A Philosophical Manifesto On How To Escape The Totalitarian Madness

On 16 July 2000, in the inaugural issue of Classical Homeschooling magazine, as part of the founding of the Angelicum Academy Homeschool Program, of which I was Founding Chairman of the Board, in response to the 1962 Port Huron Statement (a manifesto penned by Tom Hayden and presented by the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]), I wrote two articles.

I did so because I was convinced that the Port Huron Statement was essentially a rationally incoherent first principle and essential cause of the national and global cultural and educational madness that had ensued since that time. To save the West and the world from its disastrous effects, I thought I had to pen a counter manifesto, the content of which is contained in these two presentations. I entitled the first paper, “A Philosophical Call to Renew American Culture: The Homeschool Renaissance.” I called the second, “The Homeschool Renaissance and The Battle of the Arts.”

On 08 April 2008, in Warsaw, Poland, to mark the establishment of the International Étienne Gilson Society—of which I was co-founder and became president—I wrote a third entitled “Why Gilson? Why Now?” to move this Philosophical Call to an international level.

I mention these three articles at the start of issuing a 2021 Philosophical Manifesto to establish my credibility to commonsense cultural, political, and educational readers as an authority on commonsense ways to escape from international global madness.

For over thirty years, I have been predicting and describing with accuracy the coming of this madness. In fact, I first predicted it in 1990, shortly after the crumbling of the Berlin Wall (9 November 1989), as concordist euphoria was sweeping Western Europe’s New World Order leaders, who were giddy with Joachitic enthusiasm over the prospect of finally being able to fulfill Francis Fukuyama’s idea of what was supposed to be “the end of history”—worldwide spread of secular liberal democracies, victory of free market capitalism over Communism, the end of human sociocultural evolution, and the generation of the last and perfect human government.

With the dismantling of Soviet Communism toward the tail end of the 20th-century, this was a time celebrated by Western Liberal Elites in which enlightened, secular liberal democracy would finally transcend the transitional period of Communist dictatorship and eradicate from the world the influence of backward religious consciousness.

I made my prediction in a paper I delivered at a prestigious, historic international colloquium in Treviso, Italy, related to the meeting topic, “Transition in Eastern Europe.” This was the first international congress of global leaders assembled after the Berlin wall fell. Attendees at this meeting included heads of different European parliaments, university dons, and international corporate leaders, including the president of the Bank of Rome. Security for the meeting was exceptionally tight. It included police carrying machine guns, accompanied by German Shepherd dogs. It was co-sponsored by the most prestigious Catholic philosophical organization in Europe and a highly respected German Foundation.

I was the only American invited to be on the program, representing, as its vice-president, the American Maritain Association. The topic about which I was asked to speak was the future of the West. Being young and naïve, and mistakenly thinking at the time that all the conference organizers would be interested in what I had to say about the matter, in my paper (which I had entitled, “The New World Disorder”), I told them what I thought Jacques Maritain would have told them at the time.

Following Gilson’s thinking, which I knew Maritain would have shared, I maintained that, for centuries, a Cartesian conception of human nature had been infecting and weakening Western cultural institutions. I indicated that these institutions had come into existence centuries before Descartes, and had been rooted in an entirely different understanding of human nature and the human person than the one Descartes proposed. I claimed that, by this time in Western history (1990), this weakening of our cultural institutions had become so severe that these misunderstandings were “causing a death rattle within these institutions” that could not be stopped by charms, amulets, contemporary economic theory, or politics of Left or Right. I argued that, instead of being signs of growing world concord, the transitions then occurring in Europe were “readily recognizable as convulsions within the Western conception of man.”

Instead of attempting to restore the West through such misguided means as economic theory and politics, I said that only a complete purging of Western cultural institutions of the Cartesian understanding of human nature would be able to restore Western culture to health. If this view of the human self continued to dominate Western culture, I predicted that: (1) the West would “self-destruct in a cultural collapse,” and (2) “this collapse will, in all probability, be ushered in by new and more exotic forms of fundamentalist-political perversions of the totalitarian state, attempting to unify human society around monolithic myths of race, mechanistic reason, blind evolution, materialistic progress, and so on.”

At this point, the man who headed the German colloquium organization could restrain himself no longer. He set upon me like a wild beast, as if to tear me to bits, immediately standing up, screaming at me several times to “shut up,” and cutting off my speaking time. Not until after the conference was coming to an end and I had started to mingle with audience members did I realize why he had behaved so despotically, and confirmed to many members of the audience the truth of what I was saying. To my pleasant surprise, they surrounded me and congratulated me on my presentation, even though I had totally ruined the first supposedly post-Communist international colloquium co-sponsored by New World Order elites!

Realizing this fact, I decided I had better continue. Hence,

  • my co-founding the International Étienne Gilson Society, in Warsaw, in 2008;
  • my retirement in 2010 from a full-professor faculty position at St. John’s University, in New York;
  • the establishing of the Aquinas School of Leadership (ASL);
  • between 2014 and 2018, co-sponsoring through the ASL, 5 international world congresses on Renewing the West by Renewing Common Sense
  • authoring and co-authoring 6 books related to these topics;
  • and, in 2021, establishing a Commonsense Wisdom Liberal Arts Academy (CWLAA) and Commonsense Wisdom Executive Coaching Academy (CWECA) to replace the failing secular and religious, Enlightenment colleges and universities that are presently collapsing all around us.

In regards to this latest venture, the concept for these academies came to me most precisely recently, as I was doing research to prepare to deliver the 2021 Jacek Woroniecki Memorial Lectures for students at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Lublin Poland. These lectures, which were subsequently published under the title, How to Listen and How to Speak: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants to Renew Commonsense and Uncommonsense Wisdom in the Contemporary World, grew out of an idea related to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, which he inherited from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—that the intellectual virtue of docilitas (docility/teachability) is a necessary condition for being educated. St. Thomas maintained that the moral virtue of prudence—which, he held, is a species of common sense—causes docilitas.

Before being taught outside the home, children generally learn some docility from parents and from their individual conscience, which, according to Aquinas, is the habit of prudence acting as judge, jury, witness, and prosecution of personal choices. In learning docility, we all acquire some common sense.

Common sense is simply some understanding of first principles that are causing some organizational whole to have the unity it has that causes it to tend to behave the way it does. It is an understanding common to anyone who intellectually grasps the nature of something, the way the parts (causal principles) of a whole incline to organize, to generate organizational existence and action. Strictly speaking, common sense is the habit of rightly applying first principles of understanding as measures of truth in immediate and mediated judgment, choice, and reasoning. Considered as such, it is the first measure of right reasoning.

Contemporary Enlightenment colleges and universities are essentially designed to drive out common sense from the psyche of students, and convince them that the only species of understanding (common sense) is mathematical physics. In doing this, it causes students to become anarchists, unteachable, people, out of touch with reality, who cannot tolerate to listen or speak to or with anyone who disagrees with them; and they become people who cannot lead any healthy organization in any healthy way.

Presently, increasing numbers of people who have never researched the nature of common sense, including politicians, are, all of a sudden, starting to realize the crucial import of this notion, for cultural, national and international, peace and sanity. And they are asking for money from others to help them. I have a better idea. They should start to listen to and read the decades of work colleagues of mine and I have spoken and written about related to this subject. It is time for them to donate money to us!

The only method that can possibly work to correct this problem is the one these academies essentially use. This is not because these academies are proposing them, but because they are evidently true to anyone with common sense about human education – such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas.

For those seriously interested in saving the West and the world from contemporary madness, this Manifesto welcomes you to join us at the educational academies most capable of generating tomorrow’s world-class colleges and universities:

Please spread the word to others.


Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website.


The featured image shows, “By Candlelight,” by Konrad Krzyżanowski; painted in 1914.

The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 2

Imbecility Leads The (Once) Free World

In spite of the United States being closer to a civil war more than any time since 1865, there is one statement that I think one can safely say would find few, if any, dissenters on either side of the divide: at least one of the two Presidents who have held since 2016 or now hold office is an imbecile.
Not being a citizen of the United States my interest in its politics was driven by broader geopolitical concerns, and wider fears about the West’s inabilities to survive its external enemies and its own self destruction.

For my part, in 2016 I had no feeling either way of who would make a better president. Both had serious credibility problems – Whitewater, the Clinton foundation, and Hilary’s mendacity made it impossible for anyone who knew about her history to believe a word she said, though she had had experience in foreign diplomacy, though the Obama doctrine had not made the West stronger; Trump had lost money for various investors numerous times, and when it came to the GOP nomination played very dirty. He also lacked experience. The one thing to an outsider that made him look interesting was that he was not playing by the old rule book in international relations, and that might or might not be a very good thing.

Any hesitations about what would happen if Trump won the election (which the US media assured all and sundry could never happen) were drastically transformed by the response of President Trump’s opponents on his taking presidential office. Trump playing dirty to defeat Cruz or Rubio was like a fist fight in kiddie league compared to the full scale assault upon Trump that immediately was pitched as the need for impeachment by journalists, celebrities and Democrats. Daily, I would read the media report that Trump said or did X, and then when I found footage of statement or deed, which had not been edited to fit the accusation, it had a totally different context and even content from what was being reported.

But as shocking as I found it that I simply could no longer trust reports from media which claimed to be reputable, the far more important concern for me was that the elite, who were supposed to be responsible for ensuring strength and unity at home, had shown that they were incapable of accepting the will of the people for an election term. Thus it was that the strongest geopolitical power for democracy in the Western world no longer had any kind of consensual centre from which it could issue genuine allegiance.

During his term Trump had kept the US from new wars (as promised), bought back some degree of border control (which his voters wanted), and, until COVID, significantly improved economic conditions by increasing employment for every identity group, as well as wages for many. COVID provided an opportunity for his critics not only to raise the hysteria already way beyond fever pitch to new cries of Trump being a mass murderer.

By the time the election of 2020 had come around I had come to the conclusion that the elite ideas brokers in the USA were representatives of the greatest threat to democracy I had witnessed in my sixty six years on this earth, and I certainly did not see how their depiction of what Trump represented – Hitlerism – had meant that their moral commitment was more about accepting the will of the American people than removing him from office.

Though whatever happened during the election, I also think there is a good case to be made that the damage done to democracy as a system of government and to the economies in dealing with COVID might be irreparable. Certainly the emergency powers assumed by states (and not just the USA), including the demand for strict compliance and narrative conformity about what the state has decreed to be the scientific answer to the problem – e.g. all efforts to go into vaccines rather than treatment studies and development, most obviously – has enabled those seeking to curb any kind of populist resistance to elite decision making.

Trump was as much sucker punched by this as he was by the changes to voting laws that enabled ineligible voting and voting interference to take place. He had also failed to halt the power against free speech that had moved from universities to the corporate world and finally into social media so that Trump would find himself banned from all major platforms, along with many other ‘conservative’ youtubers and podcasters who had previously had large followings of people sick to death of what the elites were dictating as the truth on everything from medicine to climate to race and the election.

In the concentrated effort to gain complete control of what people thought and said by ensuing that the political party and media which support it still required an election victory to seal the deal. And, there were two obstacles they had to deal with – who had the personality and popular appeal with voters to defeat a candidate that almost every journalist and pundit in the country had previously thought unelectable, and how would they ensure that their candidate got victory.

That these companies and the mainstream media openly supported one party and ultimately one candidate was not so untypical. But that the only candidate that they thought had the character and qualities to defeat Trump, and the character who ultimately managed to garner the biggest support amongst members of his party for his candidacy had to be kept in a basement and shielded from reporters in conducting his campaign was less typical. What was becoming clearer by the day, is the reason he was being kept in a basement was that he was an imbecile.

Given that whiteness and old men had become a regular term of abuse within the Democratic party perhaps it was not too much a stretch of the imagination to think that this kind of contradiction would not be noticed because the party itself had consisted of people who if not outright imbeciles (represented by the AOC wing of the party), could, at least, be treated as imbeciles. Or perhaps it was because the elite had come to the consensus that the country was full of imbeciles and only an imbecile could defeat an imbecile in an election that only someone made to look like an imbecile could win the presidency. Though, in Joe they hit the jackpot – he could not put two sentences together without looking like an imbecile.

As for Trump, being an imbecile, the day he announced his run for presidential nominee, his critics laughed hysterically about what a complete imbecile he was. And when he won office, they stopped laughing, and the question of his imbecility became a psychiatric matter that should be acted upon by the appropriate authorities (whoever they were – some hoped Rod Rosenstein would step up to the plate).

For sure, Trump was not playing by any known political rule book and he could be shockingly brutal, and make up all sorts of nonsense, and he used the word ‘bigly’ and he did pull funny faces and gesticulated pretty wildly sometimes. But his rallies were like parties where the crowd would whoop and holler and lap up his humour, which always got the loudest roar of approval when he went for ‘the dishonest people’ at the back. If this was an imbecile, one wondered how was it that not a single Democrat candidate could enthuse an audience like this imbecile. And in spite of Joe having zero in the charisma stakes, in spite of such zingers of repartee as ‘C’mon man’, maybe the Democrats really did think it took an imbecile to beat an imbecile, and that’s why with all the talent on display they chose Joe.

In any case, I think it fair to say that even those who really hated what the Democrats were supporting and doing, especially since Trump had taken office, only saw one of the possible nominees for the Democrat presidential candidate as a total imbecile. Like so many other wannabes in American political life – with the exception of the articulate, smart and attractive Tulsi Gabbard – the cast in the run off for the Democrat presidential candidate were as vacuous as they were instantly forgettable.

And while Harris, Warren, and whoever else there was were might have been political grifters, drenched in duplicity accompanied by boundless ambition, I doubt if the word imbecile is the first word that springs to mind when one considered them. ( It is true that VP Harris’s statement that the border crisis is caused by climate change is imbecilic, but I suspect this is what she thinks she should say to the imbeciles who support her – anyway AOC, with typical wide-eyed daring had gone the extra yard on that front in the imbecilic stakes by claiming climate change was the result of racial injustice. I have always harboured the thought that climate change might be the result of the dogs next door who yelp at all hours of the day and are responsible for everything that irritates me in retirement. But I have kept that imbecilic thought to myself).

While the Democrats chose an appeal in the run off, the fact was that while the media did represent the Donald as an imbecile, they also wanted to represent him as Hitler. And that only showed their accusation of him being an imbecile was not serious. For say what you like about Hitler, calling him an imbecile does not really cut the mustard, at least not until pretty late in the day, when yes he went fully deranged. Sure, his ideas about Jews were imbecilic, but taking the totality of the whole man, he was a master of political maneuvring, a master at capturing the mood of a people desperate to follow a leader who would restore their sense of purpose and national destiny, and a master of political rhetoric. And if he was an imbecile what does that say about Neville Chamberlain or FDR?

While Biden’s opponents see him as many things – a hair-sniffing, handsy creep, who made a career as a bagman for the DuPont family, who, attended the funeral of, and eulogised, the former KKK member Robert Bird, who has used his office not only to fill his family’s pockets, and used the FBI and media to shut down the story of his son’s crooked, possibly traitorous, and illegal personal behaviour, who was accused of sexual misconduct by his own staffer – none of these are incompatible with him also being an imbecile. And to be fair, even though his incessant plagiarism was pretty damned stupid, he was not so much an imbecile as a political hack for sale to the highest bidder.

But we know now that even his minders take him for an imbecile. A fact that Joe had to blurt out to the entire world when at a conference with the Russian leader, who none has ever considered an imbecile, that he had been given a list of journalists allowed to softball the questions – whose answers we presume he was supposed to have learnt by rote. Meanwhile the world could also see how Vlad was taking his sword to Western journalists who thought they could catch him out saying – “Yes you are the smartest most decent people I have ever admit, and now that I look deeply into my conscience, I admit it – I killed them all. Please forgive me.” While that didn’t happen Joe marched bravely on giving that big sparkling false tooth grin while pondering his favourite ice cream flavour.

If the media were unable to get their story straight about whether Trump was an imbecile or Hitler, from the get go they thought that because his supporters were deplorables, they were also imbeciles, like the rest of their audience, who they also treated as imbeciles. But by then the media had long since stopped bothering with facts – their stories constantly came from anonymous sources, or sources with partisan interests, and they could rely upon fact checkers to convince people that things that were not facts were facts, and vice-versa.

Thus it was that during the Trump presidency that the media, in complicity with the Democratic party and one of its fronts, conspired (yes, one does not need to wear a tin foil hat to note people making up and disseminating misinformation/ lies for political gain) to concoct a story about Trump being a Russian plant.

They also denied that Obama has authorised spying upon the Trump campaign, even though the Russian plant fabrication had involved the Democrats and their operatives in intelligence having to make the story fly by having its intelligence agencies identify people in the Russian conspiracy who they could not actually manage to interrogate (the dialectic of imbecility has established that when people say that Russians and Trump and his supporters conspired to hijack an election that is not a conspiracy theory).

They also denied what could be heard all over YouTube – i.e. that Biden had used his political office and threatened withholding US military aid to the Ukraine to protect the investigation of his son being on the pay roll as a highly paid consultant to one of the most corrupt energy company’s in the world, at the same time as they attempted to impeach Trump for a supposed overheard phone call threatening to withhold military aid if the Ukraine president did not investigate the son of an opposing presidential candidate.

By the time November 2020 came around the mainstream media had told so many porky pies that none in their right mind could believe them. But the remaining audience they did have had long since lost their minds, and they could be relied onto believing anything, including that Joe was the man to bring the USA back to a reliable centre.

To those who thought the media had been lying about Russia, the Ukraine, Hunter Biden and his lap top (there was nothing there to report!) and all manner of other things including they themselves (they were all white supremacists), the election result looked like just one more lie. As for the election itself, it certainly seems bizarre for example – and I quote from an essay by Joe Holt – that

In almost every county throughout the state (of Pennyslvania), the President was awarded a percentage of votes 40% less than the percent the President won on election day … If Trump won a county by 80% of the vote on Election Day, he won 40% of the mail-in vote for a county. If the President won 60% of the vote on Election Day, he won 20% of the mail-in vote in another county. This pattern occurred in almost every county with the only noticeable exception of Philadelphia, where the President only earned 30% of the vote on Election Day.

Thus it was after the elections occurred that social media had to step on board with the mainstream media to shut down any serious consideration of election fraud. The ostensible reason for this closing down of free speech was that such talk of fraud had created an insurrection, a putsch no less that was organized by President Trump.

Anyone who bothered to look beyond the mainstream footage could see that a demonstration that had got out of control, that included some thugs (spurred on by Antifa) and misguided over enthusiastic protesters, some of whom had entered through a door opened by some security guards, was far less violent than the Black Lives Matter Protests that had taken months earlier, where fire razed buildings to the ground, where businesses were looted, and some people were killed in what the media unanimously reported as being “mainly peaceful protests.”

Treating their audience as imbeciles it became increasingly common for all mainstream journalists to use identical formulations when reporting. Meanwhile in the capitol riot – an attempted putsch so they said – one unarmed woman, a protestor, was shot at point blank range by a security officer. The media intent on making a rabble look like white supremacist terrorists, having discovered that a policeman who had been on duty that day had subsequently died of natural causes concocted the story he was murdered by the same white supremacist terrorists.

In fact, the issues that led so many to cry foul about the election result were multiple. But if one was interested in why people were so convinced that the election had been rigged, one had to do a lot of hunting to see that the claims were about foreign interference and voting machines, which prior to this election had been problems identified by the Democrats, to ballot harvesting, dead and non-existent voters, the unprecedented cessation of counting, prevention of proper scrutineering, and much else beside.

But by January Google, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook started simply wiping numerous sites, posts and tweets that had been making the case – just as they did for those with medical credentials who were critical of Fauci.
The question of facts had become a question of narrative, and the issue was who controlled the narrative.

And what was the case was identical to the point raised earlier – on the one hand the elite pushed the narrative that only imbeciles voted for Trump, or believed the election was a fraud, or, indeed, did not get on board with the other topics that it was pushing – only an imbecile would not believe in climate change, only an imbecile would not believe the science on COVID as represented by Fauci.

Only an imbecile would think defunding the police was not a good idea because only an imbecile would not see systematic racism everywhere in the USA, hence too only an imbecile would not see that critical race theory should be taught in schools, corporations, universities and state departments, only an imbecile would think women had vaginas, hence only an imbecile would think it wrong for biological males to compete in women’s sports, and hence too only an imbecile would think it not a good idea to have transgender soldiers.

Only an imbecile would be opposed to diversity and hence only an imbecile would object to recruitment to US intelligence agencies and the military proudly displaying their commitment to diversity – in what everybody else could see was the most imbecilic advertising campaign that hat had ever been dreamt up (and that is really saying something).

The list is far longer and the logic/ dialectic relentless. It is the logic and dialectic of progress as understood, taught and forced upon the American population through its institutions. Nevertheless at least half the country think: only an imbecile could believe this shit. Which is why, and the Democrats never understood this, that while much support for Trump came from the forgotten working class, it also came from those frustrated by the most pressing demand of the dialectic of imbecility, i.e. that one forsake all independence of thought and get on board with the program.

Where one stands on the riven ness of the US today very much depends who one thinks are the imbeciles – Trump and his supporters, or Biden and those who want you to believe that they are making the world safer and better.

Read Part 1.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows “intrigue,” by James Ensor, painted in 1890.

Josef Pieper On Prudence: The Mother Of Virtues

German Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper, had very much to say about the theological and moral virtues in a number of his writings. Of interest here are chapters in his 1964 collection of previously written studies, The Four Cardinal Virtues, wherein he organizes his material according to the schema of Saint Thomas Aquinas, viz., prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, assuring his readers that this order is not arbitrary, but logical — metaphysical, even.

That the first of the cardinal virtues is prudence is no accident, for it is the “mold” and “mother” of the other cardinal virtues, without which they would not be virtues.

This neglected and much undervalued virtue — Pieper considered it so even in 1959 (!), when he wrote the study on prudence — deserves to be thrust into our spiritual spotlight for at least two reasons: (1) aside from its own excellence and its necessity as a prerequisite to the other cardinal virtues, (2) it can assist us in assessing and countering the perverse and pervasive surrealism that we confront on a daily basis. But that surrealism itself, which obscures reality and is therefore a sort of “heresy against being,” must first be seen for what it is: an obstacle to prudence that must be removed so that we may become truly virtuous.

Regarding the historical artistic movement of surrealism, the source of my analogy, I will say only a few words. First, regarding the name itself:

Its aim was, according to leader André Breton, to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”, or surreality.

Here is Wikipedia’s general description of surrealism, giving also the revolutionary aims of its ideological partisans:

“Works of Surrealism feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. However, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost (for instance, of the “pure psychic automatism” Breton speaks of in the first Surrealist Manifesto), with the works themselves being secondary, i.e. artifacts of surrealist experimentation. Leader Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement. At the time, the movement was associated with political causes such as communism and anarchism.”

André Breton was a communist who eventually became an anarchist — an ideologue of revolution. Here is his description of the “pure psychic automatism” mentioned above:

“Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern” — First Manifesto of Surrealism (1924).

This is “thinking” bereft of Logos, art bereft of aesthetics, expression bereft of morals. Simply put, it is revolutionary irrationalism which necessarily leads to immorality. Numerous of Breton’s surrealist fellows were explicitly and monstrously anti-Catholic. I have no intention here to issue a blanket condemnation of all artists who incorporated some surrealist elements in their work (though it is mighty tempting!). It is the irrational and revolutionary character of surrealism as a movement that interests me, deliberately juxtaposing as it does the real with the non-real in order to make a “super-reality.”

The oligarchs who are bringing us the current Dystopian Fantasy PSYOP (and so much more) are anti-Logos revolutionaries, too, and they are, in the name of an Orwellian New World Order, presenting us with an ugly and deceptive juxtaposition of the real and the non-real worthy of Salvador Dalí at his strangest. Here, though, the craft of our current surrealist practitioners is neither art nor letters nor cinema, but a careful and atmospheric perception management which has its hapless consumers convinced that it is indeed reality. Say what you will about Dalí, none of his connoisseurs mistook his melting watches for real time pieces.

Before citing some illuminating excerpts from Josef Pieper, let me “cut to the chase” and present my readers with the simple thesis of this Ad Rem: Because the perception of reality as it is (or “true-to-being” as Pieper has it) is required for prudence, and because prudence is required for the other moral virtues, the embrace of pervasive surrealist narratives (e.g., among many others, “follow the [pseudo-] science,” “gender [actually, sex] is a social construct and can be changed”) renders prudence impossible. In so doing, it also renders justice, fortitude, and temperance impossible. It follows that the failure of so many of our ecclesiastical and temporal leaders to see reality as it is, to decide and judge based upon a “true-to-being” memory, explains so much of what is currently wrong with the world.

In light of this, the moral imperative for the Church and for all souls of good will is to strive to see reality as it is and to practice true prudence so that we can be genuinely just, brave, and temperate, not only in a natural mode, but, as Christians, in a supernatural mode, aided by grace and the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.

In the first chapter of The Four Cardinal Virtues, “The First of the Cardinal Virtues,” Dr. Pieper notes that contemporary ears (in 1959) will find it strange “that the virtue of prudence is the mold and ‘mother’ of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent” (p. 3). “Yet the fact is,” he insists, “that nothing less than the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man rests upon the pre-eminence of prudence over the other virtues” (p. 3).

And what is this “ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man”? It is Trinitarian:

“That structure is built thus: that Being precedes Truth, and that Truth precedes the Good. Indeed, the living fire at the heart of the dictum is the central mystery of Christian theology: that the Father begets the Eternal Word, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Word.”

By contrast, the modern conception of prudence strips it of its true nobility:

“To the contemporary mind, prudence seems less a prerequisite to goodness than an evasion of it. The statement that it is prudence which makes an action good strikes us as well-nigh ridiculous. … In colloquial use, prudence always carries the connotation of timorous, small-minded self-preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself. Neither of these traits is compatible with nobility; both are unworthy of the noble man.”

And because of this, “A ‘prudent’ man is thought to be one who avoids the embarrassing situation of having to be brave”. Worse, “To the contemporary mind, then, the concept of the good rather excludes than includes prudence.”

Dr. Pieper even laments the degradation suffered by Catholic moral theology on the subject (yes, in 1959): “At any rate, there is no doubt about the result: modern religious teachings have little or nothing to say about the place of prudence in the life or in the hierarchy of virtues.” Later, he has much to say in opposition to the exaggerated casuistry (a “science of sin”) that coincided with the eclipse of the authentic doctrine of prudence.

The great Occidental Christian view of man stands in stark contrast with these modern defects and excesses:

Classical Christian ethics, on the contrary, maintains that man can be prudent and good only simultaneously; that prudence is part and parcel of the definition of goodness; that there is no sort of justice and fortitude which runs counter to the virtue of prudence; and that the unjust man has been imprudent before and is imprudent at the moment he is unjust. Omnis virtus moralis debet esse prudens — All virtue is necessarily prudent.

In fact,

“Prudence is the cause of the other virtues’ being virtues at all. For example, there may be a kind of instinctive governance of instinctual cravings; but only prudence transforms this instinctive governance into the ‘virtue’ of temperance. Virtue is a ‘perfected ability’ of man as a spiritual person; and justice, fortitude, and temperance, as ‘abilities’ of the whole man, achieve their perfection only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfected ability to make right decisions. Only by means of this perfected ability to make good choices are instinctive inclinations toward goodness exalted into the spiritual core of man’s decisions, from which truly human acts arise.”

Moral goodness is radically dependent upon prudence, for, “What is prudent and what is good are substantially one and the same; they differ only in their place in the logical succession of realization. For whatever is good must first have been prudent” (p. 7). And this radical dependence implies that there is a sort of mutual interpenetration of prudence and the other virtues: “Ethical virtue is the print and seal placed by prudence upon volition and action. Prudence works in all the virtues; and all virtue participates in prudence” (p. 8). “Thus,” Pieper continues,

“…prudence is cause, root, mother, measure, precept, guide, and prototype of all ethical virtues; it acts in all of them, perfecting them to their true nature; all participate in it, and by virtue of this participation they are virtues.”.

“Truth” is, as Saint Hilary of Poitiers said, “declarative being.” When we men accept the truths of the natural or supernatural order, we unite our minds with the divine Mind who is Being itself. Among the truths that declare their being to us are moral imperatives, the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots,” which are not arbitrary, but are accommodated to man’s reason. (I am here reminded that the Natural Law is, to Saint Thomas, “nothing else than the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law” [ST I-II, Q. 91, A. 2], which is itself the product of the divine Mind.) Basing himself on Saint Thomas, Pieper declares that,

“All ten commandments of God pertain to the executio prudentiae, the realization in practice of prudence. Here is a statement that has become virtually incomprehensible to people of today. And every sin is opposed to prudence. Injustice, cowardice, intemperance are in direct opposition to the virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance; ultimately, however, through all these virtues, they run counter to prudence. Everyone who sins is imprudent.”

Pieper goes so far as to say that “the whole doctrine of prudence” is summed up in this “fundamental principle of Thomas Aquinas,” namely, “that ‘reason perfected in the cognition of truth’ shall inwardly shape and imprint [man’s] volition and action.” He hastens to add that the “reason” which is “perfected in the cognition of truth” is not exclusively unaided natural human reason, still less the unchristian pseudo-reason of the so-called Enlightenment, but a “regard for and openness to reality,” and an “acceptance of reality” — “both natural and supernatural reality.”

Therefore, truth, which we know to be the conformity of the mind to reality — to what is — is a necessary precondition for prudence and consequently for all virtue: “Certainly prudence is the standard of volition and action [that is, of willing and doing]; but the standard of prudence, on the other hand, is the ipsa res, the ‘thing itself,’ the objective reality of being.”

The passages from The Four Cardinal Virtues that I have cited so far all come from the book’s first chapter. I have not even gotten to Chapter Two, “Knowledge of Reality and the Realization of the Good.”

But this will not be our last adventure in prudence with Dr. Pieper as our guide. Already, though, we have enough material to support our thesis and show that the atmospheric and revolutionary “false narratives” which make for what I have here called a “perverse and pervasive surrealism” are all contraceptive of prudence and therefore of true virtue. Anything arising from such a defective grasp of reality is doomed to be more-or-less imprudent and therefore not virtuous in the true sense of any of the moral virtues.

Is it any wonder that things in Church and State are such as they are?


Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel.


The featured image shows “Prudence,” by Piero del Pollaiolo, ca. 1469-1472.

The Rise And Fall Of Cartesianism

The one time I met Friedrich Hayek was at a lecture he gave at Stanford University in1980. Hayek, as I remember, kept complaining about the dangers of Cartesianism. Until recently, I never understood why.

After all, Rene Descartes was one of the greatest and most influential thinkers of all time. In addition to founding analytic geometry, creating a physics that rivaled Newton for over a century, he was arguably the first modern philosopher. Specifically, he challenged the organic teleological view of Aristotle’s physics and thereby undermined the Aristotelian universe of medieval Christendom. Instead, he proposed a new synthesis consisting of a mechanical world created by an Augustinian Christian God who expressed Himself in Platonic terms. In addition, his was the first expression of the Technological Project, the aim of which was to make ourselves the “Masters and possessors of nature,” the transformation of the world to suit human needs.

Ancient science reflected an agricultural economy, aiming to explain and to predict the events of the physical world of nature. Wisdom consisted in (a) understanding an external structure and (b) conforming ourselves to that structure. Science (e.g., astronomy) in this frame of reference is observational. Modern science, reflecting as it does an industrial and technological economy, aims as well to explain and to predict, but it also aims to control the outcome of events. Wisdom consists in (a) formulating/imagining mathematical models of what is going on and (b) getting the external world to conform to our internal models. Science is experimental. Descartes understood that this sort of intellectual endeavor flourished best in an environment of open thought and commerce such as found in 17th-century Netherlands.

As a systematic philosopher, Descartes introduces and makes the official starting point of modern epistemology the “I Think” perspective, something that had been implicit in classical and medieval thought. Classical thought had always prioritized thought over action or practice. It had always presumed that we needed an independent theory before we can act. Prior to Descartes, skeptics had repeatedly exposed the plurality of mundane competing theories. Drawing on the Augustinian inheritance of the school he attended at La Fleche, Descartes thought he could permanently dispose of skepticism by practicing the Socratic Method on himself and drill down until he found what could not be questioned/challenged without self-contradiction. This method did not rely on any appeal to our bodily experience of the world – which might after all be an illusion. Nor did it appeal to any social framework: tradition, customary practice, which were after all historical products.

In a manner of speaking, it was Ockham’s radical autonomous self (understood as “I think”) but not “We Think”, “I Do” or “We Do” because all of the latter were not impervious to challenge. On a subsequent occasion I shall argue that the “We Do” perspective is the basis of Anglo-American thinking (when not corrupted by Continental models such as positivism and phenomenology), and “We Do” explains such things as Hume’s focus on common life and his transition to history as well as the later thought of Wittgenstein, Hayek, and Oakeshott.

Having established thereby to his own satisfaction that he existed as an “I Think”, Descartes proceeded to establish the existence of God. Whereas Aristotle had identified four causes, wherein three of which (formal, final and efficient) were identical, Descartes eliminated final (teleological) causation. Nevertheless, Descartes retained the identity of formal and efficient causation. This alleged identity permitted one to argue backwards from any effect (form) to its efficient cause sight unseen. Given Cartesian physics and traditional logic, this is an unassailable proof of God’s existence as creator or first efficient cause of the physical world and ultimate author of the Bible! Thus, had Descartes established the existence and validity of the Christian world- view (hereafter the “PLAN”) now understood as including the transformation of the physical world.

In order to make sense of the Technological Project, the transformation of the physical world in the service of humanity, it is important that some aspect of humanity be independent of the physical world. If humans were wholly part of the physical world, then any human project could be transformed as well, thereby leaving all projects without an autonomous status. Hence, it is necessary that the subject, or at least the mind of the subject, be free and independent of the body.

Where does all of this leave us? Rather than establishing and reinforcing the moral authority of the Catholic Church, Descartes seemingly or unwittingly supported the Protestant contention that humans could have direct access to God and His PLAN without the institutional authority of the Church. In addition, Descartes bequeathed to the discipline of philosophy the endless supply of dissertations hoping to overcome the dualisms of reason and world, subject and object, freedom and necessity.

Modern science did not come to a halt with Cartesian physics and analytic geometry. Newtonian atomistic physics moving in the void of calculus took its place. Now there were only efficient causes. There were no final and no formal causes. There were no necessary connections among different kinds of causes. Hume merely spelled out the implications of Newtonian physics for delegitimizing the alleged proofs of God’s existence (see Capaldi on this).

Still, we had the increasingly clear vision of an orderly Newtonian physical world and the ancillary successes of the Technological Project.

Even with a marginalized or superfluous God, God’s PLAN for the physical world still seemed to be safe. It was so safe it did not seem to need miraculous intervention (Deism). Miracles were replaced by utopian visions of future techno-science. Unfortunately, those who continued to tie God’s Plan to a belief in God could not agree, and they further discredited themselves by engaging in (17th-century) religious wars.

We might learn to do without God, but we sorely needed something like His plan for the social world. In the eighteenth century, some of the French philosophes (Helvetius, d’Alembert, Condorcet, La Mettrie, etc.) proposed the Enlightenment Project: a social science to discover the analogous structure of the social world and an analogous social technology to implement its benefits; a wholly secular plan of ideal harmony without religious warranties. This was an even greater gift to the discipline of philosophy, the opportunity to discover, articulate and implement the secular social PLAN. Liberalism, socialism, and Marxism are expressions of the Enlightenment Project. Comte was the master-planner. Needless to say, none of these secular plans has worked, and you could make the case that they made the social world worse off.

However, if there is no God who guarantees the PLAN? Why think there is any kind of PLAN? There might even be some kind of predictable order but why think the order is disposed toward human benefit? The physical scientists keep changing the description of the physical order and the alleged social scientists offer thinly veiled private agendas.

J.J. Rousseau comes to the rescue. There is no plan, nothing for reason to discover. All alleged plans are rationalizations of the status quo by its beneficiaries involving the exploitation of the victims. The most we can hope for is to recover our lost innocence, the world before the ‘Fall’.

In place of an autonomous reason, we find an autonomous will that does not know avarice, shame, or guilt. The autonomous self is pure free will. This primacy of will is not only independence from the body but it is independent of a suspect and instrumental reason. We can achieve a pure social harmony simply by willing the community into existence and outlining the conditions that will sustain it.

There is a great risk in taking this path. We still have the solitary ‘I” sitting in judgment on the world without the benefit of, indeed specifically disdaining, what is to be learned from history. The more brilliant you are the less likely you are to have peers and, therefore, the easier it is, in your solitary critical mind, to rise above the masses and your peers. Brilliant thinkers, however, have made disastrous choices in exercising their pure will. Heidegger will choose Nazism; Sartre will choose Stalinism. This mentality has been diagnosed and critiqued by the now largely ignored Camus in his discussion of “metaphysical rebellion” in The Rebel.

Where do we now stand? The only thing that seems to have been learned is the danger of the oppression of intellectuals. To be taken seriously in this intellectual milieu one needs to become radically or outrageously free. All ‘plans’ (traditions, cultural inheritances, even spontaneous order) are historical artifacts and forms of oppression; there is a sort of disingenuous posturing in opposing the status quo because one has become the status quo – someone has to institutionalize anti-planning.

All subsequent French, and even much German, philosophy (structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, postmodernism, etc.) are philosophies of anti-domination (of which Rawls is a watered-down version), limitless freedom, the absence of sexual taboos, a series of movements that ultimately reduce ethics and politics to the limited ideas that drive them. As Cristaudo has so succinctly pointed out, herein lies a significant degree of failure to understand how the world came to be the way it is and why it is the way it is.


Nicholas Capaldi is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans.


The featured image shows, “Interior of the Cunerakerk, Rhenen,” by Bartholomeus van Bassen, painted in 1638.

The Decay Of America: A Conversation With Paul Gottfried

It truly is a great delight and honor to bring to our readers this insightful and wise conversation with Paul Gottfried, one of the foremost thinkers in America today. He is the author of well over fifteen books and innumerable articles, all of which carry the mark of his great scholarship that is the perfect cicerone upon the high road of wisdom. He edits the prestigious journal, Chronicles. Professor Gottfried is here interviewed by Zbigniew Janowski.


Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): You are American, but unlike most Americans – I do not mean ordinary people who never left the country, who are hardly aware of the outside world – you are critical of America. In many respects, you remind me of someone you wrote about, namely, Robert Nisbet, a towering figure in American sociology, who was also critical of America and her egalitarian tendencies. From our private conversations, I get the impression that you perceive the present-day America to be a danger to itself and the rest of the Western world. Am I correct?

Paul Gottfried (PG): I’m not really hostile to the US, and in fact I value my friendship with my neighbors in the small Pennsylvania town in which I reside. They remind me of the people I grew up around in a Connecticut rust-belt city in the 1950s. I also admire the founders of the American republic and their obvious civic-mindedness and skill in creating a form of government that provided for ordered liberty. Where I become more ambivalent and even suspicious is seeing how American “liberal democracy” has developed in the twentieth century and even more in the last twenty years. The combination of triumphalism in international relations (which is pushed by our bogus conservatives) and LGBT madness as a crusading American political religion will likely sow harm beyond this country’s borders. Since the US is hardly a minor player on the world stage, our influence is felt in other “liberal democracies,” particularly in the Anglosphere. I can easily understand why the Russian government, which is situated on the nationalist Right, would present itself as the defender of whatever normal behavior the American government now identifies with “prejudice.”

Paul Gottfried.

You are right to assume from reading Revisions and Dissents that I learned a great deal from Robert Nisbet, who figures large in my autobiography, Encounters. There were two sides to Bob: an America-affirming perspective that is reflected in the occasionally hopeful things that he said about the country (this was especially evident during his friendship with the neoconservatives), and the very dark perspective that can be seen in Quest for Community and Twilight of Authority. Clearly, I was more influenced by this second Nisbetian perspective. Nisbet was also among the few American social thinkers who valued the European counterrevolutionaries for laying the groundwork for the study of social theory. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Louis de Bonald.

ZJ: In your view, is what we call Corporate America, American free-market capitalism, part of the problem as well?

PG: I’m not sure that our corporate capitalists represent the free-market system that our libertarians praise and which they sometimes imagine exists in this country. Corporations now support the totalitarian Left and are quite happy pushing vast redistribution schemes that the government is urged to carry out, at the expense of the middle and working classes. The corporate board members and the tech giants won’t have to worry about their earnings being redistributed, since they wield vast power on the political Left and in any case have tax attorneys to protect their profits. It is our corporate capitalists who provided most of the billion or more dollars that went to Black Lives Matter and Antifa last year to wreak havoc in our city streets and to shoot policemen. Employees of our corporations are drowned in Critical Race Theory and LGBT slogans. By the way, I am not against a “free market economy.” What I oppose is a socially and morally destructive capitalist class, which seems to be making war on the white Christian population of Western countries. They also seem more than willing to fund the assassins of black and Asian business owners and policemen.

ZJ: Let me touch upon PC ideology, something you devoted a few of your books to. When people ask me, when PC started, I tell them: probably around 1987 – the date of the publication of The Closing of the American Mind. In this book, Allan Bloom captured the cultural trends that morphed, very quickly, into what gave expression to PC in the early 1990s. PC started with something that appears very insignificant, but which is of paramount importance – the changes in language (the use of personal pronouns). You belong to the generation that learned that the personal pronoun “he” refers universally to all of mankind. At the beginning of the 1990s, a number of academic institutions would send around “guidelines” on how to use masculine and feminine pronouns, so as not to exclude women. Ever since then, we talk about “inclusive” language. Now we are told that there is more to us than just men and women. Hence the need to create even more inclusive language.

I am invoking this because what started as something that few people had objected to 30 years ago, became a battlefield on which the fate of Western civilization is being played out. Commonsense, as Orwell’s Winston came to understand, is a heresy. It can get you killed. Several years ago, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson refused to use the “new” inclusive language. His colleagues signed the petition to have him fired because of that. To a normal person, it sounds silly, childish. On the other hand, as we know from the history of totalitarianism and Orwell’s 1984, without a new language, or New-speak, totalitarian reality is impossible. Language can be a prison, and totalitarian reality is just that: It is a realm where there are no free people, only prisoners. Would you agree that unless we create an alternative, non-PC language, we will persevere in our absurd reality.

PG: I have never thought highly of The Closing of the American Mind, because of Bloom’s exaltation of America as a global democracy with a universal rights mission and because of his unproved claim that Heidegger, Nietzsche and other German thinkers had corrupted college students. The American disease that I have witnessed infecting the Western world has not been “the German connection.” It is the fixation on equality, and then the search for ever-new ways to apply this dangerous concept to the human situation. At a certain point, it became obvious that we were not going to apply that concept and its implications to economics, because capitalists were part of the ruling class and because Americans were not going to adopt the economic practices of impoverished socialist societies. So, we looked for other new ways to push our poisonous obsession with equality, which would not be incompatible with the pleasures of a consumer society. Given the modest position to which I was reduced professionally by both the Left and the conservative establishment, I have never had to worry about giving offense by using gender specific pronouns. I do it all the time, with impunity.

I think much of what Orwell wrote in his description of Newspeak and thought control in a future totalitarian state is already happening. What clearly separates our therapeutic regime from what Orwell depicted in his writing is the absence of a warrior ethic. In Nineteen Eighty Four there seems to be a lot of fascist settings and rhetoric left over from the Second World War. In our version of mind control, we find a purer, egalitarian Left in power, and well-orchestrated indoctrination, making physical coercion of secondary importance, if not totally unnecessary. Unlike the world of Nineteen Eighty Four, we also hold ritualized elections but also make it hard for anyone but PC leftists to win. The media and the rest of the political class relentlessly smear any challengers as fascists or neo-Nazis.

ZJ: Even if you are right that Bloom’s diagnosis is not satisfactory, he was viciously attacked by the academic establishment just before academia turned PC. Is it a coincidence? Bloom must have said something that touched the nerve of the academic establishment.

PG: Bloom was not really addressing PC. What he was attacking was the development of the Hippie culture and to some extent the New Left, which emerged in the 1960s. He targets some of the familiar villains of the Straussians, value relativism, insufficient faith in liberal democracy, and a lack of appreciation for the classics, as taught by Bloom and other students of Strauss. Bloom also goes into a long tear against certain German philosophers, whom he manages to blame for both Nazism and the breakdown of discipline in American universities.

ZJ: I find your explanation persuasive. However, there is one point which, I think Bloom was right about: His discussion of the impact of psychology on America. Until recently, the big divide between the US and Europe was psychology. To be sure, Europeans would not deny the validity of psychology as a discipline, man’s psychological problems, and they go to psychologists too, but not en-masse, not to seek solutions to their daily problems; whereas Americans made psychology a national sport. Everyone has a shrink. How do you account for it? In my mind, this has detrimental effects on society. A shrink is like crutches without which Americans can’t walk. We are a society with thousands of experts trying to help us find solution to our problems, most of which are banal. Schools, colleges, corporations employ them full-time. They are a disease. As Bloom said, a hundred years ago, people would have claimed they were sinners; today, they seek various explanations pertaining to the Self.

The American Self is weak; and the weaker it gets, the more problems it creates. Part of the PC movement is the protection of a weak individual against old social norms and institutions, which are fundamental for the maintenance of a healthy and strong society.

PG: My book, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, explores this aspect of Bloom’s work much more thoroughly than he does. Sam Francis does the same in numerous essays for Chronicles. What may be different in Bloom’s case is that the neocons and the conservative establishment in general pushed his book to the top of the bestsellers list because he was also getting across their views on American Exceptionalism, the evils of German thought, and the harm that the hippies were inflicting on the Academy. Unlike the Old Right, Bloom has only kind words to say about American foreign policy and the “liberal democratic” state.

ZJ: You wrote the book, Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement. It is, as the subtitle says, a critical appraisal. You said that what you find objectionable in Bloom is his faith in liberal democracy. Now, as liberal democracy shows its threatening face, one can indeed be skeptical of Bloom’s diagnosis. Was the Bloomian defense of liberal democracy of his own making, or did he learn it from his Master, Leo Strauss, as did his other students, such as Harry Jaffa? Strauss was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and, like most of his generation, he could see totalitarian Nazism and Communism to be a threat to freedom; whereas liberal democracy was perceived as a paradise, a place where individual freedoms and the free market could flourish. Not long after Bloom published his book, his student, Francis Fukuyama, wrote an influential piece in the early 1990s, after the collapse of Communism, in which he claimed that History ended. It was a triumphalist piece.

PG: As I have argued repeatedly (perhaps to no avail), it is impossible to understand Straussianism as a school of thought without noticing its explicit political thrust. Although that thrust can already be found in the Master, it has been far more operative in most of his prominent disciples. If you are asking me whether Bloom’s livre de succès was not an event that Straussians and their neoconservative allies planned for political effect, allow me to respond unequivocally in the affirmative. They and their media allies pulled out all stops to promote Bloom’s book, as a statement of their ideas about an American mission, their academic grievances, and other assorted complaints.

ZJ: Bloom told me once that American political science was the creation of the Germans – Strauss, Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin (he was Austrian, but in this context, it may not matter). To what extent, according to you, did they influence how American academic political science establishment thinks of politics? Now, there is a world of difference between Strauss, Arendt and Voegelin, but one thing that they shared was the reading of the classics, especially the Greeks and the Romans. This last point makes me think that their insistence on deriving the principles of politics from the ancient sources is in keeping with the American tradition of Great Books that goes back, if I am not mistaken, to the 1920s and 1930s, but also to the Founding Fathers, who, like Jefferson and Adams, were very well versed in the classical tradition.

PG: What I argue in my book is that certain themes and concerns in Strauss’s writings take on added importance among disciples like Bloom. The cult of Anglo-American liberal democracy, Zionism, suspicion of the “German connection,” and an aggressively liberal internationalist foreign policy can all certainly be found in Strauss’s remarks and observations focusing on current events. But they became even more pronounced among his epigones, who may have gravitated toward the master at least partly because of these shared causes and concerns. This would apply to disciples who were not Jewish, like Walter Berns, Thomas Pangle, and Harvey Mansfield, as well as to the very self-consciously Jewish Bloom.

Of course, there have also been people influenced by Strauss’s scholarship (e.g., Stanley Rosen) who did not show the characteristic (not to mix words) idiosyncrasies. Strauss was indeed well-versed in classical languages and scholarship, much more so (I would guess from reading her) than Hannah Arendt. Voegelin was probably Strauss’s equal as a scholar; and although I am much more attracted to his interpretation of Plato than I am to Strauss’s and believe that he is correct about the religious elements in modern ideology (which Strauss mostly ignores), I think Strauss was the more original thinker. As a scholar of German thought, I recognize all the stuff that Voegelin borrowed from Carl Schmitt, Hans Jonas and even that philosophical popularizer Karl Jaspers. Strauss creates his own school of thought with his own ideas. Although I disagree with his premises about the dangers of relativism and historicism, his rationalistic approach to the classics, and his sometimes-strained efforts to uncover the secret intent of political thinkers, I regard Strauss as a serious scholar.

ZJ: You have been writing a lot about our current problems. Do you have an explanation as to what happened in the last 30 years or so? Or, were we doomed to be where we are? What I mean by this, is that certain theoretical assumptions about politics were bound to create problems we now deal with, and from which we no longer know how to extricate ourselves. From what you said about Bloom, you do not see the problem to have its sources in Hippie culture, relativism, and the so-called “culture wars” of the 1990s. You imply that the problem lies deeper; that it is democracy itself which is a problem. In this respect, forgive me for saying so, you sound like a heretic. I spent the last 36 years in America and can be forgiven for not having much faith in democracy on account of being foreign born. You, on the other hand, are duty-bound to praise the system. I cannot think of a single TV anchor, politician, policy-maker who would express doubts about “the people,” popular government, the founding principles of America, the glorious breakaway from the British Crown. In the minds of most Americans, including serious historians, these points are like the theological dogma you must believe. Disbelief is heretical. You, on the other hand, openly question the American belief in democracy and equality.

PG: I am very much in agreement with you and Professor Legutko about the demon in liberal democracy, as a modern political invention that has been used to radicalize society. Mind you, I am not against the kind of Volksdemokratie that exists in Poland, Hungary or Japan, providing the current political culture and “Umwertung aller Werte” (although not in Nietzsche’s sense) that is pouring out of “the democratic West” is kept away. What has happened is that the religion of equality has corrupted all human institutions in the West, although the result has not been to create a society without classes. Instead, we are burdened with our present anti-Western, anti-white elites that claim to be helping us to overcome “prejudice” and “discrimination.” This rule does not at all clash with the spread of corporate capitalism because within it there are busily-at-work multinational corporations, Big Tech, and international finance. Managerialism and Deep States also belong to this system of control, which justifies itself as means of making us all more equal and more resistant to “prejudice,” however tendentiously that term is defined.

ZJ: The language of “prejudice” and “discrimination,” which you referred to, is the expression of the egalitarian spirit. Without it, the whole PC edifice would collapse. I am convinced that if we retain a blind faith in equality, we will continue being prisoners of the current predicament and the situation will only get worse. Do you see much sense in applying this term anywhere else than in administration of justice?

Secondly, you said about “overcoming of ‘prejudice’ and ‘discrimination.'” This sounds familiar to every student of Marxism. In Marx it was called “false consciousness,” and socialism was a state where all forms of discrimination (or alienation, as Marxists would have it) were to disappear. Religion, arts, justice, family, morality, law, science were to Marx forms of the so-called “false consciousness;” they are like prison-cells which we must liberate ourselves from before we can view the world objectively. The American justice system has been attacked as racist many times (it serves either the dominant White class, or the class of heterosexuals; you can hear that science is an expression of the White mind (therefore minorities are not doing well in science classes), marriage and family (man and woman) is problematic, and so on and so forth. You wrote about Marxism; so the topic is familiar to you. Do you see the American fight against “prejudice” and “discrimination” as something that the American Left borrowed from the communist tradition?

PG: I fully agree that the reckless war against “prejudice,” in which the majority white male population stands under judgment, issues from the “liberal democratic’ obsession with equality. This lunatic project, as I argue in my forthcoming book on antifascism, is kept going by the practice of linking all still permitted inequalities to fascism and eventually to Hitler’s Final Solution. Even the concept of freedom, as interpreted by most libertarians, can only be understood through the prism of equality. Everyone on the planet is meant to enjoy the same abstract freedoms, which are hubristically or imaginatively raised to universal applicability.

The only political freedom that makes sense to me comes out of and must be justified by long-standing historical experience. What Edmund Burke wrote about this topic struck me as self-evident, even when I was an undergraduate sixty years ago. Except for the Hobbesian axiom that subjects only owe allegiance to a state that protects them, I avoid speaking about universal “rights” and “freedoms.” Provoking wars to spread or impose these inventions, which is an American progressive-neoconservative temptation, may become a real international danger. Our state department has begun to treat LGBT demands as a foundation for international relations. What idiocy comes next in order to implement “equal rights” more perfectly everywhere in the world?

The rhetoric and concepts wielded by our Left and Conservatism Inc. (to make a difference without a real distinction) sounds like a variation on what the Communists used to say. I’m not sure this comes from direct borrowing as much from the fact that Communism, Intersectionality and American Exceptionalism share a leftist point of origin. To a certain extent, all leftists think alike.

ZJ: It would be difficult to disagree with what you said about LGBTQ demands as the foundation for American international politics. One can say the same thing about the European Union. The conflict within the EU over Poland and Hungary’s stance – both countries strongly oppose the imposition of EU regulations in this regard – is very telling. In both countries, there are conservative governments; and one can be certain that as long as they stay in power, it is unlikely that they will yield to these kinds of demands. The UK, France, Spain, Germany capitulated to the new ideology. If you add to it the immigration policy in those countries, the situation is dire. What do you expect the near future to bring, and is there a way out of this situation?

PG: I just began writing about this for an American Greatness column. I don’t expect anything good to come out of any of this demographic and cultural change. Central and Eastern Europe (if we exclude the robotized Germans) seem to be largely immune to the disease of wokeness and (not coincidentally) resistant to American media and cultural influence. Unfortunately, residents of the former Soviet bloc are going to be affected by what happens in the Anglosphere and Western Europe, given the pervasiveness of American power and our ubiquitous cultural industry. As someone influenced by Carl Schmitt, I believe that friend/enemy relations form an essential part of human society as well as political life. Once the “liberal democracies” finish their war against themselves and their ancestors, their less civilized or less decadent successors will fall out among themselves. I don’t see any way the Western world can recover from the devastation caused by its struggle against “prejudice,” which has now taken the pernicious form of a war against gender distinctions and national identity.

ZJ: How far, in your opinion, can we extend equality?

PG: The quest for further equality (which itself suggests madness) has empowered a vicious, totalitarian elite, which may no longer be removable. There is a tiny hope that the Deplorables and the rest of the populist Right will succeed in wresting power from the woke elites and the Deep State. I sometimes focus on this possibility in my commentaries and make it appear that resistance can win. It may be too late for a genuine revolution (the woke elites representing the ruling class in all the liberal democracies). But I have no doubt that the black nationalists, corporate executives, High Tech giants, gays, feminists, Muslim Fundamentalists, and other members of the leftist coalition will fight over the spoils once they’ve destroyed what remains of a normal society. Their combined rule over the rubble won’t last very long.

ZJ: This sounds very much like a Leninist scenario, at least from the 1905 Revolution to the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. Then you had another episode, after Lenin’s death: the infighting between Stalin, Trotsky, and Zinoviev over succession. In both cases, only the most radical element won. The Bolsheviks were more radical than any of the socialist factions; and Stalin was more radical than the two other competitors. The winner takes all – all the spoils.

PG: I’m not sure the Soviet example works very well, because the Bolsheviks were more rational than the current intersectional Left. The battle that Russian Communist leaders engaged in for power after Lenin’s death involved contending leaders, often with differing visions of where the Bolshevik Revolution should lead. The present leftist actions approaches sheer madness. Antifa and LGBT mobs, warriors against fixed gender identities, and black racialists are unleashing their anger on normal Americans, who are mostly trying to stay out of the line of fire. Meanwhile the Deep State, the tech giants, and corporate executives, all of whom are promoting the lunge toward the cultural Left, are trying to manipulate the activists, naturally for their own ends (I can’t really figure out their end game). My own question is whether these powers will be able to control the Bedlam they’ve unleashed.

ZJ: You know the chapter from my Homo Americanus: “The Dissidents’ Rights and Wrongs.” I wrote it because I was troubled by the fact that there are no “dissidents” in the sense that we talk about dissidents under Communism. Without them one can hardly imagine the collapse of Communism. They were a voice of conscience. They rebelled against injustice, enslavement, moral corruption that socialist ideology created. Dissidents, if they happen to emerge in a democracy, have no (or extraordinarily little) public support. And if someone says something that sounds like a voice of conscience, he is condemned within minutes and apologizes. This is a phenomenon that Tocqueville observed and which Zamyatin explored in his We. Having different views from the rest is to place oneself outside the great collective, it is to be sick, like Zamyatin’s protagonist or Orwell’s Winston. There is no room for moral and intellectual independence in a democracy.

Would you agree that democracy is highly successful in suppressing conscience? My experience in teaching young Americans tells me that only religious students, mostly Catholic, have a sense, intuition, that something is not quite right with American reality. My explanation is that most secular students, students who had no religious upbringing, derive their sense of morality from schools, from the media. Their morality is social; it is imposed from above; it tells you how to be a member of a collective; what the rules of engagement are – but tell you nothing how to form a moral bond with other individuals. Without a moral bond, we cannot build a community. At best, it will be a legalistic society with a growing mountain of rules and regulations.

PG: Allow me to try to answer your last several questions in one unifying response. It seems to me that religious Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, will resist the antiwhite, anti-biblical egalitarian rot that is being forced down their throats by public institutions and the media throughout the “liberal democracies.” But there is an openness of both religious groups to the Left. Their leaders have increasingly sold out to the power elites to avoid marginalization, and in European countries, defunding. In the US, Catholics still generally tend toward the Left, because they view the Right as dominated by nativist Protestants (this of course is vastly exaggerated), or because American Catholics have parents and grandparents who came out of the “labor movement.” Protestants who gravitate toward the Left (and they move in that direction in somewhat fewer numbers than Catholics) seem to be hung up on “racism” and the continued persecution of gays. Antiracism has become dominant issue, truly an idée fixe, in American Protestantism; and this is true for the Evangelicals as well as the de-Christianized leftist denominations like the Methodists and Episcopalians).

I agree that a right-wing proletariat without leadership may not offer the most effective resistance against our leftist rulers, but that deficient resistance is still better than having no resistance at all. What would make our opposition (or what there is of one) more useful is a serious Right rather than the silly clowns whom I see on Fox news and who keep telling us that the Democrats are the real racists, antifeminists and homophobes. Massive boycotts of large commercial enterprises that support black terrorists should be taking place. The Right should adopt all the same tactics as the Left in order to show that it will not be pushed over. Unfortunately, our bogus conservatives want to dialogue with the Left (and perhaps be invited to write for the New York Times) rather than deal with a determined totalitarian enemy. I always compare our authorized conservatives to the Blockflötenparteien in the DDR, which were called into existence to offer fake opposition to the communist regime. Merkel and other German “liberal democratic” politicians came out of that system.

ZJ: In your answer you touched upon the social differences between the Catholics and the Protestants. This may certainly be one difference, but don’t the cultural differences between them stem also from older theological difference, histories of their respective churches. Let me give you one example that illustrates this difference. We live in what i called in my book a great age of democratic apologies. We apologize for trespassing against our 7 deadly sins. Our apologies remind me of Protestant confession of sins; it is a group behavior, Calvin’s Geneva. You prostrate yourself before the community of the faithful, not in the privacy of the confessional. Protestantism was always more “democratic,” and the PC movement is almost an exclusive property of the Protestant countries. The extent to which it exists elsewhere, it is a borrowing from America and the Anglosphere. You know Protestant culture all too well. Do you see this the way I see it? Sins are public, not just private. They are not just offensive against the Almighty but against the community and its set of values, a community claims you to be its member. Thus, dissent is more difficult.

PG: This is what happens to Catholic countries when they decay internally. My commentary will be posted on American Greatness. Onetime Catholic Ireland may be becoming even more decadent than what is no longer Lutheran Sweden.

You may have read my book, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt in which I make most of your points. But it seems to me that one should distinguish between historical Calvinist churches (some of which have been very conservative) and the way Protestantism has manifested itself in the US as a force that nurtures both American Exceptionalism and Political Correctness. These tendencies may have more to do, as I argue in my book, with a peculiarly American synthesis of politics and religion than Protestant theology as such. What is however true is that Protestantism has been generally more malleable to political ends than the Catholic Church, which has maintained an authority structure, and which is overseen by an international magisterium. There are of course certain characteristically Calvinist (but not Lutheran or Anglican) beliefs and attitudes that have manifested themselves with suitable adaptations in the religion of wokeness and white guilt. Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt goes through all of them all in detail.

ZJ: I would like to make the following comment. You seem to be fond of Poland and Hungary; the current socio-political situation there. For many decades, under Communism, Poles and Hungarians were looking up to the West, especially America; longed for civilized existence and democracy as it was practiced there. Now, three decades after the collapse of Communism, some of the comments you have made make me think that Americans like you long for “la democracie a la polonaise.’ A paradox?

PG: It’s not that we on the American intellectual Right want the US to turn into something it is not, namely, a European country. But we notice that countries that were in the Soviet bloc have been spared or been able to resist the latest wave of modernity, the effect of which has been to destroy human society and the civilization that preserved it. I would also note that these countries have been less poisoned by the antifascist ideology (which is a lethal variation on the Communist formulation) that has gravely infected Western “liberal democracies.” Curiously in the German case, American “reeducation” of what was a supposedly Nazified country has resulted in a Nazi-like adherence to Political Correctness among German anti-Nazis. The most tolerant Germans I encounter are the German nationalists, who among Germans seem least to resemble our received stereotypes about authoritarian German personalities.

ZJ: Given your comment, I would agree that today (I am not sure for how long) democracy in Poland may be less “demoralized” than in the US or Western Europe because, as you pointed out, “modernity” there developed more slowly, given Communism. In the meantime, the countries on the Western side of the Iron Curtain embraced modernity or progressivism more fully, much faster, which destroyed culture that had kept democracy alive and well for several decades.

Here are a few thoughts that I would like you to comment on. It would be consistent with what you said to argue that, for a healthy democracy to operate well, we need strong culture. You destroy culture and democracy will collapse. However, one could also argue that democracy is bound to disintegrate for the reason Plato gave us in The Republic, Bk. 8: namely, equality dissolves authority. Expansion of equality is the real problem; and the last several decades saw historically unprecedented expansion of equality. (All we hear about is “more rights,” “more equality”). When no one yields authority over another, Plato says, we prepare ground for anarchy.

Even in democracy we need authority to preserve democracy. But this does not seem possible – democracy’s twin sister is equality, which wants to appropriate more and more for itself, and the more equality you get the weaker authority becomes. Democracy in Athens collapsed not because “modernity” corrupted Athens’ “cultural” foundations; it collapsed because the expansion of equality created the situation which led to lawlessness. We observe the same process on American streets and in other Western countries, college campuses, at home where parents can’t discipline their children, and so on.

PG: I fully agree with your observation that sooner or later democracies show their true character as egalitarian enterprises, in which other goods are subordinated to the demand for a more perfect equality. That is why popular government has to be tempered with nondemocratic and even aristocratic features to prevent this derailment (parekbasis tes politeas) from occurring. Thus, Aristotle, and other wise political thinkers after him, insisted on the need for “mixed regimes” that could rein in the passion for equality and contain the danger they saw as inherent in democratic government.

But with modern “liberal democracies” there is another problem that ancient and medieval thinkers did not foresee – the role of public administration, and more recently, the media in shaping popular beliefs. This is not something that Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant or even Tocqueville could have imagined in those bygone ages in which they lived. These developments occasion the question of whether what calls itself democratic in Western countries reflects a popular will or merely expresses the will of powerful elites. They also cause someone like myself who is critical of democracy to rally faute de mieux to the populist banner because what the populists are fighting seems so much worse. In the US, we are confronting a counterrevolution by leftist occupants of high political and media positions, as well as by corporate capitalists. They are making war on poor and middle-class white Christians, by inciting racial riots and radicalizing the culture. The ruling class is hypocritically claiming the egalitarian high ground, while trampling on those below them.

ZJ: You alluded to Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy and my Homo Americanus. Do you think it is a coincidence that the two books, which are unabashedly critical of democracy and equality, were written by foreigners? (I should add, however, that I left Poland for America 36 years ago); or, should I say, the former denizens of the egalitarian paradise who for this very reason happen to dislike equality? One should also mention here Leszek Kolakowski, another Pole, and his magisterial critical study Main Currents of Marxism, which deals with another egalitarian utopia.

PG: I don’t think it’s surprising that two incisive critical works on American egalitarian “democratism” should come from Eastern Europeans. You and Professor Legutko stand outside the milieu of democratic-human rights zealotry. You are writing as informed observers looking at our American obsession from outside. Because of my quasi-European background, I too have looked at this all-enveloping ideology with wonder and sometimes horror. I became persona non grata to the American conservative movement, when I dared to notice how its celebrities made all the same curious noises as the Left that it claimed to be opposing. The sad truth is our conservative establishment trades in the leftist platitudes of five or ten years ago about democracy, equality, progress, and human rights. It can never leave the leftist conceptual and programmatic framework that you and Professor Legutko call attention to. By now this foolishness may be an identifiably American thing passed on to our satellites.

ZJ: You are editor of a very prestigious and influential magazine: Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, founded by the Rockford Institute, edited in the late 1970s and 1980s by a Polish émigré, Leopold Tyrmand. His name is still well-known in Poland, especially for his Diary 1954 (1954- Dziennik), which is a fantastic record of life in Stalinist Poland. You knew Tyrmand very well. There is no question that as editor of Chronicles, Tyrmand shaped the “ideological line” of it. Did he exert influence on you as well?

PG: Leopold Tyrmand gave the magazine a direction that it has clung to over the years, although it may be a case of taking a provisional strategy for a long-term orientation. He conceived of Chronicles as the voice of the American heartland, which represented a more cohesive and more pristine concept of the American people, than urban publications, particularly those based in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, or even Chicago. Although Leopold always hoped for a reconciliation and possibly alliance with the neoconservatives, he continued to promote the heartland theme until such a plan could be worked out. He even tried to create a Rockford Institute in New York, which turned out badly (after his death) and led to more bitterness between paleoconservatives and their more advantageously placed neoconservative adversaries.

Tyrmand balked at the idea of making me editor of the magazine, while he tended to other matters, because of my firm belief that a war with the neocons was inevitable and that we should give up any notion that we could deal with them as equals. I also differed with Leopold (although we became close friends) on his optimistic view of America. Unlike him, I thought we were headed for a moral and cultural crisis because of an irremovable leftist hegemony. But even I failed to understand how bad the looming crisis would become.

ZJ: Your rather unexpected answer made me think of something: Tyrmand was an émigré from socialism who became editor of a very American journal, located in Illinois – the heartland of conservative America; back then, the place was much more conservative than it is today. How well, in your opinion, did he understand the States, its culture and American conservatism? From our private conversations, I would say that your understanding of America – its religious and political traditions and history – is exceptional. Even if Tyrmand was wrong about you (as you said, he balked at the prospect of you taking Chronicles over), would you say that the history of the last 30 years vindicated you and disproved Tyrmand?
On the other hand, he was not blind to the shortcomings of the American system. If there is one thing that he should be remembered for is his piece “The Media Shangri-La.” As far as I know, it was a piece that caused commotion and made him visible.

PG: I think my forebodings turned out to be justified, while Leopold misjudged the gravity of the political and cultural situation we were facing even in the 1980s. What underlies “The Media Shangri-La” is the assumption that the media are a self-contained negative force that inhabit their own zweite Realität (to use Voegelin’s phrase, borrowed from Heimito von Doderer). Actually, the media constitute (in my phrase) the “priesthood of the ruling class” here and throughout the Western world. They are not an isolated band of eccentrics. They are a power elite, who determine what the masses of people are allowed to believe and to say. As far as I can tell, Podhoretz and other neocons thought that Tyrmand was a “conservative Polish Catholic.” Needless to say, this false idea could be the kiss of death in their circles. Kolakowski was more acceptable, since he was not viewed as a Polish nationalist; nor was his Catholicism thought to be a powerful influence on him. I would never credit neocons however with being worldly thinkers. They came out of an exceedingly narrow cultural world and inherited lots of unfortunate prejudices. Those factors make their triumph seem even more remarkable.

ZJ: You are described as a paleoconservative, the category less known today, but something that was very well known in the 1970s and 1980s, just like the traditional conservatism of Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind. Both were often contrasted with neo-conservatism. What does the term paleoconservatism mean? What are the basic suppositions of your version of conservatism?

PG: I am inclined to give you the long introduction to an anthology of essays on paleoconservatism that Cornell University will soon be bringing out. But I shall resist that impulse. Paleoconservatism has been ruthlessly canceled by the conservative establishment (which is a slightly recycled version of neoconservatism plus GOP boosterism). No one associated with our movement is now allowed to publish in any conservative magazine (other than Chronicles); and even The American Conservative, which started out with paleo leanings, now belongs to the conservative establishment. The main difference between the paleos and their despisers in the continually updated conservative movement is that we dare to say “No” to all the accommodations of the Zeitgeist that Conservatism, Inc. engages in to make itself agreeable to its leftist talking partners. We have no leftist talking partners, and certainly not in the “LGBT community” or among those who believe that the US before the civil rights and immigration reforms of the 1960s was an “unjust” country. In this case the reforms proved more disastrous than the injustices they were supposed to address. Paleos represent the only American Right, because we alone – of all American political positions – do not worship the idol of equality, and in fact view it as the enemy of all traditional social institutions. Americans and their satellites are going to have to live with hierarchy in the end; and that form of it, provided by the media, “educational institutions,” and public administration may be the pernicious example of that arrangement.

ZJ: You authored some fifteen books, and you edited a magazine. You know that ideas matter and that reading good authors and good magazines is essential for a healthy life of a society. Today, students read bad authors and their dreadful books. The effect is the society in which we live. From your own books, I would choose Revisions and Dissents, which is a wonderful and beautifully written little collection of essays. There is a chapter on Robert Nisbet, a towering figure in the field of sociology, whom I read passionately in the 1980s, and forgot. If you were to advise a young student what 10 contemporary authors, in the field of sociology, psychology religion, political theory – people of Nisbet’s generation and older – and 5 magazines he should turn to, what would you recommend?

PG: Of all the book that I have published, the one that seems the most zeit-relevant is The Strange Death of Marxism. The other book that seems made for the time is the work on antifascism that Cornell will be bringing out this summer. By the way, the conservative press and most conservative magazines in this country have a policy of never mentioning my books or even my name, except to remind their readers that I’m paranoid and should not be brought into polite conversation. I doubt that my efforts to distinguish the current Left from classical Marxism or even from what used to be called “socialism” will meet any approval from “conservatives” who blame everything now on a “return to Communism.”

Nisbet may be among the last social theorists, chronologically, whom I would recommend to the young, although there are some French and German social critics who impress me. The only American magazine that I’m reading these days is my own, which requires a lot of editorial work from a dedicated staff.

I should mention Chantal Delsol as a contemporary social thinker whose French books I have been avidly devouring. I also published last year a long German essay in Neue Ordnung (an illustrious Austrian conservative magazine) on Rolf Peter Sieferle, the author of Finis Germania. Sieferle was an environment-conscious man of the Right, who committed suicide out of despair for the future of his country and the West. These days I read (as well as help edit) my own journal; I also pay attention to First Things and The American Conservative, which the editors graciously send me gratis and which cover some of the themes that we address.

ZJ: Thank you so very much for this insightful and delightful conversation.

Saint Bernard, On Freedom

Over eight centuries before Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated his “Four Freedoms,” a shorter and much better list of freedoms was elucidated by the young abbot of the new monastery of Clairvaux, one Bernard by name.

In his work, On Grace and Free Choice (De Gratia et libero arbitrio), Saint Bernard (1090-1153) distinguished three kinds of freedom: of nature, of grace, and of glory. The first is freedom from necessity; the second, from sin; and the third, from suffering. All three concern man’s inner life, where all true freedom resides, rather than extrinsic factors. (For a timely example of what I mean by “extrinsic factors,” we might consider freedom from external compulsion to receive an unethically sourced, unnecessary, and ineffective vaccine against an illness that 99.7% of people who contract it survive.) For us moderns, like Roosevelt, the tendency is to locate freedom outside of ourselves, but that is not what Saint Bernard had in mind. Real freedom, I repeat, is an interior reality, and all three of these freedoms are interior.

The Calvinists and Lutherans, who exaggerated the effects of the Fall, denied that man’s will is free. They would have done well to read Saint Bernard, who based his argumentation solidly on Holy Scripture. So, too, do modern schools of psychological determinism deny — or at least detract from — the freedom of the will. But Saint Bernard, writing with great philosophical certitude and liberty, shows that the will by its very nature is free.

This innate freedom of the will, in addition to our intellect, is what makes us in the image and likeness of God, and the Master of Clairvaux notes that this first freedom has nothing to do with whether we are good or bad: “Freedom from necessity belongs alike to God and to every rational creature, good or bad.” This freedom, which makes our actions “voluntary,” is contrasted with that necessity of which brute beasts are possessed in all their actions. In dogs and cats, and all the rest of non-rational animals, there are no voluntary or free acts. They act by an interior compulsion to do what they do. Without having an intellect and a will, non-rational animals live exclusively on the level of the senses and the irascible and concupisciple appetites. We, too, have those faculties, but our intellect and will tower over them and make our acts human acts and therefore voluntary and free acts. As the Cistercian Doctor puts it negatively, “What is done by necessity does not derive from the will and vice versa.”

For clarity, I should note here that there are acts that men do that are not voluntary and therefore not free. These are things we have in common with the beasts, like respiration, digestion, and the myriad other activities our bodies perform every moment to keep us alive and functioning at the level of mere sentient activity. Philosophers call such acts “actus hominis” (acts of a man) as distinguished from “actus humanus” (human acts). “Human” here means rational and volitional.

The following sentence from On Grace and Free Choice may be long and need to be read two or three times, but it is very illuminating of the truth concerning man’s will being free and the consequent moral responsibility we all shoulder by virtue of our freely chosen acts:

Only the will, then, since, by reason of its innate freedom, it can be compelled by no force or necessity to dissent from itself, or to consent in any matter in spite of itself, makes a creature righteous or unrighteous, capable and deserving of happiness or of sorrow, insofar as it shall have consented to righteousness or unrighteousness. [All excerpts here are from the Cistercian Publications edition of the work, translated by Daniel O’Donolan, OSCO.]

The truth that “sin is in the will,” is an immediate conclusion from what Saint Bernard writes here. While we might be externally influenced, threatened, cajoled, directed, encouraged, etc., in our will we always remain radically free. This is an anthropological or psychological fact that follows from our very nature as it was created by God, prescinding from the Fall. It is the basis of all merit and culpability and, therefore, of the notions of reward and punishment.

Over and above this first freedom, the innate freedom of nature, are the two other freedoms (that from sin, and that from sorrow) which are not natural endowments but supernatural gifts.

Saint Bernard explains that freedom from sin is what Saint Paul described when he wrote, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). This second freedom is not innate in us, but results from grace, and stands in contrast — so the Abbot of Clairvaux notes — to that slavery to sin that the Holy Apostle describes elsewhere: “For when you were the servants of sin, you were free men to justice. [Saint Paul is ironically contrasting “slavery to sin” and “slavery to God (or justice)”. Being “free men to justice” means being “liberated” from God’s holiness or righteousness. This is a false and damning freedom.] … But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting” (Rom. 6:20, 22).

Citing Our Lord saying, “If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36), Saint Bernard tells us:

He meant that even free choice stands in need of a liberator, but one, of course, who would set it free, not from necessity which was quite unknown to it since this pertains to the will, but rather from sin, into which it has fallen both freely and willingly, and also from the penalty of sin which it carelessly incurred and has unwillingly borne.

We ought not quickly pass over the profound thought that “even free choice stands in need of a liberator.” The words are beautiful, yes, but there is more than mere aesthetics here. Our free will, after the Fall, contracted the defect Saint Thomas calls “malice,” and needs to be saved from it, or freed. The liberator in question is, of course, that Man who knew no sin, and who always was and always remains absolutely free from sin. Citing Psalm 87:6, Saint Bernard calls Christ, “[He who] alone of all men was made free among the dead; free, that is, from sin in the midst of sinners.”

Concerning this “second freedom” — freedom from sin — the Mellifluous Doctor eloquently addresses the question of good will versus bad will in words that should encourage us:

When a person complains and says: “I wish I could have a good will, but I just can’t manage it,” this in no way argues against the freedom [from necessity, the “first freedom”] of which we have been speaking, as if the will thus suffered violence or were subject to necessity. Rather is he witnessing to the fact that he lacks that freedom which is called freedom from sin. Because, whoever wants to have a good will proves thereby that he has a will, since his desire is aimed at good only through his will. And if he finds himself unable to have a good will whereas he really wants to, then this is because he feels freedom is lacking in him, freedom namely from sin, by which it pains him that his will is oppressed, though not suppressed. Indeed it is more than likely that, since he wants to have a good will, he does, in fact, to some extent, have it. What he wants is good, and he could hardly want good otherwise than by means of good will; just as he could want evil only by a bad will. When we desire good, then our will is good; when evil, evil. In either case, there is will; and everywhere freedom; necessity yields to will. But if we are unable to do what we will, we feel that freedom itself is somehow captive to sin, or that it is unhappy, not that it is lost.

The words here rendered “oppressed, though not suppressed” are premi non perimi, and are difficult to translate, but the sense is that, though the will is in part impaired (by sin), it is not rendered powerless. Moral theologians of later ages would develop in detail the Church’s accepted moral doctrine concerning the diminishing of the freedom of the will by habitual sin, yet the notion is here in seminal form in Saint Bernard. The doctrine here explained is very consoling. If we will the good but yet sin, there is still some good in us. The remedy is grace, the major burden of Saint Bernard’s book, which is there for us if we but ask of it. For that reason and others, in the practical order, prayer is the main point of contact between God’s grace and our free will. It opens us to the remedy our will needs. Without prayer, even the sacraments will avail us but little because we lack the necessary dispositions to receive the remedies they contain.

Concerning the “third freedom,” that from suffering, or, as he also calls it, “the freedom of glory,” the Cistercian abbot is clear that it is not for this life, but the next, for “it is reserved for us in our homeland” of Heaven:

There is also a freedom from sorrow, of which the Apostle again says: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” [Rom. 8:21]. But would anyone in this mortal condition dare arrogate to himself even this kind of freedom?

He further adds that, by this third freedom,

[W]e are raised up to glory, a perfect creature in the Spirit. [And] … by it, we cast down death itself. … Finally, by the last-named, in our own more perfect submission to ourselves through victory over corruption and death — when, that is, death shall be last of all destroyed [1 Cor. 15:26] — we will pass over into the glorious freedom of the sons of God [Rom. 8:21], the freedom by which Christ will set us free, when he delivers us as a kingdom to God the Father” [Cf. 1 Cor. 15:24].

We are living in a time when our civic freedoms seem imperiled by an emerging biometric security state, an Orwellian oligarchic kleptocracy that demands we give up our freedoms for the lying promises of safety, security, and now health. In the midst of these mendacious statist shenanigans — so obvious to those not drinking the Kool-Aid of mainstream media and Big Tech — let us more and more cherish and cling to our real freedoms which are ours by Baptism and the giving of the Holy Ghost… and which no man can take from us.


Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel.


The featured image shows, “Apparition of the Virgin to St Bernard,” by Filippino Lippi, painted in 1486.

Carl Schmitt: Democracy In Crisis

Ah, Carl Schmitt, Carl Schmitt! No man like him exists today. Political philosophy in our time is, and for many decades past has been, largely the domain of intellectual pygmies and outright morons; the age of gold has degenerated into the age of brass, or of plastic with yellow paint. Schmitt is dead, but his work is not, and this, one of his series of books published during the early Weimar period in Germany, illuminates much of our own present condition. That’s not to say The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy is an easy read. Like much of Schmitt’s writing, it is somewhat elliptical, alternating great insight with moments of “where are we going with this?” But the payoff is worth the effort.

This is the only translation in English, done in 1985, of the 1926 (second) edition of Schmitt’s Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus, first published in 1923. The word “crisis” does not appear in the original German title; rather, the term used is roughly “spiritual-historical situation,” in the non-religious sense of “spiritual,” for which there is no equivalent English word (but there is in Hungarian, lelki, as my mother never tires of reminding me). Moreover, it’s a bit strange that the German word for “parliamentarianism” was translated as “parliamentary democracy,” given that Schmitt spends a good portion of the book distinguishing parliamentarianism and democracy.

To be sure Schmitt saw fatal problems, if not yet precisely a crisis, in the foundation of the German parliamentary system. Schmitt does mention a crisis of parliamentarianism within the text, but he means that not in the sense of an existential crisis of the nation (although famously much of Schmitt’s political thought revolved around what a sovereign might do, legitimately or not, in such a crisis) but in the sense of unbridgeable contradictions having surfaced in what was once thought to be a clearly-defined system. He says the same of both democracy and the modern liberal state, which is why one of his aims is to explore alternatives to played-out systems of the time. Whether he saw a crisis in his day or not, it is certain Schmitt would be horrified, but not surprised, at the utter degradation of today’s politics. But the wreckage of liberal democracy we see all around us is merely the inevitable end state of the contradictions and debilities Schmitt analyzes in this book.

It is hard for us to recapture the degree to which the Western European ruling classes in the early twentieth century worshipped the parliamentary system, and had faith that the end of political organization had arrived, just needing a little polishing here and adjustment there. After a century of struggle against monarchy and aristocracy, it seemed to most elites as if history had evolved to a modern system that truly represented the nation (though there were more than a few dissenters, mostly outside the elites, some of whom Schmitt covers in this book). Schmitt is famous in part because he broke that spell, and soundly spanked parliamentarianism, in its then-existent form, as outdated and inadequate for the challenges facing Germany. Parliamentarianism was an integral manifestation of liberalism, however, so Schmitt’s criticism went deeper than mere political form, or the mechanisms of political decision making. Schmitt thereby heralded both the looming troubles of the decades immediately following this work, and the troubles that have resurfaced after the end of the Cold War.

The translator, Ellen Kennedy, offers an excellent and lengthy Introduction. The edition she translates begins with a Preface, in which Schmitt responds to criticism of the first edition by one Richard Thoma, a law professor, who accused Schmitt of crypto-papism and a lust for dictatorship, which are pretty much the stock attacks on Schmitt to this day (although his Catholicism assumed less importance in his later thought than it had occupied in his earliest works). Despite Thoma’s attack, this book is in fact a turn away from the focus on dictatorship and the imposition of good government by a sovereign above the people, found in three earlier books (Political Romanticism; The Dictator; and Political Theology), towards a more favorable view of popular sovereignty. Nonetheless, the Preface, putatively a response to Thoma, actually most clearly pulls together the threads of Schmitt’s claim in the rest of the book that parliamentarianism is contradictory to democracy, and should be re-read after the book in order to grasp the practical realities of Schmitt’s theoretical analysis.

Schmitt’s original Introduction outlines his project. He notes that since the inception of the parliamentary system, it has been intermittently criticized, despite its general acceptance. Some criticism comes from those who would restore the absolutism of monarchy. More importantly, in the world of the Germany of 1923 (almost all of Schmitt’s focus is Germany, occasionally touching on France, but mostly for theory, not practice), were criticisms from those on the Left who desired some form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and those on the Right who desired some form of corporatism.

Although he acknowledges many and varied currents criticizing parliamentary theory and, even more, practice, Schmitt’s purpose is not to himself critique the parliamentary system, even if that’s the effect of much of what he says. He rather wants to “find the ultimate core of the institution of modern parliament,” which he regards as being very different from its original conception and practice. “[T]he institution itself has lost its moral and intellectual foundation and only remains standing through sheer mechanical perseverance as an empty apparatus.” To understand why this is, Schmitt tells us, we must clearly define and distinguish parliamentarianism and related concepts, “such as democracy, liberalism, individualism, and rationalism.” He wants to “shift away from tactical and technical questions to intellectual principles and a starting point that does not once again lead to a dead end.” He wants to offer a positive way forward, by examining the system and alternatives, not merely carp about problems in the politics of his society.

Taking the bull by the horns, the first chapter tackles democracy. Legitimacy is associated, Schmitt says, with democracy, and legitimacy at the time Schmitt wrote meant recognizing the people’s right to self-determination. Popular sovereignty had been the wave of the nineteenth century, it “appeared to have the self-evidence of an irresistible advancing and expanding force.” It seemed allied to “liberalism and freedom”—but was not, because democracy is only an organizational form without content. Only by linking democracy with another concept, such as social or economic relationships, or a national will, or national homogeneity, does democracy acquire content, and even then the content can be wholly inconsistent from place to place, depending on the characteristics and heterogeneity of the population. (In fact, in the “Preface,” Schmitt denies that a more than nominally heterogenous polity, to the extent it extends the franchise across different groups in society, can be a democracy at all, something modern America is proving him correct about. Schmitt’s focus in other works on the inherency of enmity in any polity also suggests democracy is never workable, as does his point that political equality of all, which he regards as “irresponsible stupidity, leading to the worst chaos, and therefore to even worse injustice,” is “a liberal, not a democratic, idea,” but those are topics for another day.)

What then are the core realities of democracy? First, the actual will of each citizen, however he votes, is the same as the result obtained through majority vote. Failure to vote with the majority merely shows a voter has mistaken the general will. There is therefore “an identity between law and the people’s will.” Second, “all democratic arguments rest logically on a series of identities,” including “the identity of governed and governing . . . the identity of the people with their representatives . . . and finally an identity of the quantitative (the numerical majority or unanimity) with the qualitative (the justice of the laws).”

Of course, these identities are theoretical and never fully realized in practice, and the single most significant problem for theorists of democracy is that the will of the people as expressed may be deceived or malformed, in which case it is the minority which actually represents the will of the people. Thus democratic methods can be used to defeat or destroy democracy itself (Schmitt gives the example of newly-enfranchised women voters who commonly voted for authoritarian government), and if a theorist with power believes that democracy has, in itself, “self-sufficient value,” this cannot be permitted. This problem was identified since the Levellers of 1649, who as a result wanted to restrict power and voting to the “well-affected.”

The “solution” usually adopted is that the people must be educated to know their true will, and such education will be conducted, if necessary, by a dictatorship, one that nonetheless remains democratic, because the will of the people is still the exclusive criterion of what is democratic, and the will of the people is thereby being correctly revealed. This is the key identity, that of democracy with the real will of the people, and the aim of every modern political power of every stripe, from royalists to Bolsheviks (with the exception of Italian Fascism, Schmitt notes) is to achieve that identity with itself. The ongoing problem of democracy is that it is impossible to disprove this “Jacobin argument” that the minority is qualitatively the legitimate representative of the will of the people if they have not yet been adequately informed and educated.

Next, of the principles of parliamentarianism—what are its “ultimate intellectual foundations”? Crucially, parliamentarianism is not democracy; it is not popular sovereignty in its pure form, and does not contain the core realities, the identities, Schmitt identifies in democracy. Schmitt notes that a representative of a parliamentary system is not, or should not be, a direct representative; he more than once cites Article 21 of the Weimar constitution, “members are representatives of the whole people; they are only responsible to their own consciences and not bound by any instructions.” (Although Schmitt does not mention it, not infrequently you hear this view ascribed to Edmund Burke, in his speech to the electors of Bristol, but according to Schmitt, this is the very essence of parliamentarianism, and nothing new.) Counterposed to this is not only the sometimes-found idea that representatives should, in fact, reflect the desires of constituents, but also the party system, which constrains parliamentarians from making individuated decisions.

What justifies the parliamentary system? The oldest, and once standard, justification for parliamentary rule is expediency—if a polity contains many people, an “elected committee of responsible people” can make decisions for the whole. This appears democratic, an extension of an assembly on the village green, but it is not, for “If for practical and technical reasons the representatives of the people can decide instead of the people themselves, then certainly a single trusted representative could also decide in the name of the same people. Without ceasing to be democratic, the argument would justify an antiparliamentary Caesarism.” So it would.

Then what is the justification for parliamentary rule? Schmitt identifies the modern “liberal rationalist” justification as the “dynamic-dialectic, that is, in a process of confrontation of differences and opinions, from which the real political will results. The essence of parliament is therefore public deliberation of argument and counterargument, public debate and public discussion, parley, and all this without taking democracy into account.” This is merely an extension of the broader liberal idea that the free market, competition, “will produce harmony,” and that truth is “a mere function of the eternal competition of opinion.”

Such competition manifests in two principles which are, at root, contradictory—the paramount importance of openness, particularly of the press, allowing public opinion to surface and compete, and the division of powers, another type of competition, but one that thwarts the democratic will, because parliament, the fruit of openness, as a result only has legislative, not plenary, power. In Western thought, division of powers has become synonymous with constitutionalism (and dictatorship is a suspension of the division of powers), yet this is actually a retrenchment from Enlightenment rationalism, which posited the general will as the touchstone of proper governmental authority.

This contradiction exists because the division of powers is inherent in the intellectual distinction between legislation and executive action. Schmitt repeats his famous formulation, the first sentence of Political Theology, “Sovereign is whoever decides what constitutes an exception”; the division of powers is a pushback against this reality. Law, the absolute norm, is distinct from authority, the active application of the law. Seeking context for these abstractions, Schmitt surveys a wide range of thinkers, from Aristotle to James Madison, noting that the closer a system came to true Enlightenment rationalism, the more this key distinction was denied and the more parliament, the legislative power, became unitarily supreme. But to the extent the executive has power, openness and discussion do not determine its actions; here the idea of rationalism based on openness reaches its limit.

For decades, Schmitt says, openness and discussion “seemed to be essential and indispensable. What was to be secured through the balance guaranteed by openness and discussion was nothing less than truth and justice itself.” Society was to achieve “discussion in place of force.” In practice, however, “the reality of parliamentary and party political life and public convictions are today far removed from such beliefs.” Parliament is a facade; all real work is done in committees or in parties, far from public view and public discussion; thus parliament “is losing its rationale.” “Small and exclusive committees of parties or of party coalitions make their decisions behind closed doors, and what representatives of the big capitalist interest groups agree to in the smallest committees is more important for the fate of millions of people, perhaps, than any political decision.”

To the extent public opinion, or the sovereignty of the people, is valued, society is worse off than under “the cabinet politics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” Equally corrosively for the theoretical principles of parliamentarianism, modern mass action techniques, such as radio, have “made argumentative public discussion an empty formality.” “There are certainly not many people today who want to renounce the old liberal freedoms, particularly freedom of speech and the press. But on the European continent there are not many more who believe that these freedoms still exist where they could actually endanger the real holders of power.” Zing. (It’s certainly no better today. Nobody would say that any modern Western system is one revolving around rational discourse. To enunciate the idea is to refute it). “[P]arliament, as it developed in the nineteenth century, has also lost its previous foundation and its meaning.” Thus, by implication, parliament has a crisis of legitimacy for, after all, any number of other forms of government could allow the same type of system, forms that did not falsely claim to implement popular sovereignty—such as, let’s say, Mussolini’s corporatism.

So what does that mean? What can replace the empty shell of parliamentarianism? Rather than talk of Mussolini, Schmitt turns to two great currents of his age that both claimed to represent the general will: Marxism and anarcho-syndicalism. Schmitt never mentions it, but none of this analysis in the second half of the book was abstract in the years leading up to 1923; great currents rocked the German scene, of which these two held pride of place, with violent Communist rebellion and general strikes in many big cities, all capped by hyperinflation and the destruction of much of the German middle class. Mussolini had marched on Rome in 1922. Thus, Schmitt knew perfectly well that his bloodless analysis had real world implications and consequences, and these real-world events no doubt dictated the choice of what he would analyze.

He first examines Marxism, something about which he thought a great deal and analysis of which appears in several of his books (one reason Schmitt is still widely read on the Left). Marxism is the inheritor of the “Jacobin argument” about democracy, where open discussion fails to produce the correct result and must therefore be adjusted. Marxism casts itself not only as rational but also scientific (up to a point; only “vulgar Marxism” is unaware of historical contingency), and follows this to its logical conclusion, that force, rather than education, is necessary to achieve the sovereign will of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Schmitt outlines the relationship, or contradiction, of Marxism with parliamentarianism; much of what he says seems uncontroversial, but I believe this was the first time much of this analysis was done, including discussing the consequences of Hegelianism for Marxism (at least Schmitt offers no footnotes, which are extensive elsewhere in this book), and what we think today of Marxism as related to true, parliamentary-type popular sovereignty springs largely from Schmitt’s thoughts. Most importantly, in 1923, it was Marxism that seemed poised to sweep away parliamentarianism with dictatorship; Schmitt could not see the German future, and the Weimar Republic, despite its troubles, was not yet at death’s door, but the Communists were the most threatening opponent. The practical point Schmitt makes is that “A new theory of the direct use of force arose in opposition to the absolute rationalism of an educational dictatorship and to the relative rationalism of the division of powers.”

Then Schmitt turns to another alternative, anarcho-syndicalism. Here he focuses on Georges Sorel’s Reflections on Violence, with nods to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin. These thinkers reject the dictatorship of reason, which received its purest manifestation in Marxism, one reason the Marxists hated the anarchists (while still having much in common with them, just as Oliver Cromwell did with the Levellers, yet he destroyed them). Sorel’s anarcho-syndicalism was based on “a theory of myth” based on “absolute rationalism,” which rejects the “relative rationalism” of “balancing, public discussion, and parliamentarianism.”

Liberal democracy, the engine of parliamentarianism, is merely “demagogic plutocracy,” a worn-out system lacking the power of true myth. That power can only be found in the proletariat, through their use of their great weapon, the general strike, a chthonic upheaval not based on political theory but on the needs and demands of the workers. Such power is focused, through “the social theory of myth,” to “create an image of the enemy that was capable of intensifying all the emotions of hatred and contempt.” (I wonder if a general strike is possible in America today? It would seem not, in our low-trust, Zoom-capable, handout-oriented society, but maybe it will come back into fashion if something unites normal Americans against our ruling class.)

This line of thought leads to enthusiasm for a final, decisive battle, for a political myth reified to the benefit of the whole polity. Here Schmitt adduces as a parallel one of his heroes, Juan Donoso-Cortes, Spanish mid-nineteenth-century reactionary monarchist. “All the Spaniard’s thoughts were focused on the great battle . . . the terrible catastrophe that lay ahead, which only the metaphysical cowardice of discursive liberalism could deny was coming.”

Both Donoso-Cortes and Sorel rejected all the principles of parliamentarianism, and loathed the bourgeoisie, just from opposite directions. Sorel inherited Donoso-Cortes’s battle mindset; “Every rationalist interpretation falsifies the immediacy of life.” Sorel’s “great battle will not be the work of an academic strategy, but an ‘accumulation of heroic exploits’ and a release of the ‘individualistic forces within the rebelling mass.’ ” (Curiously for us today, this refracts the thought of ascendant currents on the American Right, exemplified by Bronze Age Pervert, as those begin to sweep away the tired remnants of twentieth-century American conservatism, which conserved nothing at all.) The result, for Sorel, is not the dictatorship that characterizes Marxism, but the “immediate life” of the masses, of which the France of 1793 is an exemplar.

Not that Schmitt thinks much of Sorel as a logical thinker. He notes that Sorel was far more similar to Marx than he liked to believe, and he claims that Sorel, obsessed with the bourgeoisie, had followed the bourgeoisie into “economic-technical rationalism,” whether he intended to or not. The proletariat “will be forced, through the superior power of the production mechanism, into a rationalism and mechanistic outlook that is empty of myth.”

The inevitable way out of this is to turn to a national myth, and Schmitt explicitly predicts that “all of [this] tends toward a national rather than a class consciousness today.” (One example he gives is the cohesion during the Irish Easter Rising of 1919 between socialists and Irish nationalists, an episode of rebellion, or civil war, I know little about but intend to turn to, as I continue my study of little Western wars with great relevance to today). He also again obliquely adduces Italian Fascism, noting that “wherever it comes to an open confrontation of the two myths [class and nation], such as in Italy, the national myth has until today always been victorious.” He points out that until Mussolini, the Italians seemed devoted to the “democratic and constitutional parliamentary tradition [and] appeared to be completely dominated by the ideology of Anglo-Saxon liberalism.” Not so much anymore, in 1923. Schmitt therefore predicts the continued resurgence of myth and, through that, myriad alternatives to parliamentarianism, not just Fascism.

“Every epoch of political and state thought has conceptions which appear evident to it in a specific sense and, even if also with many misunderstandings and mythologizing, are, without anything further, plausible to great masses.” Schmitt said this in the context of the nineteenth century being the great century of movement toward democracy, toward popular rule, and we instinctively think of democracy as self-evident and dictated by the arrow of history, because we have absorbed this history and we have been so indoctrinated. But the principle is wholly independent of democracy, and wholly applicable to a system that is an enemy of democracy. How does a political conception become self-evident, though?

Well, for the Germans, a new one became self-evident a decade after this book, and although it didn’t work out for the Germans, it wholly absorbed the great masses of Germany, and completely unexpectedly so. I predict the same thing will happen to us, though with an entirely different political philosophy, that is also distinct from democracy and parliamentarianism, neither of which has improved with age since Schmitt wrote this book.


Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The featured image shows, “Universal male suffrage given by Ledru-Rollin;” colored lithograph by Frédéric Sorrieu, 1850.

Medieval Philosophy Redefined As The Latin Age

Through the kind courtesy of St. Augustine’s Press, we here offer to our readers an excerpt from Medieval Philosophy Redefined As The Latin Age, a newly published work of the late John Deely, one of the foremost semioticians of our time. He taught at the University of Saint Thomas and Saint Vincent College and Seminary. He passed away in 2017.

In this excerpted work, Deely brilliantly establishes the continuity of medieval thought in modernity.

Please do support the great work being done by St. Augustine’s Press by purchasing a copy of this book.


The 17th century crash and burn of Scholasticism—the tradition of commentary on Aristotle (in philosophy) and Lombard (along with the Bible in theology) begun in the late 1100s—resulted from accumulated abuses on the part of authorities civil and religious, abuses in which the scholastic “establishment” within the universities was all-too-often complicit. What discredited the Scholastics in the end was the actual demonstration b men we now call “scientists” of basic truths about the universe that scholastics denied—while encouraging church and state officials to take actions of repression and thought-control. Not until 1757 did the Roman Church lift its prohibition from 1616 of books dealing with Copernicus’ view that the earth was not the center of the physical universe, and not until 1835 did an edition of the Index of Forbidden Books appear which no longer listed as prohibited the works of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler!

However understandable, the turning away from scholasticism in philosophy turned out to be a matter of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; for thinkers of the time were so taken with the experimental and mathematical techniques that had shown the earth to move and the stars to be other suns that they came to believe that the whole edifice of human knowledge, without remainder, could be rebuilt on the basis of science in this modern, empirical and mathematical sense. The ascendancy of this belief defined the historical epoch that has come to be called the Enlightenment, the belief that philosophers might ask questions, but only scientists could actually give answers. If you think that this Enlightenment attitude is a thing of the past, you are mistaken. Yet increasingly has it come to be recognized that if the whole of the knowledge we acquire before becoming scientists has no independent validity, then science itself would have no validity.

The first major thinker seriously to recognize this situation, or at least most completely to do so, was Charles Sanders Peirce. Borrowing a terminology coined by Jeremy Bentham, Peirce pointed to the difference between critical knowledge based on common experience or “cenoscopy”, presupposed to the validity of the specialized foci of modern experimental and mathematical science, in contrast with the knowledge that only experimentation and mathematization of results can produce, or “ideoscopy”, which is science in the modern sense. Until now, philosophers generally, in desperation, have tried appealing to “common sense” as the basis upon which philosophy has a legitimacy of its own prior to and independent of science. But so discredited has the notion of “common sense” become in intellectual culture that appeal to it has little chance of persuading a wide audience. What is needed, rather, is the recognition that, while both science and “common sense” depend upon “the total everyday experience of many generations of multitudinous populations”, yet “such experience is worthless for distinctively scientific purposes”.

The “distinctively scientific purposes” includes, however, both exploration of human experience that requires experimentation to advance knowledge and the more general “scientific purpose” to evaluate and expose in critically controlled terms that overall framework of knowledge within and on the basis of which scientific research comes to be conducted in the first place. Articulation of the presupposed overall framework of knowledge and of independent results attainable within it too requires “science” (as critically controlled objectification), but not ideoscopic science: here is the domain proper to philosophy, cenoscopic science. It has a legitimacy of its own, and this is what the early moderns lost sight of in their enthusiasm for the then-firmly-established-possibilities of ideoscopy. Moreover, the most basic of the cenoscopic lines of investigation proves to be precisely inquiry into the action of signs, “semiosis”, because it turns out that cenoscopy and ideoscopy alike depend on this action throughout for whatever knowledge they succeed to establish.

Now it so happens that the first realization of semiosis as underlying the whole of animal experience and human knowledge — that it is the action of signs which makes experience and knowledge so much as possible in any form—was the distinctive achievement of the Latin Age. That is not the whole story of medieval thought, but it is the untold part of the story, the part without which (as all the modern “histories of philosophy” taken together illustrate) medieval philosophy cannot be seen in its distinctive unity overall, extending from the break with ancient Greek philosophy around Augustine’s time to the modern break with Latin philosophy in the lifetime of Galileo, Poinsot, and Descartes. The articulation and exposition of this cenoscopic foundation of all science, termed today “semiotics”, the Latins termed simply doctrina signorum.

Philosophy, then, as cenoscopic science, not only precedes ideoscopic science and provides its framework. Philosophy also, rightly understood, shows the inevitability of ideoscopic development in order for human thought to reach maturation—just what the authorities, Church and Civil, in the closing Latin centuries, failed to understand.

Exactly as Hannam says in the subtitle of his book: “the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science”; but the Latins achieved this feat, as it were, indirectly, mainly as a consequence or by-product of their exploring the dimensions and depths of cenoscopic knowledge out of which ideoscopic inquiries inevitably arise.

Latin focus on the doctrine of signs achieved clarity only late, and precisely in the closing scholastic centuries of the age glossed over or omitted entirely in the standard “history of medieval philosophy”; yet it is far from the whole or only story of medieval thought that this book aims to tell. Just as important are the broader results scientific in a cenoscopic sense that the Latins are able to achieve in exploring those dimensions of experience which cannot be reduced to experimental results available to sense-perception, as is required in ideoscopy. To restore in new light the remarkable preceding achievements of medieval philosophy in thinking through those larger dimensions of human experience which go beyond sensible instantiations is just as integral to the story of medieval philosophy as is semiotic as the doctrine of signs. So the doctrine of signs (or semiotics, as we now say) is only part of the “medieval story” that this book aims to tell; but it is that part which provides an “Ariadne’s thread” through the larger maze of medieval noetic development, the thread without which the whole does not appear.

This book, then, is a work equally of philosophy and of history. The two are not perfectly separable; for while it is possible to do history without doing philosophy, the converse is not equally true, as the Analytic tradition of late modern thought is just beginning to learn. Ideoscopic science requires laboratories to explore the consequences of its theories. Just so does cenoscopic science require historical awareness. The philosopher ignorant of the history of philosophy is crippled in ways that we have only to read Wittgenstein to realize—provided that we have ourselves come to that reading with an historical consciousness including Aristotle’s work (which Wittgenstein made it a point of pride not to read). (Plato provided the best prenotes to Aristotle; but in the history of philosophy after Aristotle, Plato himself becomes a footnote.)

So this book aims to redress the imbalance in human intellectual community that the “Enlightenment mentality” understandably introduced, and to do so mainly by restoring, while for the first time telling in the light of semiotics, something like the full story of Latin Age scholasticism, when cenoscopy achieved some of its highest peaks at the same time that it made the modern development of ideoscopic science inevitable in its own right—over the dead bodies of the “authorities” presuming to speak for God.


The featured image shows Saint Jerome offering his work to Saint Marcella, who is accompanied by Saint Principia. From a manuscript from the Notre Abbey in Citeaux, France; early 12th century. (Bibliothèque municipale, Dijon – ms. 132 folio 1).

Jean Doresse And The Gnostics

The Chenoboskion-Nag Hammadi manuscripts are leather-bound codices (papyri, that is), dating from the middle of the 4th century AD, and found in 1947, northwest of Luxor, by Egyptian peasants, and since then kept at the Coptic Museum of Cairo. These compromise twelve papyrus codices, plus the remains of a thirteenth, totaling nearly 1,300 pages and over fifty Coptic texts, most of them completely unknown. Only one of these codices was acquired by the Coptic Museum in Cairo, as early as October 1946; it was not until 1975 that the entire collection was assembled there.

The result of a fortuitous find, the discovery of Nag Hammadi early aroused the attention of both antique dealers in Egypt and the authorities of the Coptic Museum. It was not one of those theatrical finds, which officials, journalists and the curious flock to. As with the Desert Scrolls of Judah (commonly referred to as “the Qumran”), almost all episodes of this discovery were suppressed, and almost all details of the history and actual content of the manuscripts have long remained unknown to this day.

Be that as it may, a whole apocalyptic and Gnostic literature then emerged from the earth. The direct sources that were so sorely lacking in research were finally found.

The first Europeans to have knowledge of the discovery were French personalities or scientists. This discovery involved several things: the search for the manuscripts dispersed by the peasants who had exhumed them; field investigations to find out the location of the find; the first readings of the pages less damaged by time; the identification of the writings that came to light there and the first inventory. All of this was the work of Jean Doresse (1917-2007), the main witness to the first stages of this major event in the history of research.

After auditing the lectures of Henri Charles Puech (in the section of religious sciences of l’École pratique des Hautes Études), Doresse joined the CNRS in 1941 and became a research grant holder in October 1944. In September 1947, he found himself in Egypt, in order to carry out, as “excavator for the Louvre museum,” the first of five missions, financed by the Archaeological Excavations Commission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October 1947 (he was thirty years old), he informed C.H. Puech of the existence of a papyrus volume,140 pages long and containing Gnostic writings in Coptic Sahidic (the current Codex III). Thus began an exchange of correspondence (which lasted until 1970) between the young researcher, who had privileged access to the manuscripts, and the recognized scholar who, although unable to read or translate the writings, was nevertheless best able to interpret them.

A scientific committee made up of various personalities was then created with a view to publication. It consisted of Doresse, of course, along with Togo Mina, curator of the Cairo Museum at the time of the discovery and who first recognized the importance of these manuscripts, Canon Drioton, renowned Egyptologist and director of the Antiquities Department of Egypt until 1952, Charles Henri Puech, arguably the best specialist in Gnosis and Manichaeism, and Walter Till, the specialist in the Berlin Codex. But bad luck of “an evil sort” (to use Doresse’s own words) would plague what concerned the acquisition and publication of these ancient documents. Two years in to the work, Togo Mina died in 1949; he was always hounded by the thought that these manuscripts would disappear from Egypt, and he thus made Doresse promise to protect them from the inevitable greed.

In 1958, Doresse published, Les livres secrets des gnostiques d’Egypte (The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics), the result of archaeological adventure with multiple twists and turns; the book went through several editions. According to Doresse, “the style [of the book] reflects the fever of the time when the characters involved in this find were still alive.” He presented the 44 unpublished Gnostic treatises, narrated the adventures of their discovery, the vicissitudes of their purchase by the Coptic Museum, and then he explained the unfortunate delays in their publication – revolutions and wars are not favorable times for archaeologists.

After gathering all the information provided by the heresiologists and quickly pinpointing the gist of the already known Gnostic treatises, he proposed a provisional classification of them into four categories: prophetic revelations; pseudepigraphic writings taking on the aspect of Christian writings; gospels of a Christianized gnosis; and finally, those treatises more or less close to hermetic writings. He summarized the content of each treatise, by first trying to identify it, often successfully, by way of the information provided by Irenaeus Epiphanes and the Philosophumena.

Doresse also spoke, in a veiled manner, in the introductions to each of the new editions, of the harmful consequences of this discovery for his own existence and his career. The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics was planned as a trilogy, the first volume of which was then titled, Introduction aux écrits gnostiques coptes découverts à Khénoboskion (Introduction to the Coptic Gnostic Writings Discovered at Chenoboskion), and published in Paris, in 1958. Two other volumes were planned. Doresse then outlined the main features of a Gnostic doctrine by taking up a suggestive study by Henri Charles Puech, la Gnose et le Temps (Gnosis and Time). From the start, Doresse understood that these texts from Chenoboskion, much more numerous and evocative than those of Qumran, had greater historical significance.

Like the Qumran manuscripts, they relate to an age which, for the development of human consciousness, remains the greatest. This is the moment when the individual found himself most intensely placed before the problems of personal destiny and the destiny of empires and civilizations, which he regarded as definitely established. The central moment for these ages is the Cross. We know this today, but that age was the first to say it – we were in the presence of a veritable library that attested to the existence of a Gnostic Church which maintained links with groups located in other regions.

Very quickly, Doresse formulated the hypothesis that in all likelihood these were documents from the library of the monastery of Saint Pachomius, hidden there at the end of the 4th century, after the prohibition on Gnostic literature by Athanasius of Alexandria, and by the decrees of Emperor Theodosius I.

The Gospel Of Thomas

Such a discovery was not without consequences. Gnostic studies were soon drawn into an ever-expanding whirlwind that was difficult to curb. The eye of the storm was the Gospel of Thomas.

The more or less Christian apocrypha, used by the sectarians of Chenoboskion, was then given the authority of well-known apostles: James, Thomas, Philip, Matthias, John and Peter. The content of these texts is often trivial, not fundamentally contradicting that of the canonical Gospels, but distorting Christian doctrine and deviating from it. In general, the Gnostics of Chenoboskion wanted to introduce into their doctrine a false Christianity by hatching so-called Gospels put under the names of the Apostles, or even by placing certain revelations in the mouth of the Savior. Basilides had also fabricated a compilation of this kind.

Among these adulterated Gospels, the Gospel of Thomas made a lot of noise and gave rise to many rumors, not always of good quality. Many newspapers of the time argued, on the strength of false, distorted, or misinterpreted news, that this was nothing less than a “fifth Gospel;” that it revealed “unknown facts” about the life of Christ; or that it seemed “almost certainly” translated from Aramaic.

C.H. Puech then pointed out, rather fittingly, that to speak of a “fifth Gospel” did not make much sense. If we believe this to be so, then we would have to exclude the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) whose authority and authenticity has been determined by the Church. Or, we would have to recognize all works of the evangelical type as “gospels,” whether or not they were canonical; and we would then be dealing with an abundance of extra-canonical texts. And in that case, why give only a fifth place to the Gospel according to Thomas, or reserve that spot just for him, rather than any other work of the same sort?

This Gospel of Thomas is, in fact, nothing more than a collection of one hundred and fourteen logia; but it is the largest collection ever transmitted of the “Sayings of Jesus,” or “Words” attributed to Jesus. After a short preamble of four and a half lines, (and which already contains the first logion), the text is just made up of a series of sentences or words independent of each other, mechanically juxtaposed, outside of any systematic narrative-frame, and most often introduced by the stereotypical formula: “Jesus said.” An exordium which itself seems fictitious (no doubt added afterwards) specifies that these are the secret words that Jesus the Living said and that Didyma Jude Thomas wrote. It is written in Sahidic Coptic, and dates possibly from the second half of the 3rd century or, according to other specialists, from the 5th century.

Complete and written with admirable care, the Gospel of Thomas is the second of seven writings in the collection, where it appears between the long version of John’s Apokryphon and another apocryphal piece, the Gospel According to Philip. It is “apocryphal;” in other words, an esoteric text, or which takes itself as such, and which claims to record hidden, secret words, namely, words of Jesus. It is also a pseudepigraphic work since, despite its title and its preamble, both obviously fictitious, the writing cannot be traced back to the apostle, Didymus Judas Thomas. Far from uncovering unknown aspects of the life of Jesus, it presents no historical or narrative character; nor does it contain any account. And, if it relates some act of Christ, it is in an exception and merely schematic. Apart from the few lines at the beginning, it is exclusively made up of a series of words attributed to Jesus and placed end to end. Not a single one of these Words has any chance of going back to an Aramaic prototype.

Indirect sources knew of the existence of this gospel, but what is said is very vague or confusing. According to a tradition reported in the Pistis Sophia, Jesus would have, after his resurrection, entrusted to Thomas, as well as to Philip and to Matthew (or rather, as Theodor Zahn conjectures, to Matthias), the charge of relating all his actions and to record all his words. The three apostles, or disciples, would be the three witnesses whose testimony, according to Deuteronomy 19:15, and the Gospel of Matthew, would be necessary for the establishment of the truth. Thus transformed, at the whim of the Gnostics, into those of essential intermediaries, if not exclusive guarantors, of the authentic transmission of the integral and hidden teaching of Christ, their names – one could imagine – must have served to legitimize the fundamentals of the Gospels.

The introductory lines of the Gospel of Thomas can also be read, exactly reproduced in Greek, on the back of a papyrus of the 3rd century, unearthed in 1903, namely, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus No. 654. The papyri of Nag Hammadi, in fact, have made it possible to complete and rectify the Oxyrhynchus texts.

But are both the 3rd century papyrus and the Gospel of Thomas inspired by the same tradition? This is the first important question. Another is even more crucial – are all the words of Jesus collected in this Gospel, or, at least, some of them, “authentic?” Can they be traced back to Christ himself? Origen asked himself this; and with regard to one of the Sayings in this collection, Saint Jerome had to admit that there could be “gold in this mud.”

Although refusing all canonical authority to the apocrypha because of the falsehood that abounds in them (propter multa falsa), Augustine recognized that we sometimes find “some truth” in there. Puech’s response is cautious. If there are strong reasons to be assured of the inauthenticity of many of these new Sayings, all that we can do about those ones that give us pause is to establish, by more or less fragile criteria, that it is not impossible to suppose them to come from the tradition – written or oral – of contemporary Christian communities or close to the apostolic age. But, from that to concluding that they go back to Jesus Himself is leap into the unknown, the unverifiable. The Christian Church is founded primarily on authority, as was the Synagogue. The truth is what was taught by the founder and which is binding on the believer. Hence the need to know what Jesus said and what his immediate disciples heard.

However, a good number of Manichean texts exhumed, either in Central Asia or in Fayum, cite Words of Jesus which are found exactly, or with some variations, in the Nag Hamadi Library. In particular, we have only to compare the beginning of the Letter of Foundation (Epistola Fundamenti) of Mani, and the prologue to the Gospel according to Thomas, as it is restored to us, to be convinced that the founder of Manichaeism knew the same writing and was inspired by it on occasion.

But to work on a text, you need a translation, and the translation of the Gospel of Thomas was slow to appear. Years passed and the editorial work still had not borne fruit. In 1959, Jean Doresse then published L’Evangile selon Thomas (The Gospel According to Thomas), Volume II of work that began with Les livres secrets des gnostiques d’Egypt (The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics). This scholarly work of his provided researchers with a working text. Three other editions were published at the same time as the French edition: English, German and Dutch.

But by publishing this work, Doresse pulled the rug out from under Puech. The following year, Puech published a so-called “critical” edition with three other researchers, all well-known scholars. They were in such a hurry to publish that they did not wait to include with the text and its translation the critical commentary which they were preparing or claimed they were preparing. The stakes were indeed high as to which would be the preferred scholarly reference edition, cited in prestigious journals, along with the name of the editor or editors.

By this time, however, Jean Doresse had already moved on from all this, having understood that it was all needlessly contentious, and had begun work on Ethiopia.

International Greed And The End Of Certain French Research

The first editorial project was not brought to a halt by Togo Mina’s death in 1949, as Professor James M. Robinson claimed. Rather, the project was hijacked by international passions, in particular Anglo-Saxon, which also put an end to French research that had remained of Christian and Catholic inspiration.

In the early 1960s, the Director General of UNESCO, the Frenchman, René Maheu, concluded an agreement with Saroite Okasha, the Minister of Culture, and the National Council of the United Arab Republic, to publish a complete edition, edited by an international committee, chosen by Egypt and UNESCO. But when it became known that several of the selected texts were already the subject of a publication project, the UNESCO endeavor was reduced to a facsimile edition which, in turn, remained more or less dormant.

Progress was not made until 1966, with the first International Colloquium on the Origins of Gnosticism, organized in Messina, at the initiative of Professor Bianchi, and which came at the end of three years of preparation. At the Colloquium, held from April 13 to 18, 1966, sixty-four topics, all mimeographed and distributed three months earlier to all registered participants, were discussed at length.

During one week and in general assembly, ten areas of research were reviewed: the current state of Gnostic texts; the definition of Gnosticism; Gnosticism and Iran; Gnosticism and Mesopotamia; Gnosticism and Egypt; Gnosticism and Qumran; Gnosticism and Judaism; Gnosticism and Christianity; Gnosticism and Hellenism; Gnosticism and Buddhism. The result was a document, which was first submitted for discussion and then went to approval by the participants. Then it was published in Italian, French, English and German, with a series of proposals concerning the scientific use of the terms, “gnosis” and “Gnosticism:”

“Gnosticism” – a term of modern creation – defines a movement of thought centered on the notion of “knowledge” (in Greek, gnôsis) which developed in the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. On the other hand, the term “gnosis” – whose use is attested since the 2nd century indicates universal tendencies of thought which has in common the notion of knowledge, from which, for example, also derive movements as diverse as the Kabbalah, Manichaeism or Mandaeism.

While relevant, this distinction is not widely accepted today. A pity, as it does reflect the historical reality of the great constructions restored by the Apologists; and it does make it possible to account for gnosis as an anthropological phenomenon – the same leaven making bread of different shapes, often bewildering, baked with adulterated flour, and in general, largely inedible.

The Colloquium, at least, gave occasion for direct contact with the vestiges of Egyptian monasticism: an immense religious domain, extending over twenty kilometers in length and which contains the ruins of a set of more than seven hundred monasteries and hermitages erected from the 4th to the 9th century. The delegates spent a day in Wadi Natrun and visited three of the four Coptic monasteries that remain in the Nitrian Desert. They were delighted that the monastery of Saint Macarius, reduced to six old monks by 1969, had then more than forty. What now remains, however, is a long way from the fifty convents, most of which founded in the 4th century, which covered the site, and attested to the flowering of Christianity, as well as to the destructive power of Islam.

In 1970, UNESCO and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture founded the International Committee for the Nag Hammadi Codices and appointed Professor James M. Robinson, an expert in religious sciences as secretary, which made it easy for him to supervise the project, in collaboration with the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont (California). The Facsimile Edition of the Nag-Hammadi Codices was then published by Brill, and Harper and Row, in 12 volumes, between 1972 and 1984. Robinson then edited the American edition of these texts, completed in 1995. He was then closely associated, as editor general, with the publication of another collection of manuscripts of great importance for the study of Judaism and Christian origins, that of the so-called “Qumran” texts.

In 1987 a new English edition was published by the scholar Bentley Layton (Harvard University), entitled, The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations. The volume included new translations of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, and also extracts from heresiarch authors and other Gnostic texts.

UNESCO Takes Over

In 1973, a new project took shape, a French one, this time. Professor Jacques-É. Ménard made numerous visits to the theological faculty of the University of Laval, at the invitation of Professor Hervé Gagné. It was only a matter of translating and editing the texts of Nag Hammadi into French. He considers the Gospels to be a matter of literature. Administrative responsibility for the first Quebec team was entrusted to Hervé Gagné, and Jacques-É. Ménard was appointed as the first principal researcher and scientific director of the project (he did also form and lead a team in Strasbourg). Michel Roberge was appointed as the second principal researcher, with the task of leading the Quebec team. The list of company employees varied over the years, among them Louis Painchaud, Anne Pasquier, Paul-Hubert Poirier and Michel Roberge.

This joint project between France and Canada aimed to produce, in separate booklets, critical editions of each of the Coptic texts of Nag Hammadi and Berolinensis Gnosticus 8502, accompanied by original French translations, followed by commentaries, indexes and a general index to the entire collection. The delays were chronic, and in the opinion of the Quebec team the French contribution did not match their commitments. In France, Jean-Pierre Mahé, director of studies in the section of philological and historical sciences of the l’École pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, Annie Mahé, as well as Bernard Barc, of the Jean-Moulin University of Lyon were early collaborators. As well, there were Einar Thomassen from the University of Bergen, Jean-Marie Sevrin, from the Catholic University of Louvain, and John D. Turner from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Despite the delays, an international network was set up, with French, as well as Belgian, Swiss, German, Italian, Norwegian and American, researchers. More than ten Quebec researchers and as many foreign researchers, historians of religions, biblists, philologists, Hebrew scholars, linguists, or specialists in ancient Christian literature, contributed directly to the three sections of the collection, Coptic Library of Nag Hammadi, published jointly by the Presses de l’Université Laval and Peeters of Louvain.

As well, a team of German academics, located in the former GDR, and composed of Alexander Bohlig and Martin Krause, as well as New Testament specialists, Gesine Schenke, Hans-Martin Schenke and Hans-Gebhard Bethge, prepared a German translation of the texts, which appeared in 2001, under the aegis of the Humboldt University in Berlin. From 1977, Laval University worked on a French edition of these texts under the editorship of Louis Painchaud, in a collection intended for scholars, namely, le Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi (The Coptic Library of Nag Hammadi). It was not until 2007 that the Pléiade edition appeared, by Gallimard, under the editorship Jean-Pierre Mahé and Paul-Hubert Poirier.

But in 2008, there was a new publication, in French, in the form of small pamphlets authored by Professor James Robinson, in the Jardin des livres collection. The back cover blurb was oddly sensational:

In 1945, manuscripts (revolutionary for Christianity) resurfaced in Egypt, in Nag Hammadi. But since their discovery, a sort of veil has covered their content since only specialists and enthusiasts know them. However, their importance is capital, because they complete the four Gospels of Mark, John, Matthew and Luke. It took the film Stigmata and the book The Da Vinci Code for the world to discover the presence of Mary Magdalene with Christ. the Jardin des livres collection is very proud to finally publish the work of Professor James Robinson, the great world specialist.

The world was supposedly “discovering” the presence of Mary Magdalene with Christ… The world had been aware of the presence of Mary Magdalene for two thousand years already. The nature of this presence, of course, varies depending on whether it is discovered under a Christian or a Gnostic propensity.

Each booklet was preceded by a long introduction by Professor Robinson, who described, with great precision, the conditions of the discovery (which Doresse never described with such precision), and Robinson gave the framework of the research. Then more sensationalism, to say the least:

And it was precisely through the exclusion of these texts and others of the same kind that the Jewish and Christian canons were formed. The second reason is that these texts were probably considered sacred by their ancient users, on par with the canonical Scriptures, if not more so. The third, which we tend to forget, is that these texts come back to life in contemporary religious culture. The Bible and the texts of Nag Hammadi are inseparable like the inverse and the reverse of the same tradition…

This is how the idea arose that Christianity was in a way a “gnosis” which gained succeed, with the corollary that the Catholic Church carefully concealed the evidence by preventing access by the faithful to these marvelous texts which contain hidden splendors.

But undoubtedly more seriously, this orientation of research has buried real perspectives opened by Doresse and Puech on the links between Gnosticism and Manichaeism.

Gnosticism And Manichaeism

By the discovery of the Chenosbokion manuscripts, the image of founders and their great Revelations was entirely shaken: they were no longer named Valentinus and Basilides (Alexandrian Gnostics that the heresiological Fathers had fought), but Nicotheus, Zoroaster and Zostrianos, Seth and Adam. Unlike the two Hellenized Alexandrians, the men who claimed to confer on these texts a status of great revelation most often concealed themselves under prestigious names, while the others taught under their own name, and no doubt wanted to be founders of schools.

We must therefore admit two successive moments in the history of Gnosis and Gnosticisms, and which perhaps have no close links: a pre-Gnosis which did not know Christianity and is supported by great names of “initiates” (and called to a great future), and a Gnosis, which was later more closely linked to Christianity and less discreet because it assumed itself as a clear rival. Pre-Gnosis, which perhaps preceded Christianity, preferred to remain discrete and in the shadows. While this pre-Gnosis was dying out in Egypt, when Pachomius launched Coptic monasticism, the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms took off in Eurasia, where they would meet Manichaeism and perhaps even Mani or his first disciples. The Acts of Archelaus (a work dating from the first quarter of the 4th century) is one of the main Christian works directed against the Manicheans, in which the author evokes a controversy that opposed Mani himself with the bishop of Kashqar in Mesopotamia. After the presentation of these discussions, the bishop recounts the life of Mani as well as that of his writings and we find in this part of the text a very precise passage on the Persian doctrines to which Mani would have resorted, as did also the Gnostic Basilides, one of whose works the bishop quotes.

Essentially, most of the Chenoboskion manuscripts do not belong to the Gnostic currents known to the Apologetic Fathers but to a current called “Sethiianism,” named after one of the alleged editors:

What forms the primitive basis of the doctrine of our Gnostics of Chenoboslion seems to be this set of revelations of Zoroaster and Seth, initially independent of Christianity, which may have arisen from daring speculations on the Old Testament.

These Gnostics had taken, it seems, something from a very particular literature of which only scraps now remain: writings composed in Greek and placed under the names of the Magi Zoroaster, Ostanes, Hystaspes, writings inspired by Iranian beliefs. From this literature arose a number of increasingly confused traditions, where Zoroaster, on occasion, changed faces to identify with the prophet Seth, son of Adam, while his descendant Saoshyant, became a figure of Jesus. This would explain why the Gnostics put some of their now lost writings under the names of Zoroaster and Zostianos, as well as of Seth and Adam.

It should also be remembered that we do not know much for sure about this mythical Zoroaster and the religion he founded, except that it is a Mazdaism reformed by a great religious genius (between a mage and prophet) about whom little has been written but much fantasized. As for Manichaeism, it is the sect founded by Mani (215-276), and which took an impressive rise in all of Eurasia. Mani claimed to be at the same time Buddha, Jesus and Zoroaster. An astonishing religious personality, he drew his doctrine from the few teachings of Baptist sects then active in Mesopotamia, (including the Elcesaites, in which he was educated, and is regarded as a Gnostic sect), as well as from Iranian mythical elements, and all blended with a very large part, the most important, of Gnosis which he knew directly.

Doresse summed up this complex story as follows: one day Manichaeism (the doctrine of Mani) came; he assimilated the main elements of expiring Gnosticism thus continuing them; he then transmitted them with his own doctrines in the Middle Ages.

At the end of the second century, with its more or less hidden multiform sects, Gnosis contaminated the entire Mediterranean world. Manichaeism appeared at the time when the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms disappeared, or more exactly spread into Eurasia where they disappeared. In reality, they undoubtedly disappeared less than melted into Manichaeism, attesting to this trait which is peculiar to it, as to Buddhism; a formidable lability, a capacity to penetrate into any apparently foreign body and to find its place there. We know that Mani claimed to be the Buddha, Jesus and Zoroaster. He thus assumed in his modest person the totality of religious history in order to bring it to the fulfillment it calls for.

When and how, then, were Christian elements, some authentic, others fictitious and fabricated, added to the oldest writings? Because it was from such a meeting that gnosis was authentically and definitively born, and without doubt, it should be pointed out, the Alexandrian Gnosticisms of the 2nd century (Basilides, Valentinus, Isidore, Marcion). There are better questions to ask. Is the Gnostic current of Chenoboskion rooted directly in Christianity already established in the manner of the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms (Basilides, Valentinus, Isidore), which founded a community after their excommunication from the Church? Is it transplanted directly into a composite, syncretistic soil? Is it related to currents of Judaism or to a specific rabbinical current, which we now know to have developed what is called “gnosis?” So-called primitive Christianity, in other words, apostolic, was already quite consistent, but it had given rise to all kinds of comments, questions, and also counterfeits. These Gnostics were able to draw inspiration either from these counterfeits or from apostolic Christianity which they then transformed substantially for their own ends, by mixing in Iranized or Egyptianized apocalypses.

The literature of these Lower Egyptian Gnostics includes great apocalypses presented as though composed in earliest times and kept under the care of fantastical powers in holy and mysterious places. The setting often presents Christian or Judeo-Christian characteristics: the Temple forecourt, the Mount of Olives. Not only that but also a geography from Iranian traditions.

Did this prepare for the advent of Manichaeism? This was the hypothesis made by Paul Monceaux in 1913. It was fair, but it was formulated at a time when only indirect sources were available (the notices of the Fathers). The hypothesis fell into the oblivion of university research, the cellars of which are deep. Puech and Doresse gave it new vigor. It was, however, buried again, thus neutralizing all research on the links between Gnosticisms and Manichaeism and their development throughout Eurasia.

Alongside this hypothesis, was the idea of a Eurasian inculturation of Christianity, parallel to the first Hellenistic inculturation which also saw itself buried for the benefit of extravagances nourished by literature and cinematographic fictions.

Gnosis: The Archetype Of Excessive Noesis

According to the historian of religions Mircéa Eliade, one of the great common denominators of all religions (or invariants), is a nostalgia for origins.

All… Except Christianity.

Gnosis claims to achieve an archetype of noetic plenitude, founded among other things on the idea of unity: it is a question of going beyond – most often by abolishing – the bipolarities and dualisms in which man finds himself a prisoner, or in which he thinks he is a prisoner; the first of these dualisms is that of spirit and matter. Gnosis implies nostalgia for a primordial Time, for a first origin where the soul is generally conceived as a divine spark which has fallen into matter and which has retained the memory of this divine origin.

This idea originated in the foothills of the Himalayas, and it gave birth to the doctrines of ensomatosis. Of all the symbol-religious systems, gnosis is the one that most often has recourse to those doctrines, thanks to which man projects himself and his destiny on to the screen of a mythical time where he relives endlessly his fall into matter and his ascent to imagined celestial origins. Hence the pervasiveness of the ideas of the circle, of paradise, of the pleroma, of hierogamy by which the pneumatic joins its ontological and transcendental “I.” It is understandable that Neo-Platonism played a preponderant role in Gnostic doctrines. We can better understand the mistrust of Christian theology, Byzantine as well as Latin, for Platonic philosophy.

Even though it is based on erratic and misleading thought, “gnosis” nonetheless responds to a powerful human need: the desire for heaven. The major idea is that of an ascent to a Primordial Unity, which implies a soul journey through which man rediscovers his soul, therefore himself. All ascension literature proceeds from this chimerical aspiration.

In fact, Christianity is the best antidote to this illusion of an archetype of noetic fullness. It frees us from images of the circle, of the obsession with origins, and when it postulates the immortality of the soul, it cannot be a divine particle, but a participating rational breath. If we admit that gnosis is knowledge, we must bring to light the fundamental Gnostic intuition which constitutes the ultimate hinge of this senseless quest, and it is of the noetic type.

However, our noetics has a complex philosophical history, since it inherited jointly, but not in the same proportions, nor at the same historical moment, from Aristotle and Plato. It was not until Thomas Aquinas that the idea of the substantial union of soul and body, and therefore of a soul (“form of the body,” animating principle, understood as an entelechy) was developed and formulated precisely, as being endowed with all that is necessary to live; that is to say to know God. But obviously the equipment is damaged by sin and it must be restored. When, in the quarrel with Averroes, Thomas Aquinas “bursts the Avicennian ceiling,” as Etienne Gilson rightly put it, he understood that the doctrine of Averroes, inherited from Avicennian gnosis, contained a Gnostic ferment.

Conclusion

Saint Irenaeus had seen with ironic perspicacity the nature of this spiritual charlatanism: “Nothing hinders any other, in dealing with the same subject, to affix names after such a fashion as the following: There is a certain Proarche, royal, surpassing all thought, a power existing before every other substance, and extended into space in every direction. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus.”

Of all the elements of which Gnosticism is composed, none seems very original. The metaphysics is Neo-Platonism, with images and musings from the East, memories of Syria or Babylon. The moral is that of the Gospel, but often misguided, with Stoic formulas and tints of cynicism. The theories and rites of salvation, except for a few features which come from the Greek mysteries, are adventurous developments of conceptions which can be traced from Saint Paul to Origen. As for the mythology of Gnosticism, it is made up especially of borrowings from the old religions of the East, and marks a return to polytheism. Progress, if you will, but progress in reverse. And it is probably this mixture of Christianity and paganism, of religion and philosophy, East and West, which brought success to the Gnostic sects.
Gnostic pride has remained proverbial. Tertullian relates that they frowned in a mysterious manner when they said of their doctrine: “Hoc altum est” (This is profound).

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows folio 32 of Nag Hammadi Codex II, with the ending of the Apocryphon of John, and the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas, ca. 4rth century.

A Reflection On Mystery

Few words can be more misleading to the modern ear than the Orthodox use of the word “mystery.” It’s a fine New Testament word and is (technically) the proper name for the sacraments in Orthodoxy (though we most often say ‘sacrament’ in English). Its root meaning is that of something “hidden.” In our culture’s language, mystery is more a matter of a who-done-it or a reference to something so puzzling or beyond us that it cannot be known. It’s not unusual for the non-Orthodox to complain that when pressed really hard, the Orthodox will take refuge and say, “It’s a mystery.” So, what is the mystery in “mystery?”

There is a debate about the exact root of the word in Greek. Most agree that it has to do with silence. Indeed, one speculation is that it is onomatopoetic (a word that sounds like what it is). As such, it comes from a root which is the sound you make when your mouth is closed (“mmmm”). In St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy, directions to priests on certain prayers are that they are to be said “mystically,” meaning that the prayer should be spoken softly (sotto voce). This soft-spoken meaning also can reflect the sense of “secret.”

“Mystery” is a major term in some of St. Paul’s writings, particularly Ephesians and Colossians. There he describes the entire plan of salvation as a “mystery that has now been revealed.” He makes reference to the same thing in Romans as well (16:25). Christ Himself uses the term in Mark’s gospel, telling the disciples that it has been given to them to “know the mystery of the Kingdom of God,” while it is hidden in parables for others (4:11).

But there is more to the word than mere secret. St. Paul also speaks of the “mystery of godliness” and the “mystery of iniquity.” In those expressions the word does not describe secret information, but a hidden process at work. And this gets closer, I think, to St. Paul’s other uses as well. For him, “mystery” is not the same thing as “secret.” It is not information that is being held back. Rather, it is a reality that is not made manifest as of yet. And this is at the very heart of the Orthodox use of the word.

When St. Paul speaks of the “mystery hidden from before the ages” (1Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26) he is referencing Christ’s Pascha, the “Lamb slain from the foundation.” This is not a reference to a secret plan, but to the very hidden truth of Christ Crucified and its work in creation. I’ve always appreciated C.S. Lewis’ play on this in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He describes a “deep magic” which the witch does not know, and, on account of which she unwittingly brings about her own defeat. In the Corinthians passage St. Paul says:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:7-8)

In the presentation of Christ crucified as mystery, we are to understand that the crucifixion itself is a manifestation in time of that which has been true from before the ages. The crucifixion is more than an event – it is a revelation of the truth of who God is. It is proper for us to say that Christianity is inherently apocalyptic – it is a revealing of that which has been hidden.

This same theme even plays out in the description of our salvation:

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:2-4)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (Rom. 8:18-19)

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 Jn. 3:2)

Something of the same notion is found in the Old Testament as well:

Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. (Wis. 3:5-7)

It is keenly important to understand that what is hidden is not something that does not already exist: that would be a mere secret, an idea. The mystery described and referenced within the Scriptures is a reality that existed before the creation itself. It is Christ crucified. It is the treasure of our salvation:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet. 1:3-5)

It is this very “mystery” that forms the substance of the sacraments of the Church. In Baptism, we are Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ (an eternal reality); in the Eucharist, we eat and drink the Body and Blood of the crucified Christ, slain from the foundation of the earth, and so on. The mystery of our salvation is not presented to us as something that has not yet happened. It is rather something that has not yet been revealed. Its reality is greater than the things we see at present:

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18)

This same understanding is the basis for the various forms of allegory used in reading the Scriptures. That reading is not a literary device. Rather, it is a discernment of something that is true and real and that lies beneath the surface of the words. Those who champion the “literal-historical” reading, as though it were the only firm foundation, utterly neglect the very character of our salvation. The mystery of the crucified Christ is the content of all Scripture, and is read by those who know Him.

The Orthodox answer, “It is a mystery,” is not an effort to dodge difficult questions. It is, instead, an attempt to say what is most profoundly true. Not only is Christ the mystery which has been made known, but we ourselves are a mystery, yet to be revealed. The world around us, like the Scriptures themselves, have Christ Crucified as their truth, for Christ is the Logos, according to which and through which the logos of every created thing is made. If you do not know the mystery of creation, then you do not know creation.

It is a mystery known to the trees and rocks. They groan, waiting for it to be made manifest. Occasionally, they begin to shout, to sing and to clap their hands. The song of creation is a mystery, heard by those who have ears to hear.


Father Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


The featured image shows, “The Visitation,” by Gerónimo Antonio de Ezquerra, painted ca. 1737.