or the rupture between the people and the elites (The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, 1994). In Christopher Lasch face au progrès (L’Escargot), journalist Laurent Ottavi provides keys to understanding this complex and unclassifiable thinker.

This interview is made available through the kind courtesy of PHILITT. (Translated from the French by N. Dass).


PHILITT (PL): Christopher Lasch made the “ideology of progress” his primary target. In the post-war American context, what exactly does this mean?

Laurent Ottavi (LO): For Lasch, the “ideology of progress” is modern liberalism—the political philosophy of capitalism, born in the writings of Adam Smith and his immediate predecessors. It is based on the promise of a satisfaction of the desires of individuals, held to be insatiable, by the unlimited increase of production. Its fulfillment requires the liberation from particular frameworks of belonging (family, neighborhood, nation, etc.), traditions, nature and morality that set limits to individual desiderata. In this way, an ever-perfected earthly paradise of abundance and enjoyment is born.

Lasch began his research in the post-World War II era, at a time when American capitalism was centered on the consumer, to the detriment of the producer, which the New Deal had greatly contributed to—while power was increasingly in the hands of experts and multinationals—resulting in a serious democratic collapse. This was coupled with a fracture, which began a few decades ago but was unprecedented in its magnitude, between the “elites” and a people considered backward, clinging to their traditions and work ethic and deploring the collapse of legitimate and identified authority.

PL: Does his anti-progressivism necessarily make him a conservative or reactionary thinker?

LO: The reactionary is only the mirror image of the progressive. The former idolizes a past frozen in an eternal perfection, while the latter sees in the past centuries only, with the lesser good to be wiped away. The conservatives, on the other hand, have according to Lasch, a right conscience of the inescapable limits posed on human freedom by nature, the past or History. The historian also rejects the idea that conservatives are necessarily authoritarian, centralizing and unequal. Instead, they identify the need for social structures that discipline individual appetites and the importance of separating powers that might otherwise quickly be monopolized by one man.

Laurent Ottavi.

Conservatives, Lasch adds, know that respect and love are for particular individuals, accountable to each other, and not the result of invoking “universal brotherhood” or “tolerance” that locks people into welfare or victimhood. That being said, Lasch criticizes conservatives for having too often confused the acceptance of limits with submission to the authority in place and, above all, for having adhered to the ideology of Progress that destroys communities, morals and traditions to which they claim to be so attached. If he is not fully a conservative and even less a reactionary, Lasch describes himself best as a populist.

PL: The figure of Narcissus, thematized by Lasch, is a degraded version of Prometheus, “archetype of liberal modernity and its ideal of autonomy.” What characterizes the culture of narcissism?

LO: The culture of narcissism is the product of a capitalism freed from the corsets that hindered it since its beginnings. Drawing lessons from the Frankfurt School thinkers, Lasch judges that all society reproduces itself in the individual, in particular through the family. He identifies the narcissistic psychology of the new generic man, obsessed with the survival of his own person, in the age of mass capitalism.

In a world where insatiable desires collide with the wall of reality, which is close enough for great catastrophes to strike us but too far away to act on it, individuals have defense mechanisms similar to those of the child developing a narcissistic personality. The latter denies the distressing reality of the separation between him and beings that cannot satisfy all his desires. He then takes refuge in a painless union and in ecstasy with the mother or lends his parents the power to satisfy all his desires and imposes them on everyone.

At the level of a society, this translates, in the first case, into the search for a regressive symbiosis with the world typical of transgenderism, of the New Age, or of an ecology divinizing nature. In the second case, it is expressed by a desire to remake the world in one’s own image, such as the desire to exert absolute control through technology in spite of nature and biology. Without practical experience of the world, the psychological man of our time also abdicates the possibility of forging an individuality because that requires the consideration of limits. He is a dependent and deeply anxious Prometheus.

PL: In Lasch’s eyes, you write, “the American elites are less a ruling class than a ‘managerial professional class.’” What does he criticize them for and what conclusions does he draw from this fracture between them and the people?

LO: Lasch observes that the elites, that is the richest 20% who are largely executives and intellectual professionals, have lost the sense of reality because they are cut off from everything (nature, manual labor, etc.) that resists the will of man and keeps them in the illusion of wanting to reconfigure their environment and themselves as they please.

On the other hand, the elites aim not so much at ruling as at escaping the common fate within gilded ghettos where they concentrate economic, educational, leisure and transport advantages. Lasch reproaches them above all for betraying democracy, which is based on popular sovereignty, a shared ordinary life and virtues, foremost among which is moral responsibility, all of which are mocked by the elites. Fatally cornered with the reaction of the people, against a background of accumulated emergencies (social, health, security, etc.), they risk becoming more and more authoritarian in order to preserve their privileges and to maintain an unsustainable economic organization or a fractured society. For its part, the former lower middleclass risks giving in to growing resentment.

PL: Like George Orwell, Lasch seems to have identified a “common decency” among ordinary people. Many have denounced the essentialist character of such a notion. How do you respond to them?

LO: To use the expression “common decency” is not to claim to describe in an exhaustive way the characteristics of ordinary people. It simply underlines one of their dimensions, their instinctive sense of limits drawn, writes Kévin-Boucaud Victoire, “from the ordinary practice of mutual aid, mutual trust and social but fundamental bonds.”

Today, common decency is most prevalent among the former lower middleclass. It has inherited a sense of limits from the petit-bourgeois sensibility because of the difficulties of its daily life—its empowering practice of manual trades or hobbies, or its inclusion in the community framework. Lasch does not hide its possible failings by mentioning the racism, the anti-intellectualism and the resentment into which the petty-bourgeois sensibility can sink. The populism of the historian would help to defuse such failings.

PL: How precisely is Lasch’s “populist sensibility” defined? In what way can populism, often reduced to a form of “extreme right,” allow for the foundation of a post-capitalist society?

LO: His populist sensibility articulates the best of conservative, religious, socialist and liberal traditions. It would be the best way to turn the page of capitalism democratically and without the illusion of a revolutionary evening, and thus of growth, excess, wage-labor, centralization, inequality, abstraction and the fracture between the people and their elites. It requires four democratizations: economic, reviving a Republic of producers; political, involving citizens as much as possible at the local level; intellectual, reviving the lost art of controversy; cultural, finally, through popular sport and art.

Christopher Lasch adds to this an indispensable revitalization of the family, too isolated today from work, from intermediate places, such as bars, or even from neighborhoods. He opposes the progressives’ primacy of the future with a historical continuity based on memory, the mother of hope, as well as a consideration of the moral depth of the tradition of Christian prophecy.


UFOs and Space Aliens: A Theistic and Catholic Perspective

For some two millennia, most Christians have believed that Earth was God’s sole habitat for rational animals in all creation. Moreover, the role of Christ as savior of all mankind was viewed as essential to healing the rift with divinity caused by the first parents of all true humans—a rift repaired by the death of Jesus on a cross, a fall from grace and divine reparation that happened once and for all time and nowhere else in all the cosmos.

Fast forward to today and we suddenly see taken seriously claims about UFOs that may contain intelligent visitors from other and distant parts of space – visitors whose theological relation to earthly humans is now very much in question. Indeed, many now are having doubts about Christianity itself, since they wonder whether the scientific evidence about intelligent life on other planets directly contradicts doctrinal truths essential to Christian revelation.

Today we hear increasing reports about UFO sightings, abductions to alien spaceships, ancient alien civilizations in places like Antarctica, interdimensional visitations, and human interactions with space aliens of diverse species, such as Reptilians, Pleiadians, and Greys. This plethora of reports from diverse sources make many people wonder whether one or more may actually turn out to be true.

My intent is to address directly the challenge that such extraterrestrial humanoid claims seem to pose to traditional Christianity, specifically, to Catholicism. Can one rationally believe that Catholicism would still be authentic divine revelation, if it turns out that such extraterrestrial intelligent humanoids actually exist?

Indeed, what makes this challenge even more daunting is our very lack of knowledge about the truth of these various extraterrestrial or interdimensional claims of alien intelligent life forms. Since we are not yet certain what accounts are true, or even if any of them are true, how can we offer a rational defense of traditional Christianity?

The method I will follow will be to examine the claims for the God of classical theism as well as attendant philosophical tenets presupposed by Christian revelation, specifically Catholicism. That is, some of the preambula fidei (Preambles to the Faith) will be tested for epistemic certainty.

I do not intend to offer a fully developed natural theology here. But, I do intend to show how the ultimate epistemic and metaphysical foundations exist on which to erect a natural theology with perfect certainty. Other foundational truths of philosophy of nature and philosophical psychology will also be shown, which, with like certainty, support Christian beliefs about man having a spiritual and immortal soul.

Metaphysical First Principles and Logic

The Christian metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas centers on the concept of being which is foundational to all metaphysical first principles, such as those of non-contradiction, sufficient reason, and causality. The transcendental validity of these basic truths is absolutely essential to the proofs for God’s existence and to all rational inquiry about reality.

To the metaphysician, “being” or “existence” is first known when the mind is confronted by something actually presented to it by the senses, that is, when it recognizes and affirms existence as actually exercised. As philosopher Jacques Maritain points out in his book, The Degrees of Knowledge (1959), being is first known in a judgment: “Scio aliquid esse” (71-81). That is, “I know something to be or to exist.” I may not know what it is that I have encountered in experience, but I know that it is “something real or existing” in some way.

On the contrary, the logician views existence only to regard it as a type of essence, that is, being as signified. The logician abstracts a concept of existence from actually encountered existence, treating it then as if it were a kind of essence. That is why the logician views existence or being as a univocal term, whereas being or existence as actually found in reality is exercised analogically, that is, as varying from being to being. Whether it be creature or Creator—both exercise existence, despite the incommensurability of their essences.

Since the process of abstraction by which we form concepts captures only essential likenesses between things, its predication is inherently univocal. The logician studies the proper relations between concepts, which are formed secondarily to the judgment in which the mind first knows being in a general manner. But, the being, which is first known in a direct judgment of something existing and which the metaphysician studies, is found in all things, regardless of nature or differences, and hence, is inherently analogous, that is, predicable of anything that has existence—even of things with radically diverse natures, such creatures and God.

Modern analytic logicians attack Thomistic philosophers’ use of “existence” as the first act of any being by claiming that “existence is not a first-order predicate.”

They will say that we directly encounter cows from which we can form a concept of “cow-ness,” which can then be licitly predicated of something, as when we say, “Daisy is a cow.” But then they say that we do not encounter “existence” in the same fashion, since it is not directly given in sense experience. Hence, they claim that Thomistic reasoning about the “existence” or “act of existence” of things is based on something that we do not directly encounter in experience. Since modern logic, indeed, all logic, studies second intentions and not first intentions, it is perfectly understandable why Fregeans insist that “existence is not a first-order predicate.”

But existence is encountered by all human beings in ordinary everyday life. We make judgments about things being real or not real, existing or not existing, all the time. Moreover, we have a very clear notion of being that is freely applied to all things, including what most people understand as a transcendent God. People do not run around enunciating the proposition, “Being cannot both be and not be.” Still, people understand perfectly clearly that nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. No one has any real problem with these judgments and expressions about being or existence—save for those suddenly trying to do philosophy about such notions as technically expressed in modern logic.

Empirical judgments tell us that things are real in the physical world, but do not explain the sufficient reason why they are actually differentiated from nothingness. Moreover, existence in act cannot be the object of sense experience as such. But it can be known directly in an existential judgment, as when we say, “This horse exists.”

All this is precisely why human knowledge is not merely sensory, but rather is sensory-intellectual. Human experience is not restricted merely to sensation (as Hume assumes), but is simultaneously intellectual in nature.

That is why we say that existence (esse) is known in a judgment, NOT in sensation as such. When we say that “this horse exists,” the physical attributes of the horse are experienced through sensation, but the intellect alone pronounces that the horse and its properties have actual being or existence.

And because existence is known immediately in sensory-intellectual experience, it is, whether it be so in Fregean logic or not, a legitimate predicate of actual things. No, it adds nothing to the properties of the thing (to the essence, that is), but it pronounces the whole thing as real—as not nothing at all.

When we encounter real things, we not only experience their physical attributes, but we also judge that they, and whatever it is that has those properties, are real, that is, that they exist. They have something real in them that differentiates them from nothing at all. If we deny this evident fact, we lose all intellectual contact with reality.

In our first encounter with the existence or being of something – an encounter that is simultaneously both sensitive and intellectual, the intellect immediately forms the judgment that “being is.” From this we immediately combine it with its corresponding negative judgment, “non-being is not,” to form the principle of non-contradiction: “Being cannot both be and not be.” We then add the qualifiers, “at the same time and in the same way,” so as to make sure we are talking about the exact same being from the exact same perspective.

Hence is formed what is called the ontological principle of non-contradiction (PNC): A being cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same way. It is a most basic metaphysical first principle that governs not only thought, but all of reality.

Maritain, in his book, A Preface to Metaphysics (1939), says that “the whole of logic depends upon the principle of contradiction” (34). You cannot be sure of the logical form of the principle unless you are first certain of its ontological form. That is, you cannot be sure that the same predicate cannot be affirmed and denied of the same subject universally, unless you are certain of this because of first presupposing the ontological form of the same principle. Otherwise, since propositions are part of reality, it might be possible to affirm and deny the same predicate of the same subject.

Indeed, the ontological principle of non-contradiction is absolutely required to establish the very intelligibility of every thought and every utterance and every logical proposition human beings make, since in affirming anything about any reality, even mental reality, it is implicit that one is affirming and not denying what is expressed. Absent that certainty, every thought or utterance or proposition might just as well express the opposite of what it intends to say.

Even the science of semantics itself would be meaningless and unintelligible, reduced to a pile of potentially self-conflicting statements that may or may not have any bearing on reality—absent the ontological PNC.

Moreover, the intelligibility of every judgment made in natural science presupposes the PNC, since otherwise, no judgment might comport with reality.

Some maintain that we say nothing absolute about things. We just make probability estimates of this or that being true or likely to happen. But this presupposes the absolute affirmation of the probability. Are we only 70% sure that we are 70% sure? Would that make us only 49% sure? And 70% probability of that 49% reduces what began as a 70% probability to a mere 34.3% possibility! Mere probability judgments, if applied to everything, would quickly asymptote to a near impossibility! This means, then, that even probability estimates must be made absolutely, and thus, presuppose the PNC in their declaration.

Given that the ontological PNC is undeniably given at the very starting point of all human knowledge, there is no “secondary level” philosophical system or theory that can disprove it, especially since all such alternative epistemologies presuppose the self-same principle of non-contradiction in their own initial premises and expositions. That is why the PNC is a metaphysical first principle foundational to all human knowledge and to all reality or being.

The Foundation of Certitude

If what I experience is merely subjective, like a hallucination, I still have perfect certitude that I have encountered something real in its own order. If I see pink elephants dancing on the ceiling, I may be wrong about their extramental reality, but I cannot doubt that I am experiencing something real. I still know something to be or to exist, even if it is only in my intramental, but real, experience.

Doubt requires a distinction between (1) what I know and (2) what is real, since doubt is fear of error. But to be in error, I must think I know something, which—it turns out—is not really true. So, doubt is the fear that what I think I know is not what is real.

But the reality of my experience is identical with the reality of the content of the hallucination, that is, pink elephants dancing on the ceiling. I can be wrong about a judgment I make that goes beyond the subjective experience itself, but I cannot be wrong about the fact that I am experiencing some form of reality.

It is in that first immediate certitude of being or existence as judged by the intellect that we realize that we metaphorically can “see” being, much like the sight naturally sees color. The mind also then realizes that being is not non-being—a law as universal as being itself. Applying to anything that possibly exists, this first principle is inherently transcendental. For, any possible thing that is real or exists already is being, whereas, any possible thing that does not exist is literally “nothing” to worry about.

The mind not only “sees” being, but it is also self-reflectively aware of its natural conformity to that being. That is, the mind is naturally constituted to know being. That is why we use it to know what is and what is not. Were the mind to lack such ability to know being or reality, it would be entirely useless as an instrument of knowledge.

The Principle of Sufficient Reason

Not only do we trust the mind as an instrument to know being, but we also use it as an instrument to judge all that is real. We engage in reasoning in order to come to know the truth about reality or being.

The mind demands reasons for anything that is not immediately evident. That is, if a thing does not have its own explanation within itself, we properly demand that “outside” or extrinsic reasons be supplied.

No one seriously holds that being can come from non-being. Some foolishly assert that quantum mechanics allows that photons can pop into existence in a quantum vacuum. But a quantum vacuum is not really the “nothing” that philosophers are talking about. Rather, it is merely the lowest possible energy state found in physical reality. We are talking about trying to make something from what is really nothing at all. It is impossible.

The mind demands that being can only come-to-be from being or something already there, which amounts to saying that being must be grounded in being, that is, in some foundation or sufficient reason for its existence.

Some have alleged that certain events or realities are simply “brute facts” for which there is no reason or explanation. But, if that were true, we could never know when anything lacks all explanation, which would make natural science as well as all human reasoning useless. To think something must be true with certitude means to think that is how it must be. But, if it must be in a certain way, that means that there is a reason why it is that way and not some other way. Or else, there is no necessity about what the intellect holds to be true, and hence, no certitude.

Because it thinks in terms of being, the intellect cannot think a genuine contradiction. So, too, the intellect cannot think of anything as real and true without having a reason to do so. If it thinks something is true with certitude, it is because it judges that there is a sufficient reason to do so.

The mind demands true premises and valid inferences in all its reasoning about reality. But premises are true and reasoning is valid solely because they keep the mind in conformity with reality or being. Hence, the mind demands a true foundation in being or sufficient reasons for any claim that does not explain itself by being its own sufficient reason for being. This means the mind demands a sufficient reason both for what it holds true, or, if something is not its own sufficient reason for being as it is, then there must be extrinsic reasons sufficient to make up for what something does not explain within itself.

The preceding is simply a complicated way of defending and stating the principle of sufficient reason: Every being must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be either within itself or from some extrinsic sufficient reason or reasons. There can be no such thing as a “brute fact,” since that would be to deny the principle of sufficient reason which flows from the very nature of being itself.

Certitude in Proving God’s Existence

Why, then, are the PNC and PSR key to certitude in proving God’s existence?

Valid proofs for the God of classical theism rest squarely on these two metaphysical first principles. Valid proofs are a posteriori—starting with effects found in the sensible world and arguing back to the need for a First Cause Uncaused in whatever order of reality is used as a point of departure for the proof involved.

The key is to start with something whose sufficient reason is not totally intrinsic, which is what is called an effect. Every effect needs a cause, which serves as its needed extrinsic sufficient reason. That cause, in turn, is either itself uncaused or caused. (PNC) If it is uncaused, the Uncaused First Cause has been arrived at. If caused, then the question of infinite regress among causes arises. That was the central question dealt with in my book, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence.

Put as succinctly as possible, in any regress of intermediate causes, each cause contributes something to the final effect, but none explains the “thread of causality” which runs through the entire series. Hence, if there is no first cause, the entire series lacks a sufficient reason for its final effect. But that is to deny the PSR. Therefore, there must be a First Cause Uncaused.

It is true that an infinite regression in accidental causes is possible, for example, fathers begetting sons forever. But the past no longer exists to explain the present here and now. Fathers are causes of the coming-to-be of their sons, not of their being, once conceived. The father can die, while the son lives on. Present effects need present causes. So, any causal regress must be among proper causes—causes acting here and now to produce their effects. Among such a causal regress, regression to infinity is impossible, as shown above. Therefore, there must be a First Uncaused Cause.

While the above outlines the general format for valid proofs for the God of classical theism, perhaps the best known of these proofs is the First Way of St. Thomas Aquinas, which begins: “It is certain and evident to our senses that in the world some things are in motion.” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c). Here, St. Thomas begins with an immediately evident truth given to us directly in sensation. He follows this with a general principle: “Now whatever is in motion is being moved by another” (Ibid.). Again, he is not talking about movers going back in time, but about movers acting here and now to effect the coming-to-be of new states of reality here and now.

The “Law of Inertia” does not explain Motion

Newton’s law of inertia tells us that a body in motion tends to remain in motion. Many falsely think that explains a cosmos in continuous motion. It does not. The law of inertia merely describes how bodies behave. It fails to explain how or why they act this way.

Even without using Aristotle’s famous terminology of “act” and “potency,” it can easily be shown that everything in motion requires an extrinsic mover, using only the first principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason.

When a body undergoes motion or change (this applies to changes in energy states as well), either that change is real or not (PNC). It must be real, since inertia is claimed to explain all real change, even evolutionary progress, in the cosmos. If it is real, then there must be a real difference between the “before” and “after” of the change. That is, the state of things is really different after the change occurs.

It does not matter whether we are talking about changes in position of planets or particles, changes in energy states or of changes in any other hypothesized physical reality. What matters is that reality is different after the change than it was before the change—and the coming-to-be of that new state of reality must be explained.

But it cannot be explained by the “old” or “previous” state of things, since the prior state did not include the reality that comes-to-be. Otherwise, there would be no difference between the before and the after, and thus, change did not take place.

But, change did take place and, since the previous state of things did not include that which makes the subsequent state of things new and different, the previous condition of things cannot explain what comes-to-be. Yet, the PSR demands a reason for what comes-to-be. Therefore, something else than the previous state of things must explain the new state of things.

This something else, then, must have caused what is new in the new state of affairs after the change occurred. Applied to physical motion, this means that whatever is in motion must be moved by another—just as St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle insist. For, what is in motion is changing, and that change—even if it is merely one of physical location relative to some point of reference—still needs a sufficient reason for the newness of the “after,” which was not in the “before.”

The rest is easy. Since there can be no infinite regress among moved movers here and now moving things moved, there must be a First Mover Unmoved, just as Aristotle and St. Thomas conclude.

Now the entire physical universe is in constant motion according to the science of physics. Yet, all its components are finite in nature. That is, they are all limited beings, existing with only “these” specific qualities and/or properties here and now, such as space-time coordinates. The universe as a whole is finite, because it is composed of finite or limited things.

In such a cosmos, all things are limited at any point in space-time to just what they are now—prior to any further motion or change. That is the essence of them being finite.

So, where does the “newness” of what newly comes-to-be after motion or change come from—either considering a single submicroscopic physical entity or when taking the entire cosmic nearly-uncountable parts as a whole? Both are finite. Both are confined to the limited reality of the past. Where does the newness of the next moment in time come from?

Does the newness come from the prior state of all things in this finite universe? It cannot, since the prior state, precisely as prior, does not contain the different and new states of being, which specifically differentiate what is new from what was prior. Non-being cannot beget being. Nor can the new state of things beget itself, since its new properties are “new” precisely because they did not exist in the prior state of things.

But change or motion does occur. Foolish materialists at this point will blurt out recourse to Newton’s descriptive law of inertia. But we have just seen that inertia explains nothing in terms of showing a sufficient reason for the continued motion of bodies which entails continually new and different states of reality, even if they are merely changes in spatial position. After all, these changes claim to explain a progressively evolving cosmos. So, they must be real and, as such, demand a coherent sufficient reason for their coming-to-be.

What is left? We know the cosmos is changing, even down to the least subatomic physical entity, according to natural science. We know it needs a cause of its changes. We know nothing in the finite physical cosmos can be that cause. The sole remaining alternative is that there must exist some first mover or movers unmoved which are not themselves moving, and thus, are not part of the physical universe. We need an immaterial or spiritual First Mover to explain all the motion or change in the physical world.

Coming back to the theme of this article, I should point out that even UFOs, space aliens, and hypothetical interdimensional multi-verses belong to the realm of the physical world of limited or finite beings subject to change or motion. Hence, none of them qualify for the role of an Unmoved First Mover of all motion or change in the finite physical world.

Note also that no deity in the form of pantheism or panentheism can be the First Unmoved Mover, since both of these “theisms” include the physical world as part of the essence of God, and thus, would be subject to the same limitations that prevent any finite world from explaining the newness that is continually generated in it through motion or change.

In his Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c, St. Thomas does not claim to have proven the existence of the God of classical theism through any of his Five Ways. Rather, at the end of each argument, he simply observes that what is concluded to is what all men call God. It takes him another ten questions as well as many diverse arguments before attesting that the demonstrated philosophical understanding of God is such that his nature fulfills the revealed biblical name of God. Finally, in the Summa Theologiae, I, q. 13, a. 11, he asks, “Whether this name, He Who Is, is the most proper name of God?”—a question he answers in the affirmative, “since the being of God is his very essence.”

Since one could easily write a book about Aquinas’s Five Ways alone, I have no desire to present all or most of the classical proofs for God here. Rather, my primary focus has been to reaffirm the certitude of the essential “legs” on which all such proofs stand, specifically, (1) the principle of non-contradiction and (2) the principle of sufficient reason. Beyond that, I have addressed some common misunderstandings concerning: (1) the validity of the analogy of being, (2) the principle that whatever is moved is moved by another, and (3) the question of infinite causal regression.

The purpose of the above is to reassure the reader that the proofs for God’s existence remain on sound footing even in the contemporary sci-fi world of UFOs and space aliens. Nothing has changed. As long as their metaphysical foundations remain secure, the general method of starting with some phenomena that needs explanation, such as motion in the world, the search for sufficient reasons inevitably lead us back through a chain of causes (or even directly to God) that must have a First Cause Uncaused in whatever intelligible order of dependent beings is being explored. Each of the famous Five Ways starts with something different to be explained: things in motion, series of causes of being, things whose existence is contingent, relative perfections found in things, and an order of governance in the world. Those who wish to see the most profound exposition of these Five Ways should read the entire first volume of Reginald Garrigou-Langrange’s God, His Existence, and His Nature.

Still, in examining the phenomenon of motion, we have already seen that there must be a First Mover Unmoved, which cannot be part of the physical world. This means that philosophical materialism has already been defeated. Even if UFOs and space aliens exist, it remains true that the ultimate explanation for motion in the space-time continuum transcends physical reality. A central theme of Christian belief remains true.

Other Themes of Christian Philosophy

One of the unhappy consequences of pure materialism is that its doctrine entails that nothing above the subatomic level actually exists. One need merely ask what happens when two atoms combine, say sodium and chlorine, when they join to form table salt or sodium chloride. Does this make one being, or, is it still two distinct atoms forming a temporary union? According to the materialistic philosophy of atomism, two atoms sharing an electronic link to form a molecule are no more one thing than are two people shaking hands a single organism.

The major historical alternative to atomism is Aristotle’s doctrine of hylemorphism, which says that all physical things are composed of matter and form, where form is an immaterial principle which makes a thing one substance of a certain nature. What is at stake is whether unified things with specific and diverse natures exist above the subatomic level. Are human beings single things of a same nature throughout? Are we just a pile of atoms or are we one thing of a unified nature? Common sense and experience says we are one single substance. Thus, if someone is punched in the stomach, we don’t say that just a stomach was punched. We say the person was punched, since we are human in every cell of our being from head to toe.

But how do we know that we are a single substance, such that the nature of all our parts is human—not a “foot nature,” “a hand nature,” and a “brain” nature? The evidence is abundant.

First, all parts of a whole function for the good of the whole, not just itself. That is, our stomachs do not just digest food for itself, but to feed the metabolism of the entire organism. Our feet sacrifice their comfort on long hikes for the sake of moving the entire person from one place to another.

Even more definitive is our actual experience of existential unity as we react to, for example, the attack of a mad dog. We simultaneously see and hear and feel the attack of the beast with all our senses in a single unified subjective painful and horrified experience. Then, we marshal all our psychological and physical powers to fend off this attack, keenly aware of our same self both as the central receptor of the incoming fire of all the senses and as the central agent of the outgoing actions of all our being to repel this dangerous attacker.

In this vivid experience we are directly and immediately self-aware of the unified nature of our person and all its senses and physical powers interacting with external forces in terms of a “unified command center.” This evident unity of our human person requires a real principle of unity, which accounts for our specifically human behavior—a nature or form (as Aristotle would call it), which makes a single, unified substance existing over and above the physical elements which compose it. This principle of life that makes us an individual human being is what is called the soul.

The Human Soul’s Immaterial Nature

This same self that enables the body to act in a unified manner also exhibits activities and powers that transcend the materiality of the body alone.

First, our senses apprehend the physically extended complexity of our environment in such manner as to grasp whole objects in a single, simple way that is impossible for purely physical things to do. Most clear is the instance of vision, where we can see both tops and bottoms of objects in a single act.

Electronic devices, like televisions, can represent objects physically extended in space solely by having different parts of the representing medium represent different parts of the object. For example, for a television to represent a tree on its surface, hundreds of thousands of pixels across its face are either illuminated or not, so as to depict the parts of the tree. No single pixel “sees” anything, since it is both inanimate and is either illuminated or not. It is only the pattern of illuminated pixels that represents the whole tree.

But a dumb canine, bounding into the room, instantly can see the whole image of the tree, top and bottom, in a single act of sight—unifying the physically extended and disparate parts of the image into a single subjective experience that cannot be itself physically extended in space. Why not extended in space? Because then one part would represent one part of the tree and a separate part would represent a different part of the tree and nothing would “see” the whole. That is the nature of material things. Different parts do different things.

But the act of seeing the whole tree in a single act requires that the sense power involved must not be itself extended in space. And to not be extended in space means to be immaterial.

Thus the sensitive soul, which enables an animal to experience sensation, must itself not be material, since it enables the animal to perform immaterial actions – actions not extended in space.

The Human Soul’s Spiritual Nature

Animals show evidence of immateriality in their simple apprehension of sense objects, as I have just shown. But, the problem for life in the animal kingdom is that even such “immateriality” fails to escape completely dependence upon the animals’ material bodies and organs. This is evident because both sense objects and sense images are always experienced under the conditions of matter, as we humans see in our own sense lives.

Sense experience is always “under the conditions of time and space.” This means that such experiences are always concrete, particular, singular, and have imaginable material qualities, such as specific size, color, shape, weight, sounds, and so forth. If one imagines a triangle or horse, it must always be with a particular color, size, shape, and so forth. Such images are always under such “conditions of matter,” and thus, fail to show complete independence of matter, that is, of material organs, such as the brain.

Like animals, man has sense powers. But, unlike animals, man also exhibits superior intellectual acts, such as understanding universal concepts, judging, reasoning, and making free choices. For present purposes, I shall focus on the first act of the mind: abstracting universal concepts.

Universal concepts or ideas are free of all material conditions and manifest the genuinely spiritual nature of the human soul. Thus, while it is easy to imagine a triangle or a horse, it is utterly impossible to imagine “triangularity” or “horseness,” since such an image would have to simultaneously contain the concrete shape and other qualities of every possible triangle and horse, which is impossible. I can imagine a particular triangle. For most people, this turns out to be an equilateral one! But triangularity can be expressed as well in concrete triangles that are acute, obtuse, and even isosceles. Yes, we tend to associate an image with a concept. But one person may imagine a mouse when thinking of “animal,” while another is imagining an elephant instead. That is why, when communicating with someone, we do not finish by saying, “Did you get my images?” Rather, we say, “Do you understand my meaning?”

Moreover, many universal concepts simply have no physically concrete instances, for example, such inherently spiritual ideas as justice, virtue, beauty, truth, or equality. Conceptual knowledge is radically different from, and superior to, mere animal sensory experience or imagining.

Universal concepts are neither extended in space nor do they manifest being under material conditions, which would, as in the case of images, imply dependence on matter. As such, they are spiritual in nature.

While this is not the only argument for the human soul’s spirituality, it is the most well-known one, dating at least as far back as Plato’s dialogue, Phaedo. Since the less perfect cannot be a sufficient reason for the more perfect, it is clear that merely material organs, like the human brain, cannot account for the formation of spiritual universal concepts. Since man can produce such spiritual entities as universal concepts, it is clear that he must possess such powers, not in his body, but in his soul – a soul, which must be as spiritual as is the concepts it produces.

Thus, philosophical proof exists of the spiritual nature of the human soul. Importantly, this rational truth casts further light on the nature of God.

The Spiritual Soul Must be Created

While the sense knowledge we share with animals is shown to be immaterial (meaning that it is not extended in space), still such knowledge is understood to be dependent on material organs. This is evident because both images and sense objects are always known under the conditions of matter, that is, with a particular shape, color, extension, and so forth. But our intellectual knowledge of universals is spiritual as is the human soul, because, not only are concepts not extended in space, but also they have no sensible qualities at all, which shows that they cannot be the product of sense organs. That is, unlike images, concepts exist independently of matter.

Because of this, the human spiritual soul is utterly superior to organic matter. Sense organs alone cannot produce what is spiritual. Thus, we have a problem as to the origin of the human spiritual soul. For, how can matter produce what is strictly immaterial? How can the lower or less perfect produce what is higher or more perfect? It cannot.

Bodily beings produce only more bodily beings. Spiritual entities exceed the powers of bodily beings to procreate. Since the human soul is not dependent on matter for its existence, it exceeds the procreative power of merely material organs. And a spiritual being cannot be changed into another spiritual being, since they lack the hylemorphic (matter-form) composition needed to explain change in physical nature. Since the human spiritual soul comes to be from neither bodily being nor from pre-existent spiritual being, it can only come into existence through creation, that is, from nothing that preexists its coming into existence (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 90, a. 2, c.).

Since it begins to exist at the beginning of human life, the human spiritual soul must be created by some spiritual agent extrinsic to the human beings, whose procreative activity occasions its creation at the moment of conception.

But to create means to make something without any preexisting material. It takes infinite power to create. St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates this truth as follows:

“For a greater power is required in the agent insofar as the potency is more remote from the act, it must be that the power of an agent which produces from no presupposed potency, such as a creating agent does, would be infinite, because there is no proportion between no potency and the potency presupposed by the power of a natural agent, just as there is no proportion between non-being and being” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 3).

What St. Thomas is pointing out here is that the measure of power is taken, not merely from the effect produced, but also from the proportion between what is presupposed by the agent in order to produce the effect and the effect produced. That is to say, while it takes a certain measure of power to make a horse from pre-existing horses, it would take far greater power to make a horse from merely vegetative life—not to mention the power required to make a horse from non-living matter. But, to make a horse, while presupposing nothing at all, requires immeasurably greater power.

As St. Thomas points out, there is no proportion between having nothing at all from which to make something and the thing produced, just as there is no proportion between non-being and being (Ibid.). But, what is immeasurable is literally “without limit,” or infinite. Hence, it takes infinite power to make something while presupposing nothing preexistent out of which to make it.

The Creator

Since we have shown that the human spiritual soul is created, there must exist a creating agent. But creation requires an infinitely powerful cause, as just shown. Therefore, an infinitely powerful creating cause must exist.

But infinite power cannot exist in a finite being. Hence, the infinitely powerful creating cause of the human spiritual soul must be an infinite being. Clearly, such a being must also be spiritual in nature, since physical things inherently have bodily limitations.

But there cannot be more than a single infinite being. If there were two of them, they must differ in some way, or else, they would be the same being. But, if they differ in any way, one must have something the other lacks. In that case, the other, since it lacks some aspect or quality of being, cannot be infinite, since the infinite being is lacking in nothing. So, too, were there three such beings, only one can be truly infinite, since the others must be differentiated by lacking or having some quality that differentiates them. If they lack anything, they are not infinite. If they have something another lacks, then the other is not infinite. The bottom line is that it is metaphysically impossible that there should be more than one Infinite Being or Uncaused Creator. There is but a single Creator because there can be but a single Infinite Being and only an Infinite Being can create.

Once it is shown that solely the unique Infinite Being is the creative cause of all spiritual entities that come into being, it is but a short step to realize that this same Infinite Being must be causing by continuous creation the existence of all finite beings. For, a being that begins to exist through the creative power of God continues to exist through dependence on that same power, since it does not explain its own existence.

It does not take massive insight to realize that, if it takes infinite power to make something come-to-be, while presupposing nothing preexistent out of which to make it, infinite power is also required to enable something to continue to exist as opposed to being nothing. This is even more manifest in light of the fact that we have already proven that an infinitely powerful Creator of spiritual souls actually exists.

The power required to explain why beings exist is not measured by whether they happen to have a beginning in time. Rather, it is measured in terms of that power being the reason why there is being rather than nothing at all. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, “…there is no proportion of non-being to being.” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 3). Hence, the sufficient reason why any finite being exists is that infinite power is making it be and continue to be. Since the Infinite Being alone has such power, all creatures must be being continually held in existence by the infinite power of that unique Infinite Being, who is the God of classical theism.

Since it is now evident that God is the First Cause Uncaused and Creator of all finite things, we can use the basic fact that non-being cannot beget being in order to learn something about God’s nature and attributes. Put another way, a being cannot give what it does not possess. So, any perfection we find in creatures must somehow pre-exist in God. Moreover, since God is the First Cause, he can have no composition within his being, since what is composed presupposes a prior cause to compose it. This means that God’s nature is simple, so that whatever attributes he possesses must be identical with his nature, thereby making them infinite like his nature is.

For example, since some creatures are persons, God must be a person.
If some creatures have intelligence, then God must be intelligent. If there is goodness in the world, God must be good. If truth is a value found in creation, then God must be truthful. And all these attributes must be identical to his infinite nature to avoid any hint of composition in God. I am not trying to give here more than an outline of how such reasoning proceeds.

But we also find in creatures many imperfections and limitations, such as pain, sin, stupidity, limitations of space and time, evil, and so forth.

Since these are negations of perfections, the general answer is that non-being needs no cause. Thus, any aspect of creatures that entails imperfection or limitations need not be predicated of God. The most obvious issue posing difficulty here is the problem of evil. But, since contradictions in being are impossible, once we know that God exists and is infinitely good, it is immediately evident that the problem of evil can be resolved in some manner.

While most skeptics claim that the reality of evil in the world is incompatible with the divine attribute of God’s infinite goodness, this objection is easily defeated once we realize several simple truths. First, evil is not simple non-being, but rather it is a defect or perversion in something designed by God to be good. For example, a man lacking proper virtue is morally evil, or, a horse that is swayback lacks its proper skeletal formation.. For this reason, the measure of goodness itself is the natures of the things in the world created by God.

Second, it is morally licit to permit evil so that greater good may result, as when a father allows a young son to smoke a cigar and get sick so that he learns a lesson.

Third, as the divine lawgiver and maker of natural moral law, God has the right to punish those who violate that law—so as to restore the balance of justice. Unless we think we know more than God does, we cannot judge him for permitting certain moral and physical evils so that greater good may ensue.

Fourth, since pleasure and pain serve the good of sensitive organisms to preserve and promote their lives, even the role of pain in the moral development of man may be good for him. Indeed, even the existence of hell cannot be excluded as playing a major role in encouraging man to attain the greatest perfection of his last end and as a requirement of divine justice for the stubbornly reprobate.

Other attributes of the God of classical theism can be established, but that would exceed both the limits and the needs of this paper. From what has been discussed above, it should now be evident that robust evidence and proofs exist to support the essential parts of Christian revelation about God, the world, and man’s spiritual soul and personal immortality.

The key conclusion I propose at this point is that, even were somehow Catholicism and Christianity not true divine revelation, irrefutable reason still shows that the God of classical theism exists. Moreover, since UFOs and space aliens are usually presented in a context of materialistic worldviews, such philosophical views have now been ruled out.

If space aliens exist, they will have to be interpreted in light of a metaphysics that comports with Christian revelation in terms of a good, truthful, infinitely-powerful Creator, who is the God of classical theism, and of a human spiritual soul that has personal and immortal life.

Catholicism’s Clearest Modern Proof

In no way do I intend to denigrate the fine work of Christian and Catholic apologists, who offer overwhelming evidence in support of divine revelation occurring in and through the person of the Lord of History, Jesus Christ.

While the greatest miracle of all time is the Resurrection of Christ, the unfortunate fact for many people today is that that event, which took place some two millennia ago, requires careful historical research in order for them to be convinced of its reality. But, we live in an age of high technology, where even the least newsworthy incidents get recorded for broadcast on the evening news in a clip from some bystander’s cellphone. This makes it difficult for many to be convinced of an event that took place long before today’s “eyewitness” proof of a cellphone video.

Fortunately, for contemporary man, God has deigned to give us a modern miracle that offers undeniable proof of its authenticity and divine origin in terms designed to disarm present-day skeptics. It is set in a time so recent that modern means of electronic communication, photography, and newspapers existed, but not so recent that GCI or other high tech fakery was yet developed.

The whole world knows that, on 25 March 2022, Pope Francis publically consecrated Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary—thus manifesting Catholicism’s intimate connection to events that took place at Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

The Fatima story is well known – even to many unbelievers. Indeed, movies have been made about it, including The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952) and Fatima (2020). For those who know nothing of it, the story begins in May of 1917, when Pope Benedict XV made a direct appeal to the Blessed Virgin to end WWI. Just over a week later, three children, tending their flock of sheep in Fatima, Portugal, suddenly saw a lady bathed in light, who told them not to fear and that she came from heaven. She asked them to return on the 13th of each month at the same hour for the next six months. The lady also asked them to pray the Rosary, which the children began doing fully each day thereafter.

Over time, others joined the children at the appointed time each month and, by July, numbered two or three thousand people. During the September 13th visit, the lady promised that in October she would tell the children who she was and would perform a miracle “so that all may believe.” The apparitions occurred each month on the 13th, except for August, when the anti-religious authorities seized the children and threatened them with death, thereby preventing them from attending the scheduled apparition. By 13 October 1917, predictions of a public miracle had become so widely known that literally tens of thousands of people, believers and skeptics alike, converged on Fatima from all directions.

The Miracles of Fatima

The message of Fatima, which led to the 25 March 2022 consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope Francis and all the bishops, is not my primary concern in this essay. Rather, my intent is to show that the miraculous events at Fatima could have been affected solely through the power of the God of classical theism and that they prove with certitude the authenticity of Catholic religious revelation.

While many focus on visual aspects of the “sun dancing in the sky” on that day, I shall examine three diverse phenomena, any one of which might be considered a contender for the category of a miracle: (1) the prediction, (2) the solar observations, and (3) the sudden drying of the people’s clothes and of the ground. We should remember that the term, “miracle,” means, “by God alone.” A true miracle is an event, outside the order of nature, that nothing less than the Infinite Being, who is the God of classical theism, can cause. No lesser phenomena meet the qualification for the term.

The oldest child, Lucia, tells us that the lady who appeared to them on 13 October 1917 said, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” In all six apparitions, the lady told the children and the world to pray the Rosary. This confirms the specifically Catholic nature of this private revelation. If any genuine miracles took place that day, they confirm the truth of the Catholic religion.

1. The Prediction Miracle

The tens of thousands of witnesses appearing from all over Portugal show, without doubt, that the prodigies which occurred at Fatima on 13 October 1917 were the result of a clear prediction. This is evinced by the very fact that such a multitude expected some sign from heaven that many traveled even large distances to Fatima to witness the events. The miraculous phenomena were predicted as to date, hour, and location—by three children, the oldest of whom was just ten. And the prediction was stunningly fulfilled.

Some have claimed that spiritualists predicted ahead of time that something amazing and good for humanity would happen on 13 May 1917, which turned out to be the day of the first vision at Fatima. Since Catholicism condemns such superstitious and possibly demonic practices as spiritualism, it has been argued that this might suggest the whole Fatima story is the work of the devil or even space aliens.

We must recall that the children reported the appearance of an angel who gave them Holy Communion in 1916. If that is true, then demonic estimates of future events could have been triggered, making the nature and date of a subsequent contact from heaven well within the paranormal powers of demons. After all, just by doing merely human software data mining, Clif High has made some amazing predictions of future events. The preternatural powers of demons should far exceed such human abilities. While Catholicism condemns spiritualism, this does not mean that authentic information could not be given by demons to certain spiritualists. There is no need for space aliens to explain these spiritualist predictions, even assuming they are true.

In any event, the very public nature of the children’s predictions of a miracle, “so that all may believe,” was widely known before the fact and stunningly fulfilled in a manner and scope unique in human history. Since I shall show later that the miracle of the sun itself could not have been produced either by space aliens or demons, the only adequate cause of this uniquely exact prediction of such a massive miracle must solely have been the God of classical theism.

2. The Visual Solar Miracle

The number of people – skeptics as well as believers – who gathered at the Cova da Iria at Fatima, Portugal, on 13 October 1917 is estimated to range from 30,000 to as high as 100,000. While many books and articles have been published about Fatima, of special interest is a small work by John M. Haffert, Meet the Witnesses of the Miracle of the Sun (1961). He took depositions from some 200 persons, thereby offering us eyewitness testimony some four decades after the miracle, but still within the lifetime of many witnesses. This book contains detailed eyewitness recounting of events by over thirty persons.

The book summarizes seven significant facts widely documented. They include that (1) the time, date, and place of the miracle was predicted in advance, (2) an extraordinary light that could be seen for many miles sending out “shafts of colored light” that tinted ground objects, (3) what looked like a great ball of fire fell toward earth, causing tens of thousands to think it was the end of the world, (4) the prodigy stopped just before reaching earth and returned to the sky, (5) it left and returned to the place of the sun, so that viewers thought it was the sun, (6) the mountain top where this happened had been drenched with rain for hours, but was completely dried in minutes, and (7) tens of thousands witnessed these events over an area of six hundred square miles (Haffert, 15).

Some online sources also give detailed eyewitness accounts.

It was quickly pointed out by skeptics that no such solar behavior could have actually occurred, since no observatory detected it and, following the rules of physics, such actual solar movements would have caused mass destruction on planet Earth!

Although the vast majority of witnesses reported seeing something they took to be the sun performing roughly similar amazing movements—even though some observers were miles away from the Cova da Iria, it should be noted that multiple sources report that some people at the Cova said that they saw nothing unusual at all.

The fact that the people saw amazing solar displays and even frightening movements of a silver-pearl disc that began its movements from the actual location of the sun—while the real sun could not have actually been so moved in space, demonstrates that massive visions were being experienced by tens of thousands of people simultaneously. This is reinforced by the reports that “…others, including some believers, saw nothing at all.” Certainly, any real extramental visual phenomena—even if they were not from the real sun itself—would have been seen, not just by some, but by all present.

While it is possible that some visual phenomena that day may have followed the normal laws of nature, what is clear is that the most extraordinary Fatima visual phenomena appear to have been in the nature of visions – possibly even “individually adjusted” to fit the sometimes diverse experiences of different observers.

Since the “solar” phenomena were not all reported to be the same and since not all present even appear to have seen it at all, it must be that whatever took place was not extramentally real as visually apprehended. Rather, it is evident that the phenomena was seen as extramental, but must have been caused by some agent able to produce internal changes in the observers, such that they believed they were witnessing actual external events. This is essentially what marks the experience of a vision. One writer calls it a “miracle of perception.”

Also, purely physical explanations based on some sort of optical phenomena fail to account for the overwhelming fear induced by seeing the “sun” appear to be about to crash into the earth, causing many to fall to their knees in the mud and some to actually call out their grievous sins for all to hear, since there were no priests available!

What critics badly miss is that variances in accounts actually strengthen the case for a miracle, not weaken it. Such a rich diversity of reports supports the case for all the visual aspects being visions that differ in each person. Like the fact that some were said to see nothing at all, this would support the claim that no external physical changes actually took place in the “dance of the sun.” Rather, this must be a case of massive individual visions – making the case for an extra-natural explanation only greater.

The plain fact is that tens of thousands of people do not make up a “collective lie,” especially when they cannot even get their story quite straight. Moreover, the plain fact is that the vast majority of those tens of thousands of people experienced analogously similar extraordinary behavior by the sun or by a silvery disc that emanated from the sun. Tens of thousands of people do not have collective hallucinations or anxiety attacks—especially, when the sea of humanity present included believers and non-believers, Catholics and atheists, secular government officials and skeptics alike.

However one explains one of most massively eyewitnessed events in recorded history, it must be accepted that the vast majority of those present experienced what surely looked like the greatest public miracle in history – even as reported in the atheistic secular newspapers in Lisbon, including O Seculo, whose 15 October 1917 edition published a front page headline, reading, “Como O Sol Bailou Ao Meio Dia Em Fatima,” that is, “How the sun danced at noon in Fatima.”

Could such massive phenomena have been caused by natural agents, space aliens, or even demons? Physicist and theologian, Stanley Jaki, S.J., offers an explanation based on the natural formation of an “air lens” at the site of the solar phenomena. But his explanation immediately confronts multiple difficulties. Even looking directly at the sun through an air lens would damage the eye, and no reports of ocular damage were recorded after the event. Moreover, I have already pointed out that the existence of somewhat conflicting descriptions of the phenomena as well as the fact that some saw nothing unusual at all, prove that the solar experiences must have been internal visions of externally experienced events—not the result of Jaki’s air lens hypothesis.

Finally, Jaki claims that the heating effect of the lens could have dried the people’s clothes and the wet ground. Unfortunately, while this may work in theory, the amount of energy needed to produce such rapid drying in a natural manner would have simply incinerated everyone involved! Instead, the people only felt comfortably dry. Jaki’s hypothesis appears to be simply false.

This “drying” miracle alone so contravenes the laws of nature that neither space aliens nor even demons could have produced it.

Natural agency of the visual “sun miracle” is ruled out because the phenomena were not external—as I have just shown, but rather, these were visions caused by internal changes in the witnesses. While space aliens might have mastered the technology of holograms, so as to produce some external physical display, that does not explain the number of witnesses who clearly saw nothing abnormal at all. The effects had to be internal and individualized in order to explain variances in what was seen, and especially, what was totally not seen by a number of people. Thus, the effects were not produced by visiting space aliens. Indeed, they were at least preternatural, if not, supernatural in nature.

On the dubious hypothesis that these effects were preternatural, and not supernatural, could they have been produced by angels or demons? Here, a moral analysis suffices. If somehow done by angels, then they were at the direction of God anyway. But, if done by demons, one is confronted with a message to humans to stop sinning, repent, and pray. I don’t think any further proof is needed to show that demons did not do this.

Finally, while preternatural effects are accomplished by producing a natural effect in an unnatural way, such as a body levitating with nothing seen to be lifting it, these optical phenomena entailed changing the internal vision experiences of tens of thousands of persons simultaneously. Whether merely preternatural powers could produce such an effect is highly debatable. In any event, the previously-given demonstrations show clearly that the “dance of the sun” at Fatima could have been produced solely through the infinite power of the God of classical theism, since it clearly exceeds the power of either man or space aliens to produce such individualized internal visions and moral analysis excludes the agency of spiritual agents other than, possibly, those following God’s command.

3. The Sudden Drying of Everything

Some critics, who were not themselves eye witnesses, try to explain away aspects of what happened at Fatima that day over a century ago by saying that, while certain things were physically real, they were not all that abnormal and were merely over-interpreted by those present.

The problem with such explanations is that they simply do not fit the actual experiences of those present at the time. For example, facile explanations of the sun’s behavior as being merely natural phenomena fail to note the reactions of those who fell to their knees in the mud, thinking it was the end of the world, or of those persons who cried out their personal sins before everyone, since there were no priests present!

Similarly, for hours before the sun miracle it was raining and soaking both ground and those present—as evinced by the sea of umbrellas seen in some photos. Suddenly, the clouds withdrew and the various shocking movements seen by the people as being from the sun took place. As the brilliant silvery disc finally drew back to the original position of the sun, many suddenly noticed that they, their clothes, and the ground were completely dry.

Later critics challenge this interpretation of events. They claim that photos do not appear to show so much water or that evaporation may have taken place as the sun bathed them for some ten minutes of its “dance” or that not all reported this alleged “miracle.”

But the critics were not there. First, there are photos of a sea of large umbrellas, covering the entire crowd at one point. Further, many witnesses affirm the essential facts: the initial soaking rain followed by sudden and complete drying. For one example, Dominic Reis of Holyoake, Massachusetts, in a television interview, made these selected remarks: “And now it was raining harder.” “Yes, three inches of water on the ground. I was soaking wet” (Haffert, Meet the Witnesses, 7). After the sun miracle occurs, he continues: “…the wind started to blow real hard, but the trees didn’t move at all. … in a few minutes the ground was as dry as this floor here. Even our clothes had dried.” “The clothes were dry and looked as though they had just come from the laundry” (Ibid., 11). Many other witnesses make similar statements: “I was all wet, and afterward my clothes were quite dry” (Ibid., 69). Understandably, some remembered nothing about the drying: “I was so distracted that I remember nothing but the falling sun. I cannot even remember whether I took the sheep home, whether I ran, or what I did” (Ibid., 41).

Given that the people attest to the truth of the ground and themselves being very wet, and yet, completely dry in the space of a few minutes, it is evident that some force beyond normal physics obtained here. It is possible to dry objects that quickly, but so intense a heat would doubtless kill the people in the process. This extra-natural character of this sudden drying exceeds the natural physical laws, which limit both the ability of space aliens and even the preternatural powers of demons.

This third miracle of Fatima—the sudden drying—is uniquely important, since it provided a more lasting and evident physical corroboration of events that the witnesses might otherwise think was simply a brief visual experience. Once again, we see a true miracle, something that could be effected solely by the God of classical theism.

Findings

Fatima’s miracles are unique in history because of the immense number of witnesses combined with three distinct simultaneous events that meet the definition of the miraculous, that is, something that solely the God of classical theism could effect. Nor can be ignored the intimate connection between these public miracles and a message from heaven that is clearly and intimately intertwined with the presence of the “lady of the Rosary,” who asks for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. The miracle of Fatima is clearly a divine approbation of the Catholic religion.

This unique historical event demonstrates divine approval of Christian revelation in general and of Catholicism specifically. Moreover, it confirms the divine message given to the visionaries, concerning the need for prayer and repentance and even of a special instruction of what would be necessary for God to give the blessing of the conversion of Russia and world peace.

The whole point of this article so far has been to establish two basic and unchangeable truths: (1) that the God of classical theism can be known to exist with certitude through the use of unaided natural reason, and (2) that Christianity in its specifically Catholic form can be shown with objective certitude to be the authentic revelation of the God of classical theism.

No future discoveries or revelations can alter or diminish these two fundamental truths that undergird human existence on this planet.

UFOs and Space Aliens

Now we come to the much delayed and truly fascinating part of this article. What about the UFOs and space aliens? Do they really exist as extraterrestrial biological intelligent beings or as non-bodily intelligences? I hate to let the reader down, but I intend to suspend judgment on most of this intriguing topic for the simple reason that the truth about space aliens is not yet publicly acknowledged one way or the other. There are those who claim that the military knows that extraterrestrials from other planets exist, but that they hesitate to inform the public for fear of its reaction to the news.

On the other hand, there is talk about something like Project Blue Beam existing. This would entail a false space invasion being foisted on an unsuspecting public. The means would be based on use of new-technology holograms, which are so convincing that people would think that they are seeing the Second Coming appearing the heavens or, alternatively, a fleet of spacecraft hovering over us and prepared to wipe out humanity.

The latter space threat could be used to intimidate all mankind into submission to a one world government in order to meet this alleged “threat.” This new global government would then turn out to be part of the Great Reset, which aims to impose tyranny on the entire human race, combined with a program of depopulation.

We need not entertain all these speculative and controversial claims and theories in order to point out something basic that is true regardless of what we finally may discover about extraterrestrials, namely, that nothing we discover can undo the eternal truths already known with certitude through unaided natural reason or infallible divine revelation.

We already know that the God of classical theism eternally exists and that Christian revelation in its Catholic expression is the authentic revelation of God.

Do extraterrestrials exist? Of course, they do! We know this, because it is part of Christian revelation. But these “extraterrestrial” creatures are pure spirits, directly created by God in the form of the angels. Those who fell from grace, we call devils or demons.

What we usually mean, when we ask if extraterrestrials exist, is, “Do intelligent bodily creatures originating from other planets in the cosmos exist? Or, perhaps, do such creatures exist in interdimensional physical reality (whatever exactly that may mean!)? In either event, the answer remains the same as far as our belief systems are concerned, namely, what we know from reason about God and from revelation about religion remains unaltered—since truth is eternal.

When we know that 2 + 2 = 4, we do not lay awake nights worrying that tomorrow the sum might change to 5. The same is true here. What has already been established by reason and revelation with objective certitude cannot be changed by new data. One might add to what is already known, but the basic truths about an eternal, omnipotent, infinite, all-good God, the spiritual and immortal nature of the human soul, and the dogma of the Catholic Church cannot and will not change their objective truth and meaning.

Wherever interpretations may be required in order to integrate the fact of alien species existing with existing revealed doctrine, that is for theologians to discuss and the Church to decide. This is much like what happened when the explorers first found the native peoples of the New World. Catholic theologians had to explain (1) that these people were human beings, just like the European explorers were, (2) that they had spiritual and immortal souls, and (3) that they needed conversion and baptism as Christ commanded for all men. That is why all of Latin America right up to the southern American border eventually became Catholic. At the same time, this new recognition of the humanity of these New World “aliens” changed nothing in the basic truths of the Faith as previously held.

If alien intelligences exist, the very fact that they have spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel alone would demonstrate that they are intellectual, rational bodily beings. Since man is a rational animal, they would be, by philosophical definition, part of humanity—maybe not Earthly humanity, but human beings nonetheless, philosophically speaking. We might call them by some other name, but they would still have spiritual and immortal souls, as simply evinced by possessing such intellectual abilities as judging and reasoning.

Recall, too, it is not a question of degree of intelligence that determines possession of an intellectual, spiritual soul. Any ability to understand the nature of things at all is sufficient to demonstrate possession of an intellectual soul.

How they are to be theologically integrated with humans native to Earth is, again, a speculative and practical problem for the professional theologians and the Teaching Authority of the Church to determine.

From the above discussion, it should now be evident that we have nothing to fear from any potential encounter with space aliens with respect to either what we hold philosophically or believe theologically, since the essential truths about human nature and God and religious revelation will remain forever unchanged and unchangeable.


Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he also served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. He is the author of two books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence, and Origin of the Human Species, as well as many scholarly articles.


Featured image: “Coming Through,” by David Huggins.

W.B. Yeats and Tradition

The French traditionalist philosopher René Guénon wrote in his Crisis of the Modern World that the craving for the material is an inherent feature of modern Western civilization. The need for endless activity, the pursuit of the material, the desire to keep up with the accelerating rhythm of everyday life have replaced tradition; that is, the awareness of human life through a higher principle that goes beyond the material understanding of life. The philosophy of rationalism, empiricism, and positivism, on which the modern understanding of things rests, recognizes only knowledge gained by contact with matter, and religion and metaphysics as “obsolete” worldviews that have no place in a world of nonstop progress.

Philosophy that emerges in the modern age inverts man’s understanding of life, literally from top to bottom. If in primordial (i.e., traditional, according to Guénon) society and then in Christian (medieval) society the vertical model of awareness of reality prevailed—God is the Absolute, who orders life on earth—then, starting in the 17th century, man becomes the measure of all things, and he defines existence for himself. In the new, materialistic world, truth does not lie in a higher principle, but is the result of the thinking of the individual person. Society, philosophy, and politics are not built according to “God’s will,” but according to human thinking.

In this context, Nietzsche’s words become clear: “God is dead. And we killed him.” This means that the modern philosophical paradigm has put in the place of God—the Antichrist, embodied in the unstoppable pursuit of progress and the immutability of material values of Western European civilization, which carried out a rebellion against God.

In the nineteenth century, when Nietzsche lived, the intensification of industrialization and the flowering of capitalism led to an even greater dependence on money and a rejection of traditional values. The expansion of cities and total resettlement severed the of families to their homeland, leading to a loss of intergenerational understanding. Along with the dominance of money came economic doctrines: free trade and Marxism, according to which economic relations are the fundamental principle of building society; and culture, religion and even politics are secondary elements. The new belief in the materialistic sciences began to prevail over the belief in God. The will to accumulate monetary wealth overcame the will to be spiritual.

In the early twentieth century, the conservative philosopher Oswald Spengler, in his voluminous work The Decline of West, expressed the idea that Western civilization had entered its last cycle. He understood the crisis of the Western world as the problem of civilization, which is the final stage in the development of culture. “Civilizations are the most extreme and most artificial states to which only man of the highest kind is capable.” Thus, Spengler declared that Western culture has disappeared qualitatively and had reincarnated into a civilization that rests on the power of materialism and progress.

It can be said that the three above-mentioned philosophers—Nietzsche, Guénon and Spengler—articulated the state of decline of their modern world, which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was artistically felt by many writers and poets. Some members of the creative intelligentsia responded sharply to the challenges of the material world; in their work, they not only spoke caustically about the problems of the new world order, but also called for a return to the deep roots of tradition.

One of the poets who “rebelled” against the modern world was the leader of the Irish literary revival, W. B. Yeats. In many ways his creative path was shaped by his interest in mysticism and esotericism and his refusal to accept material temptations as the basis of life.

Yeats was born in 1865, at a time when Ireland was sharply contrasting its metaphysical, popular spirit with the imperial and colonial ambitions of England, which was expanding its presence in many parts of the world. The imperative of modernity, industrial revolution and progress, imposed by England, was alien to “a society dominated by Celtic archaicism.” Against this background, a particular Irish way began to develop assertively, which combined folk identity and the Celtic spirit, created not by artificial simulacra of modernity, but taking its origin in the traditions and legends of old Ireland.

Thus, from an early age, Yeats moved in the circles of writers and artists who introduced him to the ancient Irish myths and instilled in him a love of his Celtic roots. The future poet became aware early on of his soil-based identity, which eventually became a defining factor in his later work. At the age of 20, Yeats was no longer shy about identifying himself with soil-oriented movements. The young writer joined the “Young Ireland” movement, and then in his poetry there appeared a national motif, expressed in praise of Irish rebellion and a negative attitude, above all, to modern England.

Young Ireland’s Sovereignism was based on a hatred of British utilitarianism and a desire for global subjugation of the indigenous peoples of other countries. Political and cultural liberation from the dictates of England was seen as setting the stage for a deeper transformation of Irish society and the end of the cycle of decline. It is important to note that for Yeats the revolt against British colonialism was based not on the enthusiastic possibility of building a “nation-state,” which is also a bourgeois construct, but primarily on the principles of Irish cultural revival, based on its mythology, history and Tradition.

His understanding of the historical context and cultural decline of Ireland motivated him to write, for example, such a poem as “The Curse of Cromwell.” Oliver Cromwell’s revolution, as well as subsequent revolutions in Europe (and Russia), marked the triumph of materialism over spirit and tradition. Modern English society was founded on a puritanical money ethic that spread to other parts of the world as well. This was unacceptable to Yeats and his circle. They believed that a small, soil-based and anti-bourgeois Ireland should stand up to the Protestant and capitalist sedition that had spread its stench across Europe:

You ask what—I have found, and far and wide I go:
Nothing but Cromwell’s house and Cromwell’s murderous crew,
The lovers and the dancers are beaten into the clay,
And the tall men and the swordsmen and the horsemen, where are they?
And there is an old beggar wandering in his pride—
His fathers served their fathers before Christ was crucified.
O what of that, O what of that,
What is there left to say?

This is how the poet conveys his idea that English modern society, which has established its materialistic one-man rule, has destroyed the tradition and “chivalrous” spirit of old England. There were no more people of noble tradition, no more “high men;” the old-time cheerfulness of the peasant village, the squire’s manor and the aristocrat’s estate were destroyed.

In many ways, of course, Yeats’s soil and traditionalism stemmed from the poet’s interest in religion. As a teenager, he sensed that poetry and artistic culture in general were fueled by signs, symbols, and a strange magical mystery that had no place in the material world. But the soulless scientific materialism of the nineteenth century—the Darwinist theory of human evolution, the discovery by scientists of the age of the earth, etc.—deadened belief in the divine, as well as ancient knowledge in alchemy, the mysteries of numbers, and metaphysics.

Yeats saw that official Christianity—Irish Catholicism and English Protestantism—were driven into the conventions of the new materialist era. He rejected Protestantism as totally unorthodox and alien. His contemporary Catholicism also had nothing in common with the sacraments, rites and Christian mysticism. Insisting on intuitive spiritual truths inaccessible to the philistine worldview, he set out in search of a secret, symbolically expressed wisdom which he thought might be common to the world’s various orthodox and unorthodox religious traditions.

It is telling that Yeats’ understanding of the foundations of Christianity and any religion is similar to that of traditionalist philosophers, such as René Guénon. For Guénon, the fact of being introduced to Tradition is important; he points out that Tradition (the philosopher intentionally capitalizes this word) is a special reality, a special language, which is opposed to the reality of the modern world. Guénon structured a “skeleton” of Tradition that precedes “the formulation of a particular Tradition in its historically fixable incarnation.” In other words, there is one truth that is embodied differently in one particular tradition or another.

An interest in Tradition with a capital letter led Yeats to a fascination with mystical movements and organizations practicing hermeticism and studying the sacred sciences. In 1897, Yates moved to London and joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was a major influence in the revival of interest in metaphysics in England.

Yeats saw in the metaphysical and the spiritual a basic unity for all manifestations of culture and Tradition, which was embodied in the magical original: “I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, in the power of creating magical illusions, in the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed.”

Human wisdom, divine revelation, and truth exist in all people of Tradition simultaneously, flowing from one mind into another, and revealed in one mind, in one energy. Let us compare this with what Guénon wrote: “In traditional civilization, it is almost impossible for a person to attribute an idea exclusively to himself… If an idea is true, it belongs to all who are able to comprehend it… A true idea cannot be ‘new,’ since truth is not a product of the human mind.”

Guénon was born 20 years after Yeats, but they worked and wrote around the same time. There is no evidence that Yeats was acquainted with the writings of Guénon , but it is surprising that two men who lived in different parts of the world—Yeats in England and Ireland, Gaenon (mostly) in Egypt—discovered the same truth of Tradition.

Guénon devoted part of his life to the study of the Hindu tradition. And it is significant that Yeats also studied Hindu philosophy with the theosophist Mohini Chatterjee, and joined the Theosophical Society in 1895. However, after the formation of the Irish Hermetic Order, the poet decided to devote himself to the study of the spiritual basis of Celtic culture and mythology, as a devoted son of his fatherland.

In 1931, no longer a young man, he met the Hindu preacher Sri Purohit Swami and again immersed himself in Hinduism. This second period of interest in Hindu mysticism replaced the romantic fascination of the early period with a much more active personal quest, accompanied by public apologetics for Eastern esotericism. Thus, despite his individual artistic path, Yeats had many points of contact with the founder of the philosophy of traditionalism and the chief critic of the modern world, René Guénon.

It should be noted that Yeats’s interest in Hinduism was more a strongly orientalized version of traditionalism rather than a complete immersion in the Hindu tradition, because his knowledge was gained at a considerable distance from India. Yeats’s study of Celtic archaicism, Hindu mysticism, or metaphysics are manifestations of a common truth that is revealed through the study of either tradition or religion.

Traditionalism opened to the poet a special understanding of the world and a vision of things. Yeats was characterized by a cyclical vision of history. In accordance with the Celtic tradition, he believed that “a complete cycle takes place within two millennia, and on this basis he linked the new stage of Irish liberation and rebirth with the more global processes—the end of the old aeon and the beginning of the new.” The philosopher Alexander Dugin uses the word “aeon” here not by chance—the cycles of time are characteristic of both European traditions and Hindu cosmology (where the term is taken from).

Guénon, describing Hindu teachings, claimed that the human cycle is divided into four epochs, during which primordial spirituality becomes more and more obscured. Currently, humanity is at the darkest point of the last cycle, Kali Yuga. And we have been in the “Dark Age” for six millennia; that is, since time older than known to history. According to Hindu doctrine, the end of the cycle will prove to be the beginning of a new cycle, when primordial Tradition will once again become true for all.

The cyclicality described in Hindu cosmology has common features with Christian eschatology described in the Revelation of John the Evangelist—the end of the world will come when the Antichrist will be born on earth and the wrath of God will fall on humanity.

After that Jesus Christ will appear and establish His kingdom forever. The Apostolic interpretation of the end of the world has the same structure as any Tradition—the end of the old, dark world and the beginning of the new world of light.

The theme of the Apocalypse is vividly reflected in Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming.” In it, the poet combines all the major themes of his work—the decline of Western European culture (“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”), the loss of its spiritual core (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”), the appeal to the mystical World Soul (“Spiritus Mundi”), the antagonism between the kingdom of the Antichrist, the world of modernity, and the Kingdom of Christ, the world of Tradition (“The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity”).

It is quite clear that the poet prophesies the appearance of a certain eschatological monster that will emerge from the chaos of the modern world, with its craving for the material, the denial of traditional values and the absolute of destructive progress:

That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

It is interesting that in his poetry (as seen in this example) Yeats uses modernist literary devices, such as allusions to literary monuments and biblical motifs to describe modernity. The modernist techniques in Yeats’s work are symptomatic, but he can be classified as a modernist only in form, not in content. “Yeats was immersed in modernity only in part—to the extent of his engagement with English culture and English society… but at the same time his cultural identity was rooted in the traditional society that prevailed in Ireland until very recently.”

Recall also that the cyclical nature of the times—from dark to light and from light to dark—is found in Spengler: “Birth contains death, youth contains old age, life as such contains its image and its predetermined limits of duration. Modernity is a civilized and not at all a civilized age.” However, this “Spenglerian” (and at the same time ” Guénonian”) theme in Yeats’s poem takes into account not only the demise of civilization, but also the time cycle, where a new king (Jesus Christ) emerges from a decadent era to begin the rebirth of culture.

Like Spengler and Guénon, Yeats saw meaning and hope in emerging “hermetic” societies, as well as right-wing movements that promised to revive the world of Tradition and oppose their politics to the unstoppable machine of progress and money. The poet’s entire oeuvre is permeated with warnings about the perniciousness of modernity and the banality of the material world. Ultimately, though, Yeats, like any traditionalist, anticipated that the crisis of the modern world would inevitably lead to the final destruction of civilization, and he was prepared for the coming of the Antichrist so that he could subsequently cross the threshold and find himself in a new cycle of a renewed world. This belief did not leave him until the end of his creative journey, even when there were hardly any like-minded people left. Hence Yeats was honorably called “the last knight of Tradition” in the Irish literary canon.


Pavel Kiselev is a Russian literary critic. His work appears in Katehon, to whose generous courtesy we owe this essay.


Featured image: Portrait of William Butler Yeats, by Sarah Purser; painted in June 1898.

Making Sense Of Nonsense

In recent years, there has been a concerted attack on many of the precepts of Western civilization relating to the concept of God, truth, Christianity, morality, sex, the family, and even modern science, especially biology. The concern of this volume is to explore these and other attacks through the tools of philosophy, theology, science, and intuition. It seeks to bring clarity to the ongoing struggle of Western civilization to preserve its values and traditions.

The West is crumbling at an accelerated rate. The unfolding erasure of history, objective morality, and truth has paved the way for our current predicament. We are now standing at the precipice of the future of human civilization. The attacks on the human person are unrelenting, malicious, multifaceted, and wide-ranging in their scope and breadth, from the time prior to birth until the moment of death. If you are granted the “right” to live, then you must be prepared for unending assaults on your, mind, body, and soul. Nevertheless, the spirit of man and the greatness of God are infinitely greater than any of these assaults. It is by making sense of nonsense that humanity will be able to navigate out of the West’s current quagmire.

Even though the contributors to this volume hold varied worldviews and conceptions of God, economic policies, COVID-19 outlooks, and political perspectives, they yet share a strong belief in an individual’s right to free expression without fear of reprisal; and they believe in the important role that reason, science, logic, intuition, and lived experience play in navigating through such difficult subjects. They bring an eclectic mixtures of expertise, including philosophy, theology, engineering, economics, psychology, medicine, history, nursing, and education.

Scott D. G. Ventureyra holds a PhD in Philosophical Theology from Carleton University/Dominican University College. He is the author of two books, including the Amazon best-seller, On the Origin of Consciousness: An Exploration through the Lens of the Christian Conception of God and Creation. He has published in academic journals such as Science et Esprit, The American Journal of Biblical Theology, Studies in Religion, Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review, and Maritain Studies. He has also written for magazines such as Crisis Magazine, Catholic Insight, and Convivium, and newspapers such as The National Post, City Light News, The Ottawa Citizen, and The Times Colonist. He has presented his research at conferences around North America, including the “Science of Consciousness Conference” in 2020. In addition to his two recent titles, COVID-19: A Dystopian Delusion and Making Sense of Nonsense (both being published by True Freedom Press), he is currently working on a book about the Roman Catholic priest, paleontologist, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, titled Why Teilhard Matters. To learn more, visit his website.


This excerpt is from Making Sense of Nonsense: Navigating Through The West’s Current Quagmire, the recent book edited by Scott Scott Ventureyra.

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While it is true that the Soviet Union dissolved internally from 1988 to 1991, there remains a pernicious philosophy that is infecting human minds across the globe, now more widespread and powerful than it ever was under Soviet rule, and still officially enshrined in totalitarian regimes like the Chinese Communist Party. This evil specter of communism embodies an a-theology that eats away like an acid at the edifice of Western civilization, along with every great and noble idea that it has generated or even fathomed. It is seductive since it gnaws away at the human will, intellect, and sense of morality, building concession through chaos and confusion. If we allow it, it will write out humanity’s epitaph.

What happens when George Orwell’s notion of “big brother” and Jacques Derrida’s “method” of deconstructionism as applied to social issues collide? Something that is very sinister; a collective madness that penetrates Western civilization. But what are these ideas about? And what does their collision entail? The postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida espoused an approach to textual analysis known as deconstructionism. However, its application has been extended far beyond textual analysis. Derrida made a thought-provoking confession in his work Moscou aller-retour on deconstructionism as it relates to political activism, where he pinpoints, of all things, Marxism:

“Deconstruction never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of Marxism in a certain spirit of Marxism.” Similarly, Derrida’s fellow postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault uses Marxism as a tool for political activism: “I label political everything that has to do with class struggle, and social everything that derives from and is a consequence of the class struggle, expressed in human relationships and institutions.”

This reveals the true agenda behind postmodernism and deconstructionism. Furthermore, postmodernism is utterly relativist in its morality and epistemology. As philosopher John Searle has observed, it is a world that is turned upside down. It is the ones who were “suppressed” who now act as the suppressors; however, they do not achieve dominance through rational argumentation but rather through decrying oppression and marginalization. Those who claim to be powerless have ironically gained power through their “powerlessness.” These are overt attacks on the very fabric of the West’s Judeo-Christian roots, the basis for the scientific revolution, the foundations of law, and the intrinsic value and dignity of all human persons.

In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the character Big Brother, who heads the totalitarian state of Oceania, subjects his citizens to perpetual surveillance through the scrutiny of the authorities via telescreens. In the West we are experiencing mass surveillance through the state (local and federal governments) and social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. It is not enough that mainstream media with its propaganda, or as others would call it “fake news,” is in the business of misinforming and indoctrinating the public.

Moreover, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government has made a commitment to regulate “hate speech” on social media, but of course, a precise definition of ‘hate speech’ is never given. Bill C-36, “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code,” is the most recent legislation to regulate speech online. This is just another excuse to censor people who hold unpopular views. The Liberals have also sought to update the language of section 13 of Bill C-36 with the following statement:

“It is a discriminatory practice to communicate or cause to be communicated hate speech by the means of the Internet or other means of telecommunication in a context in which the hate speech is likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

The question remains: what is hate speech and who defines it? Government? No thanks. We are never provided a precise definition, but at most something ambiguous and susceptible to manipulation in countless ways. This poses a tremendous threat to our freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of conscience. It is worth noting that the term “hate” is nowhere to be found in Canadian jurisprudence. However, “hatred” is defined in case law. What the Criminal Code does prohibit is “hate propaganda,” defined as “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide…”

Undoubtedly, free speech is under assault, and Trudeau, sometimes known as postmodernism’s poster-boy, is a leading figure in this assault. An arbitrary definition of “hate speech” can lead to such absurd situations as a “transgender woman” being accused of hate speech claiming via a t-shirt to be still male. Thus, on the one hand, you have a denial of metaphysical and moral truths alternating with attempts to affirm such truths—something which is logically incoherent—and on the other hand, you have massive surveillance and censorship to ensure you do not deny these untruths. It is worse than an Orwellian nightmare; it is a relativistic morass founded on nonsense which is forcefully submerging its citizens in a sea of absurdities. In the aforementioned examples, we can see the ramifications of these two abhorrent ideas, especially when combined.

Politics, culture, science, and philosophy undergird something much deeper than appears on the surface. It will require readers to dig deeply within themselves, since the struggle is ultimately internal although appearing externally; it is a struggle for moral responsibility and human dignity. Au fond, this is a spiritual war, where human civilization is the battleground for a struggle that involves good and evil predating human existence.
We are at a critical juncture in human history; the following questions lie before us: will we be able to overcome the lesser angels of our nature? Will we be able to override the savage and tribalist vestiges of our evolutionary past that stifle genuine and authentic human progress? Will truth, science, reason, logic, love, and justice prevail? To answer those questions in the affirmative it will take individuals who have become aware of this decadence, so that we can properly navigate through this current quagmire.

If we remain deep in slumber and “woke” rather than awakened, we will be forced to face the impending death of our great civilization; we risk descending into the bottomless nether regions inhabited by the likes of Karl Marx, Margaret Sanger, Andrea Dworkin, Judith Butler, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and other sinister characters who commiserate with each other for eternity.


Featured image: “Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman,” by Johannes Vermeer; painted ca. 1662-1665.