The Death of Liberalism? An Interview With Nicholas Capaldi

This month we are so very pleased and honored to present this interview with the renowned philosopher, Nicholas Capaldi, who is the Legendre-Soule Distinguished professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, USA. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, who himself is a philosopher and author of several important books and is currently working on a collection of articles, entitled, Gods Will Have Blood: Rise of Totalitarianism in America.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): My image of Nicholas Capaldi is that of an American intellectual and academic, rather than a philosophy professor. The reason is, correct me if I am wrong, that in your books you always try to tackle a big intellectual problem, just like in your book on analytic philosophy, which you inscribed in the Enlightenment Project. It is not just narrow philosophical problems that you see, but you see them in a broad historical context. The same goes for your other books and the one you have just finished, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law. Is my description of you correct?

Nicholas Capaldi (NC): Yes! Thank you. Philosophical issues do not exist in a vacuum but within a larger context. It is always important to ask “why” an issue is an issue and for whom. The academic world, wrongly modeled along scientific grounds, forces people to know or think they know more about less and less. The result is a series of fashionable discussions akin to a carousel on which the riders and tunes change but there is no progress or direction.

ZJ: Your other book is a biography of John Stuart Mill, the father of the Liberal Idea. What made you write it?

NC: As an undergraduate seeking to find my own voice, I was inspired both by Mill’s defense of individual autonomy and by the critique of censorship. A career in academe has only reinforced the need to seek for the truth and to be free to articulate it, even more so as the academic world becomes increasingly politicized and intolerant.

ZJ: As the author of two books on Mill, you are well qualified to assess Liberalism as a doctrine. Liberalism travelled a long way from where it started in 1820, as a criticism of the establishment of the aristocratic Anglican order to what it became in Mill, and to where it is now, essentially a form of Politically Correct orthodoxy. One could probably find a number of other intermediate stages in the 20th century (welfare state, extension of suffrage, etc.) How do you explain its plasticity, the ability to adapt itself to the changing circumstances? In ten years, it will be roughly 200 years since the emergence of the Liberal Idea in Oxford in the 1820s, as Cardinal John Henry Newman explained it in his Apologia.

NC: I think it is a mistake to talk about Liberalism. It would be better to focus on the importance of individual freedom and how it emerged/developed historically within the European psyche, but most especially in the English world. Once you try to understand this as an isolated concept (philosophical, political, economic, etc.) you have created a contextless abstraction – and abstractions can be interpreted to mean anything. The best discussion I know is Oakeshott’s distinction between civil and enterprise association, wherein the former is a society without a collective end, but exists to allow individual members to pursue their own individual ends with a minimum of conflict.

The existence of people (anti-individuals) who are incapable or unwilling to live in such a world enables them to take an abstract concept and make it mean the opposite of its original meaning. I might add that intellectuals who are limited to using only Greco-Roman models have bought into an intellectual frame of reference that limits their ability to understand individual freedom. Such intellectuals want to be free to impose their own model on others – freedom of speech for them means freedom to impose their private vision on others.

ZJ: What, in your opinion, were the classical characteristics of Mill’s Liberalism and which are the ones which today’s Liberals promote?

NC: Mill sought to respect individual freedom; today, many so-called Liberals seek to “promote” individual freedom by collectivist means. Assuming they know what they are talking about, they are blind to the inherent contradiction of ‘forcing people to be free’ (Rousseau). It all goes back to what Voegelin called “Gnosticism.”

ZJ: Let me give you one example, from his On Representative Government. Mill was a great proponent of universal suffrage. Yet, he understood that it was not a God given right, like the American inalienable rights, but contingent upon certain factors – education, for example. “Universal teaching must precede universal enfranchisement.” In other words, basic education, which he considered to be the knowledge of basic mathematics, reading, geography, national and world history is the foundation on which suffrage rests. We, today, on the other hand, believe that it is a right, that democracy can function anywhere, and that regardless of our personal and intellectual qualities, democracy can function. Democracy in Mill’s writings appears to be a very fragile and complex mechanism. How would he see the democratic world today?

NC: Mill wrote the essay, On Liberty, in part, to call attention to the difference between the negative role of democracy in the eighteenth century (favored by the U.S. founders) and the “tyranny of the majority,” against which Tocqueville argued so eloquently. Mill also called attention to the difference between what the majority might think and what those who claim to speak for the majority (power elite) claim on behalf of the majority.

ZJ: We seem to be obsessed with the idea of wide participation of the masses. No exclusions; in fact, every exclusion is called discrimination. Mill, sympathetic as he was to the idea of extending the right to vote, was very clear that, first, criminals’ right to vote should be suspended, that people who live off others should not have a right to vote, and those who are unemployed for an extensive period of time (he thought of 3-5 years), should not have a right to vote either. Today, Mill would be accused of discrimination.

NC: Today, democracy has become a mask for oppression. So-called “identity politics” brings together all the of the anti-individuals (mentioned earlier – see Oakeshott) to undermine the achievements and prestige of autonomous individuals. Instead of transferring resources from the rich to the poor, we transfer power from individuals to the state (de Jouvenel). Political discourse has become Orwellian.

ZJ: Let me go back to his educational requirements – literacy, national history, global history and geography. This is what he thought was necessary in 1861 when he published his work! The world of 1861 and the world of 2020 are not the same, and by that, I mean the world is so much more complicated and complex that even the best educated among us cannot claim to be experts in political matters.

Let me draw a parallel, I am not sure how useful it is, between criticism of Socialism by Hayek and democracy’s ability to sustain itself. According to Hayek, one major reason why Socialist economics is not viable is because no one can have complete knowledge that goes into pricing, and therefore, only free market can provide us with correct price of goods. Planned economy can’t work. The idea that the masses somehow have enough knowledge to run the social and political realms seems to me Utopian in nature, in the same way that Socialism was.

NC: You are absolutely correct. Keep in mind that Hayek’s argument against planning is a restatement of his mentor Mill’s position that no one can be infallible (remember the context of 19th-century debate on infallibility). The U.S. was founded as a Republic (constitutional protection of individual liberties) as opposed to a DEMOCRACY (majority-tyranny).

ZJ: In the beginning of his On Liberty, Mill states: “The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times this contest was between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the government.”

This idea sounds very familiar to the readers of Marx and Engels, who at the opening of the Communist Manifesto formulated their vision of progressive history as well. In their view history is a class struggle, between oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressors are in Mill’s scheme the Party of Authority, and the oppressed are the Party of Liberty. Is it a coincidence that Mill – the Liberal – and Marx and Engels sound so alike? Or does the similarity stem from the popular understanding of History as Progressive, a popular conception in 19th-century.

NC: Great question. There were different conceptions of history in the 19th-century debate. For the mature Mill, history evolved but did not progress; as in the common law, we constantly seek to retrieve, explicate, and restate for new contexts the inherent norms of our inherited civilization. For Marx, Comte, etc. “history” was understood “scientifically” as a form of teleology or progress. The great attraction of the latter view is that it allows you to invent self-serving narratives.

ZJ: Do you think there are consequences of such an interpretation of history? In Marxism it was called “Historical Inevitability,” which in practice gave the communist apparatchiks a theoretical tool to eliminate the enemies: If History is progressive, if it unfolds itself in a certain direction, there is nothing wrong in eliminating the enemies of Progress. The idea had serious consequences in real life. Millions of people killed! The Stalinist trials, for example, are a good exemplification of it.

Let me quote a few sentences from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, a book about trials, in which Gletkin, the interrogator, explains what kind of historical thinking drives the communists and what justifies the elimination of the enemies: “My point is, one may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brother for emotions. This is the first commandment for us. Sympathy, conscience, and atonement are for us repellent debauchery… to sell oneself to one’s conscience is to abandon mankind. History is a priori amoral; it has no conscience.”

Thus, one can torture, kill. History provides justification. Are today’s Liberals heading in the same direction? Not necessarily by physically extermination, but by destroying everyone who disagrees with them? I am asking this question because their intolerance is growing; they attempt to shout down any critical voice; they become increasingly more violent; and the words, such as progress, progressive agenda, progressive policies, etc. are their only vocabulary.

NC: I fear that you are correct. All of this nonsense reflects the fact that the British and U.S. Revolutions were “conservative” in the sense I attributed to Mill above. The Russian and all subsequent Revolutions have been “radical,” that is, based on abstractions. Furthermore, the intellectual origin of all of this dangerous nonsense is what I have described as “the Enlightenment Project” – the belief that we could construct a social ‘science’ and thereby a social technology. You alluded to this in mentioning my other book. Like all bad ideas it originated in 18th-century France. If there is a social technology then dissent undermines utopia. Again, this appeal to infallibility is what Mill objected to in Comte.

ZJ: These dangerous tendencies in mass behavior are not new. They were noticed by philosophers, sociologists and psychologists. Let me begin with Mill who talks about tyranny of the majority in a democracy often in his On Liberty. How do you account for his favorable, even enthusiastic support for the rule of the majority, on the one hand, and his contempt for them (the collective mediocrity), as he refers to them?

NC: Mill saw political democracy as inevitable—curiously a product of industrialization. What he advocated was a cultural and political bulwark against its excesses.

ZJ: Was his contemporary, Nietzsche, a more perceptive critic of democracy and majority rule than Mill? Sometimes they sound the same, but Nietzsche took the masses for what they are – mediocrity, and saw what Mill refused to see – lack of aristocratic virtues. In fact, Mill hated aristocracy; wrote nasty things about it. Do you think it was a well-argued position, or was it a psychological suspicion of someone who did not belong to an aristocratic order, and who gave support with the power of his considerable intellect to the rule of mediocrity?

NC: lan Kahan has written a good book, Aristocratic Liberalism, in which he makes the case that Mill, Tocqueville, and Burckhardt were exemplars. I have argued that England (individual autonomy tradition) was different from the Continent (long history of collectivism). I see Nietzsche as responding to the more threatening Continental context.

Elsewhere, I (following many previous writers) have identified the extent to which intellectuals are attracted to holistic, collectivist, and Utopian thinking (e.g. Enlightenment Project, Hoffer’s men of words in his book True Believer). So, it is no surprise that the ‘Continental Disease’ has slowly infiltrated the Anglo-American world.

I also believe that the cultural dimension is more important than the purely intellectual one. In the U.S., many ordinary people understand and respond positively to Clint Eastwood’s Western films and to Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way.” This is behind Buckley remark that some of us would rather be governed by the first 300 people in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard.

ZJ: Ever since the beginning of the 20th-century, that is, the rise of psychology and sociology, we know not only how, but why masses behave the way they do. Freud devoted an interesting book, The Group Psychology, to the topic. In a nutshell, man loses his individuality and identity in a crowd. Following Le Bon, Freud claims, man goes back to his primitive instinct and nature, and acts like a member of a herd, again, an expression that Nietzsche uses frequently to describe what he calls slave-morality. Only individuals, not crowds, not masses, have a moral compass. How does it square, in your view, with the idea of a democratic, mass society? Is such a society bound to be immoral?

NC: This is the very issue that Oakeshott addresses in his essay, “The Masses in Representative Government.” His conclusion was that “….[the anti-individual or mass man] remains an unmistakably derivative character…helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality….The desire of the ‘masses’ to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge.”

ZJ: Let me turn to something that has been on my mind, and which made me put out a new edition of Mill’s writings, where I think one can trace the trajectory of his development; namely, the idea of authority, which is so inimical to Mill. He made it, as the quotation from his On Liberty which I used before reveals, the centerpiece of his philosophy. Authority is the enemy of Liberty. Plato, in Book. VIII of his Republic, on the other hand, saw the dissolution of authority as the beginning of anarchy, which, in turn, is the result of expanding equality in a democracy.

Now, Mill, as you know, translated several of Plato’s dialogues and knew his philosophy well. Did he miss something? Did he expect democracy to last despite Plato’s warnings? Or did he think that everyone is rational? Or was he just too steeped in the English tradition of respect for law, order, conservatism in private life, etc.? Did he think that the social order is self-sustaining, that we will not cross a certain line? How would you explain his position?

NC: The intellectual and moral responsibility of the public intellectual, whether he/she be Plato, Mill, or us, is to (1) identify the social problem, (2) defend one alternative solution/policy against others, and (3) offer a rhetorical (artistic) expression, designed to persuade others to see the world as we do. Plato clearly did this in writing dialogues. You captured some of this in your collection of Mill’s more popular writings. You also capture this in some of your own cultural writing. It has been my great failing not to have done more of this in my own.

ZJ: Is the suspicion or hostility, in your view, as it is in Mill, characteristic of Liberalism? And if so, how far can the Liberals go, you think, without destroying social order?

NC: The greatest threat to tyranny is the capacity of a few people to stand up and say, “The Emperor has no clothes.” Keep it simple, clear, and authentic. It takes enormous courage to do this. In the end, the question is never how far tyrants will go, but how far we are willing to go to oppose them.

ZJ: Let me return to the idea of order. In Aristotle, we find a claim that the function of a good law giver is to make citizens good. In his defense, one of Socrates’ accusers makes the same point. When I taught those thinkers, it struck me that if Aristotle had a chance to read the American founding documents—pursuit of happiness, that is, leaving an individual to his own devices, without any moral compass—he would give the Founding Fathers an F. The idea that human behavior can be left unregulated would be preposterous to the ancients.

Now, given the American Founding Fathers’ brilliance, did they miss something? It is unlikely, which leads me to my question. The US was founded by the sectarian Protestants, with a very strict moral code. They, particularly Jefferson, could believe that the public realm can remain neutral because the citizens’ religiosity, or the Churches, will keep pumping, so to speak, the moral code. What are your thoughts on this?

NC: I think you are correct. The U.S. is, as Samuel Huntington said, an Anglo-Protestant culture. I would also make the case that since Mill and Nietzsche, it has become necessary to find an intellectual/cultural defense of the values of such a Protestant culture not tied to a specific theology as traditionally understood. I have tried to make such a case in a way that is compatible with some but not all traditional forms of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Curiously, we live now in an increasingly secular culture where clergy who no longer believe in God are attracted both to mindless defenses of abstractions, like tolerance of intolerant religious sects and movements, and, at the same time, a therapeutic view of the welfare state as the new moral community. When I meet such people, I am not sure whether I should laugh or cry. Perhaps we need a new Reformation. This is part of what it means to retrieve our moral tradition in a new context. Retrieving a tradition can never be a simple matter of an uncritical return to the past. Instead, it is the re-identifying of something that is a permanent part of the human condition, even though it is always expressed in specific historical contexts.

ZJ: Now, 250 years later, with the decline of religiosity, low church attendance—and the same seems to be true of Judaism (as my Orthodox Rabbi friend tells me, reformed Judaism is likely to cease to exist in a few decades) – there is no moral or ethical powerhouse. It is almost as if Sartre and de Beauvoir’s dream came true. Everyone invents his own moral code, lives according to his own rules. Are we becoming a nihilistic society? Is this nihilism?

NC: I would make two points. First, there are lost souls, some of whom embrace the latest fashionable, and sometimes destructive, enterprise association. Second, nihilism is not to be confused with moral pluralism. We have always lived in a morally pluralistic world. The mistake we have always made is to try and find the one new true collectivist faith and impose it on others.

What we need, and what we have to some extent, is a plurality of substantive moral communities who need to agree on common procedural norms. I think many such communities exist. I think some of those communities presently lack the internal resources to agree to common procedural norms. In our book on The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law, my wife Nadia and I have tried to show how this is possible and actual.

ZJ: Just like Mill, Jefferson was hostile to aristocracy, in his own, so to speak, American way. He saw it as an extension of monarchical order rather than a class, or much less so, because in one of his letters, he made a very strong case for aristocracy of spirit, education. He even designed a way how such a democratic aristocracy should be bred. In one letter he made a list of mad European monarchs, which, he thought, to be a very good case for abandoning monarchy as an institution.

Now, let me make this point – seceding from the British Crown, declaring independence from Britain, is one thing, establishing a new political order is another. So, after painful debates, the Americans chose the republic. Here is my question – one could believe, as Jefferson did, back then, that a monarch can become crazy and corrupt, but, one could argue, that one can replace a corrupt or mad monarch. However, when the masses become corrupt, what then? What can you do? And our present social and political situation seems to point to a number of problems which, on an individual scale, you could term unhealthy, or even insane.

NC: There are a number of issues here that need to be separated. First, I do not believe that the “masses” correctly captures the major issues. There are many people who cannot be classified as “intellectual,” but who are decent individuals and responsible citizens. You do not get to be decent and responsible by having a Liberal education. Second, the social pathologies I do see reflect the failure of major institutions (e.g. family, schools, religions). The failure of those institutions I would attribute to the false idea that we can have a social technology (i.e. the Enlightenment Project).

ZJ: You are an academic, having spent your life in academia. But you are more. You are associated with the Liberty Fund. When I think of the several conferences that I attended, I cannot resist the feeling that I have never, and I mean it, participated in more intense intellectual life than during the two days of their sessions. It is not only a well-organized setting, but it is a place where ideas matter. I am sure that you will agree with me. No university produces such an intense intellectual atmosphere as does the Liberty Fund. Do you agree?

NC: I would indeed agree. As long as the administration of Liberty Fund is true to donor intent, and is not captured by ideologues with a program, it remains the premier educational institution in America. Again, I would argue that the intellectual world in the last century has been a captive of the Enlightenment Project program of social technology. So-called higher education now disfigures the intellectual world, the worlds of the clergy, government administration, communication and journalism, law schools, teacher training, business, the arts, etc. At the risk of sounding self-promoting, higher education now controls the commanding heights of all that is wrong with our society.

ZJ: Given the absolutely dreadful state of education and universities in America, do you see a way out? The tenured academics will not give up their positions. Has academia been destroyed? Almost every week you can read an article of complaint from retiring academics stating how bad things are. Few people have the courage to stand up; and the majority of professors are afraid—afraid of students and administration. How did we come to be where we are?

NC: This is a long story. I started writing a book about it and became too depressed to finish it. It cannot be reformed internally, in part for reasons to which you have alluded. It can only be reformed from the outside. I do not see that happening in the short run. Our only hope is that it will collapse on itself, and the current financial crisis (student loan debt) may be how it happens. This is not an excuse for doing nothing – we keep up the rear-guard action. What we need to prepare is a positive alternative.

ZJ: What about the Liberty Fund method of education? Don’t you think that there is room for it to do the same kind of seminars with students? That Liberty Fund and other foundations could start real universities where education is what it used to be?

NC: I think the Liberty Fund model is a good one. I also think that education cannot be left to professionals alone. The articulation, defense, and critique of our fundamental norms should go on in every institution. The life of the mind also has intrinsic value. I end this interview as I plan to enter retirement with a program called “Community of Scholars.” Free from the constraints of teaching those who do not want to learn, freed from administrative B.S., free from the tyranny of journal editors and university presses; and with the help of the new technology and social media we can create a vast network of scholars who want to search for and articulate the truth, who want to share – for free – the wisdom of a lifetime of searching, and to do so in the spirit of Mill’s and Nietzsche’s ruthless self-examination. It requires both intellectual and moral virtue. It is our way, perhaps the only way, of keeping the Socratic faith.

ZJ: In 1977 Leszek Kolakowski published his opus magnum, Main Currents of Marxism. Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution. The first volume deals with the founders; the second with the golden age; the third with Marxism’s demise. Kolakowski’s work is, as I like to think about it, a death certificate of Marxist thought issued twelve years before the actual burial of Communism in Eastern Europe, and fourteen years before the end of the Soviet Union.

In his work, Kolakowski describes the vicissitudes of Marxism as a philosophy and practice. You wrote two books on David Hume, a massive book on the Enlightenment Project in analytical philosophy (or conversation!—as you called it), Liberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present; and just a few months ago, you and your wife Nadia Nedzel, published The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The range of your interests is impressive, but you also wrote a fantastic biography of John Stuart Mill – a great read! Would you feel tempted to write a work on Liberalism à la Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism? You could even title it, “Main Currents of Liberalism.” From our private conversations, I gather that you are thinking about it. Any thoughts on this and how would you structure it?

NC: I am most definitely interested in writing such a book. The general thesis is that what I have called the Enlightenment Project (18th-century French idea that there can be a social science modeled after physical science and that such a social science will give us a social technology) is the origin of Doctrinaire Liberalism, Marxism, and Socialism – these are all expressions of this bad idea (all bad ideas, by the way, come from France).

Doctrinaire Liberalism, I shall argue, is a French abstraction that (a) misunderstands Anglo-American culture, (b) and tries to introduce Anglo-American virtues into the Continent, but mistakes the abstraction for the reality. The mistake is then read-back into Anglo-American culture by British and American scholars and activists – thereby providing a fake history. All versions of the Enlightenment Project ultimately become totalitarian – hence, why what is happening in the U.S. (under the Democrats, not Trump) parallels what happened under Marxism.

ZJ: Marxism died not merely because the countries of real Socialism could not compete with the Western Liberal democracies, because the economy started to crumble, because of politics, etc., but because faith in Marxism died. Marxism, in its different stages of development, was not only a philosophy and political orientation, but a religion that required faith. One could say that its longevity depended on the existence of the believers. A host of intellectuals, writers, artists were Marxists; they gave support to the idea. When they lost faith in it – partly because of the form in which it manifested itself politically and socially – Marxism lost its magical power. Do you find any parallels between Marxism and Liberalism? Liberalism has also evolved, manifesting itself in different ways.

NC: I think you are correct that ideologies die when people lose faith in them. I do not think that this will happen soon in the U.S. In the U.S., the weakening has just begun; we need to make people aware that they are succumbing to an intellectual disease. We need to persist in weakening the faith.

ZJ: At the very end of volume one, Kolakowski characterized Marxism as man’s greatest 20th-century utopia, a flight to freedom. Today, the young generation is not familiar with such a hope and the Socialist idea, but being Politically Correct (with its call to social justice, the abolishing of “power structures,” etc.), which is a reformulation of Marxism. Do you think that the Liberal Idea is another utopia which replaced the old one, Marxism?

NC: Liberalism is just another version. What people confuse is our institutional structure with theory; we need to remind them that our structure is an historical product and not a theoretical product. I tried to initiate that in the book on The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

ZJ: There are a number of books on Liberalism, beginning with Hobhouse’s classic, Liberalism (1911), which, in my opinion, comes very close to what we find in Mill’s writings; Harold Laski’s book The Rise of Eurpean Liberalism is another minor landmark in the development of the idea, and a number of minor works (O’Sullivan’s Liberalism, Schapiro’s Liberalism, Brinton’s The Shaping of the Modern Mind, part of which is devoted to liberalism, and so on). What is probably the most ambitious and serious book on the subject is De Ruggierro’s History of European Liberalism. It occurred to me that one could write a book on the development of Liberalism by tracing books called “Liberalism” or “History of Liberalism.” This is a phenomenon in itself, which makes one wonder why Liberals must redefine or readjust the notion of what Liberalism is every decade or so. Do you have an explanation?

NC: There is a disconnect between theory and practice, a disconnect that the discipline of philosophy has encouraged, namely, the belief that we can theorize the relation of theory to practice. Intellectuals, as Schumpeter noted, are the culprits here. Intellectuals so want to be the new clergy, they are unwilling to acknowledge the limits of discursive reason.

We cannot defeat them with more theory; we need to root out the notion that reason exists independent of all context (almost every major philosopher from Plato on has made this mistake). In the 20th-century, only Oakeshott and a few others have tried to reign in this rationalism.

ZJ: Do you think there is a need for a work on Liberalism, like Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism, particularly now that Liberalism has assumed a freedom-threatening posture (I mean the PC movement, which is very destructive, socially, politically and culturally), just like Marxism before? Need the people be reminded how Socialism began and deteriorated? Liberalism is no longer an idea that promises liberation from the shackles of oppression but, like Marxism, has become an oppressive system, very much like what Tocqueville feared democracy would become.

NC: Several of us should write about it – not one book but a host of books. I do not think “democracy” is the problem. I think the problem is a collection of elites (academe, journalism, military, business, Hollywood, technicians in IT, etc.).

ZJ: Does Liberalism require and depend on faith as much as Marxism did? When this faith dies, does the Liberal Idea die with it?

NC: It is the same faith. We need to make clear what that faith is. Voegelin identified it as Gnosticism, a form of Pelagianism. It will never disappear; it will simply assume new guises. We have to be patient in dealing with its eternal return.

ZJ: Under Communism, where I spent the first 25 years of my life, we had a mild Marxist-Leninism indoctrination (it was not that mild in the 1950s or the 1960s); but no one believed this ideological rubbish. Opposing it meant serious consequences, losing a job, interrogations, prison, sometimes “an accident” (death). But people opposed it; there was an underground/ samizdat press. We would read Hayek, Milton Friedman, Roger Scruton, Kolakowski, and others in horrible underground editions. One book would be read by twenty individuals. People made the effort to clear their minds of the ideological pollution. But now they attend official university classes in feminism, gender studies, environmental justice, domination, patriarchy, colonialism, women in art, literature, and many others.

Here is my question: Why this weakness of man under Liberal Democracy, why such blindness? Is it because Liberal Democracies do not go after your body, but your soul, as Tocqueville observed? People prefer to lose their souls – integrity, conscience – than their jobs? This is not a recent phenomenon. Tocqueville saw it in 1835!

NC: We have to remember that the vast majority of Americans do not have college degrees; that the U.S. culture is not primarily an intellectual culture but a practice/pragmatic culture. The infected part of the population consists of two groups: (a) Intellectuals taking their cue from the Continental abstractions I previously identified, and (b) College students – most of whom are disinterested in ideas.

The public has been totally turned off by the media journalists (“fake news”), so they remain uninfected; and the public is largely oblivious to what goes on in higher education and still thinks it is about getting a better job. The problem is the intelligentsia (vast literature on why totalitarianism appeals to them) and the intellectual students who are indoctrinated. Most students are ignorant, disinterested, turned off, and remain quiet as a defensive maneuver.

It is OUR job to attack the intelligentsia (and remain unpopular with fellow faculty) to educate and re-educate those bright students with whom one comes into contact, and to reassure, by our opposition, the disinterested students that they do not have to take left-wing intellectuals and faculty seriously. The latter, ironically, may be the most effective thing we do.

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Capaldi, for this wonderful conservation!

The image shows, “Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen, 1849,” by Otto Bache; painted in 1894.

A Polish version of this interview appeared in Arcana.

Sir Roger Scruton And Conservative Views

The death of Roger Scruton, following swiftly on that of Norman Stone, provides an opportunity to reflect on the state of British Conservatism. Scruton did not greatly contribute to political philosophy in a conventional sense, but he did offer a powerful engagement with aesthetics as a means of assessing and advancing values. He was by no means the only conservative to do so and, in particular, David Watkin (1941-2018), a Cambridge architectural historian, offers a powerful critique of modernism, not least in Morality and Architecture Revisited (2001) and Radical Classicism: The Architecture of Quinlan Terry (2006). In practice, indeed, Scruton was significant in part because he tapped into, indeed helped articulate, a broader current of concern. So also with his interest in past lifestyles, notably hunting. If Scruton took this far further than most who held a commitment to continuity, nevertheless he was able to be more than merely an eccentric precisely because there was a wider concern.

Linking the two, and providing an ideological ballast, was the search for a vision of conservatism that was not simply that of the free market. Indeed, Scruton, like others, felt that the latter represented a form of Liberalism that he distinguished from a Conservatism of cultural weight which, he argued, derived from value and continuity, and not from advantage in the economic (or other) contingencies of the moment.

This approach appears stronger as a result of the growing salience of ‘culture wars’ in the 2010s, notably the late 2010s, and, indeed, Scruton can be seen as an early protagonist in defining an English conservative aspect in this struggle. In that respect, Scruton was different to Stone as the latter was more cosmopolitan in his conservatism, both in terms of his early engagement with Eastern Europe and later with his interest also in Turkey. Scruton also had a strong interest in Eastern Europe, but he was less grounded in its culture than Stone. Both, however, understood that the culture wars in England/Britain took on meaning not only with reference to the trans-Atlantic perspective and context that was so important during the 1980s, not least because of the Thatcher/Reagan relationship, but also against the background of a European culture that had been sundered by totalitarianism and compromised by Modernism and Socialism. Scruton, however, showed almost no interest in history, which was somewhat of a limitation for someone whose mindset was rooted in tradition and continuity.

It is reasonable to ask how far this is helpful at present. To return to the insular, does the future of the British Conservatives depend on their success in handling Brexit (with similar economic issues for Continental states), or will elections at least in part register new political alignments arising from cultural concerns and issues? The Labour Party’s focus in its leadership election of 2020 on the transgender issue suggests the latter, which raises the possibility that Muslim voters, hitherto reluctant to vote Conservative, might do so for cultural reasons in 2024 when the next general election is due.

Certainly, the cultural agenda has an institutional ambit, notably in terms of the BBC and the universities. Although both can be seen as middle-class producer lobbies financed from regressive taxation (licence fee and general taxation respectively) as opposed to user fees, there are clearly politicised dimensions, as discussed, for example, in Robin Aitken’s The Noble Liar: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda (2018). The BBC’s favourite minority is certainly the London progressive middle class and it is easily manipulated accordingly by vested interests that play well with it. In contrast, the majority who fund it are poorly represented, a point made abundantly clear in the treatment of Conservatives. Over 40% of the voters who voted in the last two general elections did so for them but you would find that hard to appreciate if following the BBC or university curricula. There is a loop back to Scruton with the limited commitment of the BBC to programming higher culture in primetime. The BBC has always had a liberal bias, but we are now in a ‘culture war’ and it quite visibly favours one side over the other, both in storylines and in tone.

Ironically, however, there is an approach that Scruton, with his concern about market mechanisms and ‘majoritarian’ views would have been cautious about adopting: the insulation from market discipline registered via consumer preferences that other media organisations must live or die by means that, as viewing habits have changed, the BBC looks outdated in terms of its output, claims, financing and delivery mechanism. A similar debate could be held about universities. If Johnson is unwilling to wage the culture war with vigour, especially within key institutions, and in pushing bac against those who wish to hunt for heretics, it may be too late ten years hence.

Clearly conservatism relates to more than consideration of rivals, but the nature and character the public debate is significant. On the personal level, I feel that there is a contrast between an English/British conservatism able and willing to engage with a changing society, and a more ‘ultra approach.’ The former ranges (and this is a far from complete list) from support for Catholic Emancipation in the early nineteenth, via ‘Villa Toryism’ later that century, to the ‘Bolt from Empire’ and the Thatcherite engagement with the ‘C2s’ in the twentieth, and the more recent determination in the 2010s variously to offer a Broad Church social vision, a Conservatism that can breach the ‘Red Wall,’ and an engagement with Patriotic continuities. These are not merely political expedients or rhetorical devices, but, instead, representations of the complex varieties of Conservative thought and politics. As a result, it is not particularly helpful to seek an ‘ur’ or fundamental conservatism, and that is even less pertinent if the diverse national and chronological context is to be considered. This makes it difficult to move beyond a national context.

In the case of Britain, the role of contingency is particularly apparent in the case of the changes arising from the Blair government. The ‘New Labour, New Britain’ theme was linked to an active hostility toward history. Kenneth Baker’s plan for a Museum for National History for which he had raised seed-corn money and for which I was a trustee, was killed stone-dead, as was Baker’s plan for a history section in the Millennium Dome. More serious was the constitutional revisionism pushed through with little thought of possible consequences and with scant attempt to ground it in any historical awareness. There was also an eagerness to apologise about the past.

Many of the consequences were to be seen in the 2010s, not least a curious ignorance about constitutionalism, and a lack on the part of many of any real interest in a concept of national interest, let alone a capacity to ground it in an historical perspective. In what passes for the educational work this had been related to a ‘decolonisation’ of the syllabus which in practice represents a faddish and rootless presentism that has made more History courses follow those of English Literature in being undeserving of serious attention. That, at the same time, there has been an interest in fluidity in all forms of categorisation, most controversially that of gender, is not axiomatically part of this politicised postmodernism but, in practice, overlaps with it.

Again, conservatism in part is active in this context in advancing concepts of humane scepticism against the determination of assert and enforce that in effect are new regulations on behaviour, speech, deportment, and, in addressing ‘bias,’ thought. This scepticism offers a way to advance a conservatism based, instead, on freedom, debate, pluralism, and an acceptance that the very concept of value should be ground in a relativist willingness to accept contrary views, interests and preferences. Both democracy and capitalism rest on those assumptions. So does a classic English/British conservatism. That this is different to other conservative traditions does not make it better or worse, but the difference underlines the problem with having any unitary concept of conservatism, its past or its future. Indeed, this pluralism is part of the very strength of conservatism, as it can more readily adapt to local circumstances.

Jeremy Black is a British historian, and a prolific author. His most recent books include, Military Strategy: A Global History, War and Its Causes, Introduction to Global Military History: 1775 to the Present Day, and Imperial Legacies. The British Empire Around the World.

The image shows a bust of Sir Roger Scruton by the Scottish sculptor, Alexander Stoddart.

Some of the articles that follow, on Sir Roger Scruton, were also published in the Polish magazine, Arcana, in an issue dedicated to him.

Conservatism And Conservation In The Dead-Ends Of Modernity

Roger Scruton drew attention to a fundamental truth when he argued that “conservatism and conservation are two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources and ensuring their renewal.” As a label for the distinctive social and cultural mood that Scruton represented, “conservation” may be preferable to the “conservatism” with which he is more often linked. As a label, it is certainly more useful. “Conservation” appeals to an instinct to protect and cherish, which quite properly transcends all political distinctions. But the label is particularly significant for conservatives. For “conservation” reminds us that “being conservative” is not primarily an identity, or a category, but a task. It shows that conservatives are people who find things to conserve.

Scruton understood that this task of conservation showed where modern conservativism have gone so badly wrong. In organising their agenda in subservience to the free market, the conservatives who dominate in present-day politics have too often allowed everything to be turned into a commodity. But in allowing everything to be for sale, they have admitted that nothing has any fixed value. And too often they have permitted this process of commodification to be applied to values in the electoral marketplace, so that the opportunities of the moment trump their obligations to the past and so also their protection of the future.

This explains why, in the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party barters with established norms and venerated institutions in the hope of short-term electoral gains, while pretending to anyone who will believe them that their hurriedly formed values are judgements to which right-thinking people have always been committed. And so on cultural issues, the Conservative Party, like some similar movements elsewhere, is not going in a different direction to its major political rivals. It is going in the same direction at a slightly slower pace.

We can begin to grasp the failure of modern conservative politics when we ask ourselves what that politics has actually conserved. Political conservatives have done a good job of protecting an open economy. But the free market conserves nothing. The task of creating an open economy is much less important than the task of conserving culture. This is why, in the United Kingdom, the task of cultural conservation is being advanced by communities that see the Conservative Party as the problem. Across the country, in home educating families, in small congregations, and at irregular conferences, cultural conservation continues despite and not because of conservative politics.

This is evident when we consider the element of our culture that seems most obviously under attack – the family. Conservative thinkers have always understood that the family is the most important social unit to protect. In fact, the significance of the family is built into the language that we use to describe our conservation task. Scruton understood that conservatism and conservation are both about the responsibility of “husbanding.” The assumptions that underlie his metaphor are enormously significant. For it is only as we conserve families – the social unit in which the work of husbanding finds its archetype – that we build the cultural capital by which those larger projects of cultural preservation may be pursued.

Of course, there are no political solutions to problems that are ultimately spiritual in character. But conservatives need to stand against – and outside – a culture in which everything is up for sale, protecting the things that matter most in the dead-ends of modernity.

Crawford Gribben is a professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast, and the author of several books on early modern and contemporary religion, including John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat (Oxford UP, 2016) and Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford UP, 2020, forthcoming), and co-editor of books including Cultures of Calvinism in Early Modern Europe (Oxford UP, 2019).

The image shows, “The Peale Family,” by Charles Willson Peale, paonted ca. 1773-1809.

Why I Choose To Call Myself A “Conservative”

Labels can be misleading, they can, as Scruton pointed out, control speech, but they can also show our orientation or direction of thought.

The immediate inspiration for writing this short essay was the recent passing of Roger Scruton, the conservative’s conservative. I need not repeat all of the wonderful pieces that have been written about him. There are, however, two things I want to emphasize. Scruton and I were roughly contemporaries and we had our epiphany, unknown to each other, at the same time.

In 1968, Scruton was in Paris and witnessed the uprising. He has remarked that he suddenly realized the difference between himself and the rioters. The rioters, many of them intellectuals or inspired by French intellectuals, were interested primarily in tearing things down – believing, in romantic Marxist fashion, that the good will rise automatically from the conflagration of the old. Scruton suddenly realized that he was not interested in destroying things but in preserving what was most valuable.

From that moment one he became one of Britain’s most outspoken and courageous conservatives. At the same time, riots were occurring across America’s campuses, including my own university. Until that moment I had naively thought of myself as a liberal reformer, on the correct side of all of the major social issues. To see the destruction of higher education in America, although the corpse is still around, to see administrators unable and unwilling to defend the crucial importance of my beloved institution made me realize that I was also a conservator of our cultural institutions.

More recently I watched a U-tube presentation of Scruton trying to explain to a Dutch audience what was behind Brexit. He mentioned a number of things, including how his parents’ generation had successfully defended the UK from Nazi invasion, how Britons had no need to launder their recent history, how Britain was a bottom-up society and the home of the rule of law. It is the last point that inspired my recent publication of a book to substantiate that claim and to remind myself and others of the unique Anglo-American heritage.

Recognizing the confusion caused by labels, especially labels with a long history and multiple meanings, I nevertheless choose to call myself a ‘conservative’. This choice reflects the fact that the intellectual world is dominated by people who call themselves ‘progressive’, that progressivism seems to control the terms of discussion, and my instinctive desire to speak truth to power. Prudence has never been one of my virtues.

Before explaining my positive understanding of ‘conservatism’ I want to note what I disagree with in progressivism. To begin with, I object to bullying, to the silencing of dissent, the suppression of what used to be called free speech, and to coercing and penalizing people who oppose progressivism. Second, I am opposed to radical ‘social’ change instituted by the government and justified by appeal to abstractions designed to achieve a utopian goal. Third, I object to the invariable and inevitable distortion of the previous sentence by those who will attribute to me the position of opposing all social change.

What I mean by ‘conservatism’ is two things. First, it is impossible to think and speak about anything without employing an inherited background of norms and assumptions. We cannot explain or critique anything from a wholly external perspective. Our intellectual and social inheritance contain many norms, and there is no systematic way of organizing those norms without appeal to some extraneous perspective or without promoting one norm to a prominence it cannot rightfully claim. A good deal of what passes for philosophy is the elevation of one intellectual practice above all others. Our inheritance is too rich and complex to be so systematized. Progressivism is an example of the illicit claim of being ‘the’ uber framework. Rigidity is thus always on the side of Progressivism.

Our plurality of norms evolved over time (sorry, Moses) and reflected a particular set of circumstances. Inevitably and of necessity new sets of circumstances will lead us to recognize additional norms and conflicts and tensions within the norms we already have.

How then do we resolve these conflicts? The better or more accurate question, is what has our practice of conflict resolution or management been? Borrowing from Oakeshott, I would say our practice has been to engage in a conversation that begins by diagnosing our situation; we make proposals about what the response should be; we recommend this proposal by considering a large number of the consequences likely to follow from acting upon it; we balance the merits of any proposal against those of at least one other proposal; and we assume agreement about the general conditions of things to be preferred. Arguments constructed out of these materials cannot be ‘refuted’. They may be resisted by arguments of the same sort which, on balance, are found to be more convincing. The recommendation always involves a rhetorical appeal, an appeal to what we believe are the relevant overriding norms – the general conditions of things to be preferred.

The human condition can never in this life be utopian. Some good things can only be purchased by abstaining from other. We cannot choose everything. To open some doors is to know that others must remain closed.

What I seek to conserve is our practice. Progressives threaten our practices in the name of some abstraction. Armed with some such abstraction (e.g. ‘equality’) they will disrupt the conversation by claiming that the equal right to free speech means that any speaker they do not like can be shouted down. In vain do I remind them of what J.S. Mill said about censorship. In vain do I remind them that successful reformers like Martin Luther King prevailed because they reminded others into acknowledging what the inherited norms were.

For progressives, words (e.g. ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, etc.) mean only what they choose the words to mean. Any appeal to “the general conditions of things to be preferred” is illegitimate because what we thought were the relevant overriding norms (note the plural, please) is rejected as an appeal to something illegitimate. What are the legitimate norms? It is what they say it is and as they alone understand their holy abstraction.

On the contrary, I want to conserve the conversation, and the civility implied therein. It may very well be that there can no longer be a conversation. Communities do sometimes disintegrate, split into multiple communities, or find it necessary to destroy one another. Those who hold onto the illusion that the community can and must always be preserved (‘do-gooders’) are giving in to the belief in ‘the’ uber framework. Progressives, like Bolsheviks, always win in these situations because they will never concede anything. The ‘do-gooders’ will concede anything and embrace an Orwellian discourse. Progressives may control the commanding heights, but like all barbarians, in the end, they can only appeal to force.

As a “conservative” I want to preserve the inherited community, warts and all, not embrace an abstraction; I do embrace the need for periodic review; I vehemently oppose those who pretend to be conservatives but are merely intransigent about something or other; I patiently endure the process by which we engage in reform, however slow and painful. I am ready and willing to oust the disingenuous progressives (as opposed to the merely confused) who pretend to be inside the community in order to enjoy its benefits but reserve for themselves the exclusive privilege of not being bound by it when it suits their private agenda. I am prepared to let them go their way; but they cannot stay as is. The progressives will claim that I am the one who is leaving when in fact they are the ones who have abandoned the community long ago. To be a ‘conservative’ is to choose to stay and to be willing to pay the price; it is not to idolize any one institution.

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, “The Chess Players,” by Sir William Orpen,” panted before 1902.

The Necessity Of Bravery In Scholarship

Roger Scruton was a brave man. He was personally brave and intellectually brave. His personal bravery is evident from his activities in Eastern Europe helping to forge underground universities in the 1980s. There were real personal risks in doing that. Police states do not look kindly on anyone who encourages intellectual opposition to them. But then neither did Scruton’s academic colleagues back in the United Kingdom. There, he was persona non grata in an institutional world dominated by leftists and socialists always eager to excuse despotism and authoritarianism. That, after all, was their road to power.

While his academic brethren indulged ever more fantastical theories of society and human nature, Scruton found himself at odds with his generation. As he observed somewhat ruefully in his autobiography, he had some regrets about this. A mild touch of melancholy offset his phlegmatic personality. The generation who got their PhDs in or after the mid-1960s were serially attracted to successive forms of soft totalitarian faculty-lounge rhetoric: Marxist, Nietzschean, postmodernist, and identitarian. Each of these currents worshiped power. Scruton didn’t. Nor was he intimidated by it. He didn’t bend to fashions, crowds or collective passions.

No small part of the reason that the English intelligentsia (on the whole) despised him was that he possessed a remarkable independence of mind which they conspicuously lacked. That independence of mind was obvious when Scruton published The Meaning of Conservatism in 1980. He was aged 36. A defence of conservatism was practically inconceivable then—and it remains in academic circles today a rare thing. Especially a defence undertaken with Scruton’s depth of thought.

Like all classic writers Scruton existed at a slight tangent to time. He entered the public intellectual fray with a book that was out of step with “the times”. He remained that way, steadfastly but always interestingly. He did not wait for Communism to fall to oppose Communism. He argued for the virtues of England long before Brexit. He defended the imagination against social fantasy, beauty against the despotic rage for reason, and a placid, gentle politics against angry political posturing.

Scruton’s work and life, voluminous and multifaceted as both were, displayed a number of fixed points, anchors amidst the flow of time. His intellect and soul were constantly and often maliciously attacked by his critics. He paid a personal price for all the nasty badgering, manias and melodramas that were the calling-cards of the post-modern intellectual generation. Nevertheless his persistence resulted in a venerable body of work which had at its heart an intimation of a beatific faith. This was not just faith in a transcendent personal God but also the kind of faith that manifests itself in decent societies, genial associations, firm friends and responsible individuals.

Scruton was a careful thinker. He was trained in analytic philosophy at Cambridge. Elizabeth Anscombe, a student of Wittgenstein, was his PhD supervisor. That training left a mark on his philosophical style—a care in drawing distinctions. Sometimes he overdid that. But after his Cambridge student years (1963-1973) he discovered another intellectual tradition. Philosophically it was the tradition of Edmund Burke, the Whig inspirer of English conservatives. But, in the case of Scruton, Burke represented not just a philosophical archetype. After all Scruton was deeply familiar with Hegel, Kant and Spinoza—and the rest of the Western tradition of philosophy. No, the Burkean aspect was more than philosophical. It connected Scruton with a tradition of English letters that favoured straightforward, elegant expression and a style of writing about society and politics that was beautiful.

Among his many works, this literary style reached a dazzling peak in England: An Elegy, Scruton’s unparalleled description of the nature of England and the English. Most of his critics favoured language that was obscurantist and tortured—the more unintelligible the better. They all aspired to be public intellectuals because they wanted their fantasies to rule the world. Yet unlike most of them, Scruton was a genuine public intellectual—a person who could speak and write clearly and movingly about matters of great human importance.

Because Scruton didn’t worship power, the political party that he was close to, Britain’s Conservative Party, casually turned on him in 2019. In the last year of life, an infantile trophy-hunting left-wing journalist publicised a series of doctored quotes from an interview with him. He briefly lost his unpaid appointment to a government commission on good architecture, a topic he loved. He was restored to the post after the journalist’s fraud was revealed. But the action to dismiss him showed something striking. Namely how weak those who hold power can be, and how prone they are to panicked judgements. Small-c conservative qualities of faith, reliability, durability, commitment, and piety mattered to Scruton. Woven deeply into his writings are themes of promises, commitments, and vows; and things imperishable, immortal, and transcendent. His life encapsulated those values. He lived the way he thought.

Peter Murphy is a professor at La Trobe University and at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University.

The image shows, “Watson and the Shark,” by John Singleton Copley, painted in 1778.

Enlightenment In Spain: Development Of Philosophy, Part III

A General Ferment

One cannot reduce Spain’s contribution in the 18th-century to just fiction or the literature of ideas. The real intellectual ferment that characterized this era across the Pyrenees affected all areas in which the human spirit is illustrated, from poetry to fine arts, through music, science and architecture. Multiplying examples and names in all these disciplines would not, however, be of great help in understanding the general orientations of the Spanish Enlightenment, as well as the challenges of the period. This is why we will content ourselves with succinctly developing some fundamental aspects of this century.

The historiography of this Iberian nation generally divides the members of the Ilustración into four successive generations:

  • The critical generation, notably represented by Father Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676—1764), who analyzed the causes of the “decadence” of the country and proposed solutions to reform it, especially in educational matters;
  • The erudite generation, which sought to inventory the Spanish cultural heritage and laid the foundations for its conservation and study, while renewing the national historiography, as with the works of Gregorio Mayans (1699-1781) and Father Enrique Flórez (1702—1773);
  • The reformist generation, known for its political action and its theoretical treatises, like Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes (1723-1802), author of Discurso sobre la educación popular de los artesanos (which advocated special instruction for artisans) and Tratado de la regalía de la amortización (which gave a critical view of the agrarian system at the time);
  • The neo-classical generation, which tried to incorporate French influence even more into Spanish thought and arts, but also noted its failure, with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasion of Spain (1808-1814), like Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811).

New Structures Of Thought

Ilustrada literature could not be conceived outside of places of sociability that nourished debate and creativity of artists. These places could be purely intellectual, like articles in the press, or very concrete, such as, academies, tertulias (places of meeting and discussion), saraos (dinners followed by animated conversations), parties, balls, invitations or even courtesy visits.

The eventual development of the publishing world, still very much oriented towards religious subjects, could not hide the growing circles of debate, such as, the Academy of Good Taste, created in 1749 in Madrid; the Auberge of Saint-Sebastian, in the capital; the Basque Economic Society, founded in 1764 in Vergara; the Royal Society of Madrid, opened in 1775; the Academy of Human Letters, established in 1793 in Seville; plus various associations in more or less important cities like Cadiz, Ciudad Rodrigo, Osuna, Vera de Bidasoa, Valladolid, Zaragoza, Chinchón, Valencia, Tarragona, etc. These clubs, inspired by salons that could be seen flourishing in France, England or in German areas, and especially attracting local and national elites (nobility, clergy, big bourgeoisie).

The eighteenth century was, in Spain, the century of academies, sponsored by the monarchy; in the forefront of which was the Royal Academy of Language (1713). It was followed by the creation of the Royal Academy of History (1738), the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Saint-Ferdinand (1744), and the Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation (1763). Such organizations carried out the important task of rationally recording knowledge in dictionaries, such as, the Diccionario de autoridades of 1739, the Tratado de ortografía of 1742, the Gramática of 1771, the Diccionario manual of 1780, the Diccionario histórico-crítico universal de España in 1736, or the Diccionario de los literatos in 1751.

The royal officials were not outdone by systematic work in the field of bibliographies, such as, Ensayo de una biblioteca de los mejores escritores del reinado de Carlos III by Juan Sempere y Guarinos (in 1789); Memorias políticas y económicas sobre los frutos, fábricas, comercio y minas de España by Eugenio Larruga y Boneta (in 1800); or in the area of geography, such as, Viaje de España by Antonio Ponz (in 1794).

Some educational institutions, which existed on the fringes of the official university, seemed very open to new trends from the rest of Europe. This was particularly the case for pilot schools, the first chambers of commerce (Juntas de Comercio) and several private colleges. All these establishments were seconded in their efforts, not by a bourgeoisie which was still struggling to emerge in Spain, but by ecclesiastics, military officers, progressive aristocrats, or even officials of the monarchy.

Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, Spiritual Father Of The Spanish Enlightenment

If certain writers, such as Diego de Torres Villarroel (1694-1770), or José Francisco de Isla (1703-1781) are sometimes considered as precursors of the Ilustración, it is Benito Jerónimo Feijoo who seems to have initiated this new era by the original character of his work in Spanish literature.

He prefigured—by his simple and direct style, his spiritual preoccupations, his polemical tone, his will to educate, and his passion for science and ideas from the rest of Europe—polemists like Juan Pablo Forner (1756-1797), or fabulists like Félix María Samaniego (1745-1801) and Tomás de Iriarte (1750-1791).

Deeply anti-Aristotelian and opposed to scholasticism, Benito Jerónimo Feijoo became known in September 1726, when he began to sell copies of the first volume of his Teatro crítico universal. It was a collection of speeches aimed at combating the scientific, religious and ideological errors of the time. Between 1742 and 1760, he freed himself definitively from Baroque forms, whose survival was still attested at the beginning of the century, and published the Cartas eruditas y curiosas. In this work, he drew upon a wide range of European philosophers and scientists (Francis Bacon, Pierre Gassendi, Isaac Newton, etc.) and advocated the use of the analytical method, as opposed to syllogistics still in vogue at universities.

Defender of reason, but also of spontaneity in writing, rhetoric and artistic criticism (he introduced concepts like “je ne sais quoi” and “taste” in Spain), he also demonstrated his great scholarship. He graced his speeches with quotations and references to other thinkers on the continent, such as Pierre Bayle.

Common sense (sentido común) was one of the fundamental intellectual hallmarks of Father Feijoo, who, as a Benedictine, was also sensitive to the religious reform implemented by the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A resolute opponent of a number of national traditions, which he considered absurd and without documentary basis, he facilitated the renewal of Spanish historiography. The latter took place under the impetus of José Manuel Miñana (1671—1730), Manuel Martí (1663—1737), Juan de Ferreras (1652—1735), Luis de Salazar y Castro (1658—1734), and Gaspar Ibáñez de Segovia, Marquis de Mondéjar (1628—1708).

The Controversy Of The Theater, Testimony To The Tensions Of The Ilustración

A great theater nation since the end of the Middle Ages, Spain had a tradition in this area very different from that of classical French dramaturgy and which one could compare to Shakespearean theater. It is to Lope de Vega (1562—1635) that we owe the establishment of special rules in his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo. Characterized by the absence of unity of place, time and intrigue, the theater of the Lopesca school (whose disciples were Guillén de Castro, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, and Luis Vélez de Guevara) was founded on the mixture of comedy and tragedy, and advocated a great freedom specific to the Baroque aesthetic. It was these precepts that dominated until the end of the Golden Age, especially among giants like Tirso de Molina (1579—1648) and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600—1681).

With the change of dynasty and the new influences from France, the Spanish authorities sought to impose a radical metamorphosis of dramaturgy, in particular by promoting neoclassicism. This “official art”, which was difficult to promote because of public tastes and political and religious censorship, led to a controversy over the “xenomania” of national leaders and their rejection of tradition.

Very much inspired by Jean Racine and Voltaire, Spanish neoclassical tragedy followed the precepts of La poética by Ignacio de Luzán (1702—1754), while exploiting specific historical themes. Such was the case with pieces like Munuza, by Jovellanos (1769), Sancho García, by Cadalso (1771), or even Raquel, by Vicente García de la Huerta (1788). Criticism of Baroque theater, which in fact brought success to Spanish belles lettres, was obvious in a number of authors who deplored the heavy gaze of the Inquisition and the monarchy, namely, Agustín de Montiano (1697—1764), Nicolás Fernández de Moratín (1737—1780) and his son Leandro (1760—1828), Ignacio López de Ayala (1739—1789), and various others.

The passion of the Spanish (and in particular of the people of Madrid) for the theater and live performance led to numerous disputes among authors, actors, genres and poetics. In this context, the neoclassical comedy of Leandro Fernández de Moratín is the only one that posterity has truly retained, notably with The Maidens’ Consent (1806). The general public, for its part, preferred popular forms: magical comedies (which take place in a magical universe full of special effects), musical theater (especially with the emerging zarzuelas and tonadillas) and the theater of pathos (sentimental melodrama) whose intrigue often revolves around a marriage blocked and thwarted.

The success of sainetes (little one-act plays, often taken down, whose name is at the origin of the French saynète play) and entremeses (comic one-act theatrical plays, generally performed during the intermission) testified to the extent of the controversy among supporters of French aesthetics and advocates of the nation’s genius. Both sainetes and entremeses were indeed genres that grew out of the Golden Age which allowed playwrights, like Ramón de la Cruz (1731—1794), to satirize the neoclassical deemed pedantic.

We therefore see the emergence, behind these apparently literary discussions, of ideological oppositions, whose content was fully revealed at the time of the French Revolution.

Explorers and Scientists: Pioneers Of Progress In Spain And America

At the end of the 19th-century, the Spanish thinker Manuel de la Revilla provoked controversy around the contribution of Spain to Western scientific and technological progress. His thesis, that Spain was insignificant in both these areas compared to its neighbors, was supported by great intellectuals and researchers, like Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Miguel de Unamuno, Américo Castro, José Ortega y Gasset, Gregorio Marañón, or Julio Rey Pastor. In contrast, philosophers of stature, such as, Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo took issue with this theory, underlining the fecundity of the nation’s science.

This controversy about science was indicative of Spain’s inferiority complex, whose work in the technological field is still little known abroad. In fact, Iberian science was not outdone by its comparable European counterparts. Such was the case during the Golden Age, with a figure like Jerónimo de Ayanz (1553—1613), to whom we owe the first steam engine in history.

In the 18th-century, Spain participated in the race for science in Europe, for example, providing discoverers like Juan José and Fausto Delhuyar (who isolated tungsten), and Andrés Manuel del Río (who discovered vanadium). In the wake of the many learned societies formed all over Spain, scientists from across the Pyrenees sought to advance human knowledge.

The country was right at the forefront in this regard because of its colonial possessions in America and Asia-Pacific. This is why Iberian researchers were explorers and navigators, who theorized their empirical discoveries. Such was the case, for example, of one Jorge Juan (1713—1773), the reformer of the Spanish naval system, whose main contribution was to have measured the length of the terrestrial meridian and to have proved that the Earth was slightly flattened at the poles. He thus continued the long Spanish tradition of understanding the fundamental terrestrial mechanisms and mapping that can be observed from the end of the Middle Ages.

In the long list of explorer-scientists of the time, we can mention the case of Félix de Azara (1742—1821), soldier, engineer, cartographer, anthropologist and naturalist. He was intellectually responsible for very fruitful expeditions to the interior regions of Latin America, which were still poorly understood at the time. Cooperation with other countries, notably France, was regular in this context.

Indeed, from the reign of Philip V (1700-1746), Madrid participated in the expedition to the meridian by the Paris Academy of Sciences, under the direction of Charles Marie de La Condamine. Besides Jorge Juan, mentioned earlier, Antonio de Ulloa (1716-1795) was also on the trip. Important written impressions of this itinerary are recorded in the Relación histórica del viaje a la América Meridional (1748), and in the Noticias secretas de América (1772).

Such expeditions were a great way to study the flora and fauna of the New World, especially under royal patronage. In 1777, Charles III entrusted a five-year mission to Hipólito Ruiz (1754-1816), who identified and described with precision three thousand plants, and produced around a thousand drawings of these plants. Most of this unpublished work is now kept at the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid.

The figure of Ruiz is however somewhat overshadowed by that of one of his contemporaries, José Celestino Mutis (1732—1808). The celebrity of the latter is such beyond the Pyrenees that an engraving depicting him adorned the two thousand pesetas banknote, in final issue of Spanish currency before the adoption of the euro, in 1992. It was at the request of Archbishop Antonio Caballero y Góngora, the viceroy of New Granada (which brought together the current countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Guyana), that Mutis surrounded himself with scholars from the Iberian Peninsula or America (Antonio Zea, Sinforoso Mutis, Francisco de Caldas, Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Salvador Rizo). This was the fruit of their labor: 7,000 color drawings and 4,000 descriptive plates of the Latin American flora preserved by the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid.

Charles III and Charles IV continued on this path, with the expedition of Martín Sessé (1751—1808) and especially that of the navigator of Tuscan origin, Alejandro Malaspina (1754-1809) (50). The latter gave his name to a vessel of the Spanish Navy.

At that time, however, it was the Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition (1803-1806), led by Francisco Javier Balmis (1753-1819), that had the greatest impact. Following the work of the Englishman Edward Jenner, inventor of the smallpox vaccine, the Spanish monarchy promoted what is often considered the greatest humanitarian mission of all time. Most of Hispanic America is now immune to this endemic disease, thanks to the action and advice of Balmis and his second, José Salvany.

By Way Of Conclusion – A Rich Civilization Essential To Understanding The World

The murderous words of Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers, which we reproduced at the beginning of this investigation, take on a completely different meaning at the end of our study—which cannot be exhaustive. We can see how these words were the fruit of ignorance, prejudice and bad faith of an era, but also of a form of Hispanophobia which spread throughout the Western world, from the Renaissance down to our own times.

Spain has been an integral part of the progress of the human mind since its existence as a nation. Even in times of extreme difficulty and isolation on the international scene, as during the Franco dictatorship (1939—1975), this Iberian nation has never ceased to contribute to the improvement of knowledge of humanity and to the promotion of the arts and literature.

The rapid overview of the Ilustración (this Spanish variation of the Enlightenment) that I have just presented will show, I hope, that our Spanish friends were at the origin of a double civilization (both in Europe and in America), rich and essential to understanding the universe around us.

The French version of the article appeared in Revue Conflits. Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Saints Ippolito, Taurino, and Ercolano,” by Antonio González Velázquez, painted ca. 1740-1742.

Civilization: Guizot and Mill

Introduction

At the turn of the nineteenth-century, political thought underwent a revolution of its own. The purpose of this being not only to make sense of the obscenities that had so recently occurred in France and the colonies, but also to plan accordingly for the new order of the day.

The guise of the new order may result from intentional, consciously construed machinations, otherwise, it manifests spontaneously and by default. Imperial rule was probably most fit for antique societies one-tenth, or even one-twentieth the population size of contemporary Europe, who had a firm establishment of hierarchy and values, the basis of which was mainly religious.

But from the death of Christ to 1820, population estimates suggest a leap from 34 to 224 million in Europe’s population, while between 1820 and today that number has more than tripled; “hierarchy” and consequently “privileged society” are today met with disgust, and any position which seeks to reintroduce them is perceived as a regression to the archaic.

Following the revolutions of the late eighteenth-century, we needed to contextualize the extreme disorder present in western society, and in so doing, our best thinkers were required promptly to answer what type of order is fit and necessary for our day—given that monarchy and empire were increasingly held to be outdated orders of “yesterday.”

Said revolution in thought, though accompanied by others of differing concerns, began with François Guizot. Being, as John Stuart Mill states, the first to develop a philosophy of history, and that so soon before he would do the same, Guizot is ultimately the prime mover of this intellectual movement, to whom we must accredit all attempts to relate general histories, and this in order to approach the problem of their progression.

By the time of Guizot’s days of industry, specific histories had been written ad nauseam since as early as Herodotus, each focusing on some particular innovation or calamity, sequences of wars or natural crises. Never did we receive a synopsis of an age, a detailed iteration and interpretation of a phase in humanity’s development that was not confined to a mere decade or century.

The following essay will detail specifically the interpretations of Europe’s general history arrived at by both Guizot and Mill. Their methods of historical analysis are quite different: Guizot presented his ideas through spoken presentation, Mill in essay format; Guizot took greater care to enumerate a plethora of specific historical facts, while Mill took the liberty of using a select few historical facts to substantiate his thorough, thoughtful critiques, typically of western principles.

The two converge on the need for human progress, not its necessity. We will see, on the one hand, that progress is conditional, and can only occur when a super-natural corrective and clear system of values are present in a culture; on the other, we see that the human tendency to progress is perfectly natural and innate, that insofar as healthy society is contingent upon definite values, these values are a product of nature and therefore undergo their own evolution. Like Emperor Constantine, Guizot thought Christianity the prime vehicle for Europe’s civilization, only he was well aware of its vulnerability against an Enlightened age. Departure from the revealed religion seemed to Mill an accomplishment, and he considered any deterioration of culture as a result of this to be temporary, a bridge to a new height of civilization.

The discordancy between the two thinkers seems to illustrate perfectly an intellectual debate seen more and more frequently: naturalistic determinism versus the super-natural free-will, the idea of necessity versus that of right and wrong, the ingenuity of living cells versus the mercy of God. This debate, of course, is not the focus of either Mill or Guizot, but is rather revealed to the reader today who explores their conceptions of civilization.

In other words, it was not in the agenda of Guizot to assert the need for Christianity so that human progress may occur, nor was it Mill’s mission to assert that civilization is a purely biological process: however, Guizot’s partiality toward divine law, and Mill’s toward the laws of nature must be considered if we are to understand their ideas of human progress, for they suggest the personalities from which these ideas emerged, and are thus precursors to the ideas themselves.

Guizot’s Portrayal Of Post-Rome European History

The first and most indispensable similarity between Guizot and Mill, their philosophies of history, is the use of the word civilization. To them, it is verb, not noun—it is a coming together of once disparate and opposed phenomena: civilization, to them, is an active principle of social unification, and of man’s increasing faculties.

Mill’s criterion for civilization leans much more strongly toward unity, whether he call it “combination” or “cooperation,” at the expense of the high-mindedness of humanity, though he relinquishes culture not without due depression. Guizot, though he, too, emphasizes the essentiality of mass cohesion in the idea of civilization, rather gives the Providential unfolding of man’s “godlike qualities” a central position in his thought. In this regard, but not only in this regard, Guizot is more aristocratic than Mill, who never tires of denouncing the coteries.

In his General History of Civilization in Modern Europe, Guizot takes on the overtly complicated task of detailing the history of roughly 1,300 years over the course of fourteen lectures. In so doing, more or less insuperably, he ventures to illustrate his general thesis about civilization that is provided at the outset: “It seems to me that the first idea comprised in the word civilization… is the notion of progress, of development. It calls up within us the notion of a people advancing, of a people in a course of improvement and amelioration.”

With this, Guizot may chronicle the sequence of Modern Europe, painting, as it were, precisely this image for the listener. Modern Europe of course means Post-Ancient-Greece and Post-Roman-Empire, after Athens had flown with Icarus too near the sun, and Rome in its unguarded perplexity had been conquered by Germanic barbarians. The individualism of the Goths was for a time contra humanitas, rude and uncreative, egoistic and dimly subject to rules. How sorrowful this condition, in contrast to the melodic combination evidenced in the Greeks’ Apollonian-Dionysian aesthetics, followed by their incisive dialecticians and evocative orators.

Paying mind to this, we wonder how it is that personality climbed so high in the Grecian climate centuries before Rome’s decline, and yet stooped so low to propel the Medieval epoch? Does not this transition (i.e. decadence) prove civilization to be at least partially a process of regression? Guizot, however, makes the claim that this barbarity was the kernel, the hideous and uncertain precursor to Modern Europe, to which we are indebted for the characteristic that makes it worthwhile and great.

It was the stubbornness of the Germans, their unwillingness to succumb to any one ruling system, that brought variety to Western Civilization. The Roman nobility and the Christian Church nurtured the virtue of submissiveness in the citizenry prior to this stage, and while remnants of Romish rule remained, it is here alongside an altogether new virtue in its infancy, namely independence:

“Still, notwithstanding this alloy of brutal and stupid selfishness, there is, if we look more profoundly into the matter, something of a noble and moral character, in this taste for independence… It is the pleasure of feeling oneself a man; the sentiment of personality; of human spontaneity in its unrestricted development: “It was the rude barbarians of Germany who introduced this sentiment of personal independence, this love of individual liberty, into European civilization; it was unknown among the Romans, it was unknown in the Christian Church, it was unknown in nearly all the civilizations of antiquity.”

By this, Guizot means strictly “political,” or relational liberty. One was no longer bound to any absolute dominion, and thus Europe broke off from theocratic and municipal monism into a political pluralism, free of any singular ruling power. All was broken up, divided, though the people were not altogether unconscious; the verbal civilization process could, and in fact did prevail in this state of confused barbarism. United in spirituality, guided by their one and only God, the barbarians coalesced, the once opposed men were reconciled and christened by a common order.

The libertine and the autocratic, the gentle and the severe, seem to have shared the common need for religious communion. The assimilation and development of European Civilization, therefore, is to be regarded as the accomplishment of the Christian Church after the fall of Rome, if only she required time to gain her own independence without the Empire. This blending of religious conformity and temperamental diversity, the one affording stability and the other novelty, has, as Guizot would have it, given us a Europe that Providentially reaches for “eternal truth… [which] moves in the way God has prescribed.”

So it was, that as the various temporal powers attained to sovereignty—the boorish stagnancy of feudalism, the depraved misapplication of Christianity in worldly totalitarianism, the various monarchies throughout the Medieval period—Christian feeling meanwhile eventuated the development of western man’s consciousness, growing more refined across time, compensating for the tragic descent into unconsciousness which finalized Ancient Europe.

To understand Guizot’s use of the term civilization, one must be familiar with Providence, as he uses these words more or less interchangeably. Rather than impose a violent Grecian fate onto civilization, rendering Europe a victim of its own ἁμαρτία (hamartia), blinded by its own hand for ignoring the oracle, Guizot, being a Christian, infuses fate with compassion and intent, with the freedom to alter the future for better or worse; accordingly, God in his mercy gives fullness of life to man if he will but use his gift of freedom for faith and baptism, all while delimiting those ungodly uses of freedom indicated in the Bible. In other words, our unfolding is not set in stone, there is no predestined ruin of man: so long as a people has a sincere love for God in its heart, the Almighty will draw the minds and spirits of His children closer to Heaven.

With this deistic precedent, Guizot has about as firm a conception of the civilizational process as can be posited: As an integral component of Western Civilization, Christianity brings mankind, over the course of time, to ever higher states of culture, “nearer to God,” so to speak. The atonement achievable by aid of Christianity alone can ameliorate our eschatology (i.e. to what end civilization is directed, hellish or heavenly).

Mill’s Civilization Of Reason And Necessity

The God and the freedom of civilization are rather nonexistent in Mill’s adaption. The process seems to Mill much more fated, automatic, inevitable, deterministic. Nonetheless, Mill is a progressivist; he sees the improvement and progression of mankind as self-evident, even as necessary (and this is a crucial point on which he and Guizot are radically opposed). Guizot would probably say that civilization never had to develop towards unity and perfection, but that either man in his freedom could have diverted from the will of God, or aligned with it as has generally been done, which is evidenced by civilization’s continuation and upward progression.

Mill, on the other hand, abides by a naturalistic interpretation of human development: human nature generated Christianity to the effect of self-moralization, and once moralized, humanity began to transcend the Christian doctrine, owing to its increase in “intelligence” and “information.”

Over the years, more materials became available to man from which knowledge and wisdom could be extracted, all while “discussion” gained a prominence that former stages of civilization either forbade or were otherwise unequipped for.

In this view, a revealed religion is ultimately a testament to the ingenuity of Nature, which will cause mankind to delude itself if delusion is requisite for the first stages of progress; as for the following stages, it becomes a sign of regression, and therefore anti-natural to cling to the ideals of generations past, who were not as knowledgable or civilized as we.

Mill himself, as can be safely expected of the Père du Libéralisme, is at bottom irreligious, and in brief moments expressly anti-Christian. His presumption consists in the general supremacy of the Good over the Evil in man—in secular terms, the better over the worse—and this he attributes to the ratio de homo sapiens.

Not as spirit does man ascend to new heights of culture, but as a strange and somehow wise animal, predisposed to greater communication and conduct because Nature’s intelligence recognizes a sort of necessity in so doing.

Adhering to the voice of Nature, Mill makes it his mission to raise man’s intelligence, that all may supersede the desires and impulses through conscious self-regulation: “There is not one of the passions which by a well-regulated education may not be converted into an auxiliary of the moral principle; there is not one of the passions which may not be as fully and much more permanently gratified, by a course of virtuous conduct than by vice.”

If Mill were forced to regard anything as super-natural, a corrective to the coercive forces of nature, it would be education. Without it, he recognizes man’s innate, animalistic and immoral tendency toward disorder; but that ratio has a presence at all, is enough for him to conclude that, through the ages, man is prone to overcome his destructive dynamism in favor of common civility, to become more reasonable through education because nature gave us reason enough to progress, and to refuse education would be unreasonable.

It should be noted that Mill does not consider the most intelligent to be, for that reason, the most moral; only that those who are morally educated, no matter their intellectual fortitude, are better suited for Benthamitic actions of the “greatest good for the greatest number.”

Though Mill was confident in man’s capacity for reason, there are to be found in his essays numerous slights against upperclassmen for their cowardice, intellectual laziness, and unreason in the use of authority. To Mill, reason equalizes men, but it can also cause the lower-class to usurp the upper-class: this is what he refers to as the “transition stage” of civilization.

The “natural stage,” rather, is when those generally fittest to rule do so, while in the transition stage, the ruled by and large feel themselves better equipped to rule than those who do. A confusion in the morality and hierarchical order of a people occurs until a nouveau normal is established, whereby the unfit are divorced from ruling power and the new fittest are given that power.

That Mill devised these stages of history points to the necessity embedded in his idea of civilization, something we do not find in Guizot.

A Point of Agreement: The Dawn Of Public Opinion

Guizot never enters thoroughly into the subject of education throughout his lecture series. He may mention it in passing, but his focus is shifted primarily toward Europe’s growing diversity, the coexistence of diverse perspectives without the bloodshed that primitives would treat alien sentiments with. One issue, however, where Mill and Guizot plainly converge, is the arrival of mass society in Modernity, and the consequent sovereignty of a new despot, invisible and all-encompassing: public opinion, or opinion publique.

“It must have been observed by all that there exists a power which no law can comprise or suppress, and which, in times of need, goes even further than institutions. Call it the spirit of the age, public intelligence, opinion, or what you will, you cannot doubt its existence. In France, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this public opinion was more powerful than at any other epoch; and, though it was deprived of the legal means of acting upon the government, yet it acted indirectly, by the force of ideas common to the governing and the governed, by the absolute necessity under which the governing found themselves of attending to the opinions of the governed.”

Here is Mill’s description: “The triumph of democracy, or, in other words, of the government of public opinion, does not depend upon the opinion of any individual or set of individuals that it ought to triumph, but upon the natural laws of the progress of wealth, upon the diffusion of reading, and the increase of the facilities of human intercourse… He must be a poor politician who does not know, that whatever is the growing power in society will force its way into the government, by means fair or foul… Nor, if the institutions which impede the progress of democracy could be by any miracle preserved, could even they do more than render that progress a little slower. Were the Constitution of Great Britain to remain henceforth unaltered, we are not less under the dominion, becoming every day more irresistible, of public opinion.”

Note that the excerpt from Mill has by no means been cherrypicked. Indeed, he uses the phrase “public opinion” exhaustively and always under the same connotation of irresistibility (a characterization used by both Guizot and Tocqueville). This should be borne in mind as we continue to analyze the likeness of the two authors’ notions of civilization.

Mill, of course, sees the dawn of public opinion, the rule of the demos, as in accordance with the “natural laws of progress,” and so, rather than fight an unbeatable beast, treats it with the care of a passing illness—taming, as it were, the immature, uncanny and unruly democracy of his day. Though he thought it grotesque, we find no indication that he believed popular rule to be temporary; he knew it to be an unprecedented reality, and should it be a lasting one as well, he wished it to be minimally ignorant. T

o ennoble democracy, he sought to awaken the age to its transitional existence (i.e. to its turbulent, temporary condition that must eventually make way for a new order and normalcy). Always, J.S. Mill is after the general education of the people, not unlike the education given him by James Mill, in order that the demos might better combine and desist from tyranny. Opinion publique et sa force irresistible seemed only to be gaining prominence; contrary to Tocqueville, for Mill, we can only infer that public opinion marks the hideous beginning of a new order, a seed that will not flourish without the sun and water of education.

Guizot, on the other hand, sees in the demos a perversity that men from former ages would look upon with disgust—for this, we shall see, he considered a religious solution the only able remedy. He says this shortly after the French Revolution, during lecture fourteen. Nevertheless, he sees superciliousness in popular authority, a disrespect for laws and institutions that individuals or tribes could never sustain, for which smaller social uproars would soon be extinguished, but that sizable populaces can, by their sheer number, act upon with greater ease and success.

An increasing population, brought by the correspondence between developing free cities and human reproduction, gave peoples from approximately the seventeenth-century onward a sensation of collective power, culminating in 1789, when the French citizenry could not be dissuaded from its conquest of the Absolutes.

Bridging the Perspectives: From Guizot’s History to the Age of Public Opinion

To synthesize what has been said hitherto, let us contrast the beginning and endpoints of this Modern process of civilization. In the beginning, the Germanic individualism was invoked to show not merely its crudity, but what Guizot rightly claimed to be the origin of what may be Modern Europe’s greatest virtue: the promotion of individuality.

This was the state of Europe, and particularly Rome after the fall of the Empire in 476. Following the decline of imperial and monarchical rule, various systems were implemented, each district severally trying its own governmental configuration: one district might be municipal, another democratic, others theocratic, and so on.

No one system had yet proved itself ultimus, peoples were dispersed into their own distinct sectors, comprising a collection of independent nations rather than a grand, unitary Europe. This came at the close of the Medieval epoch with the rise of free cities, industry, and commerce. Here we see the blending and unification of the people, densely packed as one collective body, no longer fragmented such as they were in the pre-Modern period.

This amalgamation of the people, as thinking men ponder timorously, marks a revolution in human existence itself: the Germanic individualism is annihilated, the voices of the few become inaudible over that of the crowd. Individuality had crossed its summit, the godlike artfulness of, say, the Renaissance painters, impressive as it was, gave way to excessive conformity, group activity and mass production.

The craftsman now appears senseless and wasteful, for, through combination and cooperation with people and technology, more products can be generated at a far faster rate. The industry of the individual is now only secondarily in question (if it is even in question). It is his participation in group industry that dictates his worth.

Whether masses can excel, as individuals sometimes do, remains to be seen. Following the birth of mass society, infantile barbarism of the populace might appear in nationalism, though really it could unite under anything at all that has seized common feeling. Always it subdues the one and the few, in a tremendous way shaping the character even of personal thought, and certainly of interpersonal communication. Both authors notice the uprise of public opinion, and anybody today who seeks to understand the “spirit of the age” cannot dispense with their insight.

Collective identity, the widespread combination of individuals, and the popular rule contingent upon these are the latest developments in the process of civilization. Nobody knows whether a people can anymore achieve the grandeur of the gods, as the Athenians had done so long ago; there, men had the will and climate to create against the highest creations; nowadays, there is little creation worthy of mention and the voice of the western individual has been muzzled.

Guizot says nothing of the growing insignificance of the individual, whereas Mill details this only too acutely. For example: “The most remarkable of those consequences of advancing civilization, which the state of the world is now forcing upon the attention of thinking minds, is this: that power passes more and more from individuals, and small knots of individuals, to masses: that the importance of the masses becomes constantly greater, that of individuals less.”

Nor does he attempt to prognosticate the ensuing ebbs and flows of civilization. Where Guizot ends is precisely where Mill begins; Guizot gives to us a retrospective image of a societal metamorphosis, leaving off at the French Revolution. Making known the heroism of a misunderstood King Louis XIV, who was an international success and a template for how to fortify a nation, he speaks about the paradoxical, perplexing spirit of the Revolution: the victory in its yearning for the free intellect, the tragic ἁμαρτία (hamartia) of its “boldness.” He had neither the time nor the gall to foretell any coming developments. Mill, on the other hand, had all of the leisure and temerity necessary to generate a comprehensive philosophy of history, supportable with reference to the past and easily imposable onto the future.

More On Mass Society And The Authors’ Perspectives

Mill’s essay entitled, “Civilization” (1836) shows us the amalgamating elements in this blossoming fructus; as opposed to his uncivilized predecessors, modern man combines and cooperates with his fellows. The Germanic selfishness which so readily values itself over others transforms into a symbiotic altruism: “I help you, you help me,” replaces, “you do your thing, I’ll do mine.”

Mill posits that as men came into closer proximity with one another, they discovered that far more can be accomplished, to everyone’s benefit, if we band together and delegate specific tasks to specific people. A house can be cleaned much more quickly if one person is assigned to each floor simultaneously, than if one man alone were responsible for every floor. (But is speed conducive to art)?

Modernity, then, is marked by the relinquishment of the potentially crude, potentially artistic individual will, allowing for the development of handy, albeit less meticulous group-wills. The visions of the sculptor and the musings of the poet are ever less likely to occur; indeed, are squashed by the indomitable collective will which continues to strengthen.

The Franco-English wars, of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the nationalism that it cultivated in France, exemplify the growing ensemble of man; the Crusades above all reveal the newly arrived societal collaboration, here assembled in the name of a common heavenly reward. Combination and cooperation, it would seem, were first provoked by war: when civilization reached this stage—where, rather than demonize his neighbor, man would consider him, as neighbor, also an ally—this connection intensified the moment that each had a common enemy in view. War has always brought patriotism, which is a wholly codependent phenomenon; it cannot exist without a national identity, the principles that constitute it, or outsiders and enemies.

This congealment of the individual and collective-will is integral to Mill’s theory; in Guizot’s General History, group correspondence is everywhere invoked, but we find nothing of the horror-show whereby the individual man becomes an instrument of the collective, which Mill unambiguously provides.

If we should analogize their fundamental messages, our best comparison is this: on the one hand, Guizot posits that civilization is the sequence containing “the progress of society” and “the progress of individuals,” while Mill affects a similar image: his civilization points to increasing “combination” and “cooperation,” along with increasing “knowledge” and “discussion.” On both counts, we are led to the same understanding: civilization is the innovation of what is internal and external to the existing man. If Mill consciously built off of Guizot’s idea of progress, we ought to applaud him for his subtle, almost undetectable alteration of terminology.

There is, however, a fundamental disagreement between them on the conditions of man’s inner and outer development. Guizot deems individual and societal progress basically combined and inseparable: the external conditions of man could never improve without a reciprocal change of the inner man and vice versa.

Mill, however, has no problem with the idea that progress could occur within a people without men severally and positively becoming greater persons. To show this, he has littered many an essay with bitter remarks about the uneducated—the needlessly uneducated—and has devoted entire essays to this subject. We cannot fail to share a certain distaste for the lazy-minded, would-be and could-be intellects, and especially those untrained in common sense. Mill protested against speed-readers and careless-writers. Like Thoreau, he detested mainstream media, and therefore anyone who had no sentiment to speak of other than those offered by “Harper & Brothers” and “Redding & Co.”

In passing, let us attest to the fact that Mill picked up on the internal-external distinction inherent in civilization during his reading of Guizot; but what is more important is the clash between the authors’ principles, made apparent by the loving hostility of Mill’s pen. (NB: Mill revered Guizot for his contribution of general history; he despised him for his later affiliation with the July Monarchy).

That clash is this: between Combination and Christianity; or rather, between the postulate that the two have a synergy which renders their attachment superior to their detachment, and the conflicting postulate that Combination need not the crutch of Christianity in order to occur, however true it may be that the latter served an important anthropological function for archaic man, and thus for his posterity as well. Guizot sides with the first position—that “an intellectual union is the only true society”—and Mill with the second, perhaps out of an especial fondness for the Germanic individualism.

Does Civilization Need God?

Despite Guizot’s appetite for variety in character, there is a certain issue regarding which he sees a need for homogeneity. Mill, conversely, loves diversity unconditionally, conceding no ground to any antiquae fidei as an incontrovertible, healthy conviction fitted for all men. Simply put, Guizot sees Christianity as the foundation, the meeting ground by virtue of which all classes and temperaments of men may not only cooperate, but also connect with one another: civilization only occurs when a population can agree on this, as the barbarians slowly but surely did.

Mill, in his ardent will to truth, refuses to accept this notion, considering the traditional dogma to be simply an accessory to civilization, even a valuable one, but by no means a condition of it; it should not be considered absolutely true, and even less should the individual be compelled to lay his soul into the arms of religious ideology against his will.

Insofar as Guizot was idolized by Mill for being the first to attempt a general history of Europe, we also find Mill tense and regretful on his behalf. As aforesaid, Guizot’s alliance with Louis Philippe found no support from Mill, but rather outspoken hostility; the basis of his frustration is of course to be explained by their politics. This does not explain Mill’s regret, however. For all of Guizot’s industry, his innovation of philosophy and exacting historical research, Mill could not deceive himself concerning what he considered to be definite cognitive errors in Guizot, whose roots are to be found in his faulty convictions.

The following quotation is Guizot’s, though it has been included by Mill in his essay, “Guizot’s Lectures on European Civilization.” The quote below the following is Mill’s response to Guizot, who says: “[Guizot]: ‘Community of sentiment, community of belief—whatsoever the sentiment or belief may be—constitute the basis of a social state. It is only upon the truth, or what men conceive to be the truth, that they can ground a society. It has been truly said that there is no society but between minds, in other words, that an intellectual union is the only true society, and the basis of all others; or, what is the same thing, men cannot act together unless they have a clearly understood end in view; and they cannot live together unless they all partake of one and the same feeling, arising from one or more facts, so that the single fact, or if there be many, each of them, may be agreed upon as truth by all. As there is but one universal truth, so a society which has that truth for its basis must be one. There cannot be two spiritual societies. This is the abstract notion of the Church Unity. But how can men’s minds be united in the truth, unless they themselves recognize it as truth? This was sadly overlooked by Christians at all times.’”

Religious faith displays unique powers when it comes to orienting the individual’s actions and perceptions. There is a reason that the “conversion experience” is widely discussed, as William James had done in The Varieties of Religious Experience.

The person before and after conversion are not the same; the after-person, it is commonly reported, achieves feelings of clarity and wholeness: before, one was a stranger in an arbitrary, chance universe, knowing not what this life is about, where it comes from or where it leads, and so life itself was a senseless burden.

Following conversion, however, order and love are restored, there are now definite right and wrong ways of thinking and acting, there is a definite goal (i.e. Heaven) and one has all his life to work toward it. Suffering is no longer unnecessary, but explainable by God’s will, full trust and devotion to which make holy.

For all of the arguments against religion being too dogmatic and anti-intellectual, Guizot knew, like James, that the religious faith carries vast implications for the lived experience of individuals, which consequently affects their culture as well: according to Guizot, when the people of a nation share devotion to “one universal truth,” then character, camaraderie, and love are afforded that nation.

Here is Mill’s response to Guizot from the same essay: “Were it not for a few of the concluding lines, the passage just quoted might be supposed to be from the pen of the most mystical and puzzle-headed divine on this side of the Channel. What could M. Guizot mean by the assertion that ‘an intellectual union is the only true society’; that ‘men cannot live together unless they all partake of one and the same feeling, arising from one or more facts, so that the single fact, or if there be many, each of them may be agreed upon as truth by all?’ Of what facts does he assert all this? Are they physical, political, or historical facts? Does he maintain the notion of the Church of Rome, and indeed of the Protestant churches which still cherish an essential part of its spirit—the notion that Christianity, as an historic belief, is the basis of true society? Does he forget the testimony of universal history to the fact that the social nature of man will avail itself of the merest trifles to form and maintain associations for power and defense?…. He complains that ‘in almost all Protestant countries there is something wanting—something imperfect in the organization of the intellectual society, so that the regular action of the established and ancient opinions is impeded. The rights of tradition have not been reconciled with those of liberty.’ What, in the name of wonder, are the Rights of Tradition? How is the regular action of established and ancient opinions to be encouraged by any organization, without encouraging the mischievous activity of established errors? Such indeed are the contradictory wishes of men who see the truth, but cannot make it part and parcel of their souls. This is what some men call moderation—namely, the assertion of a principle, combined with practical views and conduct in direct opposition to it… M. Guizot’s inconsistencies, admiring his works as we do, raise more of regret than anger in our heart.”

The issues of Christianity’s incontrovertibility, as well as its indispensability in the western Ethos, have proved enigmatic in the age of skepticism. Guizot, as we have established, holds Christianity to be integral to western culture and civilization, and thus not to be abrogated. Mill asserts, with a liberty of conscience even Guizot might deny, that truth prevails independently of Christianity; Truth does not need to be rooted in a theological fairytale, and society may prosper without an absolute, common truth, in an existence void of traditional mythology, doctrine, and custom. In lieu of the truthfulness hailed by religious believers, Mill offers greater optimism with regard to personal honesty, the free development of the individual with as little intervention as circumstance allows.

To understand Mill’s frustration with the Christian influence, we must consider what ordinarily characterizes the believer: a certain parlance is used, attire maybe more formal, particular habits and abstentions, a manner of checking thought from its excesses, a shared set of values with fellow Christians, and so on. The homogenizing function of Christianity causes in Mill, as it does in many a Liberal under his wing, a frustration which proceeds from the observation of what appears to be mental enslavement.

The specific values, appearances, norms; the sort of common-personality, shared aesthetic and mode of conduct that issue from an esteemed tradition anger the Liberal immensely, who recognizes in and of himself a sort of innocence which doctrinal institutions—the case in point being Christianity—can only serve to corrupt. Thus where Mill sees mental enslavement of the individual and popular mind, Guizot sees Love, Freedom, and Truth Itself.

Again, the philosophers are fighting an extant battle: the a priori Christian Truth versus the a posteriori, empirical approach of science. Guizot’s Truth is concentrated before phenomena, while Mill’s places greater trust in what is bound by space and time.

The divide between the Christian and the scientific mindset has serious implications for the trajectory of civilization: how do these opposing postures toward Truth affect Combination and Cooperation? Does a people combine and cooperate more readily with or without the commonly assumed truthfulness of the Gospels? Is the spirit of man shackled and stunted by the antiquae fidei, or is it rather indebted to this for the heights it has attained, and for those it has yet to reach?

Guizot’s Christian-Combination possesses a logic which Mill’s more plain-Combination lacks; to keep from forming a tradition, Mill refrains from establishing what it is that a people combines under, for he cannot be sure himself. He does not promulgate civilization “in the name of”—only civilization.

In contradistinction, Guizot is unafraid to say that it is in the service of God that people join together and help one another to live fully, that the Father who gave us life calls for our return to Him, which means keeping the Good in heart and abolishing the Evil wherever it stands, working with men rather than against them, sacrificing what is base and overly selfish in oneself to serve a greater truth than is accessible to the unchecked individual.

A case could be made that religion is the only factor that separates Mill’s and Guizot’s theses about civilization. Most everything is in agreement—the internal-external progress of the existing man is kept in both of their formulations. The capacity of the Church and Christianity for civilization at the outset (immediately following the fall of Rome) is presented by both philosophers, but at a certain “stage of development,” Mill thinks it well to rid of the training wheels. After de omnibus dubitandum had been declared, when Socratic questioning and scientism had arrested the Zeitgeist, the tendency to remain skeptical about religious faiths became ever commoner, hence Mill’s antipathy toward pre-rational assertions and assumptions.

If Guizot encountered skeptics in his day, their doubtfulness being very destructive to myth and religion, he certainly was not fazed: he was a trusting Christian man, and his understanding was that a nation of trusting Christian men, or men who trust whatever their national religion happens to be, bodes much better than a people who have fallen from their God, or who have no God at all in their culture. Thus Guizot’s viewpoint says that once religion is removed from a people, so is the upwardness of civilization, and so, as nothing that lives is motionless, society begins to regress. That is, civilization cannot occur without God.

Mill, however, does not touch on God, Providence, or any seasoned vocabulary, but rather remains maintains his realism. We as humans consider some things good, others bad, and Mill’s civilization progresses toward the good because the bad is dangerous, terrible, and confusing. The living man cannot withstand the “bad,” that which worsens the human experience, because he is self-conscious, and so he naturally does all within his power to deviate from the bad, for to be conscious of one’s own pain is an awful thing.

The “Illness” Of The Ancient Doctrines And Our Recovery: A Struggle For New Prejudices

One need only look at the table of contents in Guizot’s book to see that “the progress of the human mind [is] purely theological.” Mill sees the decline of religiosity, as visible in the nineteenth century as it is today, as something to be celebrated, a height of civilization hitherto unmatched.

However, he is not strictly Cartesian down to the atom, aware that too penetrating a doubtfulness can atomize a people and lead to catastrophe: “Now, it is self-evident that no fixed opinions have yet generally established themselves in the place of those which we have abandoned; that no new doctrines, philosophical or social, as yet command, or appear likely soon to command, an assent at all comparable in unanimity to that which the ancient doctrines could boast of while they continued in vogue. So long as this intellectual anarchy shall endure, we may be warranted in believing that we are in a fair way to become wiser than our forefathers; but it would be premature to affirm that we are already wiser. We have not yet advanced beyond the unsettled state, in which the mind is, when it has recently found itself out in a grievous error, and has not yet satisfied itself of the truth. The men of the present day rather incline to an opinion than embrace it; few, except the very penetrating, or the very presumptuous, have full confidence in their own convictions. This is not a state of health, but, at the best, of convalescence. It is a necessary stage in the progress of civilization, but it is attended with numerous evils; as one part of a road may be rougher or more dangerous than another, although every step brings the traveler nearer to his desired end.”

In light of Mill’s theory of progress, whatever regressions issue from the dissolution of the “ancient doctrines” are akin to the flu-like symptoms that often follow inoculation. The unsettled, uncertain attitude that grips the populus is transitory, and the multitude will strengthen through the struggle for shape. The Old Ways were illness: today we endure the convalescence, the recovery from that illness, the rougher part of the road, suffering the austere cravings that arise within us.

Anybody with an ear for prophesy cannot fail to contemplate the bottommost three lines of the above passage: Mill knows the “desired end,” he knows what helps and what hinders its attainment. All that Guizot cherishes, the hierarchical order, the religio et ecclesia, monarchy as the image of divine authority rightly applied to the State: all of it comprises Mill’s vision of decadence. Those decadent expressions of authority were flattened, producing a democratic, atheistic (or else New-Age spiritual), egalitarian-type society which has a difficult time of forming new prejudices and norms.

Mill is prejudicial and pro-prejudice; as he put it: “A person may be without a single prejudice, and yet utterly unfit for every purpose in nature. To have erroneous convictions is one evil; but to have no strong or deep-rooted convictions at all, is an enormous one.”

The prejudices of old, then, he merely considered incorrect, not because they were prejudicial, but because they were mysteriously generated and imposed by the upper echelons of Europe’s society, otherwise by parents and educators. Revelation occurred to the spirit of someone other than he to whom it is prescribed; Mill’s philosophy advocates the personal selection of values and prejudices, as opposed to the top-down imposition of them. The individual may abide by his own unique spiritual doctrine insofar as it does not interrupt the survival or satisfaction of other living beings.

Can we expect each individual to contrive his own moral code? Supposing that they do, how can we be sure that what satisfies the doctrine of one individual will not breach or rupture the doctrine of another? Can there be any standards for behavior without a common religion?

Though the ancient doctrines have suffered a loss in votaries, new ones emerge from the collective in their place, whether or not they be rooted in scripture. It is left to the observer to parse out the newest commandments: What are the new prejudices of the Modern demos? Has it a heart or conscience? Will it not “shun us like impure beings?”

The prophetic Mill has confidence in the capacity of the demos to progress, but the thought of the opposite is never really treated: Christianity professes the notorious Day of Judgement, and this is enough for us to consider whether it is not possible for us, as peoples and as individuals, to commit some irreparable wrong that might earn hellfire for the heavens and earth which are now (2 Peter 3:7).

Conclusion: Civilization Refuted Or Redeemed?

We hear of mandatory ideological trainings being instituted in the universities; even more, we hear that the western political climate is polarized. Given the current strides toward multiculturalism and inclusion, it is safe to say that Europe and her daughter America have, to a considerable extent, abandoned Guizot’s principle of national devotion to one universal truth; each country and state is its own religious stew, sheltering people of various cultures from all over the globe.

Christianity remains central to the lives of a great many people, but relatively few consider it integral to western civilization: a growing many, and especially the young, set it aside every other religion, admitting no greater devotion to it than to this or the other religious heritage.

This seems to have followed from the conclusion that there is no one universal truth for everybody: “Each culture has its own truth, which is universal only to everyone in the culture, and so let the cultures worship their truths in their own ways within the limits of their own societies.” Thus the public opinion of today seems to speak.

We have explored the general history of Europe offered by Guizot, and the essence of that history given by Mill. The Roman Empire fell; an individualism, none too refined, soon prevailed; the ecclesia elevated the minds of the barbarians, spiritual and temporal existence were given their own rights and regulations; men, becoming more sophisticated in thought, tried to bring order to the social world, extolling whichever authorities they thought fittest for governance; initially, none of these authorities prevailed over the others, none availed themselves of national governance, until monarchies began to reign supreme in the Medieval epoch; the French monarchy was torn asunder by the collective dream of a democracy, the achievement of which would render, in theory, each citizen equally elevated and powerful in his reason; Guizot abandons his task here, at the latest, greatest historical shift before his lecture series in 1800 (the French Revolution); Mill agrees with Guizot’s account of the history, but denies the essentiality of the ancient doctrines and of civilization’s Providential unfolding; Mill projects into the future his predictions and suggestions, the best of his knowledge for how to maximize civilization’s development.

Thus we conclude: Guizot says that history alone reveals a progressive character; Mill says that history and futurity, as two categories of a single, continuous process, share in a progressive character. What was said above of their opposing standpoints regarding truth, derived a priori on the one hand and a posteriori on the other, is therefore reversed when we discuss progression of civilization as a process.

In the former case, we only learned that Mill is opposed to the doctrine of faith, while Guizot is an advocate. Here, we see that Mill holds civilization to be integral to man’s progressive nature—not so for Guizot: to him, civilization is Providential, a consequence of God’s mercy, which is to be given to man insofar as he exercises his free-will in servitude to the Creator. Again, we observe the naturalism in Mill’s thought, such that it is not man’s choice to progress or regress: these occur of themselves, they are in his nature, but progress generally wins over decadence, and will do so as long as his nature is not corrupted.

For Guizot, these things are not determined: it is left to the free-willing being, the child of God to decide whether the future shall present growth or decay; the free-will is connected with, if not identical to the soul, one of the most renowned super-natural concepts known to man. Civilization is choice for Guizot, and necessity for Mill.

Guizot makes the a posteriori assertion that history has proved progressive in the past because we can resort to documents, to phenomena, to confirm this. Mill’s a priori philosophy of history states that, while indeed we may infer history’s progression from the historical documentation available to us, that progression was present before the documentation ever arose, and so it will continue to bring historical developments before we can document them; that regardless of any setbacks along the way, history is fundamentally progressive, and as such will continue upward to whatever extent humanity can reach, while all setbacks are inoculative and transitory.

Jacob Duggan is a student at Towson University, Baltimore. He is the co-editor (with Zbigniew Janowski) of John Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings. His essay, “The Advent of Liberal-Catholicism in a Victorian Age” is forthcoming in The European Legacy.

The image shows, “The Wedding at Cana,” by Paolo Veronese, painted can 1562-1563.

The Power Of Beauty And The New Museum Barbarians

The America of 2020 is a country in financial ruin. Its twenty-three trillion debt is the greatest of any country in history. Its political and social decline is obvious to anyone over fifty. Its universities, including the most distinguished ones, once the envy of the world, have been turned into meccas of ideological indoctrination.

Almost every aspect of America’s past greatness is gone. Until recently, one area of its cultural strength was unquestionable: Museum collections. American museums were once greatly admired by the curators of important European museums. But things are changing.

Some American museums embarked on a mission to suspend the purchase of European art, to sell items from their collections, or put them (temporarily) in storage rooms, in order to display the works of minority artists. In 2018, the Baltimore Museum of Arts, sold seven artworks “to make way for pieces by contemporary artists of color and women.” Years ago, the Walters Museum, made the decision to acquire more “Black Art.” “The new acquisitions,” we read, “reflect the efforts of the museum, established at a time when the city was predominantly white, to evolve with the city, whose population now is predominantly black.” This year, the Walters suspended the purchase of European art. What is happening in Baltimore is a wider trend that is sweeping across America.

Last year, when I went on my monthly visit to Baltimore Museum of Arts, five of my favorite rooms, one containing Corot and Couture’s portrait of a woman with exposed breasts, were closed. What I found instead were mediocre contemporary paintings of Black slaves in chains by a local contemporary minority painter. To make sure that the visitor gets the message, the paintings were accompanied by very long statements by the painter, written in activist gobbledygook.

Contrasting what I saw with my previous experiences, the sense of quiet joy that a museum visit causes, I felt deeply irritated. I had a strong feeling that whoever responsible for the decision of taking down the great masters had robbed me of something that my soul longed to see. Instead of peacefully enjoying the beauty of the old artists, I was punched with a loud social message. It was consistent with the “1619 Project” of The New York Times. However, what is justified in the case of a politically engaged newspaper should have no place in art museums, for that is where we go to contemplate Beauty.

Clearly, beauty is of no interest to the new generation of curators, who believe that a social massage is more important than the intrinsic, artistic value of the old masters. They do not see themselves to be guardians of Beauty, and of the past that must be very carefully preserved. They see themselves as propagators of their ideological vision of America.

American museums are becoming ideological peddlers, and if they will follow in the footsteps of educational institutions, we can expect the same disastrous results. Old masters, like the classic writers, will be replaced by “underrepresented” minority artists, or sold off and forgotten by the public.

This is what happened under communism. The Stalinist curators would store old masters’ paintings in storage rooms and display Socialist Realist paintings, or they would sell them. Philadelphia Museum, for example, acquired a Poussin that Leningrad museum sold in the 1930s. But as Socialism is making inroads into American life, we should not be surprised at what is happening in our art institutions. “Art must be ‘engaged’” was the message of Socialist Realism.

Why that was so is easy to understand, if we turn to the writings of the Founding Father of the Socialist Idea. As Marx taught us, art is an expression of social consciousness, and as the latter changes so does art. Standard art history books written by Marxist art historians in the former countries of real socialism would tell you that the medieval mind was the prisoner of a religious Weltanschauung, and that the medieval paintings, saturated with the Biblical scenes, are expressions of it.

Renaissance art, on the other hand, represents a shift in social consciousness, and a step in the right direction: The painters broke with the medieval idea of anonymity, and the exclusively religious worldview made room for non-religious topics, marking the birth of the individual. The painter no longer saw himself as someone whose talent is to be devoted to the glory of God, but as an individual who expresses his own individuality.

We were told, for example, that the presentation of the human body, or the nude, was an affirmation of this world. Afterlife was pushed out by the beauty of earthly existence. Another shift can be observed in 17th-century Dutch painting. Thousands of portraits of rich merchants and important men of politics marks the birth of the bourgeoisie—the new social class oriented not toward the hereafter but earthly concerns: money and politics.

Even the poor shepherds are no longer presented as humble folk who made their way into paintings in the scenes of the manger with the baby Jesus and the Holy Family. They can be seen on green meadows attending their grazing animals.

The story of the development of social consciousness continued till it reached the peak in what came to be known as Socialist Realism. Its main heroes were the neglected and forgotten: the worker and the peasant. Former socialist underdogs are today’s American minorities. Their images can be seen everywhere on mural paintings.

How important is Marx’s insight for our understanding of art? It isn’t. It says something obvious. To be sure, one can trace the trajectory of changing social consciousness just by looking at the products of the past epochs: They tell us something about the people who made them, the ideas that motivated them, and how different they were from us.

But Marx’s theory of social consciousness tells us nothing about art’s aim — Beauty. In making us believe that what we see in paintings is social consciousness, Marx made us forget its most fundamental aspect: Beauty, the way it is presented, the changing technique. The theme is important but it cannot be more important than the artistic execution.

The paintings of Delacroix, for instance, have a political dimension, but if we admire them it is hardly because they carry a political message. Delacroix was simply a great painter.

This is what the new curators seem to forget, and they need to ask themselves a very simple question: Are the canvases they spend millions on art or ideological statements? And if they want to educate the public, they will not succeed by making the public look at bad art. They have to know what clear-cut criteria of aesthetic judgment are.

They may be unaware of it, but they are behaving like the followers of Marx for whom History is a battleground between the oppressors and the oppressed, and it unfolds itself through various historical stages. Therefore, what we see in art of the past epochs is the record of forms of oppression, the way in which oppression operated, from its cruelest forms to its most subtle expressions of submission, as John Stuart Mill taught us in The Subjection of Women. Art, according to this theory, is not about “perfecting Nature,” as Aristotle would have it.

At best, it is a means of plastic expression of a social message. The old idea that the artist is a creator who expresses eternal Beauty with his brush or chisel is long gone. He is an unconscious peddler of false or unliberated consciousness, expressing the social values of his epoch. He is like a bourgeois jurist, who, in designing laws, is building ever-newer punitive devices that protect the privileged classes against the oppressed, rather than being someone who wants to bring universal rules of justice to the City.

Similarly, a painter, who is painting, say, a naked woman, as we learn from feminist criticism, is objectifying women (according to the standards of his epoch). “Objectification,” even if it is a mental act, or assumes the form of a painting, is oppressive. This reasoning leads us straight to Marx’s idea that History is a struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed.

If you still wonder why a mediocre painting could replace a Corot or a Couture, the answer is simple: A mediocre painting of a slave, “a man objectified,” breaking chains, shows the viewer a fight against alienated consciousness, social injustice, whereas Couture’s painting of a blushing woman with exposed breasts is likely to be interpreted as female submissiveness.

Feminists have been unambiguous in their claim that the female nude is an expression of “the typical male attitude,” of seeing a woman as an object to own. Hundreds of 19th-century Academic and Orientalist paintings, showing naked women sold at slave markets in ancient Rome or the Middle East, is supposedly a testimony of such an attitude of the male painters. Jean-Léon Gérôme (“Roman Slave Market”), Remy Cogghe (“Female Slaves Presented to Octavian”), or Hermann Corrodi (“The Slave Market”) may be invoked here as illustrations.

In each painting, a beautiful naked woman is presented to the buyers by the sellers. Orientalist paintings are more likely to be a rendition of what 19th-century Arab countries were like than the imaginary constructions of the Academicians who conceived of Roman slave markets. However, the question is not about the accuracy of the actual practice of slave trade in Rome or Middle East, but intentionality of artistic presentation.

Among many 19th-century paintings presenting naked slave women for sale, one seems to stand out. It is Henryk Siemiradzki’sThe Vase or the Woman.” The painting received the gold medal at the 1878 World Fair in Paris, and the painter was awarded the French Legion of Honor. The painting was very much liked by the Dutch-English painter, Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema.

The painting presents an older Roman patrician and his son. The older man is sitting, looking at the vase, while his son is looking at the young beautiful woman. One of the traders is showing the vase to the patrician; the other, a very tall Black man, is pulling a white long cloth covering the woman’s body. In what appears a gesture of covering her shame, the half-naked woman is putting her hand on her face and eyes, as if she wants to defend herself against the shame of her nudity.

What makes Siemiradzki’s painting different from similar paintings is that the buyer must choose either the woman or the vase.

How can one equate a woman with a vase, one can exclaim, unless one reduces a woman to the level of an object. But to say that is to miss the point Siemiradzki makes here. The woman and the vase are on the same level, if – and only if – there is a common denominator between the two. This denominator is beauty.

However, once we recognize it, the only logical choice left is to choose the vase. Its beauty will outlast the beauty of the young female body. It will live for centuries, long after the beauty of the girl and the girl herself are gone.

As we look at the painting, we notice that the beautiful young woman is of greater interest to the patrician’s son, who is glaring at her, rather than his father—an older man, who seems to prefer the vase, which he is holding.

However compelling, logic can be complicated. The young man would choose the vase but only if he followed Plato’s advice from the Symposium: “He who aspires to love rightly should from his earliest youth seek intercourse with beautiful forms.” But youth has its own logic. Its interest is passion: intercourse with a bodily form; interest in the intercourse with Beauty itself, or beauty of art comes later, in older age, when “the devil” (sexual passion), as Socrates teaches us at the beginning of the Republic, is gone.

Looking at Siemiradzki’s painting, one learns an important lesson: Art is not about lessons in raising social consciousness, nor is it about politics, social justice, representation of minorities. It is about Beauty. Unless present-day museum curators learn this lesson, they will quickly fill our museums with “loads of rubbish,” as the British say. The old elites which feed themselves on Beauty will look at it with predictable scorn, and the minorities which are the intended target of “minority art” will conclude that there are better things to do. Alas, they are likely to be right

Zbigniew Janowski is the author of Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude, Index Augustino-Cartésien, Agamemnon’s Tomb: Polish Oresteia (with Catherine O’Neil), How To Read Descartes’ Meditations. He also is the editor of Leszek Kolakowski’s My Correct Views on Everything, The Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on Philosophers, John Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings. His new book, Homo Americanus: Rise of Democratic Totalitarianism in America, will be published in 2021.

The image shows, “Dance Amongst Swords,” by Henryk Siemiradzki, painted in 1881.

Intelligent Design And Cognitive Science Of Religion

Introduction

The belief in the ordered character of the Universe has been present in the human thought since the times of antiquity. The contemporary doctrine of the Intelligent Design (further denoted as ID) grew, in the 1980s, out of creation science which aimed at providing scientific support for the literal account of creation as portrayed in the Book of Genesis. In most general terms, ID stipulates that the high level complexity and ordering of the living organisms in the Universe, as well as their adaptation to the demands of the environment, imply that they were purposefully brought forth by an intelligent designer and not by the workings of the laws of nature. Although the inconclusiveness of these arguments is nowadays commonly accepted (e.g. Ayala 2009, 128–149), the efforts to justify the scientific character of ID still receive considerable interests, as they appeal to simple intuitions rather than sophisticated scientific arguments.

The goal of the presented article is to subject the doctrine of Intelligent Design (further denoted as ID) to the scrutiny of the tools of a novel division of cognitive science, named, the cognitive science of religion, from both methodological and epistemic points of view. In particular, this scrutiny will allow for the assessment of the influence of the development of science on the validity ID’s inferential power. So far, it has been established with the methods of the cognitive science of religion that the argumentation in favor of ID follows upon the content specific human cognition acquired in the course of specific evolutionary scenarios that have programmed the human mind to interpret the patterns of ordering in the Universe as resulting from the action of intentional agents. To put things bluntly, we are in-born “intelligent designers,” whether we like it or not. It is not surprising that the belief in ID turns out to be the most natural and immediate response to the experience of the ordering of the Universe. Moreover, it explains why the belief is so widespread in common sense perception, and why it takes time as well as scientific maturity to leave pre-scientific intuitions behind.

The pursuit of the article’s goal will proceed in the following steps. Firstly, the conceptual content of the ID doctrine will be surveyed to establish its fundamental claims. This step will hinge upon the precise distinction between ordering and design and the mechanisms of the spontaneous emergence of ordered structures in the Universe.

Secondly, the cognitive mechanisms responsible for the preference of the human mind in placing the intentional agency as responsible for the effects of ordering will be presented.

Thirdly, based on some preliminary considerations by Grygiel, the impact of the development of science on the activation of these mechanisms will be assessed.

And fourthly, it will be claimed that although the ID doctrine cannot serve as means to draw any specific conclusions on how ordering emerges in the Universe, it constitutes a suitable metaphor to support the belief in God as the Creator of the Universe.

Intelligent Design And Its Conceptual Content

Before the unpacking of the conceptual content of the ID doctrine is accomplished, it is worthwhile to carry out a simple semantic analysis of the concepts of “order” and “design.” In regards to order, its basic meaning derives from the logic of relations to articulate the idea of precedence. No mention of the authorship of this order is ever made.

The etymology of the term “design,” however, clearly refers to the activity of specifying, or to singling out from among the many. Moreover, design is often used alternately with project. This yields meaning complementary to design, namely, that of throwing forward, whereby a certain idea is metaphorically visualized as being thrown upon a chaotic substratum.

Consequently, two semantic components of design must be taken into account: Purpose and perfection. In regards to purpose, design implies the activity of a designer, namely, a conscious agent who, driven by a specific goal, makes a deliberate choice from a large number of options available. By acting with purpose, the designer does not arbitrarily select any option available, like in a lottery, but elicits a considerable effort to arrive at a unique arrangement that fits his/her rational plan. Once this plan is placed in the framework of participation in the world of the Platonic eternal forms, it acquires the attribute of perfection.

This simple semantic analysis can be given a more precise meaning with the use of the mathematical concept of probability. The standard definition of probability understood as the ratio of the number of willed choices to the entire number of options from among which these choices can be made indicates that there might be an connection between events of low probability and the activity of an intentional agency. It seems intuitively fitting that the more unique the character of the choice, that is the lower its probability due to the precision of its selection, the more obvious the need to postulate the designer’s intervention.

According to Aristotle, events of low probability qualify as accidental: “The accidental, then, is what occurs, but not always nor of necessity, nor for the most part. Now we have said what the accidental is, and it is obvious why there is no science of such a thing; for all science is of that which is always or for the most part, but the accidental is in neither of these classes.” This assertion brings in a new element into play, namely, that of qualifying chance events as intractable by the scientific method. Consequently, there arises a clear-cut intuitive dichotomy in the explanation of the occurrence of events in nature: high-probability predictable events occur as workings of the regularities built into nature while the low-probability chance events call for an intervention of an intentional agency.

With the conceptual tools thus specified it is now possible to tackle the conceptual content of the ID doctrine. It gained its greatest momentum in the 90’s as efforts were undertaken to fight off theory of the Darwinian evolution. The main objection advanced by ID relies precisely upon the dichotomy explained above: If the natural selection responsible for the increase of complexity in the Universe rests on chance, it is unable to bring forth entities as complex as the living organisms.

An American theologian, John. F. Haught, who testified as an expert in theology at the famous trial held in the USA in 2005 against the introduction of ID doctrine into the high school biology curriculum, defines this doctrine as, “a set of ideas, as well as a vocal cultural movement, that seeks to curb the influence of Darwinism by insisting that science must invoke a non-natural ‘intelligent cause’ for such seemingly improbable phenomena as speciation and cellular complexity.”

The precise arguments in favor of ID were proposed by two of its most vocal advocates: A biochemist, Michael Behe, and a mathematician, William Dembski. Behe coined the concept of “irreducible complexity” as he argued that the functions of certain complex biological structures could not have been developed through the gradual increase of complexity. In regards to the origin of systems such as the biochemical machinery of vision he asserts the following: “They were designed not by the laws of nature, not by chance and necessity; rather they were planned. The designer knew what the systems would look like when they were completed then took steps to bring the systems about.”

In the effort to explain how one might know that a given system has originated through design, Behe continues: “design is evident when a number of separate, interacting components are ordered in such a way as to accomplish a function beyond the individual components. The greater the specificity of the interacting components required to produce the function, the greater is our confidence in the conclusion of design.”

The intriguing link between specificity and design comes more visibly to the fore in the ID conceptualized by Dembski as “specified complexity.” This is a convoluted formal argument carried out within the theory of information. In a nutshell, Dembski maintains that specified complexity appears in a given system when the system contains a great amount of independently specified information and is complex, that is, it exhibits a low probability of being formed. He illustrates these ideas with the following example: “A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified.

A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified.” Since Dembski expressly associates the process of specification with the activity of the designer, the process may be considered as reflecting the intuitive meaning of the intentional setting aside or singling out, contained in the term “design” discussed above. Yet such singling out by itself is not of any significance unless it operates on a large population of individuals, thereby making the selection truly unique and original.

Regardless of how persuasively Behe’s and Dembski’s arguments may sound, they do not provide any explanation on how to make a transition from the objective features of the design, such as, specificity and complexity, to the subjective mental states of an intelligent designer. This is exactly where the tools of the cognitive science of religion enter in.

Intentionality and Design

The main premise for the application of the tools of the cognitive science of religion to the analysis of the ID doctrine is to establish why the human mind intuitively posits a conscious intentional agency as the cause of the ordering of the Universe. The particular suitability of the tools of the cognitive science of religion to assess the ID doctrine consists in two factors.

Firstly, these tools rely on an extremely general conception on who a god might be with no reference to any religious traditions. Barrett states that “gods, here, will refer to: (1) counterintuitive intentional agents, (2) that a group of people reflectively believe exists, (3) that have a type of existence or action (past, present, or future) that can, in principle, be detected by people, (4) and whose existence motivates some difference in human behavior as a consequence.”

The counterintuitivity which takes up the role of supernaturality in this case implies that the tools of the cognitive science of religion easily apply in situations where the causes of ordering do not have to be of divine nature at all. Secondly, the cognitive science of religion rests on the assumption that religiosity thus conceived is an evolutionary byproduct.

Accordingly, religiosity did not emerge as a result of a specific evolutionary adaptation, but arose due to the operation of the ordinary natural cognitive powers of the human mind. The first important point in the cognitive explanation of the origin of design is that the human mind exhibits a strong conceptual bias, namely, content–specific cognition, that manifests itself through an array of intuitive expectations on what the world is like and what course of the natural phenomena is to be foreseen. These expectations sum up to what is termed as “folk ontology.”

Pascal Boyer has pointed out that the religious beliefs where gods are conceptualized as intentional agents arise largely based on intuitive (non-reflective) concepts to facilitate the efficacy of these beliefs in the real-time operation. Barret has put forward the thesis that the quickly spreading religious concepts need to be minimally counterintuitive, that is, to violate folk ontology only to a certain small degree.

Additionally, these concepts must exhibit substantial inferential potential to form reflective beliefs so that sense can be made out of what is being observed and experienced in reality. It turns out that these are the minimally counterintuitive intentional agents equipped with mental states which qualify as the chief meaning-making tools.

What are the reasons for this particular applicability of the concept of an intentional agent to make sense out of reality? The evolutionary explanations of this state of affairs rely on the two basic cognitive mechanisms called the hyperactive agency detection device (HADD) and the theory of mind (ToM) otherwise called “folk psychology.”

HADD was first suggested by Stephen Guthrie and its primary function is to purposely over-interpret the perception of a self-propelled motion as resulting from the action of an intentional agent equipped with mental states. Since such a motion has no visible mechanical cause, it violates the expectation of physicality, whereby it triggers HADD, so that the attack of a predator can be avoided and the reproductive success secured. The theory of mind supplements the workings of HADD, by supplying the array of possible mental processes and motivations that might have led to the behavior perceived.

What truly counts as fundamental from the point of view of this study, however, is the HADD reveals sensitivity not only to the actual motions of a supposedly minded agent but to the traces of its activity as well. The traces may include easily recognizable objects such as deer trails and bird nests, as well as any other manifestations of ordering. If the encountered pattern does not correspond to any familiar mechanical or biological cause, the human mind will likely place an intentional agency as its cause because it has a natural bias towards explaining the perception of ordering in teleological terms, rather than stipulating the activity of natural causes.

This phenomenon has been extensively studied by an American psychologist, Deborah Kelemen. The studies performed on young children demonstrated a marked preference in explaining a given natural regularity by answering the question, “what for?”. Consequently, a design or a regularity encountered in nature can be easily clarified as the activity of an intelligent designer and – ultimately – of a creator.

Further justification of why the human mind intuitively associates orderings observed in nature with a purposeful action of an intentional agent comes from an argument based on probabilities. Some indications in this regard have been made by De Cruz and De Smedt, but they call for further substantiation.

What follows is a proposal of such a substantiation, conjectured by the author of this study. The conditions under which local ordering in the Universe may take place, are given by the laws of thermodynamics, which involve entropy as the formal measure of disorder. These laws stipulate that the local ordering reflected in the local decrease of entropy must be accompanied by the local decrease of the internal energy. The energy of a system can be lowered through work that is performed on it.

This fact agrees with the intuitive experience of having to invest a considerable and purposeful effort into achieving results that require organization of things into coherent unities (e.g., building a house). Similarly, the disintegration into chaos and formlessness occurs spontaneously in nature and its prevention always demands external intervention. This observation suggests that there may exist a link between the process of ordering and the activity of a personal intentional agency, that is, a designer.

This link becomes evident, as one considers Boltzmann’s definition of entropy given by the famous formula S = k lnΩ, where k is the thermodynamic constant and Ω is the number of equivalent microstates available to a system in a certain macrostate.

The complexity of the system, in Dembski’s terms, indicates that there is a large number of possible configurations – micro- states available to this system, whereby the probability of picking out a single one is low. Such a process of selection will result in a significant decrease of entropy, as compared to the situation in which the complexity is small, meaning that much greater force will need to be exerted in the same time period to achieve selection in a complex system. And now comes the key cognitive argument.

According to Leslie, the subjective mental representation contains three distinct levels with the representation of a mechanical force being the most basic one that supplies information to the two higher ones. Consequently, as Sørensen states, “representation of force is an implicit part in both understanding entities in the world as agents with intentions and in being an agent oneself when acting with specific goals in mind based on beliefs.”

In conjunction with the laws of thermodynamics, this statement yields a possible explanation of why the perception of order may intuitively invoke an intentional agency as its primary cause, and why such an agency produces events of low probability. Despite its conjectural character calling for a more in-depth empirical study, it seems rational to expect that the capacity of producing design qualifies as another constituent of the folk ontology, that is, the content-specific expectation of what it means to be human.

Conquering Counterintuitivity

There is no doubt that the new scientific discoveries slowly but constantly shift the threshold of what qualifies as counter-intuitive. The possibility of overcoming the cognitive biases through the growth of scientific knowledge and its subsequent cultural dissemination has been convincingly argued by De Cruz and De Smedt. For instance, the introduction of one of the most fruitful conceptual tools of contemporary physics, namely, that of a field, clearly does away with the intuitive belief that motion occurs through contact with a visible cause. Since fields are invisible carriers of forces spreading over the entire space, their effects occur by having no visible mover.

More importantly, as revealed by the theory of the dissipative systems, ordering into very complex low-probability structures, such as, living organisms, does not have to mean design, because it can be brought forth by the workings of the natural laws. In short, life is a dissipative structure. According to this theory, order can naturally emerge out of chaos, so that no intervention of an intelligent designer is necessary in this process. The emergence of ordering in the Universe involves two strategies: (1) the necessity of the laws of nature, combined with (2) chance as the random character of fluctuations of the environment. Since these fluctuations fall under rigorous mathematical treatment within probability theory, the evolutionary origin of life in the Universe can be easily subsumed within the scientific rationality of a mathematical character.

Consequently, chance no longer contradicts order but becomes its seminal constituent. This suggests that, what for the scientifically illiterate generations immediately led to the acknowledgement of the workings of an intelligent designer, no longer has to have this effect for those that are scientifically informed.

Moreover, the studies of the evolutionary processes of bringing forth this growth reveal that the characteristics of these processes do not coincide with the idea of a design resulting from the purposeful activity of a designer. This is particularly evident in the specificity of natural selection that brings forth novelty, not by means of the optimization of a new project, but by means of slow modifications of the existing structures.

In short, the novelty resulting from the workings of the natural selection is imperfect and flawed. For instance, this imperfection appears in the structure of the human brain that could have been designed as a much more efficient and structurally organized device. Interestingly enough, it turns out that even in the 18th-century the famous advocate of ID, William Payley, was quite aware of the imperfections of nature; but in light of his overwhelming conviction on the purposeful authorship of the Universe, he disregarded them on the premise that their impact was minimal.

In order to gain more focus in addressing this problem, I have suggested the concepts of vincible and invincible counterintuitivity to reflect the dynamic nature of the scientific knowledge in its impact on the formation of a religious belief. In particular, these concepts allow for the articulation of a purely hypothetical situation, in which counterintuitivity would eventually become entirely vincible, upon the formulation of a scientific theory of everything, capable of grasping the ultimate meaning of reality. There is a common agreement, however, that such expectations amount to no more than sheer illusion.

This agreement builds on a practical and a theoretical premise. The practical premise was clearly stated by Albert Einstein who was deeply convinced that science unveils only a very small part of the vastness and complexity of the physical reality, while most of it will always remain a profound mystery. To put things succinctly, nature has sufficient amount of novelties in stock to generate counterintuitivity for many generations of researchers to come. It is not surprising that Richard Swinburne has revamped the argument from design by claiming that the abstract laws of physics call for an intentional agency to explain their origin.

The theoretical premise was clarified by Michael Heller, who pointed to three irremovable gaps in knowledge that cannot be patched up with the scientific inquiry: The ontological, the epistemological and the axiological. In case of the ontological gap, one asks the Leibnizian question of why there exists something rather than nothing – while following Einstein, the epistemological gap prompts the question of why the Universe is rational, namely, why its laws assume their particular form. Since the pertinent answers fall outside the competence of science, the problem of the ultimate origin of the structuring of the Universe will never be scientifically resolved, although it may shift to a very abstract level as evidenced by the highly-advanced formalisms of the contemporary physical theories.

Inasmuch as the development of science is an objective process of departing from intuitions proper to the folk ontology, what truly counts for the formation of beliefs in the causal activity of intentional agencies is how the human mind responds to this development. It turns out that this response reveals two constituents. They were pointed out by Barrett, as he commented on the very process of the human mind being confronted with the outcomes of the theory of evolution: “we do not simply outgrow the tendency to see the purpose in the world but have to learn to override it.”

He rests this statement on extensive empirical research, revealing that the folk ontology intuitions remain operative even in conditions of high level of scientific literacy. Consequently, these intuitions remain permanently invincible, whereby the efficacy of beliefs, useful in making sense out of routine events in real-time thinking, is assured. What is remarkable at this point is how well the human mind is actually sealed off from the possibility of conquering all counterintuitivity: Should the intuitive conceptual biases be ever overcome and should the folk ontology ever catch up with the actual state of the art in science, it is unlikely that nature itself will ever run out of surprises. And even if it finally did, the irremovable gaps will ultimately enter in and terminate all scientific inquiry.

The specificity of the mechanism of the natural selection that has been addressed at the beginning of this article points to another aspect of the invincibility of the inference of the intelligent designer’s authorship of the ordering in the Universe. As it has been already explained, this mechanism executes a short-sighted ad hoc strategy of imperfect adjustments to the existing structures to secure their proper adaptation to the environment’s fluctuations.

Since ordering does not seem to be manifest to perception in such an instance, HADD should not fire and the activity of an intentional agent should not be detected. On the other hand, however, the detection of imperfections of the evolutionary outcomes does rely on the knowledge of rather advanced biology, unavailable at the time when William Payley formulated his famous claims. Therefore, it seems justified to expect that these imperfections will not significantly obstruct the activity of the scientifically uninformed intuitions, especially that the theory of dissipative systems, based on the deterministic chaos, yields rational explanation of their origin.

In Connection With Religion

Although the contemporary ID doctrine does not reveal an explicitly religious agenda, it is hard to disentangle this doctrine from its theological significance. After all, the representation of God the Creator as an intelligent designer entered the theological thought already in the Middle Ages, through the formulation of the teleological argument for the existence of God.

Later on, for instance, the explanation of the complexity of living organisms, given in the 18th-century by William Payley, directly involved God as the principal author of the ordering of the Universe. It also seems quite obvious that many of the ID supporters, including Behe and Dembski, aimed at creating a new intellectual framework in which the prevalent scientistic attitude could be overcome and the mind of a contemporary scientifically-oriented believer reopened for the perception of the supernatural.

Consequently, the appraisal of the ID doctrine with the tools of the cognitive science of religion will not be complete, unless the impact of the presented outcomes on the formation of the religious belief is at least briefly addressed.

Barrett has drawn up the following cognitive distinction between natural religion and theology: “there is a difference between what people tend to believe in an automatic, day-to-day sort of way, and what they believe when they stop to reflect and systematically figure out what they do and do not believe.” This means that the human mind makes use of two incompatible representations of the divine: The intuitive and the theological.

Since the intuitive representation is inferentially rich and its activation occurs quickly and unconsciously, it ensures that the thought processes, with its use, guarantee immediate inferential power, thereby securing the execution of religiosity in real-time mode. The theological representation, on the other hand, is abstract, with its activation occurring slowly and consciously in a reflective mode of religious thinking. As Barrett frequently stresses, it demands an elaborate institutional scaffolding in the form of the educational institutions to provide proper instruction.

As applied to the ID doctrine, Barrett’s distinction of religious beliefs into natural religion and theology clearly supports the invulnerability of the intuitive belief in the purposefulness of ordering in the Universe to its natural explanation, by means of the evolutionary scenarios.

In light of this, it seems rational to propose that the religiously interpreted ID doctrine can be reasonably justified, only in the mode of natural religion, as it serves to sustain the belief in God as the Creator of the Universe. There is no doubt that this belief is central to any religion that attributes the origin and the existence of the Universe to the causal power of the pertinent deity. Moreover, the intuitive character of the belief in the divine design of the ordering in the Universe makes this belief permanently accessible to believers in real-time thinking. As a result, religiosity can be continuously exercised without the need to resort to elaborate reasonings to substantiate its claims.

Concluding Remarks

The analysis of the doctrine of Intelligent Design, with the tools of the cognitive science of religion, has demonstrated that the human mind exhibits a marked preference towards the intuitive (non-reflective) acceptance of an intentional agency, that is a designer, as the author of the ordering of the Universe.

What is most striking, however, is that this belief seems to reveal an unusual immunity to the development of science, despite science gradually invalidating ID’s central claims, by showing that what is intuitively attributed to the activity of a designer turns out to be the result of the workings of the laws of nature. Such a state of affairs gives a clear explanation for the persistence of the ID doctrine, even in the scientifically literate circles. In brief, intuitions are extremely hard to be dispensed with. An important cognitive factor which discredits the ID doctrine is the nature of HADD itself.

Since this cognitive mechanism relies on the error management strategy, it yields no insight into the epistemic value of this belief. In short, this not a truth-tracking process, and it is likely to generate false positives. It is additionally confirmed by the fact that HADD was proposed on the basis of a specially constructed ancestral environment, in which its activity had been adaptively advantageous.

It remains beyond doubt that contemporary humans, who are scientifically literate, do not populate such environments. De Cruz and De Smedt confirm this difficulty when they state that “one cannot draw straightforward conclusions from evolutionary origins to epistemic justifications.” These considerations seem to lead to an inescapable conclusion that the ID doctrine is entirely unscientific, for it fools its supporters into mythology.

Such a drastic claim can be somewhat alleviated, as one takes into account the thermodynamic argument of why the human mind posits a designer, as it perceives ordered structures. Contrary to HADD, the mechanism involved relies on the second law of thermodynamics, which is a well-established law of nature, whereby the corresponding mental representations may refract some truth on what the world really is. As has been already indicated, an intelligent designer may be a part of what constitutes folk psychology. Consequently, the concept of the intelligent designer can be applied to formulate positive theological statements concerning the nature of supernatural reality.

Following the precepts of negative theology, however, such predication occurs metaphorically only due to the radical disproportion between the perfection and infinity of God and the finiteness of the human conceptual means that are at man’s disposal. The representation of God as the Creator in the form of the intelligent designer can serve only as the metaphor of God’s creative power to sustain the intuitive belief and cannot be used to formulate any literal theological statements on the nature of the divine act of creation.

Wojciech P. Grygiel is at the Department of Philosophy, The Pontifical University of John Paul II, Kraków, Copernicus Center for the Interdisciplinary Studies. He is also a member of the Saint Peter Priesthood. This article appears courtesy of Scientia et Fides.

The image shows, “The Ancient of Days,” a watercolor-etching by William Blake, painted 1794.

Preliminary Notes to a Renovation of Platonism. Part Two: A Reassessment of the Ideal Field

The properties (at the level of the composition of matter or that of its arrangement) which, at the instant t-1, find themselves to be actualizable are not only subject to decryption and to triage on the part of matter at the instant t. They rank among the possible implications of the properly atemporal (since virtual) bundle of the elementary archetypes of the cosmos, and its starting rules. Therefore, we may call them the “implicit properties” of matter (or the “implied”).

By the Spirit, I mean a purely virtual being (therefore devoid of the slightest material support), which is the substantial reality (the one self-sufficient to exist), and which is infinite as well as the creator and subject to a creative impulse, deploying itself like a selective impulse, which actualizes the own content of the Spirit. The latter has this paradoxical feature – that it is both outside of time (by reason of its supra-worldly character), and engaged in a process of revelation of itself over the course of the history of the cosmos (whose existence it generated from nothing).

The paradox is elucidated through taking into account the fact that the Spirit, which entirely lies at the axioms (the starting rules repeating in a fractal mode), and in the elementary archetypes of the cosmos, therefore lies in the infinite assemblage of their implications.

At each level of emergence in the composition or the arrangement of matter (starting with the emergence which saw matter spring from nothingness), matter – subjected to time and engaged in a momentum which we will see is, so to speak, the shadow or the reflection of the selective and actualizing impulse on the part of the Spirit – decrypts, sorts, and concretizes those implications. It does so on the occasion of the communication process that physicist Pavel V. Kurakin describes between matter at the instant t and the actualizable properties of matter at the instant t-1.

The Material Impulse Towards Selective Actualization

More precisely, the Spirit (all the components of which are traits of the Spirit that are essential rather than accidental) is entirely contained in an ideational (therefore atemporal and supra-worldly) assemblage of axioms, archetypes, and implications, whose actualizing drive transmits itself to matter. The latter, not content with embodying the ideational field which yet remains distinct from matter and ideational, therefore, takes care of the actualization of the aforesaid implications.

Yet the material accomplishment of the Spirit gradually leads to the consciousness of the Spirit (in the sense that the cosmos sees the knowledge of the existence of the Spirit germinate), as well as to the transparency of the Spirit (in the sense that the content of the Spirit allows itself to be known also). In other words, matter selects over the course of time passing in cosmic history – and as a result of an actualizing impulse that the Spirit breathes into the two partners that are time and matter – those implications arising from archetypes and axioms which will be actualized, and including the implication that consists of the emergence of consciousness among living beings – and, in essence, the emergence of the awareness of the Spirit’s existence, and of the knowledge of the Spirit’s content, within the thought of men (especially Faustian Westerners).

This process of a selective and material self-revelation of the Spirit has a temporal and worldly beginning. The advent of this beginning is the object of a global and undivided impulse (which nevertheless communicates itself to axioms, archetypes, and implications, namely, the components of the Spirit), rather than the object of a coalition of convergent but particular impulses (on the part of the aforesaid components of the Spirit).

Throughout the process of the Spirit revealing itself, matter—as Aristotle rightly discerned, carries within it the potentiality of the change that it experiences. Nevertheless, the aforesaid change 1) is operated by matter itself (in collaboration with time); 2) it inherits the actualizing and selective impulse on the part of a unified assemblage of (elementary or implied) archetypes and of axioms (and their implications); and 3) it concerns as much the constitution of matter as its organization. Those are the great many aspects of the change at work in the cosmos that were beyond the scope of Alexander’s mentor.

The Deployment Of The Spirit In The Cosmos

Ultimately the history of the cosmos can be apprehended as the history of the Spirit which, via its drive to create time and the world, as well as via its (breathed) drive to sort and to update the implications, accomplishes selectively its essence (therefore its content), unfolding over the course of time, which occasions the decryption (and the triage) of the implicit properties of matter (whether at the level of its arrangement, or at the level of its composition).

The materialized archetypal forms, as well as the materially and fractally iterated Big-Bang rules, which recruit matter into information processes taken over by the aforesaid matter, and reveal the Spirit in an exclusively objective mode (which therefore ignores the consciousness of the Spirit). Just as consciousness is unknown to the atom that partakes of the archetype of the self-recruitment of a matter composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons in rapid motion, within the spherical form of a shell within another shell – it is foreign to the galaxy which partakes of the archetype of the granting of an elliptical shape to the ten billion stars or more composing matter which gives itself such arrangement.

Nevertheless, consciousness emerges with the memes – ideologies, religions, worldviews in the broad sense – which continue to reveal the Spirit in an objective mode and which open the door to its subjective revelation. In order for the Spirit – which accomplishes itself on a material and historical level, while remaining supra-material and outside of time – to become the object of a consciousness and to be rendered transparent alongside the aforesaid consciousness, its objective fulfillment which goes through memes must become the place of its subjective accomplishment (instead of distancing itself from it).

The prolongation of the objective accomplishment into an accomplishment which is properly subjective, consists for the Spirit in revealing its existence – and in selectively revealing its essence – through the memes which proceed from the objective fulfillment. This subjective development accomplishes itself in the history of the Hellenic then Western civilizations, which is the history of the Spirit making its existence known – and rendering selectively its identity transparent – within Faustian man.

The Hegelian Fallacy

The seizure of the Spirit at stake is to be taken in the sense of the grasping of the notion of its existence – and in the sense of the knowing of what the Spirit reveals of its identity. It finds its first stage (as well as its engine) in the Promethean soul, the spirit of conquest, and the flavor of the infinite that are constitutive of the Faustian mentality, and which turn Faustian man into the heir and the continuator of the creative gesture of the cosmos. The latter – fulfilling new emergent realities via the fractal iteration (and the selective extraction of the implications) of a handful of starting rules of the cosmos (those being attraction and repulsion, integration and differentiation, fusion and fission), and within the framework of the aforesaid extraction – tending somehow towards increasing levels of order and complexity as concerns the organization of its matter and its constitution.

However, we cannot identify the (global) thought of Western Faustian men with the Spirit that it gradually learns to know. The aforesaid thought, far from being confused with the Spirit (which, in that way, would become aware of its own existence and of its own identity), is the work of the receptacle of the subjective development of the Spirit. Contrary to Hegel’s claims, European thought is not to be confused with the ideational field.

Hegel rightly said the ideational field accomplishes itself in cosmic and human history. But he failed to grasp the exact nature of its articulation within the cosmos. Indeed, he wrongly conceived of the ideational field as immanent in the cosmos and as identified with the final state of European thought towards which human thought is supposed to proceed inevitably.

It is just as wrong that the (either subjective or objective) unfolding of the Spirit responds to a pre-established final point, a prefixed finish line, of human and cosmic history. Man (especially Faustian man) is to be conceived of as made in the image of the Spirit – rather than as the Spirit in person. And the selective fulfillment of the Spirit into matter – and through matter extracting and sorting the implications which arise from elementary archetypes and from axioms – must be seen as a continual and error-prone improvisation. It must be approached as a movement that is no more perfect than it is predetermined, but which persistently strives to generate an increasing complexity in the universe.

A Reassessment Of Platonism From The View-Point Of Incarnation

By recognizing his own creative impulse, his own boarding of matter, in the generative gesture of axioms and archetypal forms, the Faustian man will become aware of himself as made in the image of the cosmos that fulfills the Spirit. This relationship of the European man – so long as he is shaped by a bioculture secreting the Faustian mentality – to the Spirit revealing itself in the cosmos is anticipated in Judaism. For the latter represents to itself man as made in the image of God – and as mandated to crown creation under the aegis of linear (rather than cyclical) time.

As concerns the Christian Trinity, it incidentally gives us a symbolic illustration of the relationship of the Spirit to its creation.

1) The Father symbolizes the Spirit insofar as it is located on a virtual and atemporal level – that of implications, axioms, and elementary archetypes.

2) The Son symbolizes the Spirit insofar as it gives itself an existence material and subjected to the reign of time. Matter drawing, sorting, and fulfilling – within the framework of the aforesaid incarnation – the implications arising from archetypes (and from axioms that matter repeats in a fractal mode) over the course of time, which occasions the communication between matter at the instant t+1 and the actualizable properties of matter at the instant t. And the Spirit – far from its ideational existence rendering itself properly immanent to the cosmos – nevertheless remaining atemporal and supraworldly (which brings us back to the mystery of the Incarnation).

3) The Holy Spirit symbolizes the Spirit, insofar as its drive selectively actualizing its own content, is breathed into matter. Matter selecting those implications (to arise from axioms and from archetypes) which will be actualized; and striving – at each passing moment and, a fortiori, at each incremental level of emergence – to hoist matter to an unprecedented and higher level of complexity (as concerns its composition or its arrangement).

Contrary to the Gnostic vision, my analysis does not envision matter as the prison of spiritual realities (in the sense of what is virtual as opposed to material). The Spirit – the field of axioms (and their implications) and of (elementary and implied) archetypes – does not find itself to be trapped in matter. It finds in matter the way, the place and the means of its (objective and subjective) accomplishment – while remaining rigorously exterior to matter in its properly ideational existence.

As such, we should no longer consider cosmic and human history as the story of the progressive triumph of the Spirit over matter – the story of its gradual emancipation from matter. Rather, what we find is the history of the improvised and imperfect effort of matter (which embodies the Spirit) in the direction of an increased order and complexity – and at the level of the composition of matter and of its arrangement.

As for the primordial unity that Plotinus investigated, he was wrong to conceive it as a unity that stands beyond the multiple – instead of approaching it as a unity unifying a certain multiplicity. For the One merges with the impulse crossing the Spirit and unifying the field of (elementary) archetypes, axioms, and implications (the latter jointly arising from the aforesaid axioms and from the aforesaid archetypes).

To the Spirit (the unified ideational field) and to the Momentum (the actualizing and selective impulse on the part of the Spirit) is added a third and last principle: A third and last pillar of the architecture of reality. It consists of Philo of Alexandria’s Word mentioned in the prologue to the Gospel of Saint John. The Word is here envisioned as the movement through which the actualizing momentum of the Spirit renders itself material and temporal, while remaining virtual and atemporal – and while operating in parallel with matter, and in ways that we are about to explore. From this incarnation, proceeds the communication to which matter is devoted – the communication between matter at the instant t and the implicit properties of matter at the instant t-1 – and the generation, on the part of matter, of changes at the level of matter’s arrangement or its composition.

Beyond The Schopenhauerian “Will To Live”

The impulse on the part of the Spirit to realize itself into matter is an impulse jointly undivided and unifying of the ideational field. It accomplishes itself by duplicating itself into matter. While, in the ideational field, the only impulse at work is that, undivided, which engages the Spirit in its entirety; the same is not true in the material field, in which the Momentum mysteriously declines itself into a set of distinct impulses. They are those of natural beings – the ones among concrete beings, which take charge of their own information.

While the impulse on the part of those of natural beings which are not gifted with thought must be envisaged as an impulse (of self-information) that excludes deliberation (and which is not accompanied by the idea of its existence), the impulse on the part of thinking beings consists of a momentum conscious (of itself). In the case of those of thinking beings which are in possession – up to a certain point – of free will, this conscious momentum will enjoy (limited) self-determination on the part of the deliberation preceding and determining the aforesaid momentum. But we should notice that those of natural beings which are not gifted with thought may be nonetheless gifted with an ability to determine freely a part of their own behavior – as pointed out by the late physicist Freeman Dyson, in the case of atoms.

Placed end to end, the particular impulses (on the part of natural beings), which are distributed in time and space, give a cosmic impulse to incline towards perpetually increasing levels of order and of complexity. This impulse is the fruit of an addition of distinct impulses; but it translates the indivisible impulse on the part of the Spirit.

Schopenhauer rightly sought to discern the presence underlying material entities (and their laws) of an undivided impulse, which he called “will,” or the “will to live.” He nonetheless he remained wrong when he approached the aforesaid impulse as inherent in material entities – instead of associating it with the ideational field. The latter breathing its undivided impulse into concrete beings, while retaining it within it – and while dividing it into a multitude of particular impulses in the material field. Schopenhauer was just as wrong when he approached the undivided “will” as spurred towards the sole preservation of the universe identical to itself – rather than towards the enrichment of the cosmos in an ever increasing complexity.

More precisely the actualizing (and undivided) impulse on the part of the ideational field is articulated with the material field in two ways.

1) On the one hand, the aforesaid impulse, which is outside of time, generates the properly temporal beginning of matter. On the occasion of this generation, the Spirit conserves its own actualizing impulse (in the properly ideational field), while transmitting it to matter – and while transmuting the aforesaid impulse into a variety of distinct impulses on the part of those material beings which are natural.

2) On the other hand, matter deciphers, sorts, and updates – over the course of communication that time occasions – the implications that the virtual field carries within it. The (selective) extraction of those implications is the object, in parallel, of the undivided impulse on the part of the ideational field and of the cosmic impulse which results from the sum of the distinct impulses in the cosmos – the given object of the cosmic impulse at a given moment in the universe, coinciding with the object of the impulse of the Spirit at the same moment; and past, present, future succeeding one another in the cosmos, subjected to time, while they are simultaneous in the ideational field, which exists outside of time and space.

The atemporality of the momentum of the Spirit is therefore not to be taken in the sense that it would ignore the past, the present, and the future – the aforesaid impulse only ignoring their successive (rather than simultaneous) character. As for the insufflation of the ideational impulse to matter, it is not accompanied more by the cessation of the exercise of the aforesaid momentum of the Spirit. As the cosmic impulse operates, sp the impulse of the Spirit jointly operates. But their respective objects coincide at each instant, and the former is only the double of the latter.

The Bees Of Hidden Time

By virtue of the jointly atemporal and improvised character of the impulse of the Spirit, the future of the aforesaid impulse (which coincides with the future of the universe) has the remarkable feature of being not (totally) predetermined, but nonetheless remaining simultaneous with the present and with the past.

The paradox at the heart of the precognition of clairvoyants is their ability to know in advance a future which, however, is (in part) free and random. It can be resolved in these terms. Namely that at the present instant, their intuition of the impulse of the Spirit equates to an intuition of the future of the aforesaid impulse; the latter being simultaneous with its present and with its past – which does not exclude the fallibility of supra-sensible intuition.

I must emphasize the debt of my conception of time, as occasioning communication between matter (including the particles which are constitutive of atoms) at the instant t, and the implicit properties of matter at the instant t-1, and my conception of the starting rules of the cosmos as pairs of opposites which the cosmos fractally repeats at each level of emergence, to the philosopher, Howard Bloom. Bloom develops them both in his book, The God Problem. His communicational approach to time is also discussed in his work, “Dialogue model of quantum dynamics,” co-written with Pavel V. Kurakin and George G. Malinetskii, and taken up in Constructive Physics, by Yuri I. Ozhigov, as well as in the article by Kurakin entitled, “Hidden variables and hidden time in quantum theory.”

Bloom proposes an analogy between the spring behavior of the hive and that of a subatomic particle which, in the exact interval separating two stages of time, chooses among the possible detectors the one towards which it will move. During the interval of 10-35 seconds (namely one Planck unit) which separates the instant t from the instant t+1, and that Kurakin calls “hidden time,” a subatomic particle, hesitating between possible detectors, sends waves which are (metaphorically) so many exploratory bees. Once back from their wanderings, they consult with each other to take a collective decision as to which detector they will select. This decision is not taken during a certain period of time, but actually in the intermediate space (between the instant t and the instant t+1), where the succession of instants is suspended. Here, the behavior of an elementary particle (at the instant t+1 which is about to be) can, at its leisure, interpret and sort the implicit properties of the aforesaid particle (at the instant t which has ended).

Any investigation of the cosmos which reveals the Spirit must bear in mind that our knowledge of the Spirit does not deal with the whole of its essence, the latter being infinite (since it harbors the infinite field of the possible implications which arise from elementary archetypes and from axioms). Our knowledge of the cosmos deals with the finite unfolding for which the Spirit opts in the material field – the particular unfolding that the Spirit chooses (among the infinite list of the finite unfoldings that are possible for it). The recapitulation of the history of the cosmos (as we suspect it) lets us glimpse that the effective unfolding of the Spirit – the accomplishment for which the Spirit effectively opts – is an unfolding which consists in extracting (and in sorting) the implications in a way that spurs (not without hazards) the cosmos towards the generation of an ever-increasing order and complexity.

The knowledge of the (selective) fulfillment of the Spirit, which amounts to the knowledge of the course of the cosmos and the laws which govern it, mobilizes conjecture (and induction) from the sensible given, just as it passes through clairvoyance. By clairvoyance, I mean the supra-sensible grasping of ideational entities, be it elementary archetypes, those implied (and actually selected), axioms, or the (selected) implications of the aforesaid axioms. In both cases, the investigation, which is liable to error, requires theorizing and conceptualization – thus, the use of definitions which, it is good to specify, are properly informative statements.

In the weak sense, the definition of a given notion collects (and exposes) a certain number of qualities of the concrete entity to which the aforesaid notion corresponds. Defining the notion thus amounts to describing the aforesaid entity. In the strong sense, the definition of a given notion identifies (and formulates) those of the qualities of a given entity which are necessary and constitutive qualities of the aforesaid entity.

Here is the paradox. Any strong definition – at least, any strong definition which is correct from the point of view of language – can be reduced (via the play of synonyms) to a proposition true for any distribution of truth values, therefore a tautological proposition within the framework of first order logic. Nonetheless, the tenor of (material or ideational) reality serves as the court for the validity of strong definitions from the point of view of the aforesaid reality. Therefore, the accepted strong definition of a given concept will be both tautological in the eyes of language and informative – endowed with content, descriptive – in the purview of (the confrontation of language with) reality.

The synonymic relationship of a given notion to the strong definition attached to it (within a given language), while it does not have to be justified in the purview of the concerned language, cannot escape the judgment of reality. If the aforesaid synonymy amounts to a synonymy, it is genuinely because language believes that the tenor of reality allows it to see synonyms in the terms concerned – for example, single and not engaged. Since the criterion of the validity of synonymies (and of strong definitions) with respect to reality resides in reality itself, our knowledge of which is however perfectible, it may turn out that a given strong definition is jointly true from the point of view of our language, and false from the point of view of reality. Because those of the qualities of the defined entity which are retained as constitutive and necessary are really contingent (at least in part) – and seem to us to be constitutive and necessary only by reason of our imperfect knowledge of the defined entity.

Let us suppose that in a given language, the strong definition of the species of swans is that of swans as large palmiped birds whose plumage is white, and whose neck is long and flexible. The discovery of a bird who shares all those qualities except that its plumage is black (rather than white) will force the strong definition of the swan – the strong definition of the singular swans considered from the aspect of their species – to cease to include the white plumage among the common qualities of the swan. And therefore to cease to include the aforesaid white plumage among the necessary qualities of swans – and among the elements of the strong definition of swans.

In this example, the involved mode of knowledge of a given singular entity is the one by means of induction – that which strives to identify the essential and contingent qualities of a given entity (here a given swan), on the basis of the observation of the regular and irregular features of a certain number of observed swans. It opposes the mode of knowledge consisting in directly grasping the ideational archetype of the species of swans. This supra-sensible seizure is potentially imperfect – and likely to make the same mistake of identifying the white plumage as a common and necessary quality of swans.

A Brief Recapitulation

To sum up, the two distinct levels of reality I investigated are inversely symmetrical.

1) The arrangements of archetypes play an active role of informing the virtuality which they are made of. While the arrangements of material entities – at least in the case of those of material beings which are natural – are the fruit of information taken over by the innate matter of concrete entities.

2) The impulse of the ideational field is jointly undivided and atemporal. The cosmic impulse (whose object coincides, at all times, with that of the impulse of the Spirit) is not only the sum of distinct impulses (on the part of natural beings) within the cosmos; it is an aggregate, whose objects follow one another (over the course of time) – while the past, the present, and the future of the Spirit’s impetus remain simultaneous for their part.

Thus, I elucidated the fulfillment of the Spirit into matter – and through matter taking charge of its own information (and occasionally generating additional levels of matter via the aforesaid information) – as a dual process. Indeed the actualization of the implications is both on the part of the Spirit actualizing them outside of time, and on the part of matter progressively actualizing them. This joint process continuously improvises; it is a concerted march whose final point is not pre-established.

Then, I elucidated the horizon towards which are tending matter, and the Spirit which incarnates itself into matter, as the generation of perpetually increased levels of order and complexity at the level of the cosmos – more precisely, at the level of the composition and the arrangement of the matter which the cosmos is composed of.

Finally, I elucidated the means used for this purpose as the selection on the part of matter (and on the part of the Spirit) – and over the course of time, occasioning a communication between matter at the instant t and the implicit properties of matter at the instant t-1, and of those of the implications contained in the ideational field which contribute to the realization of an increasing order. This selection is not immune to error.

Reconciling Plato And Heraclitus

All in all, notable mistakes by Plato in his appreciation of the ideational field (and the way the latter is articulated with the material field) were the ones following ones, in that Plato considered the ideational field as a flattened (rather than hierarchized) assortment of general archetypes:

1) Within the ideational field, the archetypes are really coexisting with the fractal starting rules of the cosmos.
2) Besides this, we find, among the aforesaid archetypes, a class of elementary archetypes and a class of implied archetypes – which means the Ideas are hierarchized.
3) And we find a class of general archetypes (such as the general archetype of the dachshund) and a class of particular archetypes (such as the singular archetype of a singular dachshund).

Further, Plato conceived of the material and mobile field only as a passive exemplification of the ideational field – and he considered the latter as immobile.

1) Matter veritably incarnates the Spirit, which however remains exterior to it.

2) And, in the context of the aforesaid incarnation, matter plays the active role of deciphering, sorting, and actualizing the implications that arise from elementary archetypes, as well as those which follow from the starting rules of the universe that matter iterates in a fractal mode at each incremental level of emergence.

3) This extracting process is a result of the impulse, on the part of the ideational field, to sort and to actualize its own content; the ideational field retains its impulse while paradoxically communicating it to matter.

4) The process takes place over the course of time occasioning the communication between the actualizable properties of matter at the instant t-1 and matter at the instant t.

Far from the movement being unknown in the ideational field, the Spirit is therefore impelled towards the selective actualization of the implications which it carries within it. The stages of this improvised actualization are nevertheless simultaneous – and cosmic evolution is ultimately the shadow of it, cast on the walls of the cavern of the material field. I should add that my conception of the primordial unity as the impulse unifying the ideational field – and continuously generating the cosmos from elementary and implied archetypes, and from axioms and their implications – solves the problem of the One posed in the Parmenides.

I approached time as working – in partnership with matter, laden with harmonious and fractal contradictions – to endow with material fulfillment the ideational field incarnating itself into matter. An achievement whose pursuit is confused with the execution (somehow) of a perpetually increasing order in the cosmos. Yet my approach revives three insights by Heraclitus.

As already pointed out by Heraclitus:

1) Time, far from being only the stage on which change is played out, constitutes “a child playing with pawns,” therefore a full-fledged player in engendering the aforesaid change.

2) The opposites mate and collaborate to the advent of change. I restituted those pairs of opposites as being those of differentiation and integration, fission and fusion, and attraction and repulsion.

3) The permanence of change in the universe is nevertheless accompanied by the presence of a “logos” which orders (and renders intelligible) the universe.

A logos, which I believe I can identify as the process through which the ideational field renders itself material and temporal (while remaining ideational and rigorously exterior to the world in which it incarnates itself) – and which sorts and actualizes the implications present within it (while seeing its actualizing and selecting momentum decline itself at the level of matter subjected to time); and thus directs cosmic evolution in the direction of an order and complexity perseveringly and imperfectly increased.

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. He also worked on a (currently finalized) conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website: gregoirecanlorbe.com.

The image shows, “The Oak and the Reed,” by Achille Etna Michallon , painted in 1816.