Karl Marx’s Exuberant Praise Of Capitalism

The bourgeoisie [the capitalist]… has accomplished wonders, far surpassing Egyptian Pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic Cathedrals… [D]uring its rule of scarce of one hundred years, [it] has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than… all preceding generations together… [W]hat earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor? (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Chapter I).

Karl Marx (in collaboration with Friedrich Engels) is known as the greatest foe of capitalism. Further, his views have recently made a considerable comeback in the United States and around the world, first in the “Ivory Tower,” and from there into the culture in general. In fact, Marx made many claims about capitalism, some very positive and some very negative, but he is generally known only for the latter. However, history has shown that most of the negative things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be false and most of the positive things he said about capitalism have turned out to be true, which leaves his exuberant praise for capitalism standing as Marx’s real legacy.

I will discuss Marx’s Marxism, here called “original Marxism,” but which also touches upon Herbert Marcuse’s Marxism of the “New Left,” a peculiar combination of Marxism with Freudian psychology that became popular in the 1960s, and the more diffuse “Cultural Marxism” that arises from an inconsistent alliance between the various species of Marxism and Post-Modernism (the relativist view which rejects the notion of objective truth).

Finally, Marxists, and others on the Left influenced by it, generally called “progressives,” often claim the moral high ground, asserting that it is the Marxists and “progressives” that care about the poor, while the evil capitalists, motivated only by the profit motive, aim to “exploit” and “oppress” them. This is the opposite of the truth.

1. Some Key Terms

It is necessary, first, to begin with a few basic definitions of several key terms, specifically, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, and Marx’s “original” Marxism. The discussion of the controversial notion of “cultural Marxism” is postponed until later on in this discussion.

First, feudalism is an economic system in which feudal landlords own the land and permit the serfs to work the land in exchange for “protection.” However, feudalism appears to be exploitative since the serfs do all the actual work, while the feudal landlords take a considerable portion of what they produce.

Capitalism is an economic system founded on “free markets” in which all economic decisions are made by households or firms that are assumed to act in their own self-interest to maximize their own profit. These markets are “free” because these households and firms make their own economic decisions without being controlled by any central authority, such as the state. Economic freedom is based in the notion of private property. For example, Bill Gates, not the state, owns Microsoft. It is his to do with it as he wishes. He can even destroy the company if he wishes. That is, there is an important connection between capitalism, private property and economic freedom.

One might also add that economic freedom is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for political freedom. Further, since the market is free, there are normally many different private planners throughout the economy. That is, a free market presupposes competition, which, in turn, motivates the competing capitalists to continually improve the quality of their product in order to attract buyers and increase their profit. The fact that the capitalist operates on the basis of a self-interested profit motive opens it to the charge that it too, like feudalism, is exploitative. Marx certainly thought so. However, I will argue later that this gets it precisely backwards.

Socialism is an economic system in which land and capital are collectively owned. Usually this means that land and capital are owned by the state (although it could, theoretically, be owned by some smaller collective such as a commune). A socialist economy is often called a command economy because the state controls the economy in three different ways:

  1. It plans the allocation of resources between current consumption and future investment;
  2. It plans the output of each industry or firm, and
  3. It plans the distribution of the output (goods) between the consumers.

A socialist economy is, therefore, centrally planned because all economic decisions are made by the central commander (the state). In a socialist economy, Bill Gates does not decide what kind of computers to produce. The central planner, the state, tells him what kind of computers to produce. Note that in a socialist economy there is still private property, but it is owned by the state, not by private households or firms. The state owns and controls the airline industry, the automobile industry, the oil industry, and so on.

It is more difficult to give a concise definition of communism, but Marx thinks of communism as a more extreme purified version of socialism in which all vestiges of private property, including that held by the state, have been eliminated. In fact, Marx has theoretical considerations that commit him to the view that it is impossible to know exactly what the communist economy will be like until one actually produces it. This is reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s remark: “You have to pass the bill to know what’s in it.” This is quite alarming, but this particular potential objection to Marx’s communism is not something that I will take up here.

One must also carefully distinguish between Marxism and communism. There is an infamous interview in which a presenter on a New Orleans television station asks Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John Kennedy, if he is a communist, and Oswald gives a somewhat garbled reply that he is a Marxist but not a communist. The presenter, shocked, asks, “What’s the difference?”

In fact, Oswald’s position is logically consistent, if a bit odd. For communism and Marxism are not even the same kinds of theories. Marxism is a theory about historical development, specifically, the view that, starting with feudalism, feudalism necessarily breaks down and turns into capitalism, which, in turn, necessarily breaks down and turns into socialism, which, in turn, necessarily devolves into its purified form, communism. Communism, by contrast, is not a theory of historical development at all but an economic theory. Nevertheless, there is an internal relation between Marxism and communism. Specifically, the Marxist theory of historical development holds that human history is necessarily developing towards the final stage, namely, the economic system of communism.

Despite this internal connection, a communist can consistently reject Marx’s theory of historical development as complete nonsense. Further, a Marxist, who holds that human history is necessarily developing towards communism, might consistently hold that he or she is not happy about this. Such a position would be odd but only because it would represent a certain kind of extreme pessimism: The world is necessarily moving towards communism but one rejects communism. Of course, it is more likely that Oswald, not being a Rhodes Scholar, just did not understand either theory very well.

Although Marx is generally known as a “philosopher,” he claims that Marxism is a scientific theory. Marx sees his view that feudalism necessarily turns into capitalism, which in turn necessarily turns into socialism, which in turn necessarily devolves into communism as perfectly analogous with the view in the science of botany that a seed necessarily turns into a shoot, which in turn necessarily turns into a stem, which in turn necessarily turns into a bud, which in turn necessarily turns into a blossom.

Whereas Hegel had produced a view of historical development that invokes unscientific notions, e.g., the notion of the “World Spirit,” Marx purports to transforms Hegel’s romantic philosophical theory into a scientific theory, which he called dialectical materialism, in which the moving forces in human history are all empirically accessible entities, like material human conditions and behavior. In the Preface to the first German Edition of Capital, Marx compares his discovery of “the economic law of economic motion” of modern societies to Newton’s discovery of the “natural laws of motion.” As an alleged scientific theory, Marxism purposes to render scientific explanations and predictions. It should, therefore, unlike Hegel’s mystical theory, but like Newtonian mechanics, be testable.

In fact, the 19th century witnessed the production of a new range of allegedly “scientific” theories in regions that had previously been the province of philosophers and mystics, specifically, evolution, psychology, and historical development.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory purported to be a scientific theory, invoking an empirically observable mechanism (“survival of the fittest”), to explain why the observed species of living organisms have in fact evolved.

Freud’s psychology purported to be an empirical scientific theory that explains key aspects of human behavior, specifically, human neurotic behavior, by reference to sexual trauma and mental mechanisms of repression.

Finally, Marxism purports to be an empirical scientific theory that explains why human history necessarily moves from feudalism to capitalism and predicts how the capitalist society of his day will necessarily develop in the future.

2. Marx’s Basic Theory Of Historical Development

According to “original” Marxism, the single driving force of history, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism, is class struggle. The guiding idea is that each of these economic systems contains certain “contradictions” that are successively eliminated as history develops. In the feudal system there is an internal “contradiction” between the feudal class that owns the land and the serfs who must labor on the land at a bare subsistence level. This “contradiction” causes the serfs to revolt against the feudal landlords in order to obtain a fairer arrangement. Thus, feudalism breaks down and gives way to the next stage, capitalism.

Marxists hold that capitalism solves some of the “contradictions” in feudalism, e.g., in a capitalist system people are permitted to own their own property rather that work the property of the feudal landlords, but capitalism has its own internal “contradictions.” The “contradiction” between the feudal landlord is replaced by the new “contradiction” between the capitalist, who “owns the means of production,” the factories, machines and so on, and the “workers” who are forced to work for the capitalists. There is a “contradiction” between the two because it is in the self-interest of the capitalists to maximize their profit by getting the maximum productivity out of the workers, while paying them the bare minimum. In brief, the capitalists must push the workers to work harder and harder for less and less until the “workers of the world,” pushed to the brink, revolt and create a more equitable socialist society in which “the means of production” is owned by the collective, the society as a whole, and shared out among the workers.

In a socialist society, the “contradiction” between the capitalists and the workers is, allegedly, eliminated because the workers are themselves parts of the social cooperative that “owns the means of production.” Gone are the feudal overlords who control the lives of the serfs. Gone are the capitalists who control the lives of the workers. In socialism, with these class distinctions gone, the workers are, so to speak, their own bosses, at least in theory. They are members of a cooperative group that decides for itself, not being told what to do by a separate antagonistic class, how economic resources are to be produced and distributed in society. That is the whole point of socialism. Marx divines that since there are, allegedly, no more class oppositions in socialism, the resources will be distributed equally.

In the final stage, the Marxist formula changes slightly. Since all history is driven by class struggles, and since there are no class differences in socialism, the transition from socialism to communism is not driven by class struggle. Since Marx thinks of socialism as a kind of preliminary form of communism, it need not undergo the massive revolutionary change one sees in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, or from capitalism to socialism. The problem with socialism is more minor. It is only that various vestiges of the old capitalist system still cling to the socialist system. Human beings, reared in a capitalist system that values private property, will retain some of these views and desires in the new socialist system. The transition to full-fledged communism, therefore, merely requires eliminating these vestiges in a piecemeal purification process until the full-fledged communist society, completely devoid of private property, is produced.

At this point, there are no longer even the vestiges of class distinctions. Since the dialectical process is driven by class distinctions, and since, in communism, these have all been eliminated, the dialectical process (historical development) comes to an end and human beings can, for the first time freed from the inexorable class struggle, freely decide what they want to do. As Herbert Marcuse, in the last line of his An Essay on Liberation, puts it, “For the first time in our life we shall be free to think about what we are going to do.” Note that this reflects Marx’s (alarming) view that it is impossible to say very much about the last stage of human historical development, communism, until one gets there.

Marx gives a very specific description of this pattern of historical development.

First, Marx holds that human history, like the history of a plant from seed to stem to bud to blossom, necessarily unfolds in precisely the sequence of stages he describes.

Second, Marx holds that it is not possible to skip a step, i.e., not possible to jump directly from feudalism to socialism by skipping the capitalist phase, any more than it is possible to pass from stem to blossom in the history of a plant by skipping the bud stage. For this reason, it would be a mistake, impossible of success, if an overly enthusiastic communist were to try to push the feudal phase to break down into the socialist phase by skipping over the intermediary capitalist stage. It is entirely necessary that human society passes through the specified sequence of stages in the proper order.

Third, the breakdown of one economic stage of a society into the next stage also follows a particular pattern. For example, given two capitalist societies in different stages of development, the one that is at the more advanced stage will break down into socialism before the one that is still at an earlier stage. If, for example, in the late 19th century, England is at a more advanced stage of capitalism than America, then England will fall to a socialist revolution before America does. Marx has a particular picture. In its early stages, capitalism is not fully developed. As such, the “contradictions” in capitalism are also not fully developed.

The further development of capitalism, so to speak, further exposes both the negative aspect of capitalism. Accordingly, there is no danger that capitalism will collapse into socialism at those early stages. It will only be when the “contradictions” in capitalism are fully developed, that is, when capitalism itself is fully developed, that the socialist revolution can and must happen. Since Marx, banished from Germany, was living in England, the most advanced capitalist economy at the time, he witnessed William Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” in which child laborers are mercilessly exploited in order to maximize the profits of the capitalist. Accordingly, he predicted that the socialist revolution would first occur in the most advanced capitalist economy at the time, England.

Finally, Marx explicitly states that the transition from capitalism to socialism involves violence. In his 1872 speech, “The Possibility of Non-Violent Revolution,” he states that “we must also recognize that the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must someday appeal if we are to erect the rule of labor.”

Marx also endorses the need for dictatorship. In his Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx describes the “rule of labor” in the transition to socialism as “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Similarly, Marcuse endorses the need for both force and dictatorship: “The [idea] of “educational dictatorship” … [is] easy to ridicule but hard to refute … [for] to the degree to which the slaves [the American people] have been preconditioned to … be content … in that role … they must be “forced to be free.” (One Dimensional Man, Chap. 2).

Force and dictatorship are central to “original” Marxism. Indeed, this is only common sense. Since people will not freely give up the private property that they believe they have earned, the Marxist or socialist will have to take it from them by force.

3. Marx’s Exuberant Praise Of Capitalism

Although Karl Marx, the man, was emotionally invested in the eventual triumph of communism, it is important to note that Karl Marx the aspiring scientist was no more emotionally invested in the triumph of communism than a botanist is emotionally invested in the fact that the bud normally turns into a blossom. Karl Marx qua scientist simply purports to describe the alleged laws of human historical development, just as Isaac Newton simply describes the laws of mechanics. Karl Marx the scientist simply holds that this is how history does develop, namely, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism in accord with a certain necessary pattern. Qua scientist, Karl Marx does not hold that capitalism ought to collapse into socialism. Karl Marx the scientist simply holds that this is what, in fact, happens and what must happen.

This is, perhaps, why Karl Marx, unlike many of his more enthusiastic followers over the years, was able to acknowledge the enormous virtues of capitalism. Indeed, Marx’s praise for capitalism in the Communist Manifesto is far more enthusiastic than that of many current defenders of capitalism.

Capitalism, Marx tells us, has produced “wonders” far beyond anything produced by the ancient Egyptian, Roman, or Gothic architects. Since those ancient “wonders” are, even today, reckoned among the great accomplishments of humanity, Marx’s elevation of the “wonders” of capitalism above them is high praise indeed.

Further, Marx stresses that capitalism has accomplished all this in a very brief span of about 100 years! During this brief span of time, capitalism has released “more massive and more colossal productive forces” than “all preceding generations” combined! No one in earlier centuries has even had a “presentiment” that such “massive … productive forces” were even possible.

Then, Marx goes on in the same passages to explain that capitalism, by unleashing these massive productive forces, does not merely improve economic conditions, but, rather, “In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature… The bourgeois [capitalists], by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilization. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate.”

That is, capitalism draws the various nations out of their prejudicial self-seclusion and fosters intercourse and interdependence between them. This is not merely economic interdependence but intellectual interdependence as well, leading even to the establishment of a “world literature.” The Chinese and the Japanese now read Shakespeare and the English-speaking West reads the Tao te-Ching and Zen poetry. Thus, capitalism begins to break down “national one-sidedness and narrow mindedness,” which, in turn, brings “civilization” to “barbarian” nations and forces the different peoples to end their “intensely obstinate hatred” of the other.

It needs to be stressed that it is in the very nature of Marxism that capitalism must produce many goods results. Since Marxism has a developmental view of history, in which human societies move through a series of ever-improving stages toward the final resolution at the end, and since capitalism is the intermediary stage just below the glorious advent of socialism, Marx is committed to hold that capitalism must, and has in fact, created many goods results.

Thus, the contemporary “Marxist” who, failing to understand the inner logic of Marx’s system, expresses bitter hatred for the evils of capitalism, is a bit like a botanist who expresses bitter hatred for the bud because it is not the blossom. Marx, by contrast, recognizes that the bud is entirely necessary in order to get the blossom; and, therefore, following the logic of his own system, he is committed, by analogy, to acknowledge the greatness of capitalism. That is why, in the passages quoted earlier, Marx expresses the same kind of wonder at the accomplishments of capitalism that a botanist might express at the blossoming of life in a plant.

For Marx, capitalism is, so to speak, a necessary stage in the blossoming of human development. It is in some ways a shame that Marx is not with us today to correct some of the misunderstandings and excesses of his confused emotion-driven progeny in the “Ivory tower” and the Hollywood hills.

4. Marxism Falsified By Historical Facts

The problem, for original Marxism, is not that capitalism has not accomplished a great deal of good, but that, on Marx’s view, will necessarily collapse as its (alleged) internal “contradictions” become manifest and give way to the even more wondrous economic blossoming of socialism.

However, this has just has not happened as Marx predicted. Whereas Marx predicted that the socialist revolution will occur first in England, where capitalism was most advanced at the time, it did not occur in England but in Russia in 1917, which was still in an abject feudal state at the time. Indeed, although the English economy has become more socialistic in some ways, this has been due to an evolutionary process and a great deal of capitalism has been retained. No socialist revolution has ever occurred in England.

Marx is wrong on at least two counts. First, he was wrong that the revolution would occur first in the most advanced capitalist country at the time, England. Second, he was wrong that it is not possible to “skip a step” and go directly from feudalism to socialism, which happened in Russia in 1917. According to the allegedly “scientific” Marxism, none of this was supposed to happen in the way it did in fact happen. The observed historical facts contradict Marxist theory.

Marxism was also wrong in an even more obvious way that should have been evident to Marx himself, which, surprisingly, has not received sufficient attention. Note that prediction is always risky. Einstein took a great risk when, on the basis of his theory of general relativity, he predicted that when Mercury passes behind the sun, on a certain date, its light rays would be bent by the sun’s gravitational field in an unexpected way that enables observers on Earth to see it when it is still behind the sun. Since that specific rare event had not been observed before, who could be sure what would happen? As it turned out, Einstein was right. His risky prediction was verified. That is good science. Had Mercury not been observed as predicted, a good scientist like Einstein would have been forced to go back to the drawing board and reject or revise his theory.

By contrast, explanation of past events is normally not so risky. For when one attempts to explain past events, one normally already knows the facts about what happened. One would, therefore, expect Marxism to do quite well in its explanation of the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. All Marx had to do was to make sure his theory fit the known historical facts.

However, as Milton Friedman has pointed out, Marx never solved the problem of feudalism that was staring him in the face. The collapse of feudalism and rise of capitalism did not come about as the result of any “class struggle” between serfs and feudal landlords. There was no “revolution” of that sort at all. Feudalism collapsed for a multiplicity of reasons that had nothing to do with its alleged “internal contradictions,” but because of a series of external historical accidents. Recall that there is no place in Marxism for accidents. The inexorable onward march of history is necessary!

One of these historical accidents was the opening up of trade around the Mediterranean and the emergence of the “Black Death” plague (probably brought into Europe via Turkey from China) in the 14th century that killed between 30 and 50 percent of the European population. The combination of these two external historical accidents simply made labor much more valuable. As a result, serfs were enabled to walk off their feudal plots of land and travel to the cities where their labor in that newly emerged market commanded much better wages than they received from their feudal masters. Thus, feudalism collapsed, not because of any Marxist “internal contradictions” in feudalism, but because of accidental external developments that simply made the free labor market of capitalism much more desirable!

In summary, Marxist theory is refuted by the facts.

First, two of Marx’s most basic predictions turned out to be false. The predicted socialist revolution did not occur in the most advanced capitalist economy of the time, England. It occurred in Russia by skipping a step and going directly from a feudal economy to socialism, which is, for Marx, not possible.

Second, even more surprising, Marxism does not correctly describe or explain the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. There was no rising up of serfs in a “revolution” leading to the demise of feudalism and the emergence of capitalism. This was already evident in Marx’s own history books. That is, Marxist theory fails, and rather spectacularly, on all major fronts considered here. One wonders, therefore, why Marxism, like the monster in a cheap monster movie, keeps coming back after one had been entirely certain that it is finally, completely dead.

5. Marxism Is Quasi-Religious Dogma

Karl Popper states a powerful objection against all three of the remarkable alleged new “sciences” that appeared in the 19th century: Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Freudian psychology and Marxist historical materialism. Popper does not argue that these “theories” are false but that they are not even scientific theories. That is, Darwin, Freud and Marx each purport to have created a new science, but there is, in each case, something fraudulent about the claim to scientific status.

In order to make his argument, Popper must provide a criterion that a theory must satisfy in order to be judged to be a genuine scientific theory. Part of his criterion is that the theory must be falsifiable. That is, theory T is a genuine scientific theory only if there are precise specifiable conditions which, if these were to be observed to be the case, would show that the theory is false.

Once again, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, Popper does not argue that these three kinds of theories are false. He argues that these three kinds of theories are not even falsifiable because there is either something about the way they are logically structured or the way they are applied in practice that makes it impossible to falsify them.

Popper’s reasons for judging that these three types of theories are not falsifiable (ergo, not scientific), is different in each case. Unfortunately, since Marxism, not Darwinian or Freudian theory, is our present subject, only Popper’s critique of Marxist historical materialism can be considered in detail here.

Popper’s argument that Marxist historical materialism is not a genuine science is that when Marxist explanations or predictions turn out to be false, which they regularly do, Marxists do not, as a genuine scientist would in such circumstances, go back to the drawing board and revise their theory to take account of the recalcitrant facts.

Recall that, as argued in the previous section, the Marxist explanation that feudalism collapsed because of a “class struggle” between the feudal landlords and the serfs is not verified by the facts. Rather, the emergence of the “Black Death” in Europe had more to do with the collapse of feudalism than any alleged “internal contradictions” in feudalism.

Recall also that the great socialist revolution did not occur in England, where Marx predicted it would occur, but rather that capitalism in England, in a plethora of ways, evolved into better and better forms, for example, in the development of a large middle class that was not in the least interested in a revolution.

Finally, recall that the socialist revolution did occur in Russia, which, as a feudal society, is precisely where Marxism predicts it cannot occur. How, in general, did Marxist “theorists” react to such failures in Marxist theory?

To put it bluntly, they cheated. Consider the fact that the socialist revolution occurred in Russia, precisely where Marxism predicts it cannot occur. Many Marxists have argued that the reason Russia “skipped a step” and went directly from feudalism to socialism is because of the emergence of the great genius of Lenin. That is, normally, the historical process must proceed as described in Marxist theory from feudalism to capitalism to socialism, but in this one special case Lenin appeared and, by virtue of his unique understanding of the historical process, he was able to push Russia, so to speak, fast forward directly from feudalism to socialism.

The problem with that is that it is the essence of Marxism that the development of human history is determined by great impersonal economic forces alone, specifically, class struggle, not by the emergence of individuals. If the development of human history can be altered by the appearance of some individual genius, a Socrates, a Newton, or a Lenin, then obviously Marxist theory cannot predict the future development of human history. For the one thing that Marxist theory cannot, in principle, take account of is individual genius (or even individuality in general).

Just as Newtonian mechanics must fail if individual chunks of matter can sometimes “choose” to diverge from Newton’s laws of mechanical nature and begin to move in their own individual way, Marxist theory must fail if individual human beings, whether this be Socrates, Newton or Lenin can move history in their own individual ways to transgress the vast impersonal, inexorable economic laws of human historical development “discovered” by Marx.

However, faced with these falsifying observations, Marxists have typically made ad hoc hypotheses, e.g., that this direct jump was due to the unique genius of Lenin, solely in order to preserve their theory from falsification. Ironically, although Marx, fancying himself a “scientist” (not some dreamy philosopher or prophet), said that “religion,” in contradistinction to science, “is the opiate of the masses,” Marxism, in the hands of many subsequent “Marxists,” itself became a quasi-religious opiate of the Left that must be protected from falsification, i.e., from the facts, at all costs.

6. All “Historicist” Theories Fail

Popper does not merely argue that Marxism is in fact unfalsifiable and unscientific. He also offers an explanation why all historicist theories, that is, theories that purport to predict the future development of human history, cannot, in principle, be correct. Many “philosophers,” including Plato, Malthus, Hegel, Marx, and Spengler have produced historicist theories that purport to predict how human history must play out. Popper argues there is a fatal, and rather obvious, flaw in all such “historicist” theories.

Popper’s argument is based on the premise that any theory that purports to predict how human history will develop must fail because no theory can, in principle, take account of the future growth of human knowledge. F.A Hayek agrees: “The mind can never foresee its own advance.” (The Constitution of Liberty, Part I, Chap. 2). That is, since it is impossible in principle to know how human knowledge will develop (because, roughly, that would require one to know something before one knows it), and since the development of human history depends upon the growth of human knowledge, it is impossible in principle to predict how human history will play out.

Consider a simple example first. The British economist Malthus (1766-1834), in his Essay on the Principle of Population invoked his “law of diminishing returns” to argue that the trends in population growth in his era must inevitably end in mass starvation. Specifically, he argued that population, when unchecked, tends to grow in a geometrical ratio, while “subsistence” grows only in an arithmetic ratio” and a “slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison with the second.”

Thus, Malthus infers that the point will quickly be reached in which the capacity for food production will not be able to keep up with the needs of the rapidly growing population, ending, inevitably, in mass starvation. But Malthus thinks of the human race too much on analogy with a bacterial colony on an agar base in a Petrie dish. The bacterial colony begins growing at first at an exponential rate when its “food” is plentiful. However, the “colony” soon expands to the point that the finite quantity of the food in the agar base in the Petrie dish runs out leading to mass starvation and the complete collapse of the “colony.”

Malthus also forgets that human beings are not like bacteria. Human beings can become aware of the limitations in themselves and in their environment and take measures to escape his tragic predictions. He forgets that human knowledge will itself increase during this period in ways that he cannot possibly predict. Scientists may discover new kinds of fertilizer or cultivate new more productive species of crops that massively increase the level of food production for a given area of land. New more efficient methods for storing food without spoilage may be discovered and so on.

Malthus’ pessimistic predictions about the inevitably of mass starvation are relative to a certain set of assumptions, e.g., Malthus could not possibly have known anything about current methods in the genetic modification of food, or of human beings themselves, that will enable humanity to sustain itself indefinitely. Taking a bit of poetic license, one might put this by saying that Malthus just assumes that human knowledge will not also increase at a geometrical rate to keep up with the geometrical growth of human population!

In fact, Marxism fails to account for the growth of human knowledge in an even more intimate way. Whereas Popper’s general point is that historicist views cannot possibly take account of the growth of human knowledge, Marx himself provided the new knowledge required to ensure that his own predictions fail! For Marx’s publication of his theories about the “internal contradictions” in capitalism itself represents a growth in human knowledge. His publication of these theories, therefore, adds a factor to the historical equation that is not taken account of within Marx’s theories, namely, the factor that the capitalists themselves can read Marx’s works, learn about those pitfalls in capitalism, and take measures to neutralize them.

The irony is that capitalists, having read Marx’s works, and having no pressing desire for their head to end up on a stake in the town square, can change their behavior in order to prevent Marx’s predicted socialist revolution. For what the great enemy of capitalism, Karl Marx, has actually provided in his published works is a handbook for capitalists to enable them to prevent the glorious socialist revolution. There are, in fact, few thinkers who have done more to protect capitalism from the socialist uprising than Karl Marx. For this alone, capitalists owe Marx a great debt of gratitude.

7. Marxism Replaced By “Cultural Marxism”

Since the “workers of the world” did not go along with the Marxist script and rise up against their capitalist oppressors in a violent socialist revolution, but rather became more and more enamored with capitalism, one might have expected that Marxism would quietly wither away like so many other unsustainable “philosophical” theories. However, since Marxism had become too important to too many people, even becoming a “battle cry” in many parts of the globe which resulted in a plethora of murders, it was destined to be revived, not as a true philosophical or “scientific” theory, but as a cultural force, that is, as “cultural Marxism.”

This is not the typical fate of most failed “philosophical” theories. When, for example, Bertrand Russell’s “logicist” attempt to reduce arithmetic to logic failed, one does see it live on in massive worldwide movements that insist that despite the decisive objections, the failed doctrine must be retained anyways as some kind of cultural tool. At most, one finds a few diehard scholars tinkering with Russell’s “logicism” in some obscure academic history journal or other, perhaps attempting to revive it – which is fair enough. It was, however, inevitable that Marxism would be treated differently and would reappear in the culture in new more deceptive forms.

To hear the cultural Marxists in the “news” and print media describe it, the term, “cultural Marxism” is an extremely controversial term. Wikipedia has an article titled, “The Conspiracy Theory of Cultural Marxism.” Normally, in a real Encyclopedia, as opposed to an indoctrination tool, one would expect to find an article titled “Cultural Marxism” in which some recognized experts are cited who argue that the phenomenon of “cultural Marxism” is real and others who argue that it is not real and, perhaps, that the view that there is such thing as “cultural Marxism” is a conspiracy theory. That is what used to be understood under the rubric of a “fair discussion” in the United States.

By contrast, Wikipedia, by titling its article as it does, is “framing” the discussion of “cultural Marxism” so that the reader begins with a negative attitude towards the whole notion before they even read a single word. The psychological notion of framing is roughly equivalent to the ordinary notion of “spinning.” One “spins” a story, often deceptively, in a way favorable to one’s own agenda in order to prejudice one’s opponents against it, and, in fact, Wikipedia is simply spinning the notion of “cultural Marxism” so that it is already framed by the title for the reader as a discredited notion. Only extremely unsavory “conspiracy theorists” believe that there is such a thing as “cultural Marxism.”

The Wikipedia article proceeds to associate “cultural Marxism” with the extremist Anders Breivik who gunned down 77 people, including many children, in Denmark in 2011 because he referred to “cultural Marxism” in his Manifesto. There is no need to respond to that “argument.” In brief, the Wikipedia article creates a “straw man” notion of “cultural Marxism” that can easily be knocked down and then ritually proceeds to knock it down.

Needless to say, my present claim that the phenomenon of “cultural Marxism” is real does not support any doctrine that justifies any such violent lunacy. For the sake of brevity, I discuss only one example of what I mean by “cultural Marxism” in any detail, the unjustifiable censorship of conservatives and President Trump by Facebook, Twitter and the “news” media that has recently distorted the “culture” in the United States. However, I do briefly mention several other current “cultural Marxist” phenomena that could be profitably taken up in future discussions.

Prior to the presidential election of 2020, Facebook, Twitter and many outlets in the “mainstream media” began censoring “conservatives” on the grounds that they “violate their community standards,” and censoring President Trump because he (allegedly) lies too much. As this article is being written, circa Dec. 4th, 2020, Anderson Cooper announced that CNN would not be showing the speech that President Trump described as “the most important speech he ever made” on the grounds that it is (allegedly) full of lies.

One would think that since most of the anchors and presenters on these “news” outlets have been raised in the United States, as opposed to the Soviet Union or Cuba, it would not be necessary to explain why there is no possible justification whatsoever for censoring conservatives or President Trump on such grounds, that is, no need to explain that it is the “news” media’s job to present all sides of the issues neutrally, because it is the American people alone, in free and fair elections, who are entitled to decide who is lying and who is not. It used to be understood, generally by the 8th grade, that to begin censoring is to start down the road to full tyranny. But, unfortunately, given what has become of our “educational system” over the decades, that is no longer true.

In any case, it is easy enough to determine who is lying in any given case by observing who needs to censor and who does not. However, that particular point goes beyond my present topic. My present more limited aim is only to point out that the “justification,” such as it is, currently offered for the censorship of conservatives and President Trump has its provenance in the “New Left” “Marxism” of Herbert Marcuse that became the rage on American university campuses in the 1960s with the rise of the psychedelic drug culture. That is, Marcuse’s “justification” of censorship, currently practiced by a plethora of privileged organizations like Twitter and Facebook and CNN is itself an example of “cultural Marxism.”

In his essay, “Repressive Tolerance,” the “New Left” “Marxist” Herbert Marcuse begins with a statement of the ultimate conclusion of his essay: “The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.”

That is, Marcuse holds that “objective tolerance” actually requires “intolerance” by Marxists, towards established views. Tolerance is intolerance towards the opponents of Marxism. Yes of course! And “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” (George Orwell, 1984).

Marcuse’s argument for his “repressive tolerance” (i.e., intolerant repression of those he disagrees with) is that even a “liberal democracy,” which purports to allow for an objectively completely free discussion, may actually conceal a “totalitarian organization:” “…In a democracy with totalitarian organization, objectivity may fulfil a very different function, namely, to foster a mental attitude which tends to obliterate the difference between true and false, information and indoctrination, right and wrong. In fact, the decision between opposed opinions has been made before the presentation and discussion get under way–made, not by a conspiracy or a sponsor or a publisher, not by any dictatorship, but rather by the ‘normal course of events.”

That is, since, even in a liberal democracy that guarantees freedom of speech, there is already an established body of opinion that, “in the normal course of events,” resists “alternative” views, the deck is stacked against the Marxists and other rebels. For this reason, “persuasion through discussion and the equal presentation of opposites… easily lose their liberating force… [and] are far more likely to strengthen the established thesis and to repel the alternatives.” Marcuse is clearly disturbed that the Marxists seem always to lose the arguments with “the establishment,” thereby leaving “the establishment” even stronger.

There must, Marcuse is certain, be a reason the Marxists always lose the argument and it cannot be that they have dreadful arguments (See IV, V and VI above). Since the Marxists are completely certain of their views, and since they are certain that they must lose the arguments because of an entrenched advantage “the establishment” possesses “in the normal course of events,” Marcuse infers that Marxists are justified in intolerance towards the established views that the Marxists do not see as “liberating” enough.

This sort of intolerance is currently on full view in the censorship of conservatives on Facebook, Twitter and the “mainstream media.” It is on full display in the attacks on gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos at the “home” of the “free speech” movement, Berkeley, California, for attempting to state views the Left sees as contradicting its view of “liberation.” It is on display on the attacks on teachers, even “progressive” professors, at Evergreen College for stating simple disagreements with leftist students. It is on display in the censorship of the president of the United States, and the 74 million people who voted for him, for having the temerity to disagree with their self-appointed cultural overlords… and so on. In fact, Marcuse’s argument for leftist intolerance against “the establishment” is a textbook case of “question begging.” For the question what is genuinely “liberating” cannot be legitimately assumed by Marcuse but must itself be part of the free and fair discussion.

If Marcuse sat on high above the human fray like a god with a privileged view of the truth, he would be in a position to judge that the establishment has an unfair advantage in debates with Marxists. However, he enjoys no such position. He and his fellow Marxists are human beings, like any other, subject to the same foibles and weaknesses as everyone else. That is, Marcuse simply begs the question against the view that capitalism is more liberating than Marxism. One would think, given Marx’s own exuberant praise for capitalism (discussed in section 3 above), this would have occurred to Marcuse, at least as a possibility. But, apparently, it did not.

Many on the Left today, such as the uberwealthy owners of Facebook, Twitter and “mainstream media” establishments, also, apparently, think they occupy such a superior position, like gods, above the “basket of deplorable” “workers of the world” that they are justified in censoring both them and the president when the latter decline to go along with the script. However, if these uberwealthy cultural actors do occupy some superior position over the “basket of deplorables,” it is their vast accumulation of capitalist dollars, sometimes by dishonest means, that grant them this position, not any privileged relationship to the truth.

One might add, as an additional example of “cultural Marxism,” Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s (AOC’s) complaint in February of 2019 that workers are exploited because they are regularly paid less than the value they create. After all, it is the workers who transform the cow into a pair of shoes that can be sold in the market for a price. The market “value” of the shoes is, therefore, completely created by the labourers. But that is just a re-statement of Marx’s theory of “surplus value,” the view that workers in a capitalist society are not paid for the full value of the wealth they create.

Let us assume Marx and AOC are right. What AOC, who, apparently, has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boston University, fails to point out is that if the worker were paid the full value of what they “create” from the cow, the factory in which they work would go out of business due to an inability to meet their expenses. That would put the worker who “creates” the shoes on the unemployment line, because the factory in which the cow is transformed into shoes will have expenses that cannot be paid. How, precisely, is providing the worker with a job “oppressing” them? But this is no place for a basic lesson in economics or arithmetic. F.A. Hayek is reported to have said that “If socialists understood economics, they would not be socialists.” (Dan Duggar, “Letter to the Editor”).

One might also mention as “cultural Marxism” the sustained contemporary attacks by “progressives” on traditional religious organizations, the family, and the police. The prejudice against traditional religion, the family, and the police comes straight out of Marxist texts. For Marx, religion is “the opiate of the masses,” and the police are an instrument of the capitalists to control the working class. Governor Cuomo’s differential treatment of religious and secular gatherings during the COVID-19 lockdowns is a case in point. The same is true of fact-free “progressive” attacks on the police. To take just one example, “progressives” still routinely use the “hands up, don’t shoot!” slogan from the 2014 Michael Brown case even though the Obama-Holder justice department exonerated police officer Wilson. Given, however, that “progressives” and other “cultural Marxists” have dispensed with the depressing notion of truth, they have been enabled to make this slogan a very useful but false “narrative.”

It does not matter to many of these “cultural Marxists” that many of the poor actually want a greater police presence in their communities. Since, according to Marcuse, the “deplorables” have been deceived by the capitalist oppressors, it is not necessary to take their views into account. Rather, the “basket of deplorables” must, as Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man (pp. 43-44), makes abundantly clear, be “forced to be free.”

Marcuse, like Marx, makes clear that force will be needed to subdue the recalcitrant workers who decline to follow the script. The Marxists certainly cannot permit the “deplorables” to state what they mean by “freedom.” The notion of freedom will be defined by the all-knowing Marxist elites and “forced” on the “basket of deplorables” who, in their appalling ignorance, consistently reject it.

It is crucial to point out that the present claim is not that Gov. Cuomo, Anderson Cooper and other members of the privileged elites are card-carrying Marxists. That completely misunderstands the argument. For the last thing these uberwealthy and powerful elites want is a real Marxist revolution. One does not even want to think about what that would do to the price or availability of Dom Perignon champagne or white truffle oil.

What they want is to enjoy all the fruits of capitalism for themselves even as they display their “moral” bona fides by imposing various Marxist views about censorship, religion, the family and the police on the “deplorables,” who manifestly do not want them. Indeed, these self-gratifying elites see themselves, just as Marcuse sees himself, as moral warriors doing what Marx’s great historical dialectic failed to do when they “force” the “basket of deplorables” to be “free,” not, of course, as the “basket of deplorables” understand freedom, but as they, the “cultural Marxists” define it for them.

“Cultural Marxism” is as real as the censorship of conservatives and the president by the aforementioned massive cultural institutions. It is also real in the constant assaults by “progressives” on the police, the nuclear family and traditional religions, especially Christianity. The purported justifications for this kind of censorship by “progressives” traces precisely to Marcuse’s Marxist notion of “repressive tolerance.”

But Marcuse’s argument for his notion of “repressive tolerance” rests on the childish assumption that Marxists are superior to “deplorable” “workers of the world” whom they purport to represent – that is, it rests, ironically, on the elitism of the all-seeing Marxists or “progressives.”

The truly astonishing fact is that the transparent problem with Marcuse’s self-indulgent question-begging argument for the right to censor his political opponents does not require a journey into the obscure nature of “dialectical materialism” but is as close as the nearest freshman critical reasoning textbook.

8. Marxism In Universities

The common view that there is a strong presence of various species of Marxism, including “cultural Marxism,” in our universities has been challenged. For example, Byron Caplan reports that as the Iron Curtain crumbled, people often joked that “Marxism is dead everywhere… except at American Universities” – but is this an exaggeration?

A representative 2006 survey of university professors by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons concludes that, except in isolated areas, the percentage of Marxist university professors is very small. Specifically, only 17.6% of professors in the social sciences and 5% in the humanities identify as Marxists, but that this number falls to 1.9% in business, 0.7% in computer sciences and engineering, and 0% in the physical and biological sciences. This works out to a mere 3% of university professors overall. Gross and Simmons conclude that this is not particularly alarming.

In fact, Gross and Simmons’ reassuring conclusion is wrong for a number of reasons. Even given their own formulation of the results, they only take account of those professors who self-identify as Marxists. This does not account for the many additional professors who may subscribe to Marxist views but either do not admit to this or do not even know themselves the Marxist provenance of their views. Nor does it apply to the much larger group of “cultural Marxists” in which the “original” Marxist views are reformulated in new, sometimes deceptive, terms to avoid direct association with the discredited Marxist theory of the necessary “class struggle.”

Whereas it was central to original Marxism that classes are defined exclusively in economic terms (ownership of the “means of production”), the purely economic classes of Marx have been replaced by “classes” redefined by “cultural Marxists” in racial, gender or sexual preference terms, which then, in a project called “intersectionality,” must be artificially stitched together into “class” of highly diverse oppressed people. Instead of the class struggle between the “capitalists” and the “proletariat workers,” each defined in strict economic terms, the new “cultural Marxists” refer to the struggle between the “Patriarchy” and the oppressed “class” of females, or between “systemic racism” and the oppressed “class” of “people of color.”

This revisionary project is facilitated by the fact that contemporary “cultural Marxists” represent a curious combination of Marxism with “Post-modernism.” A great deal could be said about Post-Modernism, and in fact, in another context, deserves to be said, but one thing that is manifestly clear is that classical Marxism is incompatible with the Post-Modernist’s relativist replacement of the idea that there is an objective truth, with the idea that there are simply different “narratives” about human history.

One should not be surprised when the Post-modernist “narratives” about “the Patriarchy” and “systemic oppression” turn out to be new unfalsifiable “theories.” For, when the Post-modernists, conveniently, abandon the notion of truth, they also abandon the idea that one can objectively falsify any of these “narratives.”

Indeed, the point and utility of these “narratives” is precisely that it is impossible to falsify them. But since, according to the Post-Modernists, there is no objective truth in these areas anyways, they are still very useful.

Marx, by contrast, was sufficiently old fashioned that he still believed in objective truth and in Marxism as a “science” that will sit alongside the other objectively true sciences like Newtonian mechanics. Marx did not think of Marxism as a mere useful “narrative.”

Thus, although it may be true that only a relatively small percent of professors in the social sciences and the humanities explicitly self-identify as “Marxists,” the relativist language of the “cultural Marxists’” unfalsifiable assertions of “systemic racism and sexism” by “the Patriarchy” are ubiquitous on university campuses. The 2006 study may be correct that there are relatively few self-identifying “original” Marxists on campus; but there is an enormous additional number of professors on campus that embrace the safety of a whole raft of the vague unfalsifiable “narratives” of the Post-Modernist “cultural Marxists.”

It is important to be clear that each of these groups cited by the “cultural Marxists,” black people, Native Americans, women, gay people, transgender people and others have every right to raise objections about the way their group has been treated – and some of these complaints will be correct. The present point is simply that “cultural Marxism” is an artificial framework invented to frame these issues under one unifying quasi-Marxist formula that has far less to do with the reality (another difficult notion for “cultural Marxists”) than it does with social activism.

Unfortunately, linking together what is different just to subsume different issues under some impressive sounding net of jargon can distort the original problems. To take just one example, although there is an ostensible alliance between the “gay” and the transgender community, some “gay” establishments do not permit entry to transgendered individuals on the grounds that the latter are not really “gay.” The unity between the two communities that is useful at election time rapidly disappears on the ground. Further, the tension between the transgender and the “gay” communities can have nothing to do with “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism.”

The reason gays have tensions with transgender people is the same reason that black people sometimes have problems with brown people, or Westerners sometimes have problems with Asians, or Chinese sometimes have problems with Japanese, or the Northern hemisphere sometimes has problems with the southern hemisphere, or males sometimes have problems with females, or “old money” sometimes has problems with “new money,” or moderate feminists have problems with radical feminists and so on is that this is the way human beings are. These tensions and “struggles” are universal and cut across all the different classifications of human beings. These conflicts cannot be reduced to any simple formula suitable for a sociology syllabus or a fortune cookie.

Since much contemporary “cultural Marxism” is really an inconsistent combination of relativist Post-Modernism and “original” Marxism, the resulting view, having abandoned the notion of truth and, with that, the need to provide intellectually cogent definitions, argument, and evidence, is really an easy conglomerate of unfalsifiable “narratives” that are prized precisely because they are unfalsifiable.

Whereas an “original” Marxist, like, for example, Maurice Cornforth, felt the need to reply vigorously to Popper’s charge that Marxism had become an unfalsifiable dogma, the contemporary “cultural Marxist” takes grateful refuge in precisely that unfalsifiability. Since many of the “doctrines” of the “cultural” Marxists are unfalsifiable “narratives,” there is no chance that one of the remaining intellectually rigorous persons will falsify them in the way that “original” Marxism was falsified.

9. Why Are Marxist Theories Popular?

There is another reason why Marxism has enjoyed considerable popularity and why, in some circles, it continues to do so, namely the extraordinary simplicity of its basic picture. The first sentence of Section I of the Communist Manifesto is: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

That is, all of human history, the astonishing genius of ancient Greece, including, for example, the great ancient Greek tragedians, scientists, artists, mathematicians and philosophers, the magnificent development of Roman Law, the emergence of Christianity and Islam, the artistic glories of the European Renaissance, the simultaneous development of the differential calculus by Pascal, Newton and Leibniz, the customs concerning gender relations in China and Japan and throughout all human history, the development of existentialism, phenomenology and analytical philosophy in the early 20th century and so on, are all “explained” as the result of the “class struggle.”

Is this really to be taken seriously?

In his Lectures on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, Wittgenstein, discussing Freud’s view that all neurosis in adults is the result of repressed sexual trauma in childhood, states that people have a tendency to believe Freud’s view because it is “charming.” That is, in opposition to Freud’s claim that human beings have an aversion to contemplating his radical theories about human sexuality, Wittgenstein claims that people actually find such “theories” to be quite charming. People want to believe these kinds of “theories.”

Given the worldwide spread of Freud’s unfalsifiable theories, Wittgenstein is, prima facia, correct. Wittgenstein points out that there is a magical feel to such “explanations” because they purport to explain a whole raft of mysterious phenomena by reference to some secret principle that, once articulated, is seen to be self-evidently true. Jones, learning of Freud’s theories concerning sexual repression, says, “It all becomes clear now. The reason I can’t sleep at night has nothing to do with the fact that I dropped out of school because I partied all the time. It has nothing to do with the fact that I can’t hold down a job because I sleep until noon every day. It’s all because I suffered sexual trauma in childhood, where the fact that I cannot remember any sexual trauma in childhood only goes to show how effective the repression really is!”

Wittgenstein holds, transparently correctly, that such (Freudian) theories explain nothing. What they do that makes them so “charming” is to give people a narrative about their lives that they find comforting in certain ways. The same is true of Marxism.

“Original” Marxism literally explains nothing. It certainly did not explain the transition from feudalism to capitalism about which Marx should have been informed. It certainly did not explain the transition from feudalism to socialism by skipping a step in Russia in 1917. It certainly did not explain why the socialist revolution never occurred in England.

What the simplistic Marxist formula about class-struggle does is give people a narrative that provides a comforting meaning to their lives. The fact that members of community X cannot seem to improve their economic lot in life is not their fault. It is not because members of community X tend to drop out of high school at a rate much higher than the general population. It is not because there are few fathers in the home community X. It is not because there is rampant drug use in community X. It is not because community X has babies out of wedlock at a much higher rate rather than the national average. On the contrary, it is because of the “class struggle” that community X is stuck where it is. It is because community X is “oppressed” that it cannot better itself in life.

The fact that some members of community X, in fact quite a lot of them, the ones who finish high school, the ones who do not use or sell drugs, and the ones who do not have babies out of wedlock manage to get into good universities and end up multi-millionaires is not to be mentioned because the vacuity of the Marxist “explanation” is immediately exposed.

In response to all such simplistic explanations, not just Marxism or Freudianism, but even “mechanistic” theories in the philosophy of language that purport to “explain” some vast range of hitherto mysterious phenomena, Wittgenstein, in his “later” period of philosophy is said to have told his friend Drury that he considered using as a motto for his book the sentence from King Lear: “I will teach you differences.”

Wittgenstein explained to Drury that his method is the opposite of Hegel’s. Whereas Hegel always wants to say that things that look different are really the same – his aim is to say that things that look the same are really different. That is, Wittgenstein’s point is that human life is far too multifarious, nuanced, and unpredictable to be explained by such simplistic theories.

Theories like Marxism and Freudianism are comforting because they purport, by means of some simplistic formula, to enable one to escape the mystery and challenges of life. In fact, the problems of human life can be resolved, to the degree that they can be, only by getting into concrete situations and working to resolve them. This is a hard business. There are no guarantees. No one was given an instruction manual at birth that explains what one must do to be successful.

This is the correct intuition behind parts both of “American pragmatism” and “existentialism:” Solving the problems of human life and society will not be achieved by adverting to some “philosophical” theory, but, rather, this essentially requires work, sometimes by trial and error, even working blindly in real world contexts. This is the way the world is. It would be nice if the key to understanding human life and society could be summed up in such a simplistic formula, but, alas, it cannot.

The German “existentialist” and “phenomenologist” Martin Heidegger, in Section 4 of Being and Time, makes an analogous point that is worth explaining: “The question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself.” That is, Martin Heidegger, the arch- philosopher, who sat forever in his little shack in the Black Forest filling notebook after notebook after notebook with endless philosophical remarks, is attempting to convey that one does not solve the real problems of existence by philosophizing. Philosophy’s attempt to conceptualize the entirety of life and existence in all its elusive dimensions is a wonderful thing. It is among humanity’s greatest achievements. But do not expect some “philosopher,” whether it be Plato, Hegel, Marx or Heidegger to propound some simple formula (“All human history is the history of class struggles”) that resolves the genuinely hard problems of life, e.g., the problems of economic inequality, mental illness, gender differences and inequities and so on.

The attempt to resolve such problems by citing simple philosophical formulas is, rather, an escape from the problems of life (philosophy as an “escape mechanism”). It is among the greatest of ironies that philosophy, which, ideally, is supposed to help one understand human life, and which, done properly can actually, within limits, do so, can also readily become a means to escape from the challenges of life into simplistic unworldly dreams. As the French existentialist Albert Camus observed in The Rebel, with considerable anguish, “philosophy… can [unfortunately] be used for anything, even for turning murderers into judges.”

10. Marxism Does Not Solve Any Problems

It is a noteworthy fact about Marxists, and others on the Left influenced by Marxism, that faced with a dire social problem, they never seem to take the most direct and obvious ways to solve the problems! Since Marxists do little else but talk about solving social problems, this might seem like an astonishing claim. However, there is a vast difference between talking about solving social problems, or, in the case of Marxists, talking about a future social revolution that will somehow solve them, and actually setting out to solve them.

But before we discuss the Marxist reluctance to solve any actual social problems, it may be useful, by way of analogy, to discuss the difference between the way a “common sense philosopher” like Norman Malcolm (influenced by Wittgenstein and G.E. Moore) attempted to solve philosophical problems, for example, the problem of perception, and the way a great German philosopher like Immanuel Kant approaches such problems. Consider as example the problem how we can know that this little item on the dining room table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one.

Malcolm will first look at the contexts in which we say that someone claims to know something about a perceived physical object. He then examines the sorts of things we normally say about the perception of physical objects, including what we say about errors in perception and how we correct mistakes in perception. He then looks at scientific views about the causal relations between physical objects and human observers and asks how we integrate these scientific views with our ordinary views about perception of such objects. Finally, he proposes a certain common-sense solution to the question how we can know that this item on the table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one.

The great Kant will not, of course, condescend to do any such thing. Kant wants a revolution (to be more precise, a Copernican Revolution) in the way we think about virtually everything, of which the “solution,” such as it is, to the question how we can know that the object on the table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one, is one tiny (vanishing) part.

In order to bring about his “revolution,” Kant distinguishes a plethora of mental faculties, sensibility, understanding, imagination, apperception, judgment, Reason, and a few more that he discovers along his laborious journey, not to mention that he also distinguishes between empirical and transcendental versions of some of these. These are all linked together into a vast system that reaches into virtually all areas of human life, including even religion, morality, aesthetic judgments and the nature of human freedom.

After three Critiques and a plethora of lesser works, and approximately several thousand pages (depending on how one counts) of dense near incomprehensible text, which, he tells us only constitute the “Propaedeutic” to “The System,” not “The System” itself, Kant informs the exhausted reader that the “solution,” such as it is, to the question how one knows that the item on the table is an acorn and not a plastic replica of one requires one to accept the whole system. Nothing less will do because the “System” of human knowledge is an “absolute” unity. One is either all in or not. If you do not accept the whole System there is no helping you.

The present point is that Marx’s “solutions” to social problems are much more like Kant’s “solutions” to conceptual problems than they are like Malcolm’s solutions to conceptual problems, although Kant’s revolution” clearly involves less rioting and bloodshed than Marx’s.

Since both Kant and Marx are German philosophers that worship “The System,” in one or another in the plethora of its “Absolute” but vastly different manifestations, Marxists, like Kant and Hegel, cannot not go directly at the problem. That is the strategy of lesser human beings like Malcolm. Rather, Marx tells us, one cannot really solve the problem per se but must rather bring about a “revolution” that will somehow, in a way specified only in the most general terms, someday “solve” the problem. The communists at the end of history will, in ways we cannot yet quite understand, settle the matter for us once and for all.

To illustrate with a concrete example, consider a Marxist confronted by a community of starving children. The Marxist does not typically propose feeding the children. But not only do Marxists not propose feeding the starving children. They do not even want anybody else to feed them either. Marxists are particularly outraged by the practice of charity, particularly any religious practice of charity, from coming in and feeding the children.

As Cihan Tuğal points out, “The Left usually dismisses charity as demeaning intervention into the lives of oppressed classes, an obfuscation through which exploitation is legitimated. Few arguments by Marx and Engels are as deeply ingrained in Marxism as their statements on charity. [For such traditional conceptions of charity] upheld interdependence between God, the rich, and the poor as sacrosanct.”

That is, for the Marxist, feeding the starving children is “legitimating” the exploitation that led them to starve in the first place. Indeed, Marxists tend to hold that by feeding the starving children one reinforces the denigrating picture of rich people (that would be the capitalists), motivated by their superstitious religious beliefs that were created for no other purpose but to prop up the exploitative capitalist system, pseudo-beneficently swooping in from above to save the starving poor in the name of their illusory tyrannical God, thereby defusing the social pressures that, if allowed to fester, will eventually explode in the glorious socialist revolution. It would be an outrage, and simply will not do, to permit the “oppressors” to solve the problem (feed the children).

In fact, of course, this Marxist view is a cynical caricature of charitable giving. There is literally nothing about charitable giving per se that “legitimates” exploitation. Further, there can be no doubt that many of these starving children will, having been able to survive because of the charitable giving, grow up into careers of their own and work to raise the standard of living in their communities – if, that is, Marxists actually want to solve the problem.

Fortunately, however, one need not stoop to the horror of charitable giving, especially charitable giving by religious organizations, in order to see the way in which the Marxist always prefers some future “revolution” to actually trying to solve the social problems. For, in contrast with the Marxist, the capitalist does directly address those social problems.

Consider again our community of starving people! Rather than attempt to foment a revolution that might, someday, somehow, find a way feed them, the capitalist looks at this community as a possible market. They do a study and conclude that the community can, at its current level of poverty, support one profitable McDonald’s restaurant with about 10 staff (2 managers and 8 helpers).

The McDonald’s is set up and begins operation. Let us suppose that all the managers and staff come from the poor community and that some of the patronage at the restaurant comes from outside the community. After the McDonald’s has been in operation for a few weeks, the community has the same monetary resources it had before the McDonald’s began operation, but now it has in addition the wages of the 10 workers that have been working at the restaurant.

After a sufficient amount of time has passed, another capitalist does another study and concludes that given that its spending power has been increased slightly by the addition of the McDonald’s, this poor community can now also support a profitable gas station that will employ 2 managers and 8 staff. After this gas station has been in operation for some time, the spending power of the community has been increased again due to the addition of 10 new wage earners.

After several more of these small capitalist ventures have added several new small establishments, each with a new group of wage earners, to the community, perhaps a small newsstand, a coffee shop, and a drug store, the number of wage-earners added to the community makes it capable of supporting a much larger profitable operation, perhaps an Olive Garden that employs 10 managers and 40 employees. This kind of establishment can pull in much more wealth from outside the poor community.

The community is, by means of the productive power of the capitalist profit motive, the one to which Marx himself admits extravagant praise, gradually increasing its spending power and standard of living. This will not happen overnight, but in a few decades some of the members of this formerly poor” community will have risen to the point that they can themselves become capitalists who launch additional profitable enterprises in their own community or other poor communities, thereby, step by step, raising the standard of living in those other poor communities as well.

As an aside, this illustrates another false assumption of Marxists, namely that capitalists and workers constitute two exclusive classes, where the one oppresses the other. In fact, in the natural progression of capitalist societies, workers, over some time, can themselves become capitalists and fund new operations that raise the standard of living in their own or other poor communities. The Marxist does not give due regard the fluidity of the two “classes.” It is as if, when an economics textbook distinguishes buyers and sellers, the Marxist forgets that buyers are also sellers.

Let us then suppose that one of these newly emerged capitalists eventually become wealthy enough to buy him or herself a Mercedes, while the other members of the community are by that point still stuck with small inexpensive vehicles. The Marxist or socialist sees this as the establishment of an oppressor class driving fancy cars and an oppressed class still stuck with small unimpressive vehicles.

But this too is a mistake. For someone, to be more precise, a factory (in fact, it will take several factories) of people, will have to build that Mercedes, and additional workers will be needed to service it. It is true that this Mercedes-factory may be in some other community, but since the labor is cheaper in poor communities, this will likely be another poorer community. This means more jobs for poorer communities, which means, in the long run, more spending power in those poor communities. Eventually, some of the sons or daughters of these poor communities will themselves be driving a Mercedes, and when they do, they are not “oppressing” other members of the poor community. On the contrary, they are helping to make it possible for future members of poor communities to raise themselves, over a period of time, to the point that they too can afford a Mercedes.

The “profit motive” of the capitalist is not, as Marxists and “progressives” often claim, an evil exploiter of poor communities. Quite the contrary – the profit motive is a concrete consumer satisfaction mechanism for lifting poor communities out of poverty. Marx is right that capitalism’s economic productive power is literally one of the great “wonders” of human history.

Recall also that Marx states that in addition to its enormous economic productive power capitalism has fostered the “universal inter-dependence of nations.” It has made “national… narrow-mindedness… more and more impossible.” It has fostered the rise of “a world literature.” It has drawn “the most barbarian nations into civilization” and forced them to abandon their “obstinate hatred of foreigners.” It has, borrowing Ronald Reagan’s words, forced formerly hostile nations to “tear down that wall” and start trading and talking and befriending each other.

This is not Adam Smith or Milton Friedman speaking. This is Karl Marx speaking. Indeed, Marx celebrates the fact that capitalism has produced “wonders” like nothing else that had been seen in the entire history of the human race up to the time of its inception, not merely economic but intellectual and cultural. As Marx himself knew, the capitalist profit motive is the greatest boon, by far, to poor communities in the history of mankind that the world had ever seen to that date.

Given that Marx celebrates the fact that capitalism has been such a force for raising people out of poverty in the world, indeed, according to Marx’s “dialectical materialism,” a necessary force for raising people out of poverty in the world, one wonders why capitalism is denounced today by “Marxists” and other “progressives” in such shrill terms as evil and oppressive. Have these “Marxists” and “progressives” forgotten that Marx held that capitalism is a necessary stage in the gradual liberation of the human race? For if they do remember this, why do they not acknowledge all the goods that capitalism has produced and then set about in a calm and reasoned manner, in partnership with the rest of us who do acknowledge that there are remaining injustices that need to be eliminated, to solve these remaining problems?

The answer is that Marxists (and the “progressives” influenced by them) in capitalist societies positively do not want to solve the social problems. Although it has been disputed, Vladimir Lenin is said to have affirmed the claim by the Russian revolutionary “philosopher” and Marxist theoretician Georgi Plekhanov (1856–1918) that “the worse things are, the better they are;” by which he means that the more desperate suffering people there are in society the closer one is to the glorious socialist revolution. That is, as difficult as this is for normal people in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” to believe, the Marxist requires poverty and hopelessness if its socialist and communist goals are to be realized one day. R.C. Tucker remarks that “in the present [capitalist] phase of society” this principle, “the worse the better,” is implicit in “the Marxist structure.”

Thus, if one ever wonders why things never seem to get better in “progressive” US cities, despite constant complaining by their progressive governments about “systemic oppression,” and also why these “progressive” governments react angrily at attempts by outsiders to step in and solve the problems, as Nancy Pelosi and others reacted angrily to Donald Trump’s exposure of the poverty in these communities, and even called him a racist for wanting to solve these problems, this is an important part of the answer: Marxists and “progressives” need lots of poor desperate people, if their “revolution” is ever to succeed, and place themselves, the “progressives,” in full power.

The fact that Marxists and “progressives” are not actually interested in solving the problems is, however, an embarrassment. It does nothing for the Marxist or progressive cause du jour. One must, therefore, by a variety of means, ensure that no one is permitted to say this in public; ergo the Marxist and “progressive” support for censorship, perhaps by accusing people of racism for the sin of trying to solve the problem.

11. Marxism “Abolishes” Morality And Religion

It is, given the argument of the preceding section, ironic that Marxists and their “progressive” leftist progeny often claim the mantle of “morality” and “compassion” for their views. In fact, Marx explicitly rejects “all morality” and religion: “Communism … abolishes all religion, it abolishes all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis” (Communist Manifesto, Sect. II).

The communist “abolishing” of “all” morality and religion should not be surprising. Since the scientist as such merely describes what happens and does not say what ought to happen, the Marxist, qua alleged scientist, cannot consistently assign any moral superiority to the socialist or communist stages over the capitalist stage of society.

Since, however, many scholars correctly detect moral language in Marx’s account of the historical dialectic, Marx appears inconsistent. He seems to want a socialist or communist morality under the guise of a descriptive scientific theory. Marx qua scientist tells one what must happen, while Marx qua moralist reassures one what ought to happen. What is the truth? Can Marxists consistently claim the compassionate moral high ground or not?

Many scholars have argued that Marxism does have a moral dimension (e.g., the claim that socialism and communism are morally superior to capitalism), and that this can, by the usual scholarly procedure of making numerous distinctions and qualifications, be seen to be consistent with Marxist claim to be a “scientific” theory. These discussions are very interesting and good points can be made on both sides. However, these discussions are suitable for the philosophy classroom. Note, however, that the argument in the preceding section that Marxism cannot legitimately claim the moral and compassionate high ground is not based on such abstract theoretical points. It is, rather, based on the way Marxism treats people in the real world: “The worse things are, the better they are.” Far from being “moral” or compassionate, the Marxist in reality typically sees human beings as pawns whose well-being and happiness must be sacrificed for the sake of the ultimate goal, the establishment of a full-fledged communist society.

It is one of the ironies of the way Marxism, “progressivism” and capitalism are commonly represented in American society, especially in the “Ivory tower,” that Marxism and “progressivism” are described in glowing moral terms, while capitalism is represented as immoral and heartless. The Marxist or progressive will “liberate” the poor from their oppressors, while the heartless capitalist will view the poor solely through the lens of the evil “profit motive.”

This imbalance is, no doubt, brought about by the massive and effective marketing (note the irony) campaign by the Marxists and the “progressives,” who quite effectively play the “victim card” for the poor (the workers). In fact, the truth is the reverse of this (which is one of the reasons recent “cultural” Marxists had to abandon the notion of truth). Whereas Marxism and its “progressive” progeny are theoretically committed to see individual flesh and blood human beings as pawns in the historical dialectic, and, as argued in the previous section, do in fact see them that way, even to the point that they have no wish to ease the social pressures by actually solving any social problems, it is the free-market capitalists who are committed, not just in theory, but in the real world, to value the wishes of real flesh and blood human beings. For, in a genuinely free market, the capitalist can only succeed by satisfying the consumer.

That is, in a genuinely free market, it is the consumer who, with their decisions what products to purchase or not purchase controls the behavior of the capitalists! Whereas the Marxist sees individual flesh and blood human beings, the “proletariat,” as pawns of the historical dialectic, capitalism reverses this and makes the capitalist the pawn of the real flesh and blood consumers who, by their purchasing behavior in a free market determine which capitalist ventures succeed and which do not. It is the capitalist who, truly, can say: “Power to the people (the consumer)!”

The moral of this section is that the capitalist needs more effective spokespersons throughout the culture and in the “news” media. For capitalism, properly understood, actually owns the “moral high ground.” In the real world, as opposed to Philosophy 101, the verdict is not even close. The proper image of capitalism is not “oppression.” It is freedom (the free market in which the consumers exert control over the capitalists).

Unfortunately, the Marxists and “progressives” have, because of their dominance in the “Ivory tower” and the “news” and entertainment media, many effective marketing agents (again note the irony). By contrast, the capitalists, who actually have the much stronger “moral” case, need better marketing agents. It is the supreme irony that Marxism and socialism sell so well in capitalist countries where their unscrupulous agents can market (again note the irony) them, earning for themselves many capitalist dollars and acquiring considerable power with slick slogans about “equality,” “the redistribution of wealth,” “economic justice” or “economic democracy” and the like.

Marxism and socialism do not, however, sell so well in Marxist or socialist countries, as in Cuba, where the desperate citizens will often risk their lives floating on patched inner tubes across 90 miles of shark-infested waters to leave the socialist paradise and get to the capitalist United States.

12. Conclusions

Karl Marx is most well known as the preeminent critic of capitalism. Capitalism, he tells us, in the jargon in which he has couched his “theory,” harbors an internal “contradiction” between the capitalist oppressors and the oppressed workers that determines that it will necessarily fall to a socialist “revolution.”

However, as history has shown, most of the negative things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be false. Feudalism did not collapse into capitalism because of a “necessary” revolution by the serfs against their feudal landlords. Various historical accidents, including the emergence of the “Black Death” in Europe, in ways entirely comprehensible in free market economics, made feudal labor more valuable and the serfs simply picked up their knapsacks and left their feudal landlords for better wages in the cities. The socialist revolution did not occur in England, where Marx predicted it, but in Russia, where he said it could not possibly occur, etc.

However, Marx also said many very positive things about capitalism. Indeed, his exuberant praise of capitalism is unmatched by many of capitalism’s most famous supporters – and most of the positive things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be true. In fact, Marx agrees with Milton Friedman that capitalism has been the greatest mechanism for lifting people out of poverty the world has ever seen to date. Although Marx got that part right, subsequent “Marxists” have not, in general, noticed.

Furthermore, as Popper has shown, Marx may have intended Marxism as a “scientific” doctrine, but he failed to recognize that his publication of his Marxist views changes the historical equation that he describes in his publications. There is nowhere in Marx’s works that recognizes the possible influence that his publication of his views about the flaws in capitalism will have on the historical development of capitalism – a stunning blind spot.

Fortunately, capitalists, warned by Marx’s publications about the inevitable fall of capitalism in a socialist revolution, modified capitalist behavior in order to avoid Marx’s predicted dire outcome. That is, it is partly thanks to Marx’s publication of his theories that his predictions did not come true – a particularly intriguing instance of Popper’s view that no “historicist” view can be successful because no “historicist” view can predict the future growth of human knowledge. For, Marx’s own contribution to human knowledge, his publications of his theories, added a factor to the historical equation that is not recognized within any of his theories – and, in fact, that factor had a role in falsifying his predictions about the inevitable downfall of capitalism!

As a result of these great failures of Marx’s “original” Marxism, subsequent “Marxists,” were faced by a dilemma. They must either retain Marx’s original view that Marxism is a “science” and admit it has been falsified by the historical facts, or they must decide that Marxism is a mere “narrative” that is neither true nor false but is only useful in advancing various activist political agendas. The “Cultural Marxists,” in an inconsistent alliance with “Post-Modernism,” have chosen the latter. That is certainly the easier path.

Having abandoned the notion of truth and retreated into their own “safe spaces” of unfalsifiable quasi-religious dogmas, they need not accept the burden of showing that their version of “Marxism” is falsifiable or genuinely scientific because it is not falsifiable and is not a genuine science. Nor need they accept the burden of showing that Marxism is true because it is not true. Once one dispenses with the notion of truth, everything, even the impossible, becomes possible, and very easy, at least in the academic “world of words,” if not in reality.

As a consequence, what is left of “Marxism,” such as it is, only lives on, for the most part, in those self-enclosed bubbles most far removed from reality, certain privileged parts of the “Ivory Tower” and the capitalism-created walled mansions in the Hollywood hills. Engels said that even in his own day, Marx himself stated, “cequ’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas marxiste” (“what is certain is that [if they are Marxists], [then] I myself am not a Marxist”).

Marx himself was a genius, though ultimately wrong about a great deal. That is no shame. It is the normal judgment of history about geniuses. But most of the views that pass for Marxism now are pale quasi-religious dogmas of utility, both for profit and self-gratification, for certain privileged, out of touch elites (but that does not make them less dangerous).

Given that Marx’s critique of capitalism has failed in multiple ways, while his exuberant praise of capitalism has largely been vindicated, it would be foolish to abandon capitalism in favor of these dreaming quasi-Marxist “narratives” prevalent in the “Ivory Tower” and the walled compounds in the Hollywood hills.

Indeed, capitalist countries would do even better at lifting their people out of poverty if their privileged and well-heeled “Marxist” and “progressive” elites did not oppose solving social problems in the hope that fostering hopelessness will hasten the glorious socialist revolution. For if there is one thing that Marxists of all stripes fear even more than Christian charity, it is capitalist solutions to social problems – for the simple reason that capitalist solutions work; and, for the sake of “the revolution,” that is the one thing Marxists and their “progressive” progeny cannot tolerate and, therefore, must censor.

Dr. Richard McDonough works in Anglo-American analytical and Continental philosophy, with a special focus on post-Kantian German thought, as well as psychology. He is the author of The Argument of the Tractatus and Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. He has taught in various countries, retiring from James Cook University in Australia. He lives in Singapore.

The image shows a detail from “Mexico Today and Tomorrow,” a mural by Diego Rivera, painted in 1935.

Fatal Flaws In Marxism

Marxian thought has at least an economic component and an ontological one. I would like to address the topic of exploitation in Marxian economics, and in Marxian ontology I will examine the driving role of contradiction in human cultural evolution, the emerging forms of matter, and the reification within commodities.

The Marxian Theory Of Exploitation: An Assessment Of The Austrian Response

The Marxian conception of exploitation in capitalism conceives of the latter as the appropriation – within entrepreneurial profit – of a non-remunerated portion of the wage-earner’s daily working time.

The Austrian response to the Marxian conception notably consisted of highlighting the complementarity of the respective temporal preferences on the part of workers (preferring a smaller but quicker remuneration over a more tardy but greater one) and entrepreneurial capitalists (preferring the latter over the former). It also consisted of underlining the role of adjustment which operates freely determined equilibrium prices (via occasioned losses and profits). Friedrich A. von Hayek points to this when he speaks of Karl Marx’s alleged inability to apprehend “the signal-function of prices through which people [including entrepreneurs] are informed what they ought to do” by reason of “his labor theory of value” – namely, Marx’s theory that selling prices, at least in the long run, are fixed by production costs – and the alleged objective value of goods by the incorporated quantity of abstract labor.

It turns out that neither the complementarity of temporal preferences nor the adjustment role of equilibrium prices (in the direction of the long-run equilibrium, in which each factor finds itself to be optimally allocated) are actually inconsistent with the Marxian conception of exploitation.

The Marxian argument can be put as follows. Like any commodity, labor power is sold (at least in the context of the long-term equilibrium, i.e., the equilibrium in the presence of a completed, henceforth optimal allocation of capital) at its cost of production – therefore the employee’s living cost. In the long-run equilibrium, the entrepreneurial profit strictly appropriates the remuneration of the margin between the employee’s total working time and the working time strictly required to cover the employee’s living costs.

That said, when the economy, in the long run, does not find equilibrium, then salary and entrepreneurial profit will both oscillate around a level strictly equal to the production cost. Hans Hermann Hoppe’s answer (inspired by Eugen Richter von Böhm-Bawerk) can be put as follows. According to Hoppe, Marx’s analysis does note that the selling price of any produced good is (at least when demand is properly anticipated) greater than the wages paid to the workers involved in the production of that good. Therefore, the paid wages only cover the purchase of goods requiring fewer hours of work than those goods the wage-earners help to manufacture. Yet there is a complementarity of time preferences between the employee (who prefers a lower and faster remuneration to one more delayed and higher) and the entrepreneur (who prefers the latter to the former). It follows the selling price’s superiority, besides allowing for entrepreneurial remuneration higher than the wage bill, and supposes convergent interests in the wage earner and the entrepreneur.

Actually, Marx’s argument turns out to be misunderstood by Hoppe – and rigorously unaffected by the complementary of time he invokes. The exploitation phenomenon Marx describes does not lie in the difference between immediate salaries and postponed entrepreneurial remunerations, which is only a symptom of the aforesaid exploitation. Instead, exploitation lies in the furnishing of a salary which, instead of covering the whole daily working time (as it formally seems to do), strictly remunerates the working hours needed to cover the workforce’s subsistence costs. Marx believes incomplete remuneration to be at the origin of the subsistence – in the long-run equilibrium – of the margin between the selling price of goods and the remuneration of production factors, said margin allowing entrepreneurs to grant themselves a remuneration greater than the distributed wages.

As for the coordination of production factors, Marx fully recognizes adjustment spurred by short-run fluctuations in the rate of entrepreneurial profit (above and below its long-run level, strictly corresponding to unpaid, surplus labor time), and by the concomitant gradual equalization between production costs and the selling price of commodities – including labor power, whose remuneration is thus rendered equal to its subsistence costs in the long run. Not only does the labor theory of value (such as understood by Marx and before him David Ricardo) claim the fixation of selling prices by production costs to occur only in the context of long-run equilibrium, but the labor theory of value itself does not occupy the center of Marx’s political economy. The latter is in fact articulated around the notion of commodity fetishism, as pointed out by Soviet Marxian economist Isaak Illich Rubin.

The Flaws Of The Marxian Theory Of Exploitation

Despite the flaws of the Austrian criticism, Marx’s approach to exploitation remains wrong. Let us start with recalling the notion of “abstract working time” in Marxian economics – abstract working time boils down to working time conceived independently of the physical or mental effort associated with the considered task. Even assuming the alleged correspondence between abstract working time and (the long-term level of) exchange value, i.e., selling price, the Marxian elucidation of entrepreneurial profit as the margin (between the exchange value of a given good and the remuneration of the involved production factors) allowed by the payment to the workforce of a wage limited to strictly covering the aforesaid workforce’s subsistence costs is quite unsatisfactory.

The argument Marx invokes is that the exchange value of all goods (including manpower) revolves around a long-term level, strictly equivalent to the exchange value of the incorporated abstract working time – and therefore strictly equivalent to the production costs of the aforesaid goods, which in turn means the workforce’s subsistence costs in the case of manpower.

Hence – according to Marx – wages granted in the long-run equilibrium actually leave unpaid an entire section of the daily work-time of wage-earners. The equalization (in the long-run equilibrium) between the workforce’s subsistence costs and the workforce’s remuneration does not imply that the actual work-time on the part of a wage earner is partially remunerated.

Rather, it implies that in the long-term equilibrium, the one established once the allocation of capital in the various branches of industry – given a certain state of economic conditions, from preferences on the part of consumers and investors to technology and demography – has reached its completion, the correct, total remuneration for a wage earner’s complete performance is then fixed at a subsistence level.

It also implies entrepreneurial income is nullified at the long-term equilibrium, in which there is nothing left for the entrepreneur, once the factors of production have been wholly remunerated. Therefore, entrepreneurial profit can only exist within the framework of the process of capital allocation – with the aforesaid profit remunerating the speed (and the accuracy) of the allocation of production factors in anticipation of jointly mobile and uncertain demand. Austrian economics, especially Mises and Kirzner, extensively deals with the process through which the entrepreneur – when earning profit – adjusts the daily-generated equilibrium prices in the direction of the long-run equilibrium, in which the allocation of production factors is henceforth achieved and optimized, and in which each selling price is henceforth equal to the production costs.

The Austrian approach to equilibrium prices (and therefore the law of supply and demand) and their gradual entrepreneurial adjustment is sometimes praised for its purported realism. Yet the law of supply and demand, such as understood in Austrian economics (but also in neoclassicism), is hardly realistic. It claims, indeed, that any subjectively homogeneous product is sold at a unique price that happens to coincide with the intersection of supply and demand curves. But such claims make sense only in the framework of an auction market in which, indeed, an auctioneer may gather the different supply and demand propositions and determine the equilibrium price.

Besides, the Austrian conception of entrepreneurship applies only in the case of those of profit opportunities which are preexisting (and more or less manifested), while a number of entrepreneurs in the real world do not earn a profit through adjusting (towards the long-run equilibrium) the allocation of capital on the basis of preexistent profit opportunities, but through inventing new profit opportunities. In other words – that which results in the apparition of a new long-run direction for the economy, i.e., the breaking of the previously scheduled long-run equilibrium for the benefit of the economy’s re-direction towards a new long-run equilibrium.

A Word About The Partnership Of Opposites In Cosmic Evolution

Marxian thought is also ontological (besides its economic, political considerations). Marxian ontology stresses the driving role of contradiction in human cultural evolution – more precisely, the evolution of the emergent forms of matter in successive human cultures. Before looking more closely at the Marxian approach to contradiction in human evolution, let us turn to an example of the partnership between opposites in the cosmos. In addition to his unfortunate exclusively determinist view of human history, Marx precisely failed to notice the harmonious, collaborative character of opposites in the course of human cultural evolution – a harmonious character that at times accompanies conflictual character.

The concept of communication, generally defined in terms of consciousness, is an eminent example of a notion whose definition must be updated in view of a sharper distinction between those qualities of its object – the particular genre of things it subsumes – which are necessary, and those which are contingent. Conscious communication only comes as a modality of communication, so that the conscious character of a given conscious communication in the cosmos comes as a contingent (rather than necessary and constitutive) character of the genre of things called communication.

Communication should be redefined, consequently, as the interaction between two signals: the first acting as a stimulus; and the second providing a response which depends on its interpretation of the aforesaid stimulus. It is really the prerogative neither of humans nor even of animals endowed with consciousness. Like war, love, hierarchy, and sociability, communication preceded consciousness and a fortiori homo sapiens in the order of the universe. It was even prior to the point where the behavior of the Big Bang’s progeny, the elementary particles, was already (and has remained to this day) the behavior of communication.

Throughout the cosmos, individual and collective entities are communicating with each other by means of words, chemical signals, or gravitational force – and communicating according to patterns of opposition (integration and differentiation, fusion and fission, or attraction and repulsion), whose iteration pursues itself at each level of emergence. Let us take the very first entrepreneurs of the cosmos – namely the quarks (of which there happens to be six varieties) – communication – via the phenomenon known as “strong force” or “strong interaction” – between two quarks-entrepreneurs, which are of the same variety, will be a communication of their mutual repulsion.

Nevertheless, the communication between two quarks which are exactly different in the right way will be one of mutual attraction – and one of their attraction towards an additional quark which is of the type suitable for mounting the proton start-up (composed of two quarks “up” and one quark “down”), or the neutron start-up (composed of two quarks “down” and one quark “up”).

The Flaws Of Marxian Ontology – The Approach To Contradiction And Matter

Heraclitus understood the collaborative character of opposites. He nonetheless failed to grasp the perpetually declined (as well as complexified) character of their partnership – and the evolving character of the cosmos (including human societies).

Marxian ontology certainly has the merit of stressing the role of contradiction in the becoming of the forms which matter acquires in the world of humans – especially the industrial organization of the mineral or human material, as well as the ideology and the law structuring a human society. Nevertheless, it erroneously deals with the evolutionary process in question – and with the driving role of contradiction in the latter.

First, there is its denial of the informing action (and the existence) of the archetypal, supra-sensible forms. Second is its retention of only the passive ideological and legal “superstructures” of the sort of matter which happens to reside in the “relations of production,” which themselves serve as the passive organization that emerges from other sorts of matter that are the technological resources available at a given time.

What is more, Marxian ontology, thus delivering an incomplete understanding of the material foundations for law and ideology, reduces the aforesaid foundations to technology and to the “relations of production.” This renders Marxism entirely ignorant of the truly biological component of the material backing of ideologies and legal systems – that is, the set of genetic dispositions shaped and selected over the course of human biological evolution in groups and individuals.

As for contradiction in the process of human evolution, Marxian ontology exclusively conceives of it as a tearing apart whose particular version (characteristic of a particular time of human history) calls for its resolution through the “leap” (to quote Lenin) to a superior bearing of human history, the course of which is, besides, seen as rigorously determined – and thus seen as being spurred – through the successive resolution of the different encountered cases of contradiction – towards a prefixed final stage of human history.

Instead, contradiction should be envisioned as a harmonious (though sometimes it can be simultaneously tearing) partnership, between opposites, which perpetually manifests itself in various modes over the course of the wholly improvised process of human (and even cosmic) evolution.

Such misunderstanding in Marxian ontology is all the more devastating as the aforesaid ontology envisages the interindividual or intergroup conflict as rooted in economic life alone – and as fated to disappear through a purportedly inevitable return to primitive communism, while, nonetheless, conserving advanced technology.

Interclass struggle can no longer simply be reduced to a struggle that involves properly economic classes, technology; and the relations of production cannot be envisioned as the sole and necessary origin of ideologies. Thus, a given ideology does not necessarily accompany a given economic system – so that, for instance, capitalism of the globalized and digitized type is not necessarily accompanied by a cosmopolitan ideology (in the sense of moral relativism and universal leveling).

What is more, their perceived economic interests – instead of idealistic considerations or their perceived ethnic interests – do not serve as the only and necessary motives on the part of the dominant economic classes, for promoting the particular ideologies whose standard bearers they pretend to be. The fact is class struggle does not necessarily occur between economic classes and for economic motives – instead it comes as a derived form of the “struggle for life,” and likely to engage all kinds of classes and motives.

This point was remarkably raised in Vilfredo Pareto’s The Socialist Systems: “The class struggle is only one form of the struggle for life, and what is called ‘the conflict between labor and capital’ is only one form of the class struggle. In the middle ages, one could have thought that if religious conflicts disappeared, society would have been pacified. Those religious conflicts were only one form of the class struggle; they have disappeared, at least in part, and have been replaced by socialist conflicts.

Suppose that collectivism is established, suppose that “capitalism” no longer exists, it is clear that then it will no longer be in conflict with labor; but it will be only one form of the class struggle which will have disappeared, others will replace them. Conflicts will arise between the different kinds of workers in the socialist state, between “intellectuals” and “non-intellectuals,” between different kinds of politicians, between them and their citizens, between innovators and conservatives.”

The Flaws Of Marxian Ontology – The Approach To Commodity

In addition to excessive Marxian emphasis on economy when it comes to the backing of superstructures and the background of conflict, a word deserves to be said about the Marxian definition of merchandise. The latter retains (as necessary, constitutive characteristics of the merchandise genre) use-value and exchange-value, as well as the above-mentioned “fetish” character. This amounts to retaining the outlet for the purpose of offering goods for sale, where matter is the aforesaid merchandise – which, in the Marxian approach, sees itself notably assimilated to the “concrete” and “abstract” work incorporated in the manufacture of the aforesaid merchandise. Finally, its form, which is exclusively perceived as the reification of the relations of production.

Such conception notably commits the error of omitting the commodity’s efficient, external cause – namely the entrepreneurial expectations on the course of the demand for consumption or investment. Those expectations then become the only effective, rational aspect of economic calculation, which means that economic calculation is simply impracticable in the absence of the private ownership of capital – and the central planning Marx praises and prophesizes is necessarily dysfunctional and irrational.

Marxism also commits the error of developing a simplistic approach to the form of merchandise, which really consists of a reification above all of the immaterial capital of fantasy – the stock of dreams and legends which inspires the economic not less than cognitive development in humans.

Conclusion – And A Word On Herbert Spencer

The Marxian approach to exploitation in capitalism is flawed in that it misunderstands the alleged equalization (in long-term equilibrium) between subsistence cost and earned wage, as leaving unpaid a whole portion of the work-time. Instead, such equalization implies the work-time’s properly correct and total remuneration strictly equates a subsistence level in the long-run equilibrium. Thus, entrepreneurial profit does not exist outside the allocation of capital goods; it is not rooted in exploitation – but into the speed (and the accuracy) of anticipations before an uncertain, mobile demand.

As for the Marxian approach to the emerging forms of matter in human evolution, it neglects, for instance, the biological compartment of the involved matter – and restricts the material foundations of ideology and the law to the economic, technological component. Thus, Marxism believes ideologies come only and necessarily as the “superstructure” of the “relations of production,” themselves the superstructure only and necessarily of technology.

The truth is that a certain ideology or legal system is not necessarily indissociable from a certain economic system (just like a certain economic system is not necessarily indissociable from a certain ideology or legal system). By the way, Marxian ontology fails to notice – among merchandise’s reified components – the presence of the infrastructure of fantasy, thus neglecting the reification of human dreams and restricting itself to just one of the relations of production.

As for the Marxian approach to contradiction in human evolution, it commits the double mistake of restricting intergroup conflict to the struggle between economic classes for economic motives – and restricting contradiction to disharmony and tearing. It also commits the mistake of believing human evolution to be rigorously predetermined – and scheduled to gradually reach its predefined finish line through gradually solving and dissipating the different successive encountered cases of contradiction.

The Spencerian vision of cosmic and human history is materialist (in the sense of denying the ideational, archetypal field) like the Marxian vision of human history. It also has this characteristic in common with its great rival that it underlines the driving role of contradiction – although it conceives of the aforesaid contradiction as a harmonious tension manifesting itself perpetually. Nonetheless, the Spencerian also approach remains flawed.

Herbert Spencer rightly believed that the partnership between differentiation and integration, discerned by Karl Ernst von Baer in the growth of the embryo, to be transposable to the evolution of the cosmos and of humanity. Nevertheless, he made the mistake of considering that collaboration exclusively in the mode of the increase in the division of labor. As if, as the division of labor progressed on the scale of the world, individuals became more and more differentiated in their professions; but also more and more integrated in a humanitarian embryo leveling the nations and dissipating the borders. That faith in the advent of a division of labor. supplanting the nations (and thus war between the nations) to let subsist sole individuals producing and exchanging on the scale of the world, fits very well with Spencer’s anarcho-capitalism.

It fits less well with anthropological and historical reality – namely that, as the economic and military interaction between nations increases, those, far from disappearing (for the benefit of a humanity integrating increasingly uprooted, denationalized individuals), only further differentiate – and only further oppose each other.

Thus, the executed integration comes down to an intensification of the intergroup “struggle for life;” and applies as much to the individuals engaged in the global division of labor, as nations engaged in increasingly integrated military and economic competition.

Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. His work and interviews often appear in the Postil.

The image shows “Iron and Coal,” by William Bell Scott, painted can 1855-1860.

What Is “Liberal Education?”

I. What Is Education

Plato conceived education as an art of perfecting man. According to this view, education is possible because man is a perfectible being. Nobody ever talks about perfecting God, because God is not perfectible, but perfect; nor do we ever discuss the education of angels, because, although an angel is not absolutely perfect, he is perfect within his own essence, which means that an angel receives all the perfection that is due and proper to his nature in one instantaneous act.

To be sure, there are in the visible world other perfectible things besides man; but even so, the notion of education does not seem to fit the modes of perfectibility of things that are not human. A machine, for example, can be constructed and improved, while a tree attains its proper perfections by growth. Yet we would all hesitate to talk about the “education” of a plant or of a machine; and it would be just as incorrect to speak of the education of an animal. A dog, for example, may be trained; but a dog could never be educated. A dog is trained by being made subject to human purposes and notions, not even remotely entertained by the dog itself. Besides, it is trained, not to become a more perfect dog, more suitable for beastly society, but rather, in order to become more useful or more amusing to man, even if in the process it loses its intrinsic properties and gets to be, not more, but less of a dog.

Education remains, therefore, a distinctively human affair, and as such, derives its distinctiveness from man’s peculiar way of growing into his perfections. Like all living things, man possesses within himself a vital principle of growth; but in man, this principle is further determined by rationality. It is by virtue of his rationality that man can consciously entertain his purposes, choose his means, and criticize his own actions. This coincidence of growth and rationality in the same being is a privilege which renders man unique in the whole universe.

Plato must have been fascinated by this marvelous blend of qualities in man, this blend of intelligence and growth, for he makes it the central theme of practically all his Dialogues. In these Dialogues we have a most vivid picture of education. In every case we find that education is a growth, a movement from confusion to clarity, from ignorance to knowledge; and also we find that in every case, the student is his own first teacher.

The role of the teacher is simply to help the student in his seeking and to guide his steps. The teacher of the Dialogues, usually Socrates, is supposed to be the wise man, the man who has already attained those perfections desired for and by the student. The teacher stands as a proximate exemplar; and, by virtue of the fact that he is supposed to see the end of the road, he can also guide and direct, by ruling out false starts and by suggesting better ones. To put it in a more characteristically Platonic simile, the teacher is a midwife, who assists at the birth of the idea in the mind of the student.

We can learn a great deal more about human nature and also about education, by observing with Plato, the way man grows into the attainment of his perfections. In contrast with other intelligent beings (God and the angels), man must accomplish his rationality through effort and discipline. Because human rationality is an accomplishment, it enjoys only a precarious existence.

All our human concerns which manifest man’s rationality under any aspect, whether of order, purpose, truth, or beauty (the sciences and the arts, institutions, laws cultural values, etc.), depend for their continued existence upon the disciplined activities of men. Cathedrals do not grow like weeds, and no painting was ever made haphazardly. Every new-born baby is an absolutely new beginning, and every new generation of babies is a terrific challenge and threat to the existing civilization and to the established order of things.

Indeed, our life here is an explosive situation! Man is a joining together of the nothingness and am infinity, and it is education which must span the chasm between the two extremes. No wonder that Plato, having understood the nature if education, should view it as the highest social function, commensurate with the whole of life, and absolutely necessary for the perfection of the individual and of society. Plato had such a profound appreciation of the importance of education, that starting to describe the building of a state, he ended up, in his famous Republic, with a kind of super-school on his hands.

But there comes a point where we must remind ourselves that, after all, we are with a pagan philosopher, and should be on guard lest we let him mislead us in matters about which we ought to know better. And we do, as a matter of fact, know more than Plato about the origin and purpose of our human existence. Let us, therefore, be on the alert for any possible defects in Plato’s educational theories and practices which might flow from his pagan errors about man.

Plato certainly understood that education must be of the whole man, which means of the complete composite of soul and body. He also rightly defended and emphasized the primacy of the soul in matters of education. He knew that the human soul is immortal, and at least vaguely suspected that man’s life-long educational activity finds its consummation in another life.

But Plato also held some erroneous doctrines about the soul. It is a well known fact, for example, that he taught that the human soul exists prior to this life. We Christians, on the other hand, know that every individual human soul is created singularly and immediately, at the moment of conception, by a separate act of God. Here we have in this issue what might seem at first glance like a slight difference of belief: but on more careful examination, this disagreement between the Christian and pagan outlooks, reveals such a chasm as can only be explained by the tremendous intervening fact of the Incarnation.

Plato can hardly be blamed for missing the point with regard to the fact, the manner, or the purpose of creation. This kind of knowledge requires a far greater intimacy with God than was given to the pagan world. It remains to the immortal credit of Plato that he attained, by mere reason, a clear concept of the kind of reality the human soul is. He knew the soul in its spirituality and in its simplicity; he recognized its power and its dignity; he understood its activity of life in the body, and its activity of knowledge beyond the body; and he proved philosophically, that this kind of being cannot be dissolved or destroyed by natural means.

But the same kind of argument led Plato also to believe that the soul could be neither made nor developed by any natural process. He, therefore, concluded that the soul is not only immortal, but also eternal, having no beginning as well as no end in time. The Christian alternative, namely, that the soul is created out of nothing by the omnipotence of God, did not present itself to Plato; for to him, God is neither infinite nor omnipotent, and the very idea of creation out of nothing would have sounded to him as no less that a philosophic absurdity.

Plato, therefore, according to his own lights, had to educate a soul which was never created, which had no beginning in time, and no definite destiny for the future. The human soul to Plato is a little sad deity which cannot die, but can lose everything else it ever attained; even to the very memory of its personal identity in previous lives. This unconscious deity is accidentally united to, or rather, imprisoned in a material body, which it must leave after a certain length of time, to be united, perhaps to another body, and to go through the same cycle all over again.

This soul has already had more intimate contacts with eternal realities that it has in this life, and therefore must have been in a higher state of perfection than in its present state. Unfortunately, however, it has lost all memory of these perfections and must now make a new start at re-ascending the scales of perfection to lose them again once more. How futile the whole thing must appear when viewed from the total perspective of eternity! And yet, this is as optimistic a view of human existence as the pagan world ever attained.

These errors of Plato are at least partly responsible for some of the most obvious defects in his theory of education: depreciation of the body and of sense experience; a false theory of knowledge according to which we learn by remembering what we already knew in a previous life; and, most seriously, a relative disregard of personal values by treating the individual primarily as a function of the state. Yet, in spite of these defects, Plato remains, even today, a great master of the art of teaching, and the leading champion of the very concept of liberal education. It is in this last capacity that we are now primarily interested in Plato, and therefore, let us proceed to examine more specifically what Plato means by liberal education.

II. What Is Liberal Education?

We are used to distinguishing between two kinds of education: liberal and vocational. But Plato, while recognizing the need of developing the practical arts and professions, reserved the term “education”, at least in its absolute unrestricted sense, to what we would call liberal education. “This is the only training which, upon our view, would be characterized as education: that other sort of training which aims at the acquisition of wealth or bodily strength, or mere cleverness apart from intelligence and justice, is mean and illiberal, and it is not worthy to be called education at all.”

From following the thoughts of Plato we get a hint as to the essence of liberal, or in his language, true education, which distinguishes it from all kinds of training for useful skill or for useless cleverness. Liberal or true education is education whose end is man himself. It is the education of man as man.

When a man is trained for the perfection of what he makes, he receives vocational training, or, if we call it education, we are using the term in a forced sense; but when a man is trained and instructed for the perfection of what he is and what he does (immanently) within himself, then we may say that he is being educated in the most absolute sense of the term. We may teach a man to become a carpenter, a farmer, a physician, or an engineer. We may also teach a man to become a good man, good not only in the moral sense but primarily in the ontological sense, in the sense of perfected, developed, accomplished, in the sense that he can exercise and apply his faculties coordinately and for their natural purposes.

When men are trained vocationally we have every right to expect better products (potatoes, chairs, medical services, or efficient machines), but we have no right to expect better men unless somewhere in our educational plans and activities we aim at the proper perfections of a man. You are as likely to produce a well-constructed bridge by accident and without aiming at it, as you are to produce a well-educated man by a scheme of training thoroughly directed to other ends.

It should go without saying and as part of nature’s justice, that in a society where leaders receive specialized vocational training without liberal education, no sound norms can rightly be expected and no human values are secure. When the present trend towards vocational training finally succeeds in overwhelming and washing away the last vestiges of liberal education, we can expect to live in a world of good things and bad men. We shall have, to give one good example, unintelligent and confused leaders, on the one hand, and excellent atomic bombs, on the other!

What are, then, those human perfections which constitute the end of liberal education? Plato’s answer to this question is in a way the major theme of all his writings. If one dares put it briefly and succinctly in one sentence, this is what it would be: man’s proper perfection consists in the knowledge of the absolute good, and in response to beauty. The absolute good is the good-in-itself and the source of the goodness all other things.

It is good, not mediately as being the cause of something else, but immediately, ultimately, as being the end to which all other things are means. Man seeks this end, not only by his senses but by his intellect, and can attain it only with his intellect. But man must begin with his sense experience, and gradually advance, through higher and higher aspects of the good, reflected in the world of contingent things, until he is finally ready to see the primal source of all goodness

On the way to this absolute good, beauty is the sign-post. Man, therefore, must begin by learning to respond to beauty as given to the senses and as found in the visible universe, but he must not dwell in it nor let it conceal that invisible beauty it is meant to proclaim.

Not all knowledge, therefore, is conducive to the perfection of man, and consequently, not all knowledge has value in liberal education. All the sciences of space and time, of experience and experiment, of statistics and measurements, such sciences as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, economics, etc., must find their justification primarily in the practical order, in the order of what man makes outside of himself.

Man’s perfection consists in a growth from the fragmentary knowledge of sense experience to a unified vision of the mind; and hence all the above mentioned experimental sciences, can figure in the course of liberal education, only in so far as they lead the way to philosophic science; they must be treated as preludes to philosophy. Their end must be the understanding of the eternal truth, first as reflected in the visible world, but finally and consummately, as it is in itself. The climax of liberal education consists in philosophy and theology, and all its earlier stages must be ordered to this end, both in the selection of their subject matter and in the mode of their presentation.

It is especially remarkable that Plato, who is the greatest pioneer in the field of philosophy, should recognize the necessity of revealed truth, and admit the superiority of such truth over the highest truths of human reason working on its own. Although he was handicapped by an inadequate pagan religion, he still had the genius to see that those intimate truths of the inner life of God could only be known if God Himself were to reveal them, and that once known, such truths would unquestionably be the crown of all human knowledge, and the summit of wisdom in this life.

Thus in the Republic, after making Socrates describe the building of a state by the guidance of reason, Plato makes one interrogator raise the question as to whether any thing is left out. “Nothing to us,” replies Socrates, “But to Apollo, the god of Delphi, there remains the ordering of the greatest and noblest and chiefest things of all.”

“Which are they?” asks again the interrogator.

“The institution of temples and sacrifices, and the entire service of the gods, demigods, and heroes. . . These are matters of which we are ignorant ourselves, and as founders of a city we should be unwise in trusting them to any interpreter but our ancestral deity. He is the god who sits in the center on the naval of the earth, and he is the interpreter of religion to all mankind.”

III. The Epochs In Plato’s Educational System

The key for Plato’s system of education is the Greek word μουσικε (sounds like “musikay”) which has survived in our modern languages in such words as “music” and “museum”. To the Greeks the term had a wider signification, including within its comprehension all the liberal arts. Greek mythology personified the liberal arts, making each one of them a goddess, a Muse, who guides, inspires, and stands as a type and an ideal. Thus we have the Muses of history, poetry, astronomy, eloquence, music, dance, tragedy, comedy, and lyric poetry.

The Greeks saw beauty everywhere; whenever reality is known, it reveals rhythm and harmony, and hence education must progressively direct the mind to higher and higher aspects of beauty. The mind rises from beauty in the plane of sheer sense experience, the rhythm and harmony of sounds, shapes, and movements, to the beauty of law and order manifested in the visible world, the music of the spheres; and finally to the source of all beauty, Beauty in itself, the eternal Logos, attained by the art of dialectics.

Every one of the arts and sciences is called μουσικε in this sense; and it is in this sense that we must understand the passage in the Republic where Plato makes Socrates say: “When the modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state change with them.” Corresponding to the different planes of knowledge, we can distinguish four epochs in Plato’s educational plan. Here is a brief description of each of these epochs in their sequence.

1. The first twenty years are concerned mainly with the body and with the organic faculties. The children, as early as the age of three are introduced to mythology; this is meant to train their imagination, and to cultivate love of valor and heroic deeds. The mythology must be purged of any references to the gods which might degrade the concept of divinity in the child.

The fact that mythology does not give the factual or historic truth does not matter, but it must be censored and purified from anything that might give a permanently false impression of reality. Factual truth is not so important at this stage, because it is an intellectual concern, and this stage of education is mainly concerned with the senses.

After mythology, follow in sequence: gymnastics, reading and writing, poetry and music, and mathematics, until finally this epoch is rounded off in two years of military training, from the eighteenth to the twentieth year. Plato recognized the imitative tendencies of the soul, and thus he prescribes that the child must be surrounded from early childhood with beautiful objects which embody the truth he will come to understand later on in life. Hence the surroundings and environment are tremendously important in this formative period.

2. The second period, extending from the year twenty to the year thirty, is concerned with the sciences of measurement and understanding. Plato mentions plane geometry, solid geometry, astronomy, and harmonies. He conceives their role as a prelude to dialects.

Evidently, he envisaged a patient treatment of these topics, with sufficient time for creative reasoning on the part of the students, and meditations on fundamental truths and notions which prepare the way for philosophy. This is clear from the amount of time he allows for this kind of work, although the amount of facts, principles, experiments, in such a variety of sciences, and in such a short time, that we leave him no leisure for reflection, meditation, wonder, nor for any creative work on his own initiative.

Furthermore, the language of these experimental physical sciences today, is so little related to the language and truths of philosophy, that instead of being a prelude to philosophy as Plato intended, these positive sciences stand in our day as a tremendous handicap to philosophic thought.

3. The third epoch, which occupies the years thirty to thirty-five, is concerned with the art of dialectics, “the art which elevates the mind to the contemplation of what is best in existence”. This is the crowning mark of liberal education; the mind’s eye, which so far had been trained only to recognize the reflections of Good, must now be exercised to see the Good itself, the ultimate source of truth and beauty in the universe.

To Plato, philosophy was not an organized science, or a system of sciences. The task of organizing truths of philosophy was to be carried out by his disciple Aristotle. This is why Plato was mainly concerned with the art of attaining philosophical knowledge, and this art he called “dialectics”. In our days, we possess not only the fruits of Plato’s and Aristotle’s efforts towards discovery and organization of philosophical truths.

We have, in addition, the results of centuries of collective effort on the part of scholastic philosophers, ending in a body of logically related sciences, full of precise notions, clear definitions, and well established truths. This philosophic tradition was accomplished through gradual steps, beginning with sense experience and common-sense knowledge.

We must remember that the individual also must grow to philosophic understanding through the same way. Philosophy is a science, but philosophizing is an art. If we realize this truth sufficiently, we would not depend so exclusively in our teaching on the presentation of philosophic truths as finally and definitely formulated.

The dialect method of Plato can still teach us a great deal as to how to teach philosophy effectively, and how to train the student to raise philosophic problems, to attain a realization of a philosophic truth, and to formulate and defend this truth. We can make philosophy much more of a living tradition by reviving the Platonic method, if not the Platonic science of philosophy.

4. The fourth and last epoch, requiring fifteen years of life and terminating at the age of fifty, is a period dedicated to real experience in the world. It is significant that Plato did not try to carry the world into the school; the only way to know what life is, is to go through it. No man is truly wise enough to be entrusted with the destiny of a state until he has seen the real world in the light of universal truth.

Philosophic ideas alone may be sufficient for the purpose of philosophic contemplation, but the philosopher-king, must make practical decisions for the common good, who must have more than ideas, namely, experience. Nor would experience without the philosophic discipline and knowledge of the Good suffice, because experience can move on a plane of insignificant facts unless illuminated by the idea of the Good.

It is twenty-three centuries since Plato opened his academy and invited the youths of Athens to seek the knowledge of the Good. Since that time, something has happened on our planet; the Eternal Truth, the very Person of Good, has broken the bounds of eternity, plunged into our world, and lived as one of us. If Plato were to come to life today, how would he respond to our tidings of great joy? What would he think of our response?

Brother Francis Maluf was born in Lebanon in 1913 and held a PhD in philosophy. Along with Father Leonard Feeney, he was a founding, in 1949, of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a religious Order. Brother Francis went to his heavenly reward in 2009. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.org.

The image shows, “To Kryfo Scholio” (“The Hidden School”), by Nikolaos Gyzis, painted ca. 1885-1886.

Panajotis Kondylis: A Skeptical Philosopher Of The Enlightenment

Falk Horst, the admirer of the socio-political thinker Panajotis Kondylis (1943-1998), published a substantial anthology a few months ago, entitled, Panajotis Kondylis und die Metamorphosen der Gesellschaft (Panajotis Kondylis and the Metamorphoses of Society).

Characteristic of the work of the late Greek scholar, who spent a large part of his life in Heidelberg and who mostly carried out his conceptual drafts in German, was his interpretative starting point based on claims to power. In contrast to other historians of ideas and social affairs, who are inclined to moralize, Kondylis never fought for the “good.” Although influenced by the Enlightenment, his editor, Falk Horst, is right when he speaks of a philosopher of the Enlightenment without a mission.

Kondylis dissected successive world views based on the Middle Ages; but he undertook his task as impartially as possible. He called this approach “descriptive decisionism,” which he differentiated from value-based understandings of human decisions and claims. And he called the scientific approach, which he pursued in his mature works, as “social ontology.”

First and Foremost A Social Being

Kondylis starts from the basic assumption that the human being cannot be separated from a certain social relationship. From his point of view, man is primarily a social being, whose relationship to fellow human beings and to the world outside must be taken into account through his position in a given hierarchy.

First and foremost, one takes care of self-preservation, which requires the cooperation of others, and then of defending one’s niche against opponents. In his small volume, Macht und Entscheidung Die Herausbildung der Weltbilder und die Wertfrage (The Formation of World Views and the Question of Value [1984]), Kondylis focuses on the combative and power-striving side of interpersonal interactions.

Moralism or Nihilism

Fundamental to his lengthy books on the Enlightenment, classical conservatism and the age of world politics is his use of a power-oriented perspective of interpretation. Even with scholarly disputes and strictly developed theoretical work, a fighting spirit that shapes all concerns can be discerned. The scientist sets his thesis against that of his opponent.

The Enlightenment thinkers set out to assert nature and sensuality against a medieval way of thinking. But the former participants went their separate ways when the question arose whether the struggle against the rejected metaphysics should result in a normative morality or in a nihilism that decomposes everything. The Enlightenment thinkers, the advocates of a rational morality like Kant and Voltaire, and nihilistic materialists like Holbach and La Mettrie, split into two opposing groups of thought.

The bourgeois society, which upheld the cultural world of the Enlightenment, had to wage a two-front war against conservatism, which wanted to reassert the ideals of a premodern social order, and against mass democracy, which advocates the equality and exchangeability of the crowd. Without considering this dialectical, militant thrust, Kondylis believes, successive ruling classes and leading ideologies can hardly be understood. Only with regard to a counterpart does the individual develop collectively, as being-like and abstract.

A Synthesis of Marx And Carl Schmitt?

Kondylis’ social ontology and anthropology is usually interpreted as an imaginative amalgamation of the thought of Marx and Carl Schmitt. It may be astonishing that Kondylis recognized Marx, but far less Schmitt, as a pioneer. He also generously admitted as influences in his world of ideas both Reinhart Koselleck, with whom he had a long-term correspondence, and his doctoral supervisor from Heidelberg, Werner Conze. He also mentioned Spinoza, whose theological and political treatise helped shape his concept of power.

But why did Kondylis treat Schmitt, whose friend-foe thinking he shares, almost neglectfully? It may be that Kondylis wanted to emphasize the originality of his terms. Just as relevant, as Horst’s anthology makes clear, Kondylis was radicalized in his youth when he had protested against the Junta of the colonels in his Greek homeland.

The Marxist character can be traced back to these youthful years, even if the mature thinker could hardly be classified as a Marxist or as a leftist. The focus on the course of history and socially determined major cultures point back to a Marxist-inspired focus. It is clear, however, that Kondylis like Koselleck and other leading German historians of ideas from the second half of the last century, was influenced by Schmitt.

The fact that Kondylis handled a single-track or overly simplistic view of the world is a common criticism of his anthropological and political perspective, which revolves around self-preservation and striving for power of the socially settled individual. But that presupposes that the social researcher Kondylis wanted to provide an overall picture of political, community and ideological action. Instead, his ideas can be used to shed light on human behavior and to provide insight into human motivation in individual situations.

Not An Optimist

For all his devotion to the Enlightenment and the associated insights, Kondylis by no means represented the optimistic view of the future which shaped eighteenth-century rationalism. He belonged to the group that Zeev Sternhell and Isaiah Berlin characterized as “les Contre-lumières,” and which were supposedly up to no good. These brooders used the critical approach of the Enlightenment to question and even devalue their final vision.

In other words: Kondylis understood his teaching assignment differently than the moralists he mocked. Apart from the decision-making of socially located and motivated individuals and groups, who act in the area of conflict, with other similarly determined beings, Kondylis cannot offer us a world-picture or a vision of the future. To his credit, he warns against those whitewashers who want to abolish our freedom and our sobriety.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College (PA) and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous articles and 15 books, including, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (forthcoming), Revisions and DissentsFascism: The Career of a ConceptWar and DemocracyLeo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in AmericaEncounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and TeachersConservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards A Secular Theocracy, and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State. Last year he edited an anthology of essays, The Vanishing Tradition, which treats critically the present American conservative movement.

The image shows, “Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends,” by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, painted in 1868.

Courtesy Blaue Narzisse. The German version translated by N. Dass.

Who Are Angels? What Are Demons?

Professor Peter Kreeft is our favorite philosopher, here at the Postil. And this lecture on angels and demons is truly one of his best. So, we thought we would share it with you. We are sure you will love his clarity and his profound, yet down-to-earth explanations, not to mention his subtle humor.

The image shows, “The Fall of the Rebel Angels,” by Pieter Bruegel, painted in 1562.

The Mystery of Communion. Encountering the Trinity: Excerpt

In the New Year, we are so very happy to offer to our readers excerpts from forthcoming books. This month, courtesy of St. Augustine’s Press, we are highlighting, The Mystery of Communion. Encountering the Trinity, by Dr. Giulio Maspero.

Dr. Maspero is a priest, theologian and physicist who embarks on a study of the Trinity – the Christian triune God – and in a single narrative pieces together the classical metaphysics, revealed truths and Patristic apologetic theology that directed the development of Trinitarian dogma.A highlight of this work is Dr. Maspero’s reliance on Mary, Theotokos, in his presentation of Trinitarian theology, the person who first opened herself to this manner of thinking. We encourage our readers to read this important book.


“The Trinitarian Conception Of Man And The World”

The Trinity And The World

Thus far, we have seen how the revelation of the Trinity has challenged man’s thought, which through faith has been opened up toward a unity that is not solitude, but communion – a unity that is a trinity, not in a paradoxical sense, but as the foundation and source of all other unity. Classical philosophy could not comprehend it and therefore assumed a model of unity taken empirically from nature. Christian doctrine had to replace this model with that of the unity of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In the question of the one and the triune, the relationship between God and the world is at stake. Theology has had to learn how not to reduce the Trinity to the categories of thought derived from natural observation, and instead to modify its own conceptual instruments so as to take account of the unimaginable Truth encountered in Christ. When this was accomplished, it became possible to go back and reread the world, beginning with its constitutive relationship with the Trinity itself.

To do this, however, it is necessary to think about being in an analogical sense because the world is not the Trinity. What is true for God does not necessarily apply to man. That is why, as has been seen repeatedly, to speak about the Triune God we must eliminate any linguistic references to movement, time or ontological distinction. In fact, the heresies indicate critical moments of this process, moments that served as stimuli for further investigation and favored a purification of theological thought.

Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite, a mysterious author of the fifth or sixth century, described the process of this development as three-fold. The first phase is constituted by the affirmation of some perfection of God or by the application to Him of a certain concept like procession or generation. This phase must be followed immediately by a second phase, which is a negation insofar as that reality is not present in God with the limits found in nature. This culminates in a final phase that acknowledges the eminence of God, in which He is recognized as the source of all partial realizations of that reality, though it is perfectly possessed by God and lies beyond any human conception. For example, if we affirm that God is great, we must simultaneously deny that He is ‘great’ in the material sense of the word, so as to then conclude that He is great inasmuch as He is the eternal source of every greatness. So, in a seemingly paradoxical way, we can also say that God is small because being small can be understood as perfection––here we might think of the possibility of nearness or being inside, something that smallness implies even at the material level. God is the source of every perfection so that one can purify smallness in such a way as to recognize God as its origin. That is why the divine attributes coincide with one another just as the rays of the sun converge and are unified in their source. God is, then, both small and great, and yet remains without contradiction.

The task of theology, therefore, consists in the development of thought that does not explain or reduce the Mystery but causes it to emerge in a formulation that is increasingly less inadequate. This happens when one is able to show a certain aspect of God as the source of perfections found in nature, and of those perfections recognized by philosophy and the other human sciences. That is why the essence of theology demands harmony with the other disciplines.

The work of the theologian must simultaneously maintain the presence of two extremes: a) The being of God belongs to a different ontological sphere from that of the world, a sphere that we can know only in part through what God has willed to reveal about Himself, but which we do not possess and experience directly; b) Creation reflects the perfections of its Creator, and man reflects this perfection to the utmost because he is created in the image and likeness of the Trinity itself.

Therefore, we must be very cautious when we attribute to God realities that have a specific realization on the natural level. For example, if being a father at the created level is impossible without the presence of a wife and mother, this does not mean that in God there must be a bride. At the same time, we must also bear in mind that the transition from God to the world cannot be equivocal, for what we have come to know in God through revelation is inevitably reflected as perfection in creation. A further example may clarify this: It is said that God does not have relations, rather is three eternal relations. We humans, on the other hand, have relations but we do not identify ourselves with our relations. Yet, for a human person, perfection should be found in his or her relations precisely because God is the source of every perfection. Hence, the father of a family will become himself much more fully by giving himself completely to his children, and therefore growing in his identification with his relation of fatherhood rather than through the achievement of extraordinary professional success if this distances him from his relations. Work is good when it serves fundamental relations but is negative when it distances one from them, regardless of any economic prosperity.

Persons And Relation

This vision is linked to the personal dimension which is the key to the formulation of the unity and trinity of God. One of the peaks of Trinitarian reflection has been the work done to achieve an adequate definition of the word “person” that can be applied analogically to both man and God.

We can see how in antiquity this concept was linked to multiplicity and imperfection, and so could not be applied to God. The early Fathers, such as Justin, were still affected by this difficulty when they stated that the Son is a person because He manifests Himself and enters into relation with man and creation whereas the Father cannot be a person.

Boethius (†525) offers the initial definition: Individual substance of a rational nature (De duabus naturis, 3). The fundamental element of his definition of person is substance which takes account of individuality. Here, he reflects the original identification of ousia and hypostasis, with an apparent equivalence of the latter to substance. Later, theological reflection understood that it was necessary to distinguish hypostasis from ousia in God. At the human level, however, there is evidently still equivalence, for every human person is a distinct substance with respect to other human persons. In Boethius’ definition, if distinction is bound to substantiality, then the dimension of communion is brought back to the rational nature in that it is precisely the reason and the word that allow for the possibility of entering into relation.

In the twelfth century, Richard of St. Victor (†1173) exposed the limits of the Boethian definition. Though correct when applied to man, it breaks down when applied to God who is three Persons but not three substances. This is why Richard formulated a new definition: incommunicable existence proper to the divine nature (De Trinitate, IV, 22). So as to overcome the problem of Boethius’ definition, he replaces substance with existence, referring this term, according to its etymology (exsistentia), to the being from (ex) another. Thus, the existence of the Father would consist of his not being from anyone, that of the Son would consist of being from the Father, and that of the Holy Spirit of being from the two first divine Persons. In this way, the noun used––existence––makes direct reference to communion and relation whereas the adjective incommunicable guarantees the distinction. This definition was a clear step forward, but it also had an obvious limit. It could be applied only to God because the existence of human persons is not like that of God in Whom each Person is exclusively distinct by His relation of origin in the other Persons of the Trinity, yet still identified with the single substance. The additional specification unique to the divine nature was necessary to avoid every possible misunderstanding. The definition, then, cannot be applied to man but only to the Trinity.

Ultimately, it is Thomas Aquinas who offers a definition that can be applied to both the creature and the Creator. He modifies Boethius’ definition in the following way: The person is the subsistent of a rational nature (ST I, 29, a. 3, ad 3). Substance is replaced by the present participle of the verb to subsist, a verb that means ‘to have one’s own being in oneself’. This is why the definition is appropriate to the divine Persons, who are identified with the one substance that is Being itself, and therefore have no accidents. In this way, Thomas expresses what Boethius intended, though without using the term substance, which cannot be said of God in the plural. Furthermore, the use of the verb in its present participle refers directly to the subject of an action that in God is eternal. Obviously, when we speak about man, the dimension of eternity is not present, even though the definition applies to him perfectly.

Thus, Aquinas’ theology succeeded in finding a formulation that is extended analogically to different levels of being, thus displaying the continuity between God and His image. Clearly, the divine Persons have subsistence in a perfect way to the extent of being identified with their relation of origin. Therefore, with respect to the Trinity, Aquinas’ definition can be combined with another, which applies only to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: The divine Person, is, in fact, relation inasmuch as it is subsistent (ST I, 29, a. 4, ad 3). If on the level of creation relation is an accident, in God it obviously is not, and is instead identified with the fullness of Being. This step forward is possible because relation is a pure reference to another reality that does not of itself modify the substance. So the Father is Fatherhood and in Him there is nothing else: The first Person does not give merely something to the other two, but gives Himself and is identified with the divine substance precisely in being the eternal source of this gift of Himself, of the gift of His divinity. So, too, is the Son none other than Sonship. Therefore, He is the divine substance received as a gift from the Father and given back to Him. And in this total giving back the gift of Himself the second Person is the image of the first. Lastly, the Holy Spirit is pure Spiration, that is, divine substance in being the eternal Gift that the Father and Son exchange between themselves.

Within man, the relationship between substance and relation is different than what it is with God. Whereas in the Trinity the Person refers directly to the relation and only indirectly to the substance, for us person points to substance in the first place and then, only indirectly, to relation. This is due to the imperfection of man who is called to become divinized by the Holy Spirit that he might grow in the image and likeness of God. This is something that anyone might experience by contemplating the saints, who were gradually identified with their relation to God and who gave their lives in love. This is demonstrated through the same bond of ultimate love that a person shows by giving his life for his friends, as Christ indicated in his farewell discourse during the Last Supper as the meaning of his life and the Paschal Mystery (John 15:13). This is not something merely moral. Instead, it is a journey towards full identity with the incarnate Son who came into the world to draw man into the Most Blessed Trinity and so bestow upon him eternal life. Man does not lose himself in giving himself, opening himself and allowing himself to enter into relation with the other, even if this means allowing himself to be wounded to stay true to that relation. For Being, the source of every being and every life, is relation.

Fatherhood And Sonship

The fundamental importance of the relational dimension was also grasped by the phenomenological research of the last century, and in unexpected areas of inquiry. For example, in an explicitly non-Christian context, psychoanalysis traces psychological pathologies back to an origin in wounds at the level of a person’s fundamental relations. In order to understand man, one must begin from the fact of his being son.

It is essential, therefore, to know the Father and the Son and contemplate them more fully. The Trinity is not an abstract reality, a complex theological doctrine far removed from us. Rather, it is the source of our very being as well as our deepest aspirations. We are from the Trinity and for the Trinity. The bosom of the Father is our home and the ultimate source of our identity, for from Him stems all fatherhood in heaven and on earth (Eph 3:14–15).

In fact, the Father is the divine Person who is the origin and source of everything. The Son and the Spirit have their origin from Him in eternity, and that is why creation, which is the work of the whole Trinity, also has its ultimate origin in the plan of the Father. He is Origin without origin. According to the Athanasian creed, He was neither made by anyone, nor created, nor generated. Inasmuch as He is the source of fullness, the first Person is the true foundation of divine unity. One could say that calling God one because He is triune is tantamount to saying that God is one because He is Father. In fact, being Father implies the existence of a Son and the being bound to Him by Love. It is here that one sees the ontological newness represented by the personal and relational dimension, known to us only through revelation.

The fatherhood of the first Person is absolute in the sense that He is infinitely Father. That is why he is fully involved in the generation of the Son. He never existed without the Son. He did not become a Father, He is Father, pure and eternal relation to the Son and His Love. Moreover, he is so fully Father that he alone generates an Only Begotten Son who, in turn, is perfectly identified with His very same divinity, with the divine substance.

The Son is fully Son: In Him there exists only the eternal receiving of Himself from the Father and the eternal orientation toward the Father. The second Person is pure being from and being for the Father, according to a beautiful expression of J. Ratzinger (Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004, pp. 186–189). The Son is always perfectly and continually generated in eternity, without this implying imperfection or movement from potency to act but only fullness and depth of relation with the Father. The very use of the passive to indicate being generated is due to the limitations of our language, for in itself the Son’s being generated is active and not passive. In God, to receive is not something “to which one is subjected”, but the welcoming of a gift, a welcoming that constitutes the Giving as such. The language of gift helps because even among humans accepting a present is an active process. The same can be said for call and answer. Thus, the Father is Father because He generates the Son, but is also the Father because the Son accepts the Gift and, in a way that we are unable to express adequately, it is precisely the Son who makes the first Person Father. Hence, their relationship is an eternal gift of self, which, on the part of the Father, possesses the characteristics of origin and source while, on the part of the Son, it is an eternal giving back of the Gift.

Hence, the Son is also called the image of the Father (Col 1:15, Heb 1:3). Just as the Father gives of Himself, so also the Son is His image precisely in the giving-back of Himself to the Father. He does not keep the Gift but gives of His own self to the Father in return. Though He is Life, He does live alone. Rather, He places Himself back in the hands of the source of Life.

This is also expressed in the name the Word, which is attributed to the second Person. Yet this name adds the reference to the purely spiritual dimension of the generation. This procession is analogous to the cognitive act of man because man too when he knows something has within himself, in his interior, an image of the known object. When man knows himself, the image that he forms of himself is intimate to the man himself and in an imperfect way is that man. Obviously, in God, the thought He has of Himself in knowing Himself is not only a concept. This thought is God Himself because here the act of knowing is utterly perfect. The Son is, then, the Thought of the Father. Clearly, this is only an analogy inasmuch as in man the concept that he forms is accidental and linked to the need to know, whereas in the Trinity it is the fruit of a perfect act of pure cognitive fertility.

Insistence on the Gift of Self is essential in understanding the significance of the new reality that has been revealed. There is no longer any sense in the image of God standing on high and determining all things by necessity. In that case, the identity of all that has its origin from Him would be an imposition and hence a mark of inferiority. Thus, in Christian reflection, it proved difficult initially to express the perfect divinity of the second divine Person. The Father and the Son are indeed God, the one and the same God, in eternal and reciprocal self-giving. The Father is not Father alone but rather in relation to the Son, and the Son is Himself in relation to the Father. Their identities are relational.

At this point, one can glimpse a reflection of the development of man and of his becoming aware of himself as son. When a child is small, he normally perceives only the perfection of his own parents, a perfection that is his first notion of the image of God. This happens because the world of the young is limited to the security of the home and family. However, he develops little by little and enters into relation with the external world. At the same time, he recognizes both his own limitations and the limitations of his parents, from whom his own limitations often derive. In this phase, one’s own identity is often perceived as an imposition and generally receives adolescent rejection, accompanied by the need to appear different. In a certain sense, the fundamental relationship with parents is understood in a dialectical sense, because a person does not manage to accept his own limitations. The simple fact of the matter is that when a person enters the world he does not choose his father or his mother. In this sense, the relation is not totally free. However, with the onset of the adolescent crisis, combined with external confrontation, the child can gradually discover, beyond the limitations, the positive side of his family baggage, of his heritage, and can actually freely choose his own parents in accepting their limitations. This kind of forgiveness of one’s father makes relation free and reciprocal; and from this gift, which is the essence of forgiveness, is also born the true identity of the son who, in accepting the limitations of his father, also accepts his own limitations and recognizes himself as a gift. The son is thus ready to become a father, that is, ready to give back to another the gift that he has received. And the same is true for a daughter.

Clearly, there are neither limits nor temporal sequence in the Trinity, but the relation of Father and Son is an eternal and reciprocal Gift of Self that is reflected in the image and likeness of the creature. For this reason, man becomes all the more easily son– –that is, he overcomes the crisis of adolescent identity––the more he realizes that his father truly gives of himself, that he accepts his limitations and loves the world, despite the difficulties.

The image shows, “Holy Trinity With The Virgin And The Saints,” by Corrado Giaquinto, painted in 1755.

Political Exorcism: Democracy And Its Demons

Democracy no longer appears in the 21st-century in the guise of the Greek philosophical discussion about the best form of government. If for the Greeks the very possibility of democracy was the result of a long history of “disenchantment” (Weber, Gauchet), for postmodern man democracy is burdened by a set of historical presuppositions (religious, moral and ideological) from which he can no longer be unlinked.

However, after the ideological overdose of the century of European civil war and the conflict between secular religions, supposedly settled in three crucial episodes (1918-1945-1989), democracy seems to suffer, in the 21st-century, an “abstinence syndrome” that places it in a state of indefiniteness and again disenchantment with post-totalitarian emptiness. This horror vacui largely conditions the current state of affairs.

The emergence of democracy in the course of Western history cannot be separated from what the Austrian Hellenist Fritz Schachermeyr called the Greek “untying” (Entbindung). According to this renowned scholar, Eastern cultures reached a state of Verhaltenheit, that is, a relatively static or immobile civilization, defined by a rigid setting within a traditional system of rites or beliefs. They are, in short, examples of “stopped civilizations” (Toynbee). The intimate essence of these civilizations is characterized by Schachermeyr with the word Bindung, “ties,” where everything is fixed by a marked “consciousness” (a key element, as will be seen later) of the natural and necessary character of this characterization.

According to Schachermeyr, the novelty offered by the Greco-Roman civilization is that it begins to “untie” (entbinden) the old “ties.” Although Schachermeyr does not explain what this dynamic consists of, it cannot but be the progressive desacralization, demanded by critical reason, which enters history to definitively close the phase of the primitive mentality of humanity (Lévy-Bruhl), at least for a significant portion of said humanity, which will progressively expand with the successive unfoldment of the Greek spirit. By virtue of this new spirit, a new cultural and anthropological atmosphere is inaugurated, in which democracy comes to be engendered.

This humus is marked, fundamentally, by the following elements: The autonomy of the individual, the self-government of the city, and philosophy. This substrate projects a mentality sharply tending towards individualism and relativism. As Jean Gebser explains, we move from the impersonality of the aperspective world to an awareness of the individual self that defines the perspectival world. Now, as this philosopher of the transformations of consciousness also emphasized, in the progressive evolution of the successive states of consciousness of humanity, the definitive burial of previous states does not take place, but rather their distorted transformation in the current aspect of the human. In other words, the primitive mentality of the tribe (the archaic and original structure) continues to operate in the rational state of individualized humanity. And this is of decisive relevance for understanding the evolution of democracy.

Ever since the Hellenic civilization was imposed, there has been a directionality in history much more marked than before. The principle of Entbindung (or, breaking of ties) resurfaces, renewed and reinforced; and, each time, by way of a setback, there is a return to the state of Bindung, or ties. It is not strictly a linear version of time, but of cycles which proceed in a spiral (Vico), with advances and retreats. In any case, in this inherent tendency towards desacralization, from the sacred kingdom of the gods, we pass to the government of heroes, to reach the self-government of men.

The Hellenic phenomenon thus represents an essential fracture in history. Jaspers spoke of the so-called “time-axis” to refer to the period from 600 to 200 BC, in which a series of peoples achieved a new consciousness of spiritual emancipation. However, it was in Greece, to a much greater degree, that the decisive element appears: The self-conscious individual, who creates an autonomous society, governed by rules subject to change. Hence, without direct or indirect Greek influence, outcomes as characteristic of the rational spirit as democracy are not found outside Greece.

What must be understood is that the true breaking point does not occur between democracy and other forms of government, but between a (magical-mythical) mentality closed to the very possibility of politics and a mentality that frees that space to conquer it – for politics. If the political (as essence) is not born from the consequence of that hiatus, it can at least be said that the consciousness of the political is born there. The free interrogation about society and its rules that political thought supposes is impossible in societies founded on myth and rite (Philippe Nemo). In fact, we do not find in them political theories but “myths of sovereignty.”

René Girard’s mimetic theory also allows us to understand that this absence of the political in the magical-mythical universe is not an accidental fact but something deeply embedded in the way of life associated with the structure of “violence and the sacred.” The mythical order is a global order, indistinctly cosmic and social, and in it the political does not emerge as an autonomous space but as a subsidiary of the all-encompassing sacred universe.

However, in the field of human behavior and politics, logos interferes from a certain moment, with the spontaneous forces of life, to create new forms, new doctrines and new styles of thought or behavior, new “ties,” as it were, replacing those already destroyed by its impact. In other words, the aperspective continues to subtly infiltrate the new perspectival mentality. The “new ties” cannot really resurrect the old structures of the magical mentality, although they do reflect the nostalgia for unity and order lost as a consequence of the crisis produced by the disorientation and confusion of the relativistic disorder generated by critical reason.

From this point of view, movements such as the Socratic or Platonic reaction are manifestations of this will to reinvent the traditional order with rational schemes. Plato’s political pharmacology collects the Egyptian medicinal art (Jan Assmann), and his claims point to a reactionary nostalgia for sacred unity, although with a foundation consistent with the desacralizing unleashing: Political philosophy, from then on, will be a rational and not mythical medicine. Plato is the first anti-democratic philosopher to propose an ideal rational republic. In it the king is no longer a god but a philosopher. The new “rational tie” thus slows down the tendency of democracy towards dissolution.

The thesis that I here defend is that democracy continues to live today under the influence of a new “tie” created from the ideological sedimentation of some of its own presuppositions, producing a new form of Verhaltenheit, which requires a model of rigid framework, which democratic principles (converted into sacred dogmas) must impose. Unlike reactionaries like Plato (or Rousseau), the new tie of our times is not anti-progressive, nor does it pretend to chain itself to a traditional community lost in the original past. On the contrary, its chains point towards a city in the clouds, the only paradise in which democratic man aspires to establish his definitive residence.

Our democracies, in effect, seek to surpass themselves in a purely self-referential framework. Hence, the everlasting call to “deepen” democracy. Every democracy always seems little democracy to the recalcitrant democrat. You can never go any further than democracy. It is the Plus Ultra of democratic religion. The problems are solved with more democracy and they are because of the fact that there is not enough democracy. It seems that man is always disappointed when looking in the mirror of the gods.

Today, we live under the splint of a new ideological-religious “tie” that takes different forms, all of which coincide in their essential and common tendency to subjection and mooring: The tyranny of consensus, the religion of human rights, the moralism of the Empire of the Good, the imposition of technocratic knowledge, political correctness, the Manichean demonization of the political adversary, the End of History. After all, what the Greeks called democracy presupposed accepting the desacralizing heritage of a critical skepticism that freed the political space from the control of the gods.

Today, other gods have appropriated the agora. Christopher Dawson described in his posthumous book (The Gods of Revolution) the process of the expulsion of Christianity by the culture generated by Christianity, and its replacement by a humanistic and rationalistic idolatry. “The archaic would always be here, haunting us. Behind the reign of the individual, behind secularism, the pre-eminence of the economy, democracy, the spirit of free examination, the monsters would only be waiting for the opportunity to dominate men again and to be worshiped by them ”(Pierre Pachet, “D’un archaïsme tout à fait contemporain“, Les cahiers de l’Est, 1, 1991).

Vilfedo Pareto’s sociology, with its well-known theory of residues and derivations, did not stop insisting on the necessary analysis of that archaic background of the human psyche, always ready to continue connecting with an irrational universe of gods and myths. For Pareto, this imaginary space operated in modernity with presumably rational entities that in practice violated the most elementary rules of logic, behaving like the deities fighting for or against the Greeks in the Iliad. Among these entities (in addition to abstract ideas, such as, freedom or equality) was also democracy, alienated in its theoretical structure by the presence of a mythological drive born in democracy’s own bosom and thus difficult to eradicate.

On the other hand, part of the problem evidently lies in knowing whether people can live for a long time in what Claude Lefort called “democratic indeterminacy,” resulting from the new scenario established by the reality of the “place empty of power” (lieu vide du pouvoir) – that is, if a political community can subsist without projecting outside of this reality, deifying it as a sacred incarnation of itself in the form of unitary sovereignty – or, without exhibiting and conjuring up a phantasmagoric incarnation of the other or of evil in the form of a scapegoat (Poliakov’s diabolical causality).

The political carries, as a founding genetic stain, the weight of this beneficent/malefic ambivalence that reappears under different guises in the course of the “rational” history of humanity (thus, for example, with sacred monarchy in feudal society). The progress of politics (and, particularly, of democracy) is based on the substitution of competition for war; or, if you prefer, sacrifice for envy. “Bullets or ballots” the Americans used to say. Bertrand Russell affirmed with force that “envy is the basis of democracy.” And he added: “The democratic movement in the Greek states must have been inspired almost entirely by this passion. And the same can be said of modern democracy.” In any case, as with the pharmacy, everything is a question of dosage; and politics disappears when the unit or the division becomes absolute.

We no longer live “in” democracy but “under” democratism (Freund), a “political myth” (in the sense of Raoul Girardet), born of moral and religious dogmas hardly compatible with the onto-theopolitical emptiness operated by the Greek revolution. The place empty of power has been occupied by a new religion. Is democratism the hidden enemy of democracy?

Understanding democratism requires summarizing the history of democracy in its historical and sociological aspects. Thus, it is the history of democratization, or democratic imperialism, that is, the extension of the democratic-egalitarian ethos outside its natural political space. By going out of its habitat, like any empire, democracy weakens in its own terrain. By assuming a social profile (Tocqueville’s democratic condition), moral or religious, democracy is depoliticized. On the other hand, the state political form, in turn expansive by definition as a consequence of war (Jouvenel’s law of political concurrence), ended up merging with democracy in an apparently predictable embrace. In effect, the state tends to dissolve hierarchies and to standardize from above by a power apparatus that ends up escaping the control of the monarchs.

The relationship of the state with the political is equivocal. In its attempt to neutralize politics, the state ends up politicizing everything (totalitarianism). This is undoubtedly one of the causes of democratic imperialism or democratism. The modern state promotes, after 1789, the democratic politicization of all subpolitical and prepolitical spaces. By politicizing life that is not strictly political, the state depoliticizes directly political life. Hence, the current dissolution of the boundaries between the public and the private. By neutralizing conflicts, the state deactivates political initiatives and the vigor of civic virtues in public life, devitalizing democratic life in its popular or community aspect.

By conquering the moral mantle of religious legitimacy, democracy becomes hyper-legitimate and naturally tends towards Manichaeism, thus fueling its own mythology of sovereign unity (Rousseau’s general will). J.L. Talmon had demonstrated the constitutive duality of the modern democratic concept in his penetrating study of the origins of totalitarian democracy. In this way, mythological democracy threatens with its own weapons the axiological pluralism that presumably grounds it.

The democratic historical fruit thus contaminates the root of the democratic philosophical tree. On the other hand, the ideological sanctification that accompanies democratism erodes the agonistic-conflictive dimension of political democracy. If democracy does not guarantee peaceful concurrence (Aron) within it, political concurrence will occur outside of democracy. In order to save the purity of ideological orthodoxy – through recourse to Manichaeism that transforms the political adversary into absolute evil – democracy abdicates its popular legitimacy to expel the people into outer darkness.

Also, at this point, democracy chooses to “tie itself” to its ideological descendants, forgetting that it was born because of an”untying” from its magical ancestors. There is in ideology a dark form of regression to the necromancer’s sleight of hand. Like the sorcerer, the ideologue aspires to ontologically extirpate evil. Hence his obsession with closing the era of politics in the name of secular messianism. Unlike the hygienic puritanism of the ideological discourse, political realism understands that it is always necessary to coexist and (if necessary) to make a pact with evil in the search for a compromise that guarantees external security and internal harmony (the purpose of politics as Julien Freund recalled).

Politics, the art of the possible to avoid the worst, ends up yielding today to the dreamlike universe of idealistic utopias that populate ideological discourses. And the withdrawal from politics is also the withdrawal of democracy as a form of government.

To the depoliticizing panorama that emerged as a consequence of the hegemony of ideological discourse (certainly presented in its postmodern version of “weak thinking”) is added the concomitant factor of globalization. The unification of the world is a historical fact in principle alien to democracy as such, but it has not hesitated to accept it, first as a “fellow-traveler” and later as an inseparable friend (democracy allied to the universalism of human rights). Politics is said to make strange bedfellows; but the assertion is valid as a description of the unspeakably opportunistic wiles of professional politicians, though not at all applicable to theoretical principles that are difficult to reconcile.

As the unsuspecting Emmanuel Todd recently put it with a provocative aphorism of his own making, “if a lot of xenophobia destroys democracy, a little xenophobia can bring it back.” In the idea of democracy, the historian and demographer added, there is always an element of “founding xenophobia.” By forgetting that man is a “dependent rational animal” (Alasdair MacIntyre), the atomistic angelism of postmodern mysticism destroys the roots (Simone Weil) that define the human condition.

In this way, by dissolving the ties of belonging to national political communities, the instances of collective action associated with the democratic ethos are weakened, thus facilitating the task of the new global power occupied by the globalist elites that lead supranational instances. By submitting to these vagrant elites, the national political class discredits the popular legitimacy on which the democratic mandate of political representation continues to be based. The foreign friends of democracy prostitute democracy. Maybe democracy should look for new friends.

The last aspect of democratism, as the enemy of democracy, can be found in the cultural field. Here, too, a new idol has been erected, although in reality it may be an unwanted child of Christianity, as Chesterton suggested. Political correctness has, despite its deceptive appearance, very little of politics. However, the consequences for political democracy are very dire. In its ideological defense of victims, political correctness promotes the censorship and demonization of the adversary. In this way, it sponsors denunciation, ideological exile, and silences any form of dissent through the imposition of a taboo strictly controlled by the new well-thought-out courts of the “Empire of the Good” (Philippe Muray). Automatically, the irreverence that nurtures the democratic moral disposition (the anaideia of the cynics) ends up being ruined in front of the new censors of soft totalitarianism.

Soft McCarthyism does not, for the moment, build new concentration camps for dissidents, but it justifies civil death and thought police, by way of the educational Big Mother and the multicultural Big Other. Victimist ideologies (third wave feminism, anti-racism, animalism, etc.) represent the vanguard of this new liberticidal witch-hunt led by the latest version of the “Revolution of the Saints” (Michael Walzer). The porno-calvinist ideocracy seems, in the long run, little compatible with political democracy.

In sum, the monism of postmodern democratic ideology seems difficult to reconcile with the pluralism inherent in democracy as a form of government. The disappearance of political otherness as a consequence of the fall of communism has increased the polarization of this opposition. It is still striking that liberal democracy adopts the eschatological dress of its main enemy up till then (Marxism) and dresses in the messianic cloak of the end of History (Fukuyama). The mystique of democratism, however, is gradually extinguished by the absence of its enemies.

Hence the efforts of neo-puritan ideologues to imagine spectral representations of evil encoding and recoding reality through mass media. Democratic theology voluntarily adopts the Manichaeism of Islamist fundamentalism (Axes of Good and Evil). Its deleterious effects are manifested in the internal dynamics of democracy as a pluralistic form of government. As Chantal Mouffe has written, “agonistic” democracy (democracy as pacification of political conflict) has been replaced by democracy of consensus and extreme antagonism (democracy as moral and religious ideology).

Today neither bullets nor ballots serve to revive dying democracy. By moralizing itself, democracy is depoliticized. The exacerbation of this conflict can end democracy, and can eliminate it also. Montesquieu seems to have seen it clearly: “Beware of a city where the noise of any conflict is not heard because tyranny will not be far behind.” Tocqueville’s prophecies pointed in the same direction. The two bodies of the king (Kantorowicz) are expressed today as two bodies of democracy: The mystical body (democratic ideology) and the physical body (political democracy). Political democracy also seems to die by the same cry as monarchs: Democracy is dead! Long live democracy!

The place is not empty of power today. In place of the totalitarian Egocrat, we have the democratic ideocrat-technocrat. The two entrances to the democratic castle seem impenetrable to criticism. The ideocrat is also a holy monarch. To this is added the validity (increasingly threatened by its frank lack of realism) of statism, that is, of depoliticizing politicization. The political neutralization caused by the state necessarily generates a form of impolitical democracy.

Transformed into pure and simple administration from the cradle to the grave, the antipolitical democratic-state holds presumed citizens in the position of simple subjects (when not suspects), reduced by multiple mechanisms (the control of education, culture, taxation) to an infantilism incompatible with the presumed coming of age of democratic life and the civic virtues necessary to nurture it. Thinkers like Sloterdijk, with his proposal for voluntary taxation as a banner of civic responsibility, have drawn attention to this paradox.

On the other hand, the so-called “democratization” (or Tocquevillian democratic condition) has accelerated the process of standardization and leveling in the spiritual field, impoverishing the pluralism that political democracy feeds on. In this sociological undifferentiation (driven by technology, mainstream culture, spiritual Americanization and globalism) ideocracy also finds its anthropological basis.

To this must be added the growing distance between globalized political elites and the people they claim to represent democratically. It is known that democracy does not escape the iron law of the oligarchy (Michels) but its application in the democratic context (illusion of identity between representatives and the represented) implies a much higher cost for its legitimacy than in the case of other forms of government. “Universal suffrage does not pretend that the interests of the majority triumph, but rather that the majority believe it,” wrote the Colombian, Nicolas Gómez Dávila.

The problem today is that most have stopped believing it. And the masks also fall on the other side of the costume ball. The political elite no longer hide their contempt for the people, their traditions and identity, which are hardly comparable with the emancipatory rhythm of the alleged progress that they intend to promote. That the popular acquires a pejorative meaning (populism) in a democratic context is an unequivocal indication of the identity crisis of the democracies of the 21st-century. Populism is today, above all, a symptom of the degenerative disease of undemocratic democracy. By clinging to ideological legitimacy, democracy disregards its popular legitimacy.

In short, today the rebellion of the masses (Ortega y Gasset) and the rebellion of the elites (Lasch) converge. But 1945 and 1989 represent two fateful dates for the ideological substratum of “political illusion” (Ellul). With them “religious democracy” has lost its flock even though it retains its clergy. Other ideologies of substitution (feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, animalism, transhumanism) aspire to fill this void and articulate their proposals with the same totalitarian grammar of the maternal state. The democracy that has come to us has already traveled through religious space, depoliticizing itself along the way – but today it is a dead faith. By becoming the demiurge of the life of the people, it has devitalized their natural and community sources.

Real suicide (the leading cause of unnatural death in the West) and demographic suicide represent the two faces of silenced death in the democratic paradise. The parallels with the world of real socialism begin to be disturbing and remind us of certain authors who have already proclaimed that socialism failed in the East because it triumphed in the West (Augusto Del Noce). However, the dreams of reason produce monsters; and socialism only wins in the tricky world built by the fallacies that inhabit the nirvana of postmodern ideologues. There is no more opium from the intellectuals (Aron), but the ambitions of the new well-thought-out clerics continue to nurture democratic hyper-legitimacy.

Plato’s observation is still valid: Democracy is an irresistible force of change that tends to instability. His Eros leads to his Thanatos. Democracy can survive as long as the agony of the conflict continues – but its overcoming in consensus-mode represents its death certificate. The perpetual peace promised by ideologies is disguised in the messianic garb of final reconciliation. Although our liberal democracies may boast, in the face of bloodthirsty totalitarianisms, that they have not fulfilled these promises in the death camps, they cannot deny that their aspirations lead politics directly to the graveyard.

Democratic disease requires, in the pharmacological vision linked to politics as medicinal knowledge, a remedy. Faced with the civilizing crisis caused by the utopian and futuristic politics of ideologies, there is only room for the skeptical response of political realism. It is what the Italian sociologist Carlo Gambescia calls “sad liberalism.”

Political democracy can only survive by returning to its first desecration root that today demands the proclamation of ideological atheism. A deeply religious spirit like Simone Weil’s had no qualms about speaking of “purifying atheism.” Oakeshott also contrasted the politics of faith and the politics of skepticism. To regain effective political will, it is necessary to promote a re-secularization of European public life.

Pierre Bayle claimed that demons prefer idolatry to atheism. “If it is merely a question of organizing an earthly paradise, there are plenty of priests. The devil is enough,” wrote Gómez Dávila. “Demons squat on our adaodoned altars,” said Ernst Jünger. Democratic soteriology has ended up directing politics from the world of men to the heaven of the gods. This Promethean impulse of the “Black Mass” (John Gray), a political demonology, supported by the legitimizing mantle of a mystical discourse (Saint-Simon‘s “new Christianity”, Pierre Lerroux’s “religious democracy”), nests in the “ myth of the new man ”studied by Dalmacio Negro.

Cultivated by philosophical modernity and disputed in a regime of mimetic rivalry (Girard) by modern ideologies that promote collective intramundane self-salvation, this myth removes democracy from the land that men tread on, to elevate them to the false condition of angels. “Qui fait l’ange fait la bête,” (“He who becomes an angel becomes a beast”), Pascal said. Democratic theology is an anthropotheism that bestializes man in the name of his divinization.

The remnants of secularist criticism (actually a confused symbiosis of moralism and materialism) preach the pressing need for a definitive expulsion of the merchants who pollute the public space. Necessary but not a sufficient measure. The reconquest of the agora requires above all the recovery of the public virtue of irreverence in the face of “democratic fundamentalism” (Gustavo Bueno).

Only the moral and intellectual force of sacrilegious skepticism will work the necessary miracle of the banishment of “the faith of demons” (Hadjad). Unable to “tie” to heaven by way of the desacralization generated by “Christian subversion” (Ellul), the spiritual forces of demons are chained to “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12). In this sense, the fight against the political religions of the princes of this world is inevitable. Democracy against demonocracy. There is more than a play on words in this opposition. Perhaps it contains the dramatic historical dilemma that is presented to the future of Western political societies.

There is no other medicine that cures the sick: Only wicked exorcists will save democracy from itself.

Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020.

The image shows The Parthenon, a watercolor by Frederic Edwin Church, painted 1871.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass

The Sacrifice For Civilization: A Conversation With Wayne Cristaudo

This month, we are highly honored to have a conversation with Professor Wayne Cristaudo, philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books. He speaks with Dr. Zbigniew Janowski about the predominance, in the West, of idea-brokers, metaphysical rebels and triumph of ideational narratives over life itself. Professor Cristaudo aptly points to the great malaise of the West – its fervent addiction to bad ideas.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Let me begin this conversation with something that my Canadian colleague said to me when I arrived to teach in Canada—in Halifax—20 years ago. “We are Americans without being arrogant and British without being boastful.” Having never been to Canada before, I was under the impression that Canada is very much like the US.

Then I discovered – or at least what I discovered in Nova Scotia, which is very patriotic, somewhat provincial and certainly less cosmopolitan than the rest of the country – that they value their British roots, which defines their national identity. Most of my colleagues were educated at Cambridge, are Anglican, the system of education – tutorials – is much more like in the UK than in America, the city looks like small British towns, and Canadian flags used to hang on many houses, probably to stress their “independence” from the US. In this part of Canada, Britishness is still, or used to be 20 years ago, part of their identity.

As an Australian, someone from a former British colony, can you say that Australians feel like my Canadian colleague?

Wayne Cristaudo (WC): When speaking of Australians, the same kind of cleavages that are occurring elsewhere in the West between tertiary educated elites and more traditionally minded people, plus demographic changes due to immigration, make it hard to generalize.

David Goodhart in his The Road to Somewhere – largely an attempt to explain Brexit, but also the election of Donald Trump – speaks of two classes today: the “Anywheres,” – i.e. those who are largely free to work and live anywhere and whose sense of identity is bound up with their global opportunities and their own “progressive” values; and the “Somewheres,” those whose location and sense of place and national heritage matters, as they see their localities and values undergoing radical transformations.

This later group also sees itself as having lost the cultural and economic wars. My friend Bob Catley, in response to Goodhart, added that this is something of a misnomer, as the “somewheres” are now the “nowheres;” that is, their world is being destroyed daily.

In Australia, I think those who strongly identify with Britain are now in a minority, as the number of immigrants from non-British backgrounds has risen dramatically in the last few decades. When there was a referendum on Australia becoming a republic some 20 years back, the republican model was rejected. But this was not because of love for the “old mother country,” but because the majority did not like the proposed model that had come out of a publicly funded (ostensibly) representative “elite” forum.

Nevertheless, it is true that Australians would probably rather lose to anyone (New Zealand not included) besides England in any sporting event. We are, though, a deeply fractured society and so appeals to unity tend to ring hollow – as hollow as our terrible national anthem which almost no one can sing through to its bitter end. Like most other Western countries, Australian identity is secondary to some other feature when it comes to political disputation.

ZJ: Canada is part of the Commonwealth, just like Australia. On the Canadian dollar one can see a beautiful image of the British Queen. On the other side of the Canadian dollar, we find a loon. I used to tell my liberally-minded Canadian friends, jokingly, don’t think of seceding from the Crown. Why – they would ask? Because you will have to replace the Queen with another loon, a bear, or a bird.

Australians have the Queen, too, and a kangaroo. This sounds facetious, to be sure, but it touches on the problem of national identity. Cultural identity cannot be rooted in nature. Even Thoreau, who lived in the wilderness and praised nature, was a cultured man, who loved the Classics. In his Walden there is a beautiful chapter on education, in which he urges Americans to read the Greeks.

Do you see any similarities in the cultural and political predicament between Canada and Australia relative to your attachment to the British Crown? Or does the geography of Canada (as a U.S. neighbour) and yours – a continent – and different history (no Royalists [or, United Empire Loyalists] who fled to Canada after the 1776 rebellion) make a difference? For one, you do not seem to feel the same pressure that Canadians do to be more “American,” and thus, having your cultural affinities imposed on you.

WC: While I really have no idea if French Canadians feel any particular cultural connection with Britain, Australia does not have the American neighbour syndrome. As for being free to choose our identity, I think that while Australian tertiary educated people are frequently anti-USA – the USA being seen as the imperialist country which creates wars wherever it goes – it seems to me that the same class of people, especially those who are Australian ideas-brokers, take up every liberal-progressive position that is pushed by, and invariably formulated by, US ideas-brokers in the same professions. That is, our academicians, journalists, teachers, et. al. can be relied upon to repeat and vociferously defend any idea that has gained narrative traction amongst progressives in the US. Ultimately this should not be surprising.

Any collective is a collective because of the stories and experiences it shares. The U.S.-led globalisation of stories through Hollywood, Netflix etc., and the normative appeals that are characteristic of those stories, plays a huge part in how people now understand themselves. So, I don’t really see identity as a matter of choosing or not choosing, but as what people identify with, and presume. And what is occurring is that where narratives are shared and replicated, as part of daily social reproduction, common ways of talking, similar presumptions, expectations, habits (i.e., similar features of identification) are formed.

For example, the elite in Australia see Donald Trump in exactly the same way as the readers of the “New York Times” or humanities students in elite universities in the USA. At the same time, the people who voted for Brexit and the people who voted for Donald Trump have a great deal in common because they have experienced a very similar kind of loss with respect to their more traditionally based social and economic place in the world.

Interestingly, though, early nationalist theorists such as Herder held that the nation was commensurate with a more tolerant and (dare I use this term) enlightened and cosmopolitan world. Membership of a nation meant that one could connect with others through initially bonding around shared stories, experiences, sentiments, tastes, loyalties and commitments, and only after that would one be in a position to form further bonds of solidarity with others. The older notion of nationhood takes for granted that members of a nation are very different in the roles they must play and the sacrifices they must make. So, a nation bonds the different into a greater unity.

The contemporary anti-nationalist, on the other hand, sees identities as based on the will, and the body itself based on the will (sexual/gender fluidity, for example); and what really matters – indeed the only thing that matters – is that the principle of emancipation is adhered to.

Conversely, one has a stake in the future because one can demonstrate that one is of the oppressed and hence a contributor to the great emancipation. Of course, this is the triumph of the abstract – there is absolutely no need to understand people as complex characters in order to think like this. And indeed, most people I know who think like this are completely lacking in psychological acumen, historical and genuine cultural sensitivity.

ZJ: When I taught in Canada, part of the program was WWI poetry. I vividly remember teaching a poem by Wilfred Owen, which I would like to quote here: It is a poem you know: “Dulce et Decorum Est:”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. -
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The poem is very timely in a perverse way. We live in times when nationalism is under attack, thought of as evil; patriotism is ridiculed; globalism is the new faith – but it is a faith of someone who is attached neither to his country, his religion, his civilization, or his culture. In fact, it is a faith of someone who has neither fatherland nor culture. All kinds of semi-ideologies, like climate-change, vegetarianism, etc., have become an ersatz for cultural identification.

The last line of the poem seems to ridicule or question the idea that goes back to the Romans and the Greeks.

When I taught this poem in 2001, the Canadian students were somewhat divided about the idea, about it being a lie to die for one’s country. However, one student – whose parents I knew rather well, a very old Nova Scotian family – blurted out: “I have no intention of going to war and dying for American IBM or the Canadian Postal Service; we had Royal Post and now we have a big nothing that does not even deliver mail on time.”

I thought it was an interesting answer. It expresses a deep human sentiment – the need to be attached to national symbols, country. Even death has cultural ramifications. People want to have a reason to die; they do not want to die as cogs in some global machinery – needlessly, senselessly. What is your take on it? Are Australians similarly minded, or are they going to go to war to die for Starbucks, and dying for Starbucks or Amazon is the new truth, whereas pro patria mori to gain glory is “The old Lie?”

WC: I think my last answer anticipated this question somewhat. So, let me leap ahead again and address what I think is the really important aspect of your question. As you have gathered, I am not at all comfortable trying to speak about Australian-ness as if I were somehow a representative of it, or as if it were some sort of essence. Its meaning is very loose and mutable. And, as far as I can tell, in so far as it exists today, I think it is largely limited to the “somewheres,” though the “anywheres” might support their one national team in sports such as cricket, rugby, soccer, the Olympics, etc.

The following example is pertinent. Recently, a Christian rugby player (one of the few star players in our national team) lost his contract because he tweeted that liars, adulterers, drunkards, homosexuals and others were going to Hell and he called for them to repent. He had violated some ethical code that the sponsors (Qantas) had dreamed up. Of course, it was not the adulterers, liars, drunkards who were offended, but the gay lobby group. The country was deeply divided – and the irony was delicious.

Most of the “anywheres” wanted him sacked because what he said was “hateful,” yet few of them actually believe in “Hell;” most of those who supported him were “somewheres,” and many were not Christians, but simply did not like a corporation having so much power, and they also don’t like the idea of their jobs being reliant upon not being allowed to express their opinions.

The “anywheres” present themselves as defenders of the minorities and marginalized, which means they put gays, “people of colour” (so all non-whites can be treated as oppressed), and Muslims all in the same box. I very much doubt that if the rugby player had been Muslim, he would have lost his contract. It would have gone into the “too hard to deal with” basket.

The globalist or elite understanding of identity requires simplifications which fit the larger narration of their idea of a better world, and that is somehow (inanely) supposed to bring together (non-European, and non-Christian) traditions and culture with modern sexual freedom and gender (now non-binary) roles. But the more archaic understanding of identity was based upon more primordial aspects of collective suffering and sacrifice, founding and forming.

The ancients knew that life is sacrificial – and the ritual of sacrifice is a figurative display of one of the most primordial truths of human existence – collective life requires of people that they yield something of themselves to the collective, and each member plays a role – those roles are not equal, of course. How could they be?

Equality is abstract; our original divisions of labour are driven by real problems not abstract ones – someone must grow the food, someone must stop others from making raids, someone must pray that the gods support us, someone must judge and so forth. Each kind of sacrifice has a specific value, and pay-off – warriors have weapons and extract from the food supply, but they risk their lives; food producers have security but are vulnerable. Life is not a geometrical puzzle composed of equal parts.

ZJ: So are you saying that the pre-modern understanding of the sacrificial dimension of social life has been replaced by a more abstract understanding that makes life more manageable?

WC: Exactly. The abstract nature of modern appeals goes hand in hand with an approach to social life generating leaders/elites who have to justify their authority: they are moral paragons who know all that needs to be known, and they will “save” us all by educating us to think just like them. But who wants to sacrifice themselves for a world that is part Brave New World (sex/ drugs/ infantile distractions and self-absorption) and 1984 (complete conformity down to what one thinks or thought twenty years ago)?

The world that is supposed to be totally emancipated will become the most slavish society ever; and the irony is that it will do so largely because the modern elite have no understanding of the sacrificial nature of existence – for our contemporary ruling class, sacrifice always means oppression.

The archaic and pre-Westphalian “people” or nation was a collective formed across generations, in which roles enabled different groups to operate upon, and open up, different “fronts” of the real: it identified with a certain history and destiny, and hence is as apposite as it is for tribes, cities or empires.. The nation in this sense is a source of collective sustenance; and as such it commands sacrificial service. To be sure, because something is held together by its sacrifices does not mean that those sacrifices may not be in vain, nor that there was never cruelty, or “oppression.”

Let me also tie this together with the point you make about what the young may be willing to die for – not, say, Starbucks, or a bank. We know that humans are quite ready to throw their lives away for something they believe in. And as I said, people generally seem to need to serve something higher than themselves. For a lot of people today it is climate – and there is a faith in the earth as our mother; and if we but treat her well she will treat us well.

This is a good illustration of the polytheistic nature of the modern – but this is all concealed because we use what Vico identified as demotic, rather than poetic language. And hence we make issues around climate a matter of “science,” reinforced by ideology and mechanisms of political authority.

So, the way I see it is that it is the spiritual hunger that is driving the various progressive/utopian narratives – and these are, in turn, shored up institutionally and economically, so that those who learn the narratives and share the spirit will become the priests, and their narratives become the prayers that the rest of us are meant to live and swear by.

But those whose economic agency and social existence is not at all nourished by this god, and this priest-class, look back to what has provided nourishment from the past – and that is the more traditional forms of communal solidarity: family, workplace, church, and the nation. But, sadly, for them and perhaps for us all, the fracture is so great that I do not think repair is possible.

ZJ: Let me ask you a related question about death. Albert Camus wrote the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” which opens with a strange idea: There is one, and only one, philosophical problem – that is, suicide. I was always puzzled by it. Here is someone in the middle of the 20th-century, who claims that the entire effort of Western civilization was pointless unless it addressed this one question. Accordingly, only a few thinkers would qualify to do philosophy in this sense: Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, particularly his Dream of a Ridiculous Man. None of them, let’s note, figure in history of philosophy books.

Camus goes on to say that the question is whether it makes sense to go on living. In other words—Does life make sense? And he answers by saying that there are only two ways, of which the Don Quixote way is the only solution. What he means by it is that we have to invent sense. I like the Don Quixote metaphor. What happens in the novel is that Don Quixote wants to revive chivalry, an ancient, medieval way of life. He fights with windmills, glorifies a woman from low background by elevating her, in his imagination, to the status of a lady. Everybody is laughing, thinking that he has lost his mind, and to indulge him in his insanity; everybody plays the game. However, as they play the game, they get caught up in living in his world – the world of imagination.

One way of applying it to Camus is that only by elevating our status as human beings through imagination which creates values. Can we elevate ourselves without thinking about dying a senseless death? Do you think that what I said can be translated into contemporary social or political categories of national culture, patriotism, of defending oneself against the onslaught of globalist ideology, which leaves people helpless and contemplating death because they see nothing to live for? The suicide rate in the US went up 30 per cent or so in the last 10 years, and it is highest among young people.

WC: I love Camus – and it was very wise of him to make suicide a central issue, though the importance of collective suicide is something, I think, he addresses in The Rebel, a book I admire even more than the Myth of Sisyphus because it provides one of the most important diagnoses of the rise of totalitarian philosophies and politics.

At the heart of the book is the idea of metaphysical or cosmic rebellion, which I think is his greatest idea. Metaphysical rebellion is the defiance of life itself that involves resorting to absolutist abstract ends such as freedom, equality, justice, identity (the Nazis) which can never be actualized but which pull us ever further into violence and murder.

Camus compares this with rebels who make a pact to improve their specific lot and know that sacrifice and murder will be part of the deal – but in the knowledge of what they are doing, they bond together around the limit of their pursuit for overthrowing a specific group of people who are doing very specific acts of injustice. This is very different from someone saying that an entire system is unjust and that one must destroy the system/totality and replace it with a new one based upon perfect principles.

Metaphysical rebels – which is what the modern intelligentsia largely are – do not own up to their murderous incitements or deeds, and they find their absolution in the perfection of their ends which exist in such stark opposition to the world that they make.

I think it is also pertinent to your observation about Don Quixote. Cervantes is another great critic of modernity, who sees essential features of it and hence consequences for the modernization of humanity at the moment of modernity’s birth. His imagined world has a depth of meaning that the mundane world has lost – and it has lost it because it has sapped the inner resources of the imagination by constraining them in such a way that they are either directed to technique or technology, or entertainment and art.

Nietzsche saw the problem of nihilism, but he thought he could manufacture a myth that would make life for the strong worth living (“the eternal recurrence”). I think this is another symptom of the insane hybris of modern thinkers who think their scanty and threadbare ideas – their little bit of learning suffices to make a world (again, Descartes springs to mind, with the World being the title of his posthumously published magnum opus, though he limited himself to the natural world).

It would be a very good thing if people stopped revering intellectuals and operated from the basis that none of us know very much. One reason I like monotheism is that it accepts our need to divinize and serve, but also restricts it to one power. I am astounded, for example, by how little Marx and Nietzsche knew, compared, say, to Herder, who seems to have never stopped finding out stuff – not that I know that much, but my point is that none know that much compared to the infinite quantity of what there is to know.

ZJ: Since you mentioned Descartes, the question arises – his mechanical model of the world and man, his nature, whose operations can be explained in scientific terms, does not make room for values?

WC: Modern myths are really “make believe” and they are predicated upon conscious decisions. I think pre-modern myths work exactly in the opposite way, which is why pre-modern myths are so fecund and modern ones so narrow and limited in their social appeal. This also relates to the other part of your question about national culture and globalism. National culture was a name after it was a fact, or rather an amalgam of practices, commitments, processes, appeals, symbols etc. long before there was such a thing as “nationalism.”

Thus, it was that when nationalism became a coherent ideology, it required retrieving a past and its symbols as powers for intensifying the solidarity that was already there in a particular collective formation – people felt part of something before they gave a name to what they were doing and had been done. The nation was actual before there was nationalism; nationalism, though, was invoked to overthrow powers that could be identified as serving other national or imperial interests. (Of course, the modern nation and modern nationalism also introduced novel political elements which were part of the great transfer of power between political elites).

Typically today academics see something like the nation as a confirmation of their belief that societies are constructed – the presumption being that they can create/ construct the kind of society they want. I think they confuse what it is they are doing and want to achieve with what other people before them have done. They focus upon intention, and completely miss the vast array of world-making that simply happens and is neither conscious nor intended.

ZJ: Once, in our private conversation, you mentioned Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind. The Great Books Program, of which Bloom was a great defender goes back a hundred years. if I am not mistaken, Harvard University Press or the University of Chicago Press were the first to introduce a set of readings – books – that every American should read. The Great Books Program became a standard of education in the US.

Bloom’s Closing started a furious debate over Western civilization in the States. Even Jesse Jackson, not known for his learning of Western Classics, said, “hi, hi, ho, ho Western Culture’s got to go.” It’s gone. The consequence – serious education disappeared from American college campuses, which became a mecca of cultural barbarism.

Here are a few questions. What kept Americans together, what formed national glue, was the reading of Great Books—the European Classics, which kept them close to Europe in the 20th-century.

What kept, or still keeps Australians (culturally) together? How did you ensure the sense of European identity in Australia?

WC: Let me first say something about Great Books in general, their importance and Bloom, then the US and lastly Australia.

I have taught the great books ever since I started academic life. One course that I taught for many years at the University of Adelaide had the title, “Great Ideas of Western Civilization;” another “Great Ideas in Literary Texts.” (Though the problems that have come to light with Australian universities wanting to stop, or undermine, the attempt to introduce courses in Western Civilization by the Paul Ramsey Foundation, indicates that, in many campuses, I might not be able to run courses with such titles today).

The reason I taught these books is that for a book to be considered great, it has to have had a great impact. The greatest, say, the Bible, the Koran or the Iliad have been people/nation-forming. The next greatest have been human-type forming. And finally, less impactful, but still important, the genre or subject forming or developing. Socrates and Plato formed a new human-type (the philosopher). Of course, the Pre-Socratics are their precursors in this project. Aristotle does not do that, but he certainly improves and contributes to philosophical ideas in a “great” way: One simply cannot talk about the Middle Ages without talking about the Medieval university and scholasticism – and as soon as one talks of them, one must speak of Aristotle. For Aquinas, Aristotle was simply referred to as “the philosopher.”

A great book is not just a matter of quality. This is where I think Harold Bloom got it wildly wrong and why his book on the Western Canon ends up as a list that exponentially increases because there are more and more people writing and a lot of it is very good. In some cases, the literary quality of a great book may have nothing to do with its greatness. Goethe’s Faust is a great book in its depiction of the modern predicament. But as a work of literature it is terrible – poorly cobbled together (over a life-time), haphazard, and containing episodes of very uneven quality, ding-dong poetry, etc. But none of that matters. To be greatly crafted and even imagined does not mean a work is canonical.

While Harold Bloom makes too much of literary qualities when it comes to great or canonical works, Alan Bloom makes another kind of mistake – though he is so much better than most of his critics who were just ideologues. Alan Bloom (in this he is just like his teacher, Leo Strauss) treats the great books on the basis of their perennial character. Like Strauss, he detests relativism and historicism. I don’t want to go into the grain of the arguments concerning historicism. And as for relativism, I think it is just a very unhelpful word, and I am suspicious of the way that disputes, where the details matter, become cordoned off into an “-ism.”

But what Alan Bloom and Strauss (to those who read German, this pairing of teacher and student is pretty amusing) tend to do is make of their student homo perennial as well as the book. So, once they start engaging with Plato or Machiavelli or Rousseau, you also find yourself caught up in the American constitution as well as arguments that ultimately require you to give yourself over to how Alan Bloom or Strauss see the world, which is ostensibly very reasonable, and which ostensibly owes so much to Plato or whoever. All sense of “growth,” of collective engagement and lessons that transpire over time and across the ages, that arise from very different kinds of circumstances and ways of world-making is simply brushed aside as “historicism.”

I don’t like this at all, because I think their students are usually very weak in their ability to enter more closely into other worlds and deal with problems that are not their problems, but which if they took seriously might considerably broaden their horizons, and their imagination and their capacity for empathy as well as their appreciation of human and collective nature and development. I have always found Straussians somewhat like Marxists. Girard tends to attract similar types: they all think what they know is essentially what they need to know.

So, Great Books – yes, great. But their point – for readers of today – is not merely to draw us into one person’s take on the real – no matter how brilliant. Rather such works serve as entrances into worlds far beyond what we think we know. They are revelations, founding acts of creation, as well as entrances into the creation of a new “world.” And one must realize how much contestation is going on within them, and how they are an opening to a great array of circumstances and problems and points of view, and they do not spare us our own tribulations and need for resourcefulness. There is no human master whose feet we can sit at while supping forever off their words. Life is one great trial after another.

ZJ: How does it relate to Australia, your sense of identity, and can one claim, as Americans did, that identity can come from reading certain books?

WC: As for the US and Australia and great books, as far as I know, the curriculum in the Arts and Humanities in Australia (up until the 1980s and 1990s) generally included works that would also be considered great. At the same time, I think already in the 1920s and 1930s, a scientistic spirit had entered into the university as behaviourism, and positivism took hold of the social sciences. Philosophy was beginning to focus upon problem-solving and moving away from a knowledge of the history of its subject.

But it was really the 1960s politicization of the curricula that led to the disciplines and their founding/core texts (great books) undergoing such a transformation that the minds of the students who entered them were left in tatters, only glued together by ideology. The same process, more or less, happened in Australia.

I think the identity that was cultivated had far less to do with universities, which were for the relatively few, and far more to do with schools and churches, and also clubs and associations. Here the Bible mattered a lot. As for Plato or Rousseau, etc., not that much. I suspect, but am happy to be corrected on this, that Montesquieu and Locke mattered far more for the historic moment in which Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton et. al played their part (and because they are founders, their ideas and reading really matters) than in times when the creation, diffusion and variety of ideas and practices are implicated in events that don’t have overly much to do with humanities subjects in universities.

Indeed, my criticism of Alan Bloom and Strauss is apposite here, in trying to figure out the values and collective decisions that were important in the U.S. and Australia. In the second half of the nineteenth century, or much of the twentieth century, I would not be primarily looking to universities, certainly not primarily to the study of Plato, Hegel, etc. when thinking about the US or Australia but to larger events and more variegated narratives, and the insights of journalists, writers, clerics and other well read cultural figures: the cultural unity was not primarily philosophical because it was not an ideational/ ideological fabrication. The importance of the Bible I just mentioned confirms the point I wish to make: the Bible is not a book of “ideas” – indeed it confounds rational explications of human behaviour or ethics. It is a book of stories, events, mysteries, relationships, trials and failures, broken and kept promises, sin and redemption. It is a story, a love story between the Lord and His “servants,” told across many ages, involving many people and events – not a philosophy. It spawns countless interpretations because it is full of contingencies – which is the way life is; philosophies, on the other hand, smooth out contingencies to make them align to what we or someone can rationally think about them.

However, in the 1960s, I think this changes because there we can definitely recognize (a) that the rise of mass education will impact upon those who go into professions and (b) that the ideas which were part of the social revolution of the 1960s have gained increasing social traction – in part again because teachers, journalists, etc. go to universities where these are the narratives and ideas they get trained in. This also happens to occur at times when the other sites of social induction (the church and clubs and associations) decline in terms of influence.

So, the attack upon authority coming out of the universities, which then enters schools, newspapers, tv shows, movies, etc. changes the entire culture and aesthetics of appeal and value, and indeed the moral economy, so that now being hostile to tradition is affirmed by one’s grades, employment opportunities, moral status.

To put it bluntly, the destruction of national identity, which is common to the entire Western world, is a direct corollary of the creation of an elite group of educators that is essential for the social reproduction of professionals who are needed to run the private and public sector. It was this class that created the Russian revolution, and it is this class that is creating the global revolution. And in both cases what was being thrown away was the features of identity and solidarity that are not the results of elite manufacturing.

Unfortunately, our elites can only think in terms of elite manufacturing. This is our tragedy – that our social and economic dependencies are dependencies of destruction – conscious attempts to rip up ways of life in which many people still have a stake, and replace them with new ones in which the stakeholders are mainly paid for words, ideas, and enforcement of those words and ideas, and practices that fit them.

ZJ: Several years ago, the Polish philosopher, Ryszard Legutko, published The Demon in Demon in Democracy, the book you read and liked. It sold 16,000 copies within a year. It may not be Bloom’s million, but it is totally unprecedented. It was translated into German, French and Spanish. It provoked good reactions for the most part. How do you explain its success? What is it about Legutko’s book that explains why so many people read it?

WC: When Closing of the American Mind came out a lot of people could see there was a kind of madness coming out of higher education, especially, but by no means only, in the USA. That book gave an explanation for it, and it also offered hope that there was a better cultural way. Sadly, I think that way has no institutional support.

Having said that and perhaps to offset my pessimism, it is also the case that institutions are bearers of spirit, and spirits die; and then it is up to us to give birth to new institutions that better enable us to carry on across the times, as we gather and transfer our powers to future generations. So, what I am seeing in its destructive throes is also the occasion of new unpredicted responses and creative acts that may well help us outrun these diabolical stupidities of the modern mind and heart.

Legutko’s book, which I learnt about through Nick Capaldi, is about the diabolical nature of over-politicization and the tendency of that within democracies. One should bear in mind about democracies that they have never endured for very long; and that while they solve problems, they also create a problem for any class or group that wants its way. This is the problem being faced now – democracy is taught as a good thing and is defended by journalists, etc. until the moment when the electorate do not want what their elites – especially those who live off narrative formation, instruction, etc. – want.

The EU is the model of the Western post-democratic future, though it may just fall apart. Again, I think there are many people who agree with the diagnosis provided by Legutko of how liberal-democracy is proactive in forming a totalitarian mind-set – confirmed, of course, in practice, by the hostile student attempt to stop him speaking at Middlebury. Again, it only showed how desperate our ideas-brokers are to preserve really bad and fragile ideas.

ZJ: What I find surprising, and I do not say it to diminish the originality of Legutko’s book, is that we do not find anything shocking in the book, and yet it became a philosophical bestseller. When I read it, I thought, it is very good, persuasive, very well-written – but he says things that should be obvious to everyone. Yet he infuriated the professors and students in America, at Middlebury College, for example, to the point that his lecture had to be cancelled because the college could not guarantee his security.

Under Communism, we would have loved to hear a speaker who said things which were controversial. In today’s America, we shut down people who even dare to think differently. Is the situation in Australia the same?

WC: Identical! Again, it has to do with class rather than culture; or, more precisely, class can also affect culture. The Left thinks it is making such great strides in human emancipation when it is just ensuring that we are replaceable, that we are resources to be managed and directed by those who have the ambition to rule, manage, and control the future on the basis of their certitudes about the nature and purpose of life. This is why global corporations can, and indeed do, ally themselves with socialist or “woke” “radicals” and causes – BLM, Antifa, etc. Forgive me being bleak again – but this is why the faith I have in humanity comes from spontaneous, unpredictable acts of loving kindness, friendship, etc.

Those people who booed and shut down Legutko showed that they are the real enemies of creative freedom and are the enemies of a more convivial future. But they cannot see themselves. If, as they get older, and they wake up a little from their “wokeness” and look back upon what they have done, and if they have any spark of soul left, they will be ashamed of what they have done. The millennials are just re-enacting what my generation did some fifty years back; and so a number of us also look back in shame at our younger selves.

ZJ: Let me go back a bit. You do not have, and have never had a Great Books program; nor did the Canadians. Only Americans did. All three of you were former British colonies, yet only in America’s case was the national identity guaranteed by “pumping” European heritage into the students’ minds; not in Australia, not in Canada. How do you explain it? Is the presence of British heritage stronger there than in America? Or is it connected with the idea that the U.S. had become much earlier a country of immigrants from all over the world, rather than from Europe or Britain?

WC: As I mentioned, I did teach Great Books, and for a long time. Although people did not teach subjects called Great Books, parts at least of the curriculum of the BA was steeped in Great Books. English literature students studied Paradise Lost, some Shakespeare, Blake, etc. Philosophy students some Plato, or Hume and Locke, and so on. So, I think the kind of “pumping” process was occurring. But as I said earlier, I think, the Bible excepted (and even that spreads through rite and ritual), the cultural formation should not be understood solely through books.

The British heritage was strong in Australia – but not so much now, though the other cultural forces are more diffuse. But the American influence (music, television, film, books, ideas) is huge. I don’t want to segue too far into American identity, but I will just say that I think Americans tend to see the world as themselves writ large, and Australians also tend to do this. There is, in my opinion, too much blah-blah about identity. Where real identity exists, one often doesn’t talk about it; one just carries on a certain way. Where people insist upon identity for political gain, it is usually because they want to dictate how people with certain features or interests must behave. It is very self-serving, and has little to do with any reality. It is true that if one’s world is under threat, then identity may be important. Context matters – there is a big difference between identity being appealed to from the ground up to bind people together because they are genuinely under threat and are treated as identical by enemies wishing to harm them than an elite defining what constitutes an identity so that they can make clients and dependents of a group with certain common features.

ZJ: Americans are obsessed with their founding. Each year we have another book about the American Revolution, and how great it was that we separated. One of the myths is “persecution” and “freedom” – which from European and particularly British perspective, sounds strange. It was the dissenters – the troublemakers – who fled, colonized the continent and, as a distinguished English historian, Jonathan Clark, sees it, 1776 was the last war of religion, and the unfolding of European history in the New World.

This is not so in Australia (or Canada where the Royalists fled [and known as the United Empire Loyalists). You do not have the same national myths, and your relationship with your “mothership” does not seem so stormy. Where might such a difference come from? What is Australia’s relationship to Britain now?

WC: We were settled by convicts, though not South Australia. The Australian myth is one of rebellion, mistrust of, and refusal to kowtow to, authority. Our founding myth is the Anzac defeat at Gallipoli. We are a nation of losers, so to speak. But there is also a sense of betrayal by the mother-country, of us being sacrificed in a larger game which we did not control. The other part of the myth was the Outback. But Australians largely live on the coast and most are urban dwellers.

Now the tertiary educated, who dominate our ideational narratives, see Britain as a colonial power wreaking destruction on the world, so we should distance ourselves from it. (They are so historically ignorant that they do not see the relationship between resource competition, the scale of territorial power, military conquests and alliances, the need to find resources to maintain military power, and hence the logic of empire as expansionary but also cross-cultural).

Thus, we went from having a bit of a chip on our shoulder about the British, to seeing ourselves as their moral betters – though we still have bits of shame and guilt to pour on ourselves with respect to the treatment of indigenous people. Given that the British, like the Americans, are also caught up in their own guilt and past shame, this too is a more global phenomenon within the West – Chinese and Muslims certainly are not using their own sense of shame as a means of moral, economic and institutional opportunity or gain. What matters for them is pride in their past – and their shame comes from the power they have lost, not the power they inherited!

Our old myths really have little leverage in Australia today. And all myths to the contrary, we are, in fact, a terribly bureaucratic country. The urban/regional split also means that those Australians who are more like the mythical Australian (laconic, irreverent, more given to practical action than talking) tend to be seen as stupid by urban Australians.

One only has to tune into our national public broadcaster to see that our tertiary educated urban population are a nation of groupthink. Try questioning climate change in any public forum, or within a university – good luck! So, we are a torn country. Presently, many argue we should not celebrate Australia Day because it is celebrating conquest, if not outright genocide. Our professional classes are as given to moral absolutes and hyperbole as the Americans and other Western European professional classes – on very similar issues. Once again, it is symptomatic of the globalisation of industry and ideas, and the divide between the old national members and the new globalized elites.

ZJ: Let me recall a historical fact that few people remember or know of. In 1975, the Australian Parliament got dissolved by the British Queen because it suffered from gridlock. In other words, it became dysfunctional. We cannot do this in the US. In fact, we cannot do it anywhere with full democracy. In your case, it worked and it proved that a mechanism like that is needed because a parliament or congress cannot dismiss itself. Monarchy – however limited – seems to work. Look at Brexit… Parliament is helpless.

WC: Well, in that instance, it was the Queen’s representative that broke the gridlock. Many still call this a constitutional crisis, even though the election quickly followed the sacking of the elected Prime Minister. In a sense you have answered your own question. Britain is a monarchy; but parliament is helpless in times of a crisis. A political system is ultimately only as good as the political culture which sustains it. Thus, our crises are cultural crises played out within systems – and tearing them apart. A system does have a fair amount of cultural capital stored within its practices, but that cannot last forever where the wills of its opponents are powerful and unified.

It is probably obvious from the answers I have already given that I think Western democracies are in serious trouble. There are structural and cultural aspects of that crisis. Structurally, the crisis has come about through the elevation of a class who see themselves – and indeed have become – global and national leaders. They are like Nietzsche’s higher men – except they actually achieve their elevation by deploying narratives of equality and identity, narratives Nietzsche associated with the herd.

This is actually cleverer than Nietzsche (and it is not even the kind of clever that was consciously decided; rather, it is clever in terms of the interests it unifies through self-serving decisions), because Nietzsche failed to realize that the new elite would need to be seen to be serving the mass, even if they were creating a scaffold for their own in-breeding (the elites don’t generally marry down) and taste.

ZJ: 1492 – for centuries now, the date was associated with Columbus’ discovery of America. Today, in the US, it means genocide! Genocide of the Indians. Several cities in the U.S., including Washington DC this year, renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. You, as Australian, probably have views on the question. But before I let you answer, let me make a few remarks.

First, even if one would grant some validity to the objection, the problem is of judging the past by the standards of today. Second, it is a childish way of looking at history, thinking that it would have been good, but bad people made it evil, which is a demonstration of lack of knowledge as to what happened everywhere; that people would conquer other lands; and, as the philosopher you know well, Hegel, said, history is a slaughter bench on which millions have been sacrificed. This is not to say that we should continue slaughtering each other, but since it was a mechanism of history, people who claim it was genocide, do not seem to know how anything operates.

WC: This is exactly the problem. A knowledge of history that also takes into account social formation and transformation, and where conflict and resource competition fits into the picture, should cure people of utopian idealism – though there are plenty of historians who still read history as if they were God presiding over the Day of Judgment, and hence relate history as if history were a morality tale, and that its actors could and should have done differently.

History is neither a metaphysical nor a moral problem, but the accumulated experiences of decisions, actions and circumstances that have created the world we have to dwell in. What we also know is that our political moralists of today have what they have because of their history – which is our history.

To want to create a better world may be admirable, but one cannot forget that one is part of a world in which sacrifice, strife, competition for resources and group survival were primarily existential choices, not purely moral ones. This is as much the story of the ancients, of tribes, cities and empires, as it is of the moderns with our civil and world wars.

But genuine social betterment requires genuine alignments of solidarity, common loves and commitments, not the enforcement of principles and ideas. Having an idea that humans are basically good, or that we actually have rights that were not derived out of political and social experience, or that we can just apply a set of axioms about human behaviour, is the opposite of helpful. We have to work on the little bit of reality before us; and if we do not see forces that threaten to extinguish a group as we are focussed only upon our ideals, then we will go under.

ZJ: A few years ago, in Vienna, where there was a monument dedicated to the Polish king, John III Sobieski, who stopped the Turkish forces from invading Europe, in 1688. It was desecrated and a sign attached: “Genocide.” The king who was celebrated as defending Europe from Muslim invasion stands condemned for the very same reason – as the defender of the West, just like Columbus, stands condemned for bringing the West to the New World. Do you see a similarity, and what exactly, in your opinion, stands behind the two so different occurrences?

WC: When Columbus first arrived in the Bahamas, he thought he had found a new world free from violence. He quickly learnt otherwise. The idea that the Europeans created violence in the new world is a fantasy. Think, for example, of how the enemies of the Aztecs assisted Cortes. That Europeans brought a new kind of havoc that had really terrible consequences for the indigenous peoples of the “New World” is not something I dispute. I simply note that imperialism is a very ancient modality of social and political organization, and that scale and technology matter.

In part, though, I do see the hostility to certain founding myths as a fair enough response – up to a point. That is, the 1960s generation and their more left-leaning professors from a previous generation were not wrong to expose peaceful foundational myths as untrue. But this does not mean that the “New World” did not have its own survival strategies in which violence was a common enough occurrence.

I would also qualify this by saying where resources are spread widely and groups are small enough and can stay out of each other’s way, then it may be avoidable – at least up to a point. But anthropological finds of grave sites do indicate how common violent death generally was amongst tribes. The city and the empire are also, in part, a means for walling out violence. But, of course, as groups grow and empires subsist alongside each other, violence again enters into the picture on an even larger scale.

The problem is not that we should not be honest about conquest and violence – and once the United States was formed and the land expansion drove out the native Americans in the 19th-century, it was really shocking, though not altogether unlike how other tribes within antiquity had acquired land. A case can be made that, had the U.S. remained under the British crown, its history may have been far less bloody.

Of course, counterfactual history is only partially helpful. But that so many Western educated people believe that the West was somehow unique in its deployment of violence for securing territory and resources is silly – and, I repeat, making moral judgments about the past is meaningless, especially when the people making them are the beneficiaries of the bloody deeds that are their own history: What was unique was the technology and accompanying systems of commerce and administration which created greater opportunities for power enhancement and expansion.

But the idea, to take your second example, that Islam was not an imperializing enterprise from the very beginning, or that Muslims were pacifists and innocents, and Christian nations uniquely imperial, is historically mad (those poor Turks attacking Vienna!). But once you simply treat Muslims as a minority, you will project all sorts of virtues onto a group because they suit the narrative that you live off of and define your place in the world by.

Likewise, those Muslims who have aspirations to really fulfill the injunction to bring the world to peace through all submitting to Allah, will gladly support this narrative, and will gladly represent themselves as victims of genocide in Vienna, as if they were in solidarity with native Americans, whose people were subject to genocidal levels of violence. But, unlike the Westerners who fall for this, they at least know what they are doing.

ZJ: Given the logic of the genocide argument, we should conclude that neither conquest nor colonization should have ever happened – which means, no Persian Empire, no Greek colonization, no Roman Empire, no Mongol, Ottoman, British, Portuguese, French, Spanish Empires. What I have enumerated is only a tiny portion of what history looked like, which does not give much support for politically correct claims and visions of history, let alone human nature. But given all the PC activists’ ignorance of history, the question emerges: Does PC behaviour stem from ignorance or something else?

WC: I think I have already made clear what I think about PC anthropology. It is, as others have rightly labelled it, “Disneyfication.” As you know I am a great admirer of J.G. Herder, who unfortunately is usually just viewed as a “romantic,” when he is a complicated and a very profound thinker.

Herder made the point (one which you can also find in Augustine) that a group’s survival depends upon it having something lovable about its world. So, just as I cannot accept the romantic view of indigenous life, a life that like all social forms, has strict and often brutal means of enforcing group survival,

I do not deny that it was a dwelling place on earth with its own rewards and sacrifices. Hence, too, I also do not want to underestimate the cost of civilization. Our conversation is largely about the sacrificial component of civilization and how precarious our circumstances are right now.

And, as much as I disagree with the liberal-progressive view of life, I also acknowledge that it exists because of all manner of problems (including the last World War) which provided the backdrop for people wanting to “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine” a better world. So, I think, one may well have important discussions about different life-ways; and what is won and lost as one world is destroyed.

Now the indigenous worlds were destroyed because they had found ways to survive that ultimately (and I do not mean this in any disparaging way) curtailed the need for the kind of human inventiveness that developed with empires, and at their most sophisticated levels with the crucible of the West and its wars and revolutions.

I have said it many times now: Inventiveness is forged in the furnaces of war and horror, which is as true for the scientific revolution as for the formation of the modern nation state. The experience of the West was such that one crisis after another led to a certain kind of “advancement” – specifically, technological, administrative, socioeconomic and even political.

Fortunate were those (at least relatively) who could stave this off, until, that is, they found themselves in competition with outsiders over their resources. History cannot be unmade, and so any strategy of solving our problems which requires cultural romanticism is doomed to fail. Worst of all, it condemns the living to a lost past, so that they themselves become like ghosts and more like pieces in the imaginations of those who wish to dictate their own narratives and future for the living.

Culture, like everything else, is not an essence but an adaptive process. So, pretending that the powers of the modern world can be simply blocked out by a romantic retreat is to condemn people to powerlessness in their world. Although policy and public narrative commonly romanticize the past, imagine a government that said: “Sorry we did wrong, so what we will do is give you back a vast amount of territory, then build a fence, and leave you alone. No phones, cars, roads, hospitals, medical supplies, TVs or anything else that modernity has made will be available to you. You are free to return to a past world. We will not mine there or allow any of our people to enter. But once you go back you are not allowed to return.”

Can you imagine the outcry of indignation? Being in a world comes with a price. Our freedoms come at the cost of widespread depression, anomie, ennui, isolation, medication, infantilism, and so many other afflictions, including romanticism and utopianism and their institutional ensconcement.

The reason I am an Augustinian when it comes to human nature is that we all live off the violence and crimes – the sins – of our forefathers. Real dialogue is impossible, if we start with a mythic idealisation.

ZJ: Are the contemporary problems of the USA, Canada, Australia those that the Britishness of those countries created, by which I mean Protestant religion, common language. Again, to be clear, many of the problems that feminists see, such as the use of pronouns (he and she) are laughable from the point of view of someone who knows languages and knows that gender (masculine, feminine and neuter) is grammatical; it is not social categories. But in the English-speaking world, precisely because English no longer uses gender in its grammar, these problems have been created, which could not have sprung-up elsewhere. Yet, these English-language problems, because of American dominance, have become global problems.

WC: I think it is Europeanness rather than Britishness (and I would refer you to one of my favourite books, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s Die europäischen Revolutionen und der Charakter der Nationen – a different version of that book for an American audience was, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man.

If I think of the suicidal tendencies within the West today, it seems to me that they do come out of the appeals to freedom and social equality that are the outgrowth of the European experience and responses to their circumstances, including, perhaps most significantly, wars and revolutions.

That the European experience is predicated upon Christian culture, as well other sociological and geopolitical contingencies, seems to me very obvious. Calvinism, in particular, though not of British influence plays a decisive role in helping shape what will become modern republicanism. It will also play an important role in generating a moral and aesthetic orientation to personal and social life that will then become secularised.

I really like John Cuddihy’s book on the Calvinist influences upon the USA, No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste. A certain sensibility, which combines a sense of (divine/ moral) election, the overcoming of all evil, the doctrinal (moral) transparency of all souls within the community (see, Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America) has prevailed within our elites (and this is as much the case in Canada, the UK, Australia, as the USA) – which is manifestly Calvinist in original form. but with the kind of content that comes out of the atheistic socialistic, progressive mind of the nineteenth-century.

This sensibility simultaneously combines guilt and a desire for the “kingdom.” So, without Christianity, it is pretty impossible to imagine this modern elite and our narratives of emancipation. But they are also anti-Christian and heretical, diabolical even – total faith in human knowledge, the human will, and the self/identity. The Islamists, the Chinese, the Russians, etc. think the West is killing itself. That is what I fear as well – and I hope I am completely wrong.

ZJ. Thank you so much for this conversation, Professor Cristaudo!

The image shows, “1807, Friedland,” by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonie, painted 1861-1875.

Notes From The End Of Philosophy

Rémi Brague, in Anchors in Heaven: The Metaphysical Infrastructure of Human Life, is concerned with what has become a central question in prosperous Western societies: Should we have children? If the human species should go on existing (which is taken for granted in the book), what assumptions are required for us to keep it going?

This question becomes all the more urgent as we witness what Aron called the demographic suicide of Europe. Implicit in the latter concern is the suicide of European culture as opposed to Islamic families in Europe for whom this is apparently not an issue. This seems, as we shall see, to be a special problem for Western intellectuals.

One can offer many causes for this demographic suicide, but Brague is not interested in causes but in reasons. That is, he is interested in the philosophical rationales for not procreating that have appeared throughout the history of philosophy but which have intensified since the 19th-century vogue for nihilism.

Brague seeks to understand how philosophy could have evolved into this morass. In his short book, he launches into an impressive philosophical tour-de-force that will make quite a few demands on the reader. The subtitle of the book is “The Metaphysical Infrastructure of Human Life.” As I understand his account, metaphysics evolved into the central issue of “being,” or a concern with the fundamental truths.

While “Being” in classical and medieval thought was originally focused on the world as a whole, modern philosophy (Descartes onwards) changed the focus to how we come to know being, the “truth” about being, or a shift to epistemology. This evolved even further with Kant into a concern for the “human being” or knower. In the 19th-century, it became even more clear that the knower actually projects meaning or truth onto the world and this projection has both a history and many varieties. This led in turn to the question of whether what we project is “good?” Unfortunately, we no longer had any reference point for answering this question. It was a short step from this to the conclusion that there is no way of anchoring the “good.”

Philosophically, “life” had lost its meaning. Further elucidation did not help. While we might no longer fear death, we might fear the losing of our life. But even this fear does not amount to an argument for “giving” life in the act of procreation or “sacrificing” one’s life for someone else’s life. We might love (enjoy) living but this does not entail that we should love giving life. In fact, armed with a little bit of philosophical nihilism we might justify wallowing in what Nietzsche described as the life of the “last man,” focused only on personal pleasure.

What is required is a new kind of reason to give life. Once more returning to the philosophical tradition, Brague references those thinkers like Mirandola who saw that free will (not reason) is what was unique to humanity. Brague maintains that this makes preserving freedom an end-in-itself; and that, given our personal finitude, giving life to others (or sacrificing for others) through procreation is or should be our highest aspiration. In this, he claims to have established “The Anchors in the Heavens.”

Brague’s scholarship is impeccable and wide-ranging. One cannot but agree with his identification and formulation of the issue. In addition, I would subscribe personally and whole-heartedly to his conclusion that what distinguishes us is our free-will, that freedom is an end in itself, and we should give life to others. In what follows I want to arrive at the same conclusions by a slightly different route. I note with approval Brague’s referencing literary figures and others outside of the narrow field of philosophy.

What follows might seem like a lengthy digression, but the capacity of intellectuals to muddy the waters (this does not apply to Brague) seems to be without limits. The field of philosophy itself contributes to the problem.

The Troubles With Philosophy

I maintain that professional philosophy is an obstacle to understanding. I shall offer three arguments. The first is that a careful study of the history of so-called “philosophy” will show that philosophy has defined itself out of existence. Second, one major strand of contemporary philosophy, analytic philosophy, appeals to science in such a way that to do so is to allow science to engage in the assisted suicide of philosophy. Finally, the other major strand of contemporary philosophy, Continental philosophy, has reduced philosophy to mindless advocacy.

One of Brague’s earliest, and to me, most important points is terminological. “Metaphysics,” which is supposed to be the most fundamental part of philosophy, was originally, in classical Greek, ta meta ta physika, the title of one particular book or collection of Aristotle’s lectures. It is not a term from Plato or any earlier thinker. The expression might mean “after” or “before” the book entitled “physics.” It is not clear whether this was a name given by a librarian to identify the position of a “book” on a shelf, or perhaps meant to be read before the “physics” and therefore somehow more fundamental. A version of the expression appears in the third century Greek and in Arabic in the ninth century. The expression becomes a noun “metaphysics” in a twelfth-century translation into Latin, and its history continues thereafter.

I think a similar account can be given of the term “philosophy” itself. Is it a kind of book, a noun, an adjective, or a discipline? There is no continuous and unambiguous history of the discipline of “philosophy.” You would look in vain for an entry on “philosophy” in a contemporary dictionary of philosophy, or an encyclopedia of philosophy. To be sure, there is an Academic discipline called “philosophy,” but you would be hard-pressed to distinguish among “philosophers,” “teachers” of philosophy or “historians” of philosophy. Likewise, there are people called astrologers, books on astrology, etc., people who are paid to cast horoscopes as well as offer advice and make predictions. But, unfortunately, there is no connection between the positions of heavenly bodies and human destiny.

What does the History of “Philosophy” show us? In the beginning, no distinction was made among intellectual disciplines. One popular formulation of the differences (Frankfort) has been among three things:

Mythopoeic thought > Hebrew monotheism > Greek Philosophy (world explains itself).

Among the latter, Plato and Aristotle (responsible for two perennial but alternative modes of thought) have been the most influential, down to the present. Aristotle offered a history leading up to him; such teleological accounts keep reappearing depending upon who the historian is. This makes the history of philosophy and philosophy itself all about “me.” An important feature of this kind of history is the assumption that the same principles explain both the non-human and the human world.

An important transition occurred with the advent of modernity (Descartes to Kant), the recognition that meaning is something human beings project onto the world. Copernicanism upends the whole tradition – knowledge = how human beings understand the world. How we understand ourselves is fundamental; how we understand the non-human world is derivative.

Within the foregoing framework, the seventeenth-century introduced the distinction between natural philosophy (non-human world) and moral philosophy (human world). In the eighteenth-century, the human world became more complicated, as it was recognized that how we understand ourselves obviously has an historical dimension. This raises the current ongoing issue of relativism.

Hegel was, officially, the last philosopher to put it all together, specifically by making the knower and the known identical and by recognizing the historical nature of the whole. Hegel also recognized that the arts, religion, and philosophy were all different ways of expressing the same truth. It was now not clear what philosophy could be hereafter except a limited canon with some pretentious terminology. Some writers (Fukuyama on Kojeve) have interpreted Hegel so that liberal societies are the end of all history. Apparently, nobody has informed the Chinese about this.

Philosophy came to an end with Hegel. This is not meant either to praise or bury Hegel but to call attention to a discipline now without a role. It is my hope that this will also shed some light on the waste in the contemporary intellectual landscape. Nor is this meant to delegitimize everything done by people now associated with this “passé” discipline. Anybody in any discipline, who attempts to clarify concepts, identify basic presuppositions, and discuss the origin, history and evolution of our conceptual framework can be said to be doing philosophy.

Moral philosophy has subsequently evolved into myriad disciplines, known as the so-called “social sciences.” Here, the dance begins to repeat itself. Some understand the model of all science to be mathematics or physics; others prefer biological models; still others insist that the “social” sciences are not really sciences but either sui generis or ideologies masquerading as science.

Psychology, for example, claims to be the science of how we understand ourselves; but psychologists are split among those who think such a “science” is either “mechanical” (physics is the model), “organic” (biology is the model), or sui generis. If psychology is some kind of hard science, as analytic philosophers maintain, then philosophy has just defined itself out of existence. Philosophy can be no more than an account of the methodology and history of science, something done in other disciplines. What does philosophy mean now that it is not a separate discipline or subject matter?

Those who understand that the human/social world is sui generis, for example, Hayek, point out that both Hume and Kant saw that science rests upon values that cannot be scientifically certified. Some other kind of understanding is necessary. The best example of someone who makes this case today is Wayne Cristaudo in his recent (2020) book Idolizing the Idea. Philosophy is not about eternal truths. The proper role of philosophy is not to answer questions which require all sorts of extra-philosophical knowledge, but to question the questions that lead our inquiries about ourselves. In order to do this adequately requires a hermeneutical, dialogical, and anthropological approach.

The contemporary alternative to analytic philosophy is Continental philosophy (structuralism, deconstruction, postmodernism, etc.) They are all philosophies of anti-domination and limitless freedom. These too suffer from the failure to understand how the world came to be the way it is and why it is the way it is. Both major movements have become a major source of social ill, folly, and division.

Nicholas Capaldi, a Legendre-Soule Distinguished professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, USA, is the author of two books on David Hume, The Enlightenment Project in Analytic Conversation, biography of John Stuart Mill, Liberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rosseau to the Present, and, most recently, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The image shows Frenzied Woman by Odd Nerdrum, painted 2005-2007.

Nicolás Gómez Dávila: An Authentic Reactionary’s Critique of Modernity

I.

The philosophical, political, and theological thought of Don Nicolás Gómez Dávila (Bogotá, 1913 – 1994), perhaps one of the few authentic reactionaries of our time, rises as a reaction – and a most authentic one – to an intellectual, religious and aesthetic crisis whose invariably dire consequences form the heart of his overwhelming critical discourse: That crisis is that of the twentieth-century, with all that it implies.

All of Dávila’s work is a serious and passionate attempt to root out some cursed codes that have upset the immutable essence of the human, down through the centuries (and, by extension, the essence of the divine). But at the same time, his work establishes a solid, intellectual alternative to the inanity of our present era.

Unfinished philosopher, or consistent thinker who renounced the fatuous pretense of getting on the pulpit of philosophical pontification, Dávila never finished – that is, in writing – a philosophical system properly speaking, if he even sought to make such a claim, which would not have ceased to be ironic in a thinker of his stature and clairvoyance, for there is nothing dogmatic or conclusive in his work, if read intelligently. It is simply lucid.

Like Nietzsche, like the best of Cioran, he resorted to the ingenious and flammable spark of the aphorism, capable of setting fire to the largest surface only with its friction. But instead of calling such outbreaks of genius aphorisms, he called them scholia (escolios), thus approaching Spinoza.

Though a thinker in fragments, Dávila offers, on the contrary, a philosophical discourse of absolute coherence and integrity, whose intellectual depth and paradoxical acuity is unparalleled among philosophers and thinkers in the area of contemporary Hispanicism (both in Spain and in Spanish America). His references, on the other hand, leave no room for doubt about the depth of thought that pervades his discourse: Thucydides, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Montaigne, Juan Donoso Cortés, Jacob Burkhardt, are some of his distinguished professed teachers.

A miniaturist of language rather than a writer, a thinker rather than a scholar, and an artist of words; better than a mere philosopher, Dávila exemplified, with his illustrious reactionary position, one of the most notable, coherent and fortunate examples of ethical, aesthetic dignity and, if you will, spiritual dignity to be remembered.

Ignored for decades, his silent and monastic life, removed from the madding crowd, from the petty intellectual environments, from the miserable academic trivialities, went far beyond such conventions – his repeated refusal to publish and rub shoulders with power; his greatness of mind and keen sense of duty towards one’s own self, led him to make of his existence a true aesthetic exercise, and that of an “authentic reactionary.”

Secluded in his mansion, within the walls of a fabulous library of thirty thousand volumes, he took advantage of being well-off and devoted his life entirely to the complex exercise of thought. The most visible result of such efforts was his magnum opus, recovered for our benefit today, thanks to the effort, it must be said, of people like Ernst Jünger, Botho Strauss or Franco Volpi, among other enthusiasts – and which, under the title of Escolios a un texto implícito (Scholia to an Implicit Text ), heralds one of the most prodigious, valuable and imperishable examples of the effort of human thought during the 20th-century.

If the “heart” of Dávila’s work is his Escolios, then the “brain” in his Textos – a strange but effective comparison: What the Escolios forcefully feel (the incendiary jolt of the aphorism), the Textos reason through (the discursive continuity of the prose). A satellite accessory for some, Textos I carries in its pages the “key” stone of construction; that is, the enigmatic implicit text, the standard of future battles. But that is how one of his best readers, Francisco Pizano de Brigard, saw this work – and as far as we are concerned, we will stick with this option, which is very well justified – for where else can we turn? To the Notes, those conclusive sketches? To the fragmentary Escolios, despite their fullness? Is it worth the redundancy, the fragmentariness? Or perhaps the marginal texts, such as, the article entitled “The Authentic Reactionary,” or the one entitled, “De jure,” which remains inaccessible? In the absence of an “obvious” philosophical text, or even that which is simply obvious, we will take the aforementioned implicit text as the starting point for our precarious, well-intentioned exposition. So, let’s get into the matter.

The first idea may seem simple to a reader wearied by established ideologies: Capitalism and communism have a similar goal in common. They are different masks that cover, therefore, the same face: The nature of man (displaced to the political realm). A broken dialogue, therefore, between two democracies, whose mimicry becomes a forced conflict: The bourgeois and the popular, eternal rivals: “If communism points out the economic contradictions (the alienation of man, abstract freedom, legal equality) of bourgeois societies – capitalism underlines, in parallel, the inefficiency of the economy, the totalitarian absorption of the individual, political slavery, the reestablishment of real inequality in communist societies.”

In effect, Dávila does not seem to take a position on either one side or the other, even though the biased reader may consider him prone “to the right, and even to the extreme right.” Big mistake: The author’s reactionary discourse, extremely lucid, and part of the contradiction that directs communism and capitalism towards supposedly antagonistic goals – when, in fact, their goal is the same: Property, an obstacle for the former, a stimulus for the latter, without assuming otherwise: Ownership after all.

Bourgeois ideologies and ideologies of the proletariat consequently rush towards the same common hope: Man – “If communism denounces the bourgeois fraud, and capitalism the communist deception, both are historical mutants of the democratic principle, both yearn for a society where man is, in short, lord of his destiny.”

The theological, political, cultural reading of Dávila thus ratifies democracy as an anthropotheistic religion; a theology of the man-god is thus categorized: “The divinity that democracy attributes to man is not a figure of rhetoric, a poetic image, an innocent hyperbole, in short – but a strict theological definition” – a theological definition inherent in the perverted nature of the modern, whose essential corruption is nothing but an unspeakable product of the fixed idea of the discourse of modernity: Progress.

Progress, which is theodicy of futuristic anthropotheism, otherwise justifies all the atrocities of man in the name of the progress of humanity. The process of progressive improvement cancels the time of man and restores the no-time of man-god. It is mechanistic and industrial orgy, which disrupts the useless human effort in the tedious transformation of matter. It is filthy monologue, which sacrifices perishable existences to its own ends in the name of the fixed idea, thus banishing the supreme value from itself, because as Dávila poetically affirms:

“Life is a value.
To live is to choose life.”

Consequently, it thus becomes a theory of values which rests on two filial concepts: Atheism and progress, in need of an adequately emphatic rhetoric to penetrate deep among their potential victims.

The mere play of matter thus implies a universal determinism whose product is none other than a rigid universe, emptied of all possibility, where the cult of technology is the verb of the man-god, the principle of the sovereignty of the modern state.

Even so, the democratic era, and with it, economic development that is inherent to it, has money as the only universal value, its first and last reason: “Money is the only universal value that the pure democrat abides by, because it symbolizes a useful piece of nature, and because its acquisition is assignable to human effort alone. The cult of work, with which man flatters himself, is the engine of the capitalist economy; and the disdain for hereditary wealth, for the traditional authority of a name, for the gratuitous gifts of intelligence or beauty, expresses the puritanism that condemns, with pride, what the effort of man does not grant itself.”

This terrifying fact degenerates, therefore, into economic robbery and petty individualism, generators of ethical indifference and intellectual anarchism that dominate the modern world.

Faced with such detritus, the only path that Dávila clings to is that of reactionary rebellion. His great work, Escolios, is about such a quixotic undertaking, an implicit text, putting into practice reactionary rebellion through his most powerful weapon: The word.

II.

Entering the immense garden of the Escolios – a Versailles on paper – is an arduous undertaking, although stimulating over time: Tasting its fruits, savoring them for the right time and extracting the nutritious pulp from them – that is, something that is not empty didacticism. But it will become a fruitful task of enlightened pleasure for the intelligent reader. In this sense, Scholia to an Implicit Text is a healthy elitist work, against the current, and very politically incorrect, aimed at reactionary minorities; or, failing that, at awakened minds whose thinking does not gravitate around the state of predetermined ideas.

But what an effort to synthesize – if something like that can even be done, to further synthesize the essence of the rose – would go far beyond the narrow margins that we have imposed on ourselves. Even so, Dávila’s thematic ambition transcends the heterogeneous and shapeless mélange, while advancing a compact mass, more or less consistent, and capable of standing up to a hypothetical attempt at analysis.

But as we say, it is that thematic ambition, that looking from various points of view through a gaze that is neither Manichean nor tendentious, which allows its author to carry out, in a subtle and distanced way, the most brilliant critical x-ray of modernity: Democracy, the nature of the politician, the essence of communism, the Marxist problematic, the Left and the Right, technology, liberalism, the idea of progress, life and death in modern society, art and literature, God and religion, the modern Church, culture, atheism, the bourgeoisie, the work of the historian, intelligence, youth, mediocrity, sex, Sade, Plato or Nietzsche, as well as the privileged figure of the reactionary, among many other philosophical questions of the first order appear and reappear like recurring milestones, closely linked to each other by a fine chain of ideas. Such accumulation, on the contrary, does not degenerate into a string of tedious evidence of a graphomaniac charlatan, but rather into a disturbing problem not without acute paradoxes. This makes Scholia to an Implicit Text a river-like book, always in motion, capable of tackling a profound (in the real sense of the word) question anywhere, without betraying its ultimate meaning.

Of course, one of the most violent and effective criticisms, which is not really effective, despite its abrupt reiteration, is that carried out against democracy, a democracy understood not in the abstract, but empirically in the light of facts, and therefore as fraud, as effective apotheosis of the dominant mediocrity: “The bigger a democratic country, the more mediocre its rulers have to be: They are elected by more people.” And these mass rulers are none other than politicians, obviously: “Politicians, in democracy, are the condensers of imbecility.” Imbecility inherent in the crowds themselves and the basis of the politician’s explicit speech: “The democrat only respects the opinion that a large choir applauds.”

This unquestionable statement the author rethinks throughout his discourse, with historical considerations: “Democratic killings belong to the logic of the system. The ancient massacres of man’s illogism;” and from this, the following scholium: “Democracy celebrates the cult of humanity on a pyramid of skulls.” Recently updated pyramid: A concert-tribute to the victims of terrorism? A commemorative statue for a certain defender of democracy? In the name of democracy… But what exactly does democracy play out, play at?

Dávila does not hesitate to point with his pen to the main subject, a subject annihilated at the root: The stupid or the insane, depending on the times: “Democracy, in times of peace, has no more fervent supporter than the stupid, nor in times of revolution a collaborator more active than the madman.” And to give consistency to his thesis, Dávila only has to look to the past: “Athenian democracy does not inspire, except those who ignore the Greek historians.” The colossal figure of Thucydides, once again, strides forth to meet him.

In the midst of this abject masquerade that is modern democracy, the parodic figure of the politician is reduced to his most apt, creeping position: “The politician may not be able to think any stupidity, but he is always capable of saying it,” because ultimately , even “the ‘politician’ with the most delicate conscience barely manages to be a modest whore.”

An impassive critic of both the right and the left, as a genuine reactionary, Dávila throws some of his sharpest, sarcastic darts at the left: “The leftist miraculously avoids stepping on the calluses of the authentically powerful. The leftist only vilifies the simulacra of power.” Dávila concludes that in any case “leftism is the banner under which the bourgeois mentality of the nineteenth-century maintains its hegemony into the twentieth.” But, in the end, “the left and the right have signed, against the reactionary, a secret pact of perpetual aggression.”

The critique of democracy thus finds a point of equilibrium in the critique of Marxism, whose illustrious exposition, once again, clings to historical-economic reasons, drawn even from the most prosaic daily life: “Marxists economically define the bourgeoisie, to hide from us that they belong to the bourgeoisie.” But his criticism does not end in the petty contradictions of the mundane, since as a current of thought, “Marxism did not take a seat in the history of philosophy thanks to its philosophical teachings, but thanks to its political successes.” Only a certain exception is allowed with the very promoter of the pseudoscience of yore: “Marx has been the only Marxist that Marxism did not abominate.”

After these brilliant meanderings, the reactionary attack on modern society manifests everywhere, like a constant leitmotif, a kind of insect – of an invertebrate idea – that never ceases to whine behind Dávila’s ear, even within the walls of his aristocratic library, there where he feels farthest from that despicable and sordid society composed of a violently homogeneous mob: “The anonymity of the modern city is as intolerable as the familiarity of current customs. Life should resemble a room of well-educated people, where everyone knows each other but where no one embraces.” The very product of that crude and democratic society, “the modern man tries to elaborate with lust, violence and vileness, the innocence of a hellish paradise.”

It is not necessary to illustrate it – it is enough to open our eyes and look around us to confirm what has been said, since it is true that “modern society has been progressively reduced to whirlpools of animals in heat,” while the two poles of the modern life are clearly business and sex. And in the midst of such nonsense, “recent generations circulate among the rubble of Western culture like caravans of Japanese tourists through the ruins of Palmyra;” mere dots. Such a terrifying and accurate panorama duly crystallizes into one of the author’s greatest scholium: “Modern society does not educate to live but to serve.”

In midst of such a desert of skulls, a mass grave where everyone fits but no one actually belongs – and that, and nothing else, is democracy in the long run – there is nothing left for man but to die gracefully. Here are truly authentic reactionary words: “When everyone wants to be something, it is only decent to be nothing.”

José Antonio Bielsa Arbiol is a writer, art historian and graduate in philosophy. His work has appeared in many media outlets.

This article appears courtesy of El Correo de España. It originally in two parts, in Spanish. Translation by N. Dass.

The image shows Poem of the Soul, 18, Reality by Louis Janmot.