Renewing Plato. Part One: The Flaws of Aristotelian Hylomorphism

Plato was manifestly an oracle (similar to Pythagoras), whose thesis of the subdivision of reality into a virtual realm (inaccessible to the senses) and a concrete realm of the senses ultimately came to elucidate his privileged experience of the superiority of supra-sensible reality; Aristotle, on the other hand, resembled much more what can only be described as being sensory. In what follows, I would like to defend a renovated version of the Platonic perspective, against the Aristotelian negation of the existence of virtual entities that Plato called “Ideas,” but which the master of Aristotle rightly identified as the model of concrete entities.

Therefore, I will argue as follows:

1) Any concrete entity partakes of an ideational model (which may be termed, “archetype,” but which, contrary to the traditional understanding of archetypes, must be deemed as the singular model of a given entity, and the model of the unique and shared traits of a given singular entity)—which configures, or determines, the layout and the composition of the aforesaid entity, and that the “matter” constituting concrete beings takes charge of its own information, except in the case of those concrete beings that are artificial.

2) Here, the ideal, or virtual realm is hierarchized: it is constituted by elementary archetypes, as well as archetypes implied by the elementary ones. Plus, the starting rules of the cosmos (as such, the laws present at the time of the Big-Bang) and the implications of such rules, the latter being incessantly iterated and complexified over the course of cosmic history.

Besides the ideal field is imbued with a possibly conscious impulse, whose object is the incarnation of the ideal realm into matter. This impulse engenders the temporal start of the material field, and therefore of the universe. Yet the ideal realm materializes itself, all the while remaining beyond matter.

3) Time occasions a process of communication between matter at the instant (T) and the actualizable properties of matter at the instant (T-1), which yields so many implications that it is possible to extract from elementary archetypes and from starting rules. Matter, within the framework of this extraction of the implications in collaboration with time, repeats in a fractal mode the starting rules of the cosmos. These consist of a handful of pairs of opposites (namely: attraction and repulsion, integration and differentiation, fission and fusion) branching (via the iteration which causes the extraction of their implications) into the laws of the cosmos.

4) The primordial unity from which the cosmos proceeds consists in the impulse on the part of the ideational field to selectively accomplish its own content into innovative matter, and the bliss for man (especially the Faustian man) lies in the knowledge of the material unfolding of the Spirit (by which I mean the ideational field taken from the angle of its unified multiplicity), and in the extension of the creative gesture of the cosmos—via science, technique, and art.

5) The atemporal movement consisting for the Spirit of actualizing (while sorting) the implications that it carries within it projects—on the walls of the metaphorical cavern of the material and temporal field—a shadow which consists in the begetting (at the level of matter and on the part of matter) of increasing levels of order and complexity. A generation nonetheless not assigned to a predetermined final state of cosmic evolution—and not kept away from randomness and from error.

The course and the laws of the cosmos that are the incarnation of the Spirit mobilize clairvoyance (i.e., the intuition of the supra-sensible field), just as well as conjecture (and induction) from the sensible datum.

Hylomorphism And The Emergence Process

As for Aristotle’s substitution of the archetypes, from which proceed the concrete entities, with the notion that a concrete entity owes its determination to the “form” which is inherent to it, I will naturally begin by questioning the Aristotelian perspective for the benefit of the rehabilitation of archetypes.

The Aristotelian hylomorphic theory claims that any entity is a compound of two distinct realities—namely, form, which is to be taken in the precise sense of an active reality conferring onto matter a certain arrangement, and as such, determining the concerned entity. And matter, which is to be taken in the precise sense of a passive and indeterminate reality composing the entity, and giving it a concrete and tangible character, and carrying within it the potentiality of a given change at the level of form—a change which is spontaneously actualized in the case of natural beings. Such theory does not fail to pose a certain number of problems.

To begin with, it is hardly plausible that the arrangement of a certain (concrete) entity and its composition are only associated realities within the entity, instead of the information (in other words, the arrangement, the organization) of the entity being a property of that which composes the entity. In that second scenario, which is much more likely, “form” must no longer be taken in the sense of an active reality. Rather, it must be seen as a passive emanation of the tenor of “matter,” the matter composing the concrete entities and—at least in the case of those of concrete beings which are properly natural and which are therefore opposed to those artificial—taking charge of its own shaping.

Besides, it is manifestly false that the determination (of the identity) of a concrete entity relates exclusively to the arrangement of the entity, rather than to the combination of its arrangement and of its composition. The identity of a tree—apart from its foliage and the composition of its leaves—resides jointly in the (essential or contingent) qualities of the wood which composes it and in the (constitutive or accidental) features of the arrangement of its trunk and of its branches. The archetype which Pythagoras and Plato deal with (and which we cannot do without) must be reassessed accordingly.

Our way of envisioning the relationship of form to matter, and the nature of those two realities (and thus, the adequate definition of the concepts which cover them), owes its greatest plausibility most notably to the compatibility of our approach with the emergence process. The latter can be defined as the fact for a qualitatively new concrete entity—the novelty in question relating to the composition of the entity or its arrangement—to arise from one or more pre-existing entities (to which the new entity cannot however be reduced). Yet the only changes compatible with the Aristotelian approach to form as an active and informative element, which coexists with matter envisaged as passive and informed (but which is not a driving element of formal change), are those which do not consist in introducing a component or an arrangement of a new type on the world stage.

Hence the emergence exceeds the Aristotelian hylomorphic framework. The only intelligible changes in the hylomorphic framework are those which do not contravene the Aristotelian conception of the world as eternal and equal to itself, whether the object of changes is place, quality, quantity, or generation. For its part, the conception of the matter of concrete beings as active and self-informed also takes into account this kind of change that is emergence. Here it is elucidated as a process in which self-organized matter sets up an organization of a new type, and in which the emerging organization possibly merges with a component of a new type.

Hylomorphism And The Distinction Between Natural Beings And Artificial Beings

Further, my approach allows for a greater likelihood (and greater clarity) of examining the dichotomy between those of concrete beings which are “natural” and those which are “artificial”: distinction confusedly treated in Aristotelian hylomorphism (which affirms the spontaneous character of the occurrence of the various kinds of change in the case of natural beings, but claims, otherwise, that any change is due to an exterior motor), here clarified in these terms.

Namely that natural beings are those of concrete beings whose information is spontaneously set up by the tenor of what composes them, while artificial beings are those which owe their information to the exercise of an exterior action on the tenor of what composes them, regardless of whether the other kinds of change to affect them are spontaneous or not.

While water presents itself as a natural entity, whose information is spontaneously taken over (by the molecules composing it, which assemble two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom), and whose self-organization (in other words, self-information) is confused with the emergence of a certain sort of “matter” (which will enter in the composition, for example, of a floe), a snowman is an artificial being whose information is the result of the action of a human being having fun with snow.

The self-information constitutive of those of (concrete) beings which are natural will take specific modalities according to the types of the natural beings: from the particulate self-organization (of the quarks which enter in the composition) of hadrons to that of the cells which compose advanced (therefore multicellular) eukaryotes, and to that of the individual members of animal or human societies, these are genuinely incremental levels of emergence that hatch (as concerns the types of self-information, and in upstream, the types of natural being). The nutritive, generative, sensitive, motor, or cogitative functions which living beings endorse and which Aristotle classifies being only modalities of the self-information of living beings.

Just as the existence of the realm of concrete entities is corroborated by sensible experience; likewise, the existence of the realm of virtual entities—the mathematical laws which govern the concrete order, as well as the archetypes which Plato calls “Ideas” and that notably include numbers—is corroborated by the supra-sensible experience.

The Idea that Plato deals with (and whose definition which I will retain as adequate is that of the Idea as the supra-sensible model of concrete entities) has this particularity, compared to the form (in the Aristotelian sense), allegedly present in concrete entities, that it can utterly be conceived of as jointly determining the arrangement and the composition of a given concrete entity. The Idea is certainly virtual (rather than concrete); it nevertheless remains likely to contain just as much the essential or accidental, necessary or contingent properties at the level of organization (“form” taken in the vague sense of the arrangement of a given concrete entity) as those at the level of the composition (“matter” taken in the vague sense of what a given concrete entity is made of). In this regard it would be worthwhile to distinguish between “matter” (understood as what enters in the composition of a given entity) and “materiality” (understood as a certain mode of existence which consists for a given entity in being concrete, tangible, firm).

Assuredly such an approach to Idea is not that of Plato. The latter does not only consider Ideas as the models only of general qualities (for example, the general qualities of blond, blue-eyed people… rather than the sum of the singular and common qualities of the blond, blue-eyed Donald Trump), which amounts to restricting the qualities configured in the Idea of a certain singular entity to the field of the general (in other words, shared, common) qualities of the entity, general qualities which are also necessary qualities (but which do not summarize the whole of necessary qualities). Besides he represents to himself Idea as the supra-sensible model of the sole organization of concrete entities (and not that jointly of their arrangement and of their composition). Yet the identity of a given concrete entity including both the qualities relating to its composition and those relating to its arrangement, the supra-sensible model of the identity must manifestly determine both what is characteristic of the arrangement and what belongs to the composition.

As archetypes deal as much with arrangement as with composition, the (singular) archetype of a given concrete entity will determine whether its arrangement is spontaneously set up by what enters in the composition of the entity—in other words, whether the entity in question is natural rather than artificial. In the case where the entity is effectively natural, the organization is jointly determined by the archetype and implemented by what enters in its composition… so that a distinction must be made between organization as predetermined in the archetype and organization as materialized. In other words, the materialized “form,” that set up by matter (understood as what composes a concrete being), must be distinguished from its supra-sensible and virtual model: the form which is determined in the archetype of a given concrete entity, but which does not summarize the archetype. Given the latter includes as much the properties relating to the composition of the concerned concrete entity as those relating to its arrangement.

A New Approach To “Form” And “Matter”

Ultimately we can redefine in these terms the form and the matter which were the subject of Aristotle’s meditations. In the weak sense, matter is what composes a given entity (whether the entity is virtual or concrete, tangible, firm), while in the strong sense, matter is what composes a properly concretized (in other words, firm) entity, which we commonly call a “material” entity—a qualifier that we will make ours.

As for form, it is the arrangement (in other words, the organization) of a given entity… arrangement that (in the case of material entities) matter (taken in the strong sense) either gives itself actively or passively receives: that distinction at the level of the arrangement founding the dichotomy between those of material entities which are natural and those which are artificial.

When we will use the term “matter” without specifying the sense in which we understand it, we will take it in the strong sense mentioned above: matter understood as what composes a properly concrete entity… with a spontaneous arrangement of matter in the case of natural entities. While we reject the Aristotelian definition of matter (as a passive and concrete reality that composes any entity), we believe that the Aristotelian approach to form remains valid as concerns the arrangement of archetypes.

Aristotelian hylomorphism not only conceives of any entity as a compound of “form” and “matter,” but defines the second as that which passively composes and concretizes a given entity, and the first as that which actively informs the composition of the entity. It is obviously intended to be an alternative to the theory of Ideas. Nevertheless the assertion that any properly material entity is a compound of form in the Aristotelian sense and of matter in the sense of what passively composes a material entity is hardly incompatible with the Platonic notion that any material (that is to say, materialized, tangible) entity aligns with a virtual archetype.

Better the virtual archetypes which Plato deals with are certainly deprived of a material existence, matter in the sense of what passively composes a given entity does not fail them: they are, so to speak, cut in the wood of virtual. While the arrangement of the archetypes (which merges with the content of the Ideas) actively informs the virtual reality of which the archetypes are made. As such, the form taken in the Aristotelian sense of an active reality which coexists with the passive composition of a given entity (and which arranges the entity) corresponds no less well to the virtual entities that are the archetypes… for want of applying to concrete entities the secrets of which Aristotelian hylomorphism yet believed to unlock.

Form as understood by Aristotle all the better lends itself to describing the arrangement of an archetype (rather than that of a material entity) as, while denying the existence of virtual entities, the Stagirite does not conceive of form as a material reality (but as a reality coexisting with matter within a given material entity). If form as defined by Aristotle does not have a properly material existence, it is difficult to see how it could not be an arrangement whose mode of existence is virtual… therefore an arrangement which relates to a virtual entity.

Towards a New Version Of Platonism

By the way Idea can even be conceived of in Aristotelian terms of efficient cause and final cause, the efficient cause being Idea itself (which is sufficient in itself to exist, and that exists outside of time and world) and the final cause being the material entity that Idea is intended to determine (at the level of its composition and of its arrangement).

As archetype jointly includes the qualities associated with composition and those associated with arrangement, the emergence of matter from nothingness (which supposedly preceded the beginning of the cosmos) loses its mysterious character. The engendering of matter—of which vacuum, baryons, leptons, photons, dark matter, water, or bronze are all specific varieties—is the work of the Spirit, by which I hear the virtual bundle of archetypes (including numbers and figures), as well as of the laws of the cosmos.

More precisely, the renovated Platonic perspective to which I subscribe is that a swarm of atemporal and virtual axioms (namely, attraction and repulsion, integration and differentiation, fission and fusion), as well as of elementary archetypes (including the archetype of the quark or that of the void), presides over the creation of the universe. And that matter—in partnership with time which, at the instant (T), allows it to make a selection among those of properties at the level of the arrangement or of the composition of matter which, at the instant (T-1), are actualizable—accomplishes (while sorting them out) the virtual implications which flow from the axioms (by which I designate, so, the starting rules of the cosmos) and from the archetypes.

Matter certainly takes charge of its own information (in other words, it gives itself its own arrangement, its own formal determination, which is a function of the tenor of matter); nevertheless it acts under the impulse of a virtual swarm of archetypes and of axioms which—over the course of time and through time and matter—sees its own implications extracted (and selected) in the cosmos. The information of a given matter leading up from time to time to an incremental mode of matter—like the mode of matter that is methane gas and which emerges from the arrangement (within its molecules) of a carbon atom and of four hydrogen atoms.

In that framework, the supra-sensible knowledge, the intuition of the virtual entities that are axioms (that matter declines at each level of emergence succeeding the original emergence of the universe) and the (elementary or implied) archetypes, is utterly conceivable. It is worthwhile to distinguish between the arrangement relating to archetypes (which merges with their content) and the arrangement which resides in the archetypes… the one which they express and which they determine. We will speak of “archetypal form” to designate the latter, and of the “arrangement of archetypes” to designate the former.

What ideology is to men who work to organize society on the model of an ideology, the archetypal form (by which I mean, so, the form that the archetype determines, and that it carries within it) is to matter which informs itself on the formal model of the archetype. Just as matter (at least in the case of natural entities) gives itself its own form, and just as the tenor of form will depend on the tenor of matter, the members of a certain human biocultural group—when they spontaneously organize their society—will give themselves an organization which will be a function of the tenor of their biology.

Besides the momentum of the archetypes of giving themselves a material translation—a translation jointly at the level of the tenor of matter and at the level of the organization of matter—communicates itself to matter which will strive to achieve the archetypal forms… just as the impulse of ideologies (in other words, memes) to organize matter communicates itself to humans who will endeavor to conform the organization of their societies to the formal models of ideologies.

Ultimately the process which consists for the archetype in realizing itself jointly into the tenor of matter and into the organization of matter finds itself to be incidentally mimicked by the process which consists for the meme—the equivalent of the duplicator of biological information in the field of acquired cultural behavior—in realizing itself into the organization of matter. It is not impossible that this similarity can also be observed in the relationship that the genetic program sustains with the arrangement of the individual organism.

Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar based in Paris. He has conducted many academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures. He has also authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He ha also worked on a forthcoming conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website is

The image shows, “I Lock the Door Upon Myself,” by Fernand Khnopff, painted in 1891.

What Is Political Realism?

Well sourced and documented, but at the same time stripped of all concessions, and freed from all conventionalism, this book boldly departs from the beaten track of the history of political ideas. Its author, Dalmacio Negro Pavón, a renowned political scientist in the Hispanic world, is among those who best embodies the European academic tradition – that of an era when political correctness had not yet taken its toll, and when the majority of academics adhered with conviction – and not by opportunism as happens so often today – to the scientific values of rigor, probity and integrity.

What does this tell us? Let us demonstrate by drawing, largely, upon his analyses, his words, and his formulations.

Historically, the world has had no other form of government than that of the few (the ruling minority); and any government needs public support. There is no political community without hierarchy; no hierarchy without organization, no social organization which cannot materialize without the leadership of a small number. This is called the “iron law of oligarchy.”

Behind all known forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy – according to the classic classification; democracy and dictatorship – according to modern classification), there is only one minority which dominates the immense majority. The multiple possible variants of government depend on the type of makeover of this minority, and the limits and controls to which this minority submits in the exercise of power.

Oligarchic positions are never disputed by the masses; rather, it is the different factions of the political class which dispute them. The governed do not intervene in this permanent dispute, except as a breeding ground for new contenders for power, as a breeding ground for new elites. The governed are spectators; sometimes animators; rarely referees.

When an oligarchy is discredited, it is invariably replaced by another in search of prestige, that is to say, of exercising legitimacy, ready, if necessary, to use demagoguery. Popular sovereignty is a myth which allows the oligarchs all the abuses and all the scams imaginable. The Utopian who dreams that it is possible to eliminate selfishness in politics and to base a political system on morality alone does not hit the target, any more than the realist who believes that altruism is an illusion and that all political action is based on selfishness.

Apart from the eternally naïve, political consensus (a collective expression of the loyalty of the political class towards itself) only deceives those who want to deceive themselves, for personal convenience, or to obtain some favors. Political problems cannot be resolved definitively. In politics there is only room for compromise.

What about democracy in Europe? It is less a religion than a superstition, a substitute, a substitute or an appearance of faith, which was born from the religions of politics. It is “an organized hypocrisy,” said Schumpeter; it is reduced to the opportunity that the partitocratic oligarchies offer the governed to periodically decide on an option, generally limited, after having carried out a large operation of information or marketing to win public opinion.

That said, and despite everything, it seems that a large part of the people is more and more aware of the existence of the iron law of the oligarchy. On the other hand, and more and more fearful, the oligarchy tightens to the maximum the screws which subject the demos to the singular supermarket that is the State of the political parties. We know the reactions of hostility, contempt and fear that populist movements and popular rebellions like the “Yellow Vests” (in France) arouse in almost the entire European establishment.

A revolution needs leaders, but statism has infantilized the conscience of Europeans. It has undergone such a contagion that the emergence of real leaders has become almost impossible, and that when it occurs, mistrust prevents people from following them. It is therefore better, once you reach this stage, to trust chance, boredom or humor, all major historical forces, to which we do not pay enough attention because they are hidden behind the screen of progressive enthusiasm.

The analyses, questions and harsh remarks, often even very corrosive, of Negro Pavón are unlikely to make him friends among the small number of those in power, or among their often- servile supporters of the political, economic and media-cultural world. But he does not care. Former professor of the history of political ideas at the Complutense University of Madrid, currently professor emeritus of political science at the University San Pablo de Madrid, member of the Royal Academy of Moral Sciences and Politics, the author of over twenty books and several hundred articles, he has nothing left to prove.

A fine connoisseur of classical and modern European political thought, an excellent polyglot, an inveterate reader of all the great European and American authors, Pavón invites us on a remarkable journey through the history of Western politics while at the same time giving us a lucid and penetrating diagnosis of the reality of Europe and the West today.

Pavón is openly attached to the School of Political Realism. It is therefore not useless, before ceding to him the pen, to recall in broad outline why this School of thought is so often the object of misunderstandings, procrastination and caricatures. What do we mean by political realism, or by the tradition in politics of Machiavellianism, which yet does not become Machiavellian?

Before answering, we must mention the usual depreciative arguments of his opponents. Realism would be, according to them, the cult of the epoch, a Manichean, pragmatic, opportunistic, fatalistic and desperate ideology, an ideology of dominants, cantors of conformism, which makes the moment an end in itself, which considers the present to be unsurpassable, which refuses to think about change and the future.

But this indictment, now so widespread, is after all just one more illustration of the misdeeds of ideological fog. It is reminiscent of the enlightened (or benighted) Anti-Machiavelli despot, Frederick II, who wrote in order to seduce and abuse the Europe of philosophers. As the ad to the fiction films of my youth said: “any resemblance to real situations existing or having existed is only a coincidence.” As we will see, political realism is, on the contrary, a method of analysis and of complete, intense and radical criticism of all constituted power.

Strictly speaking, political realism is neither a homogeneous school nor a unitary intellectual family. It is only a habitus, a disposition of mind, a point of view of study or research which seeks to clarify the rules that policy follows. It is not the defense of the status quo, the defense of the established order, or the doctrine which justifies the position of men in power, as its adversaries claim falsely.

Political realism starts from the facts, but it does not go before them. It is not disinterested in the final ends and is distinguished in this from the cynical type of pseudo-realism which reduces politics to the will to power, to the reign and to the worship of force in its purest form. The authentic political realist is a man with principles, morals, and a deep awareness of the duties and responsibilities of political action. Prudence, wisdom, balance, a sense of responsibility and firmness of character are the keys to his thinking.

The precursors of this realistic school of thought are, for example: Thucydides, Aristotle, Ibn Khaldoun, Machiavelli, Gabriel Naudé, Hobbes, Tocqueville, and many others.

Among the contemporaries and the moderns we may cite: Moisey Ostrogorski, Vilfredo Pareto, Robert Michels, Gaetano Mosca, Carl Schmitt, Max Weber, Simone Weil, Raymond Aron, Gaston Bouthoul, James Burnham, Benedetto Croce, Maurice Duverger, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora, Julien Freund, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Halford Mackinder, Harold Laski, Gianfranco Miglio, Jules Monnerot, Michael Oakeshott, Giovanni Sartori, Eric Voegelin, Jerónimo Molina Cano, Alessandro Campi, and many others, with often very different convictions (conservatives, liberals, socialists, etc.).

The authentic realist affirms that the finality proper to politics is the common good. But he recognizes the vital necessity of non-political ends (happiness and justice). According to him, politics is at the service of man.

The mission of politics is not to change man or make him better (which is the path of totalitarianism), but to organize the conditions of human coexistence, to shape the community, to ensure internal harmony and external security. That is why, in his view, conflicts must be channeled, regulated, institutionalized and, as far as possible, resolved without violence.

Dalmacio Negro Pavón rigorously addresses each of the ideas of political realism. The two main ones are found in the titles of the first two essays of his book, The Iron Law of the Oligarchy, namely, “Law Immanent in Politics,” and “Demystifying Democracy.”

He then completes these two essays with a shorter essay, “On the Dominant Political Theology,” which deals with the theological-political question; or, if one prefers – on the existential and spiritual causes of the current situation, especially on the importance of the influence of theological heresies on modern political thought and attitudes.

Thus, we may classify all of the ideas in his book in the following order:

First idea: The inevitability of oligarchy, and the governing–governed division. This is the famous law of bronze, the bronze or iron of oligarchy, formulated by Robert Michels. Depending on the regimes and the societies, as we have said, the circulation of elites may be more or less large, but in the last resort, it is always the small number, the minority that rules.

Second idea: Ideal democracy is unattainable and democratic symbols are fictions. The complexity of the problems, and above all the size of societies, constitute as many obstacles to self-government. In general, politicians know this, but everyone also knows the importance of speech-magic.

On the other hand, real democracies always tend to become oligarchies. The more democracy gets organized, the more it tends to decline. The more it is organized, the more the possibilities of coaction and manipulation of the masses increase. “Democracy, government of the people, by the people and for the people,” according to Lincoln’s famous phrase, is Utopian or religious. Democracy is a method. It cannot be an end, an absolute ideal, a moral imperative. Democratic ideology, democratic faith, is rhetoric. It only serves to evade responsibility and crush opposition in the name of the people.

Third idea: Politics cannot avoid a vision of man. The political realist may think that man is historic, or that there is a human nature. But in both cases, he considers that human impulses largely explain the unstable nature of political institutions and the conflictual nature of politics.

Fourth idea: Recognition of the inherently conflicting nature of politics. Life will always be the theater of conflicts and differences. Politics, in the traditional sense, is the great “neutralizer” of conflicts. This is why systematic and blind resistance to any form of power (the belief that “power is evil”) is an excellent method to accelerate the corruption of power and lead to its substitution by other forms of power, which are often much more problematic and more despotic.

Just because a people lose the strength or the will to survive or to assert themselves in the political sphere – does not mean that politics will disappear from the world. History is not tender – Woe to the strong who become weak!

Fifth idea: Skepticism about forms of government. It is impossible to scientifically make a categorical judgment on the suitability of any of the regimes in place. There is no optimal or perfect regime. Each political regime is a contingent and unique solution, a transitory response to the eternal problem of politics. All regimes are also subject to wear and tear and corruption.

Sixth idea: The rejection of all mono-causal interpretation of politics as biased and arbitrary. Mono-causal explanations “in the last instance” by economics, by politics, by culture, by morals, etc. are reductionist and make no sense.

The study of political parties and unions, carried out by Robert Michels at the beginning of the 20th-century, reveals particularly well the fundamental characteristic of societies: The tendency to oligarchy. A political party is no more and no less than a group of people who unite to conquer and retain power. Everything else (even the ideology) is secondary.

The parties are born as elitist groups and become organizations of notables; then, with universal suffrage, they are most often transformed into mass parties. But when they organize themselves strongly, they always obey the iron law of the oligarchy. The analysis of “mass parties” has laid bare some general principles which can be stated as follows.

  • The bulk of the population is struck with a kind of political incapacity. When they lose their leaders, they withdraw and abandon the political field.
  • Oligarchy is a social necessity. The principle of organization is an absolutely essential condition for political struggle.
  • It is the minorities and not the masses who vie for power. The leaders of all the camps present themselves as the spokespersons of the people – but, in reality, it is always the struggle between the old minority, which defends its hegemony, and the new ambitious minority which intends to conquer power.
  • Leadership is tendentially autocratic. Leaders do not just want to last, they always want more power. The alienation of the masses, the professionalization, the intellectual and cultural level of the leaders, the tendency to seek renewal by cooption, even nepotism, are powerful elements which contribute to the isolation of the leaders. Base rebellions have very little chance of success.
  • The party is an instrument of domination. Contrary to what they claim, the parties are organizations that want elected officials to dominate voters and are agents of dominating constituents.
  • The oligarchic tendency is consubstantial with the parties. Only a minority participate in party decisions, and often this minority is ridiculously small.

Conclusion: Real democracy is an oligarchy elected by the people. It excludes the use of physical violence but not moral violence (unfair, fraudulent or restricted competition). Two conditions may allow the reform in depth of current political democracy for the benefit of the people.

First, the represented should be able to regain the freedom to directly control the representatives or elected officials which ability has been improperly taken away from them. This would require the establishment of a majority electoral system with an imperative mandate. Representatives would thus be obliged to respect the imperative mandate of their respective voters.

Finally, for the people to be able, if not to direct and govern, then at least to integrate and participate durably in political life, the principle of direct democracy should be widely accepted, via the Popular Initiative Referendum (PIR), or the Citizen Initiated Referendum(CIR).

However, one can be a skeptic or a lucid pessimist but refuse to despair. We cannot eliminate oligarchies. So be it! But, as Dalmacio Negro Pavón tells us, there are political regimes that are more or less capable of mitigating and controlling their effects.

The crux of the matter is to prevent those in power from being mere conveyors of the interests, desires and feelings of the political, social, economic and cultural oligarchy. Men always fear the power to which they are subjected. But the power which makes them submit also fears the community over which it reigns. And there is an essential condition for political democracy to be possible and for its corruption to become much more difficult, if not impossible, as Dalmacio Negro Pavón further emphasizes.

Attitudes towards government must always be wary, even when it comes to friends or people for whom we voted. Bertrand de Jouvenel rightly said in this connection: “the government of friends is the barbaric way of governing.”

This extract constitutes the “Introduction” by Arnaud Imatz to La loi de fer de l’oligarchie. Pourquoi le gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple, pour le peuple est un leurre (The Iron Law of Oligarchy. Why Government of the People, by the People, for the People is a Decoy), by Dalmacio Negro Pavón (2019).

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

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “The Continence of Scipio,” by Nicolas Poussin, painted in 1640.

José Ortega y Gasset And The Masses

Oh, but this is a fascinating book. Written in 1930 by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, it is one of those books that is occasionally mentioned, especially recently, but rarely actually read. 1930, in Spain, was the hinge of fate, and it has been nearly a hundred years since Ortega wrote. That means we can see where he was wrong, and where he was right, and what he wrote says to us today.

First, though, we have to hack our way through two misconceptions that both seem to attend any modern mention of The Revolt of the Masses. The first, simpler, misconception is that this is a book about class, about how Ortega favors the bourgeois, or the rich, over the working class, or at least that it is an analysis of their conflicts.

Given that class was a hot topic in 1930, this is a reasonable guess from the title, but it is totally wrong. This misconception cropped up repeatedly after Trump’s election, and, for example, the review by David Brooks in the New York Times of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was titled “The Revolt of the Masses.” But Ortega was a political moderate, and seems to not have been exercised by questions of class at all. Rather, this is a book about human excellence, what it can accomplish, and how it can be destroyed.

The subtler, more pernicious, misconception is that Ortega’s call for excellence is a call for masses to defer to experts—supposedly, according to various chatterers, Ortega’s main point is that experts are ignored. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, Ortega thinks all, or almost all, modern experts are the definition of mediocrity, and the masses deferring to them is like deferring to a mirror.

Instead, people should defer to a natural aristocracy, not of blood, but of focus and accomplishment. Those people are not experts, who are narrow, but are instead broad people of taste, judgment, and discipline. We will return to this misconception later, with specific recent examples, but now that we are past the reef, we can sail into the open ocean of Ortega’s thought.

So, if this is not a book about class, who are the “masses”? Ortega divides every society into “minorities,” a small set of people who are “specially qualified,” and the “masses,” everyone not specially qualified. The key question is who is average and who is not. A mass person feels as if he is “just like everybody,” that he is not particularly special, and not only does this not concern him, he celebrates the fact. (Thus, someone who examines his talents and concludes he is mediocre, and feels that is a problem, is not a mass man).

But this, of course, begs the question—what makes a person above average or, in Ortega’s term, “specially qualified”? They are those who make personal demands for excellence upon themselves, and live in that way. This makes them the minority, by definition. They may not fulfill those demands; it is the demand being made, that alone, which makes the person a minority. In contrast, mass men “demand nothing special of themselves, but […] to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort toward perfection.”

The minority, the elite, are thus not coterminous with traditional aristocracy or a ruling class. Ortega acknowledges that in traditional social elites excellence is more likely to be found, but mere heredity does not make a person place demands on himself, so an aristocrat by blood can be a mass man just like a peasant or a steelworker—and a peasant or a steelworker can be a member of the minority.

The class of intellectuals, in particular, fancy themselves to be above the masses, but are often vulgar pseudo-intellectuals, swept along by lazy, commonplace thinking, and therefore mass men. Children of the excellent frequently ride on their parents’ accomplishments; they thereby become mass men themselves.

Ortega wants “nobility” to mean not nobility of blood, but to restore the meaning of “noble” as “well-known, that is, known by everyone, famous, he who has made himself known by excelling the anonymous mass.” Anyone can do this, from any walk of life, but few do, human nature being what it is.

Having gotten definitions out of the way, Ortega’s first substantive point is that in the past, the mass was content to exist in the background, ceding to the minority such higher-level societal functions as art, government and political judgment. No more. Now, the mass assert their right to dictate in all such areas, without having to demand from themselves, much less achieve, excellence.

In politics, this is “hyperdemocracy,” and Ortega thinks it a degradation. In other areas, such as philosophy (Ortega’s specialty), it means that readers (and, today, listeners and YouTube watchers), do so “with the view, not of learning from the writer, but rather, of pronouncing judgment on him when he is not in agreement with the commonplaces that the said reader carries in his head.”

It’s not that the mass man thinks he’s an expert. “The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. . . . . The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.” Mediocrity rules, and does not care that it is mediocre.

All this is a new thing in our history, but not in world history. It can be found in the declining years of Rome, among other places. Ortega ascribes its modern growth, though, not to decline, but to liberal democracy, to the discovery of the abstract sovereignty of the individual.

He doesn’t dislike liberal democracy—quite the contrary, he thinks both that it’s great, and that it’s inevitable and broadly irreversible, as I discuss further below. But if the individual is sovereign, we should not be surprised if each man treats himself as if he is indeed sovereign.

None of this implies decadence—contra Spengler, Ortega thinks that relative to the nineteenth century, which viewed itself as a time of “plenitude” when the destination of society had been reached, the twentieth century, viewing the future as open-ended and in flux, is in many ways superior. (At this point, you have to remember, it’s 1930; look around you at the world of 2018, as well as the past hundred years, then chuckle grimly and draw your own conclusions).

But the twentieth century takes it too far, because the mass men dominate, and they have “lost all respect, all consideration for the past.” Thus, the mass men both see the future as open, but assured, and themselves as perfect and satisfied. That’s a dangerous combination, for it leads to a world “empty of purposes, anticipations, ideals.”

It was those things the minority supplied, and it was those things that drove the world forward. Now, with the triumph of the masses, nobody supplies those things. So the twentieth century is an apogee—but the nature of apogees is there is nowhere to go but down.

Thus, the nineteenth-century, for all its accomplishments, also gave us the rise of the mass man, and the mass man will, unless his rise is constrained, within thirty years, “send our continent back to barbarism.” (This is a book quite explicitly about Europe. America is treated as close to a non-entity, with thinly veiled contempt. And Europe is defined as France, Germany, and England—it does not, for these purposes, really even include Spain).

The mass man, for example, feels that he himself is qualified to decide, and should decide, political matters, rather than his vote “supporting the decision of one minority or another.”

That will lead to the disappearance of liberal democracy, which Ortega regards as man’s highest political achievement (“legislative technique”), but it will also lead to the end of “industrial technique,” since the pursuit of technical excellence by minorities drives industry forward, just like other pursuit of excellence drives political organization forward.

It is this latter “industrial technique,” this combination of “scientific experiment and industrialism,” that Ortega names “technism.” Technism has allowed the mass man to escape the feeling that dominated all prior societies, that of material scarcity and restrictions. At the same time, liberal democracy makes the mass man believe that he is master of his psychic and political destiny.

Thus, the mass man feels in his bones that life is now “exempt from restrictions” on every level. That is to say, in modern parlance, he is emancipated. “The world which surrounds the new man from his birth does not compel him to limit himself in any fashion, it sets up no veto in opposition to him; on the contrary, it incites his appetite, which in principle can increase indefinitely.”

Ortega’s objection is not that appetites increasing is bad; he did not foresee the logical endpoint of total emancipation, which is total autonomy combined with total tyranny and a denial of basic reality. Instead, his objection is that the mass man fails to appreciate that all this, that benefits him, was created with great toil by the excellence of minorities; he thinks it manna from heaven.

What characterizes the mass man is inertia—the opposite of the ceaseless, self-generated search for excellence that characterizes the truly noble. And this failure to understand the sources of the bounty that blesses him, his “radical ingratitude,” combined with the new dominance of the mass man over society, means it will all disappear, and barbarism will return, as excellence flees.

For Ortega, such barbarism isn’t of the type that, looking backward, the twentieth century actually delivered. Rather, “barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.” That seems like not a fatal problem, but it is. No standards, no progress, only regress. Certainly, mass men are the creators of such tripe as Syndicalism, Fascism (explicitly in the Mussolini sense) and, Communism (“a monotonous repetition of the eternal revolution,” oblivious to history, like all these movements).

They are created by “the type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the ‘reason of unreason.’ . . . Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words. . . .” (Ortega would not have enjoyed spending time on Facebook, much less Twitter).

When mass men of politics say they are “done with discussions,” this is what they mean. It implies also that “direct action,” that is, violence, becomes not the ultima ratio, the final argument when all others are through, but the prima ratio, the first argument. This is always true, “at every epoch when the mass, for one purpose or another, has taken a part in public life.”

In all areas, what is recognized by the excellent, the minorities, in all times as “civilized,” from literature, to sexual relations, to art, to manners, to justice, decays. It is those standards for those things that make “the community, common life” possible. Result of their end: barbarism, if we don’t change course.

We can certainly see this degradation of all standards today, to a degree that makes Ortega’s prescience startling (although he was far off the mark on one matter, which I talk about last). Not only is the mass man as Ortega defines him far more dominant, over the whole Western world, than in Ortega’s time, but we see the barbarism Ortega identifies has long since arrived. Certainly almost nobody demands excellence in any field; instead, the mass men who rule demand such rubbish as “diversity and inclusion,” the wholesale granting of unearned benefits on the basis of (preferred) immutable characteristics.

The very idea that there is such a thing as excellence is denied as a matter of course. Similarly with the political processes Ortega identifies. We hear all the time, mostly from the Left but also from the Right, that the time for discussion is over, and the time for action is here, by which the speaker means “conform to my unreasoned and emotion-driven demands or be crushed.” (Such language is all over the latest push to confiscate firearms, for example, along with other forms of knuckle-dragging political behavior that would have horrified Ortega, with his focus on high rationality and political liberty).

And, more broadly, what characterizes everything in the West is a call for total autonomy implemented, if necessary, by government tyranny, and a rejection of any standards as an offense against emancipation.

Ortega believed that as long as the minority of the excellent dominates, progress is inevitable. And the reverse is also true. Therefore, Ortega would, perhaps, not be surprised by the situation today. Moreover, since barbarism has arrived in the form of the domination of mass men, it is natural that a portion of those mass men hold themselves out as the minority, as the elites.

But, of course, they are merely the rulers—they do not actually demand of themselves any pursuit of excellence at all. The names of categories are maintained, in art, politics, and culture, but they are hollow, for the standards are set by mass men clothed in false skins. So, it is entirely possible, if standards have decayed and barbarism returned, for there to be nobody at all to whom the masses can turn for guidance. The polestar may simply have winked out, to, perhaps, be restored at a time to be announced, when the world is remade.

Thus, The Revolt of the Masses feels surprisingly fresh, given not only its age but all the water that has passed under the bridge since it was written. Yes, Ortega does display a simplistic, if touching, faith, in liberal democracy, which has since his time shown its deficiency.

The Europe of 1930 is the triumph of “liberal democracy and technical knowledge,” shown by, among other things, a tripling of the population of Europe. (Ortega is wrong here, of course—there is no necessary, or actual historical, linkage of liberal democracy with the rise of technical knowledge or its impacts in the Industrial Revolution).

He concludes that “liberal democracy based on technical knowledge is the highest type of public life hitherto known,” and though it might be possible to imagine a better, anything better must continue to embody both liberal democracy and technical knowledge, and that it would be “suicidal” to return to any pre-nineteenth-century form. It is the “truth of destiny.”

That was a supportable argument, maybe, in 1930, but not now. True, the term no longer means what it meant for Ortega. For him, it meant political liberty, “consideration for one’s neighbor,” “indirect action” (i.e., a rejection of violence), and, explicitly, universal suffrage where the mass of voters chose among programs offered by their betters.

Today, it means, as Ryszard Legutko says, “coercion to freedom,” where no political liberty is offered to those opposed to unbridled autonomy, and democracy means only being allowed to vote for what today’s elites, who are not Ortega’s minority, allow.

Ortega thought liberal democracy “announces the determination to share existence with the enemy.” Those who today howl “I can tolerate anything but intolerance” can have nothing in common with this sentiment. So perhaps we can say that Ortega may have been right, but liberal democracy as he used the term is dead, a casualty of the barbarism he feared, replaced by its zombie equivalent (although probably such zombification was inevitable, in the nature of liberal democracy, as several recent writers have claimed).

As I promised, let’s turn back to the second misconception about Ortega’s thoughts, regarding “experts.” In the past few years, there have been minor outbreaks of renewed interest in Ortega’s thoughts, always facile. For example, in the Atlantic, a colloquy recently appeared between a staff writer and a reader, where the statement was endorsed by both, that Ortega “describes a movement that appeals to a cross-section of non-intellectual people across class lines that seems to parallel Donald Trump’s cross-cultural appeal. There it seemed to lead to Fascism.” Ortega would have a conniption.

His objection is not that the mass man fails to be intellectual; it is that the mass man does not pursue excellence. For the most part, Ortega loathes modern intellectuals as the very worst type of mass man. Nor does he make any suggestion at all that mass men lead to Fascism; rather, he says that the domination of mass men leads to regression in political organization, one possible end of which is Fascism.

The Atlantic colloquy continues, with such gems as “[T]he digital age seems to have trouble accepting ‘elite’ consensus regarding complex topics such as climate change (and gun control, evolution and tax policy, among many other subjects where the vast majority of scientists, economists, etc., accept certain basic facts that are rejected by large swaths of the public).”

Ortega did not care about what scientists and economists had to say. At all. He would call them ignoramuses, narrow men whose narrow learning did not qualify them to say anything at all to society at large, especially about topics not subject to rigid calculation. His “elites” were men of excellence and broad learning, not sophists and calculators.

To Ortega, “special qualifications” are not those of experts. Our experts are scientists and similar types who are narrow and ignorant outside of a tiny area, yet presume to think otherwise. His leaders, to whom the mass should defer, are men of great mind, not technicians. They are aristocrats.

In fact, Ortega despises the “ ‘man of science,’ the high-point of European humanity,” as being actually “the prototype of the mass man.” This is because the days of scientific discoveries by generalists, like Newton, are over, and the days of narrow specialization by each scientist are here. Science itself is not specialized, and in fact must be informed by areas outside science—but scientific work, today, must be specialized.

The days of encyclopedic minds are gone, and what we have are specialists, each only knowledgeable in “the small corner of which he is an active investigator.” Given this hyper-specialization, men who are overall mediocre, rather than excellent, can actually keep science advancing (this is today called the “Ortega Hypothesis”), because “a fair amount of the things that have to be done in physics or biology is mechanical work of the mind which can be done by anyone, or almost anyone.”

But such men think they are excellent, even though each “knows very well his own tiny corner of the universe; [but] he is radically ignorant of all the rest.” He is a “learned ignoramus,” which is bad enough, but worse is in store, for “By specializing him, civilization has made him hermetic and self-satisfied within his limitations; but this very inner feeling of dominance and worth will induce him to wish to predominate outside his specialty. The result is . . . that he will behave in almost all spheres of life as does the unqualified, the mass-man.”

This is what we see, most of the time, when people demand that the public listen to “experts”—that we listen to specialists in one area who are thereby presumed to be competent to lecture us in areas either only loosely related, or, more often, wholly unrelated.

The names are endless, but include everyone from Bill Nye to Stephen Hawking. It is these specialists, Ortega says, who exist in a state of “ ‘not-listening,’ of not submitting to higher courts of appeal,” a characteristic of the mass man. That is, the experts we are told today we must listen to are, for Ortega, the archetypal mass men, whom we should ignore, and to whom we listen to at our peril.

Finally, Ortega veers off the mark in his last chapter, which covers a third of the book. Here, he extols the need for a European superstate. This chapter has various insights, including that force follows public opinion, and that if Europe does not rule the world, it is not clear that anyone will or can, leading inevitably to “universal barbarism.”

His analysis of nationalism is interesting (“In defending the nation we are defending our tomorrows, not our yesterdays”), but his idea that all states proceed to fusion of social classes (which seems in contradiction to the rest of his book) is demonstrably false. The biggest problem, though, is that he extends this idea of fusion, or consolidation, to extend beyond the nations of Europe, to a true fusion of Europe.

We have seen the zenith of this idea in our lifetimes, and it was not a very high zenith. It has been falsified that “The more faithful the national State of the West remains to its genuine inspiration, the more surely will it perfect itself in a gigantic continental state.” Nor is it true that “Only the determination to construct a great nation from the group of peoples of the Continent [will] give new life to the pulses of Europe.”

Quite the contrary, in fact, as we have seen. The so-called great nation is about to be no nation at all, as all can clearly see. It is not the failure of prediction that bothers me, but that the reasoning and analysis on which it is based, which is conclusory and fantastical, is far inferior to that in the rest of the book.

Despite the last chapter’s failings, this book is very much worth reading and pondering. (I read it because my mother asked me to, on the grounds that she would likely never get around to it herself, and I would do her a service by reviewing it). It does not offer a program to fix the problems identified—that is something we will have to come up with for ourselves.

I don’t know if Ortega had anything to say about that in his other writings. My guess is that he would not be surprised by Europe’s terminal decline, or by that America was able to extend his thirty-year deadline for the West by a few decades, yet is now in the same leaky boat of the Europe of 1930, but with more holes and more fat people in the boat.

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

The image shows, “De landverhuizers” (the Emigrants), by Eugène Laermans, painted in 1894.

What Comes After Nietzsche?

Is the European Union a community of shared values? To pose such a question is to indicate a problem of cultural tension. This tension indeed exists. Yet, it should not be reduced only to the obvious spectrum of the discussed issues from the realm of bioethics (like abortion, euthanasia, embryo experiments), ethics (like homosexuality) or politics (like national independence in the UE, the role of religious beliefs in the public square or the limits of freedom of speech), because even the “narrative” asymmetry of the European institutions and the spiritual culture itself (I use the term “spiritual” or “spirit” in the broad sense of the German “Geist” or French “esprit”) are indicative of the very problem.

While the institutions are generally under the hegemony of Enlightenment discourse (with all its ideas of freedom, equality, brotherhood, universal peace attained by the projective power of reason, tolerance etc.) or the so called “discourse of modernity”, the contemporary spiritual – in the humanistic sense (philosophical, anthropological, etc.) – cultural condition is a kind of “discursive melting pot” marked by the effort of overcoming not only the Enlightenment or “modern” visions, but even post-modern conceptions as well.

In the search for the European Ethical community one should therefore take into consideration both dimensions of the problem – the “horizontal” one (tension within the debate) and the “vertical” one (inadequacy of institutions and Zeitgeist).

The vertical aspect shows the “instability of values”, which is in some way the normal condition of the West, but it may also be identified as the “reversal of values”, since institutions should be the fruit of the spiritual and political effort of the community, and not only an artificial “legislative” act. Both symptoms are signs of the European identity problem, and since identity in the deepest sense is an ontological question, I will attempt to present an ontological analysis of the problem.

The horizontal tension, generally speaking, is determined by the polarization between the so called “conservative” and “progressive” options, or, in another paradigm, between “rightist” and “leftist” discourses. Since both points of view appeared after the French Revolution, they are intrinsically reactive and in this sense “negative” perspectives.

The progressive approach reacts against the values of the traditional society, which it regards as the source of oppression, blaming it for the lack of universal freedom. The conservative approach, which stands for traditional values, reacts against revolution.

To solve this tension one should seek for a “positive” perspective, which is not merely reactive but makes it possible to judge and thus to reconcile the “old” with the “new.” The theoretical condition is here to stand “beyond – or rather – on the other side of good and evil” defined by both opposite discourses, and to look for the deeper cause of this tension (perhaps you can hear now the echo of the Nietzsche’s Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Beyond Good and Evil).

The vertical tension is more problematic, because there is always some interrelationship between institutions which are the “visible” and “tangible” points of reference for the community and the “invisible” spirit of the community. The principle I mentioned above is a classical one and presupposes the substantial unity of “spirit” and “body” in the community: it was the genius of the Roman spirit which “invented” the institution but for the Romans “imperium” meant “power” as the principle of the rule, not the “(visible) territory” or the “state” (the Greek custom was similar: the “city” meant always people, η των Αθεναιων πολυς…).

The modern custom is a kind of artificial transposition – the institution is no longer the power of the community but is imposed on the community; Leviathan takes the place of the community spirit, but it is connected with it in an artificial way, so the body is artificial. The “state” indicates now a “place” or “institutions”, rather than the community itself. I call this the “reversal of values”, because values are no longer the expression of the community’s vitality; on the contrary – the community is objected to the (indispensable according to Hobbes) prior value of Leviathan.

The problem of the vitality of values, as well as the tension between progress and decline were the main aspects of the philosophy of Nietzsche expressed in his Umwertung aller Werte – “transmutation or transvaluation of all values” program. Because of the ambiguous reception of his thought, some things must be pointed out by way of introduction. Nietzsche viewed the transvaluation of values as the high point of his philosophical mission.

After having given “mankind the most profound book it possesses”, as he described with characteristic charm his work Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche was preparing “the most independent” one, revealing the final transvaluation which was meant as the act of the “most sublime auto reflection of humanity” ultimately establishing the principle of the “will to power”. In fact, he managed only to announce it in Twilight of the Idols which was the last work published before his collapse into madness in January 1889 (works published later, including The will to power, containing the most systematic approach were mostly edited by his sister and thus are not genuine).

What were the idols whose fall Nietzsche proclaimed? The idols are the false gods, simulacra. They are made by men in the act of ressentiment against the Dionysian vitality of pure life. Failing to achieve this human – “all too human” – plenitude, man seeks an idol whom he could serve for the price of anti-vital security to deaden the “sound full of doubt, full of melancholy, full of weariness of life”.

The process of inventing the idols, e.g. the resentful negation of life, is the essence of the decadence of culture. The decline started already at the beginning of the Western world, in Greece, and Socrates himself was actually the first décadent. Belonging to the lowest class, the ugly Socrates, the archetype of a criminal – monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo – had to feel rejection since, as Nietzsche puts it, “ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation.” That internal monster made him deny “all the instincts of the earlier Greeks” and “transvestite” his contempt for life into the idea of virtue which equates reason with happiness.

Thus dialectic is invented, which reverses the value of exploding vitality into immovable, therefore “dead” abstraction. Socrates is thus the first “revolutionist expressing plebeian ressentiment” who “as one oppressed, enjoys his own ferocity in the knife-thrusts of his syllogisms”. The crucial point of the argument is the tension between the constantly changeable flow of pure terrestrial life and unchangeable and immovable ideas “from another world” which poison the vitality of the instincts.

The platonic dualism is the soil which bears further idols, especially Christianity – as Nietzsche puts it in Anti-Christ – “the great curse”, which by establishing the cult of charity praises the weak for whom it promises eternal life “somewhere else”. Nietzsche interprets the whole history of the West as the march of idols (in 20th cent. cf. Jean Baudrillard’s “precision of simulacra”…).

The principal conclusion is that the idols fight one another, so each idol is the negation of another idol. Thus, since every idol is the negation of life, the decadence is the process of the negation of negation which appears as the burning out of “sense” on the historical horizon (in this context Nietzsche uses the term “nihilism”).

Virtue, God, History, Progress, Society, Democracy…these all are the idols which gradually weaken all vital powers of humanity. This weakness is the cause of the decline of politics. Nietzsche claims that:

Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions. Their effects are known well enough: they undermine the will to power; they level mountain and valley, and call that morality; they make men small, cowardly, and hedonistic–every time it is the herd animal that triumphs with them. Liberalism: in other words, herd-animalization.

Our institutions are no good any more: on that there is universal agreement – However, it is not their fault but ours. Once we have lost all the instincts out of which institutions grow, we lose institutions altogether because we are no longer good for them. Democracy has ever been the form of decline in organizing power (…) [it is] the form of decline of the state. In order that there may be institutions, there must be a kind of will, instinct, or imperative, which is anti-liberal to the point of malice: the will to tradition, to authority, to responsibility for centuries to come, to the solidarity of chains of generations, forward and backward ad infinitum.

When this will is present, something like the imperium Romanum is founded (…) The whole of the West no longer possesses the instincts out of which institutions grow, out of which a future grows: perhaps nothing antagonizes its “modern spirit” so much.

One lives for the day, one lives very fast, one lives very irresponsibly: precisely this is called “freedom.” That which makes an institution an institution is despised, hated, repudiated: one fears the danger of a new slavery the moment the word “authority” is even spoken out loud. That is how far decadence has advanced in the value-instincts of our politicians, of our political parties: instinctively they prefer what disintegrates, what hastens the end.

Despite his ferocious language, Nietzsche was not a pessimist. You may find numerous quotes where he denounces the weakness of pessimism, for example that of Schopenhauer. He deeply believed that decadence may be overcome definitely with the project of transvaluation, that is elevating mankind up to the Übermensch, a super-human level of the Overman. Hence it may be said that he was both hyper-conservative and hyper-progressive.

He shared intrinsically conservative nostalgia after the “Golden Age” – the age of Dionysus, and simultaneously hoped with progressives for the evolutionary metamorphosis of man which would provide him a terrestrial salvation. Nietzsche however did not want to be merely anti-platonic, because it would be only reactive, and as such – decadent.

The problem is that one cannot get rid of dialectic without dialectic and since the existential cannot be conceptualized, as noted a commentator, “the world of the perfect immanence of life, beyond good and evil, falsehood and lie, beyond distinctions and antitheses that yield negations, defies expression in any language governed by the game of oppositions; at the most it can be the Unutterable, nostalgically exhorted and invoked in its poetic, dithyrambic outpourings”, the only way to cross the boundaries of language is the mystical apophasis…

But still – apophatic discourse is via negativa and Nietzsche wanted to express pure positiveness of life. In fact, he has never attained this goal, the book on transvaluation has never been written. Instead of apophasis Nietzsche left us with his tacit aphasia of madness. Of course interpreters argue whether we are supposed to take this tragic finale of his philosophy into account, but one thing we can note for sure: Nietzsche failed to overcome the decadence which he opposed.

What was the reason of this failure? After defeating all the idols Nietzsche was left to overcome the last idol, Man himself, whose deplorable condition was the permanent source of all the other idols. Indeed, being extremely consistent (and let us add – the only consistent Nietzscheanist was Nietzsche himself) he knew it was the conditio sine qua non: this is the program of Zarathustra.

In fact, Nietzsche wanted to divinize man (note that his language is purely religious: the ideals of Dionysus and Zarathustra, however mythological, send us back to the divine) in reaching the perfect and self-sufficient plenitude of boundless will to power. Thus Nietzsche became a reversed mystic who instead of uniting himself with the Absolute God, collapses into himself, the absolute-transvestite… (les extrêmes se touchent, as the French say, and nihilism and mysticism are very close to each other).

Moreover, taking up his philosophy structurally one must admit that no matter how Nietzsche tried to overcome German idealism in its peak of Hegelianism, he intrinsically rested a Hegelian, Hegelian à rebours but still Hegelian. For Nietzsche the only possible absolute was the absolute of culture – this is the realm of his analysis, and in that way he was bound by his own Zeitgeist.

And let us ask more – what became of Nietzsche? 100 years after Twilight of the Idols was published one of the main Nietzschean topics was again to be contemplated. The idea which organized Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being was the idea of the Eternal Return. For Nietzsche, the discovery of this metaphysical law was la gaya scienza, the Gay Science, which was a call for heroic fight for pure life in its every moment.

Kundera’s perspective is quite different – such heroism is absurd, and the very idea of eternity in any form appeared to him as unbearable gravity. We have one life which is the sum of volatile moments. Einmal ist keinmal, “what happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all,” Kundera says, transmuting Nietzschean heroism into nihilism.

Thus, in the language of Nietzsche, Kundera, a décadent of Nietzscheanism, only confirms the failure of the German Philosopher. But Kundera himself elaborated a language which explains that status quo.

In the part entitled The Grand March, Kundera expresses what can be called the ontology of Kitsch: “Kitsch is a German word born in the middle of the sentimental nineteenth century, and from German it entered all Western languages. Repeated use, however, has obliterated its original metaphysical meaning: kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence. So, in other words: Kitsch has its source in the categorical agreement with being. But what is the basis of being? God? Mankind? Struggle? Love? Man? Woman? Since opinions vary, there are various kitsches: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Communist, Fascist, democratic, feminist, European, American, national, international.”

For Kundera “categorical agreement with being” means the denial of any inconvenience and imperfectness of life which are the source of the grand march of kitsch under many forms. And that is quite similar to the Nietzschean march of idols. One may notice that while Nietzsche diagnosed the decadence of the 19th century existentially, Kundera summed up the decadence of the 20th century, with its totalitarianism, moral revolutions and existential fatigue, in an aesthetical way.

The topic which links the motive of unbearable lightness and kitsch is the question of vanishing and oblivion. Kundera sums up the part about the grand march as follows:

“What remains of the dying population of Cambodia?One large photograph of an American actress holding an Asian child in her arms.What remains of Tomas?An inscription reading HE WANTED THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH.What remains of Beethoven?A frown, an improbable mane, and a somber voice intoning Es muss sein!What remains of Franz?An inscription reading A RETURN AFTER LONG WANDERINGS.And so on and so forth. Before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion.”

Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion. Words cannot express the whole gravity and lightness of each life. What remains is always in some way a falsification of the existence. To that little litany above we may add the question: And what remains of the Nietzschean struggle to overcome European decadence? Let Emil Cioran, a great 20th century décadent, answer:

Nietzsche makes me tired. Sometimes my tiredness verges on disgust. One cannot accept a thinker whose ideal is the opposite of himself. There is something repulsive about a weakling who preaches physical strength, who is a ruthless weakling. It is all good for teenagers. (…) The success of Nietzsche is largely due to the fact that he advocated theories he never adhered to. We are fond of a weakling or a regular guest to boarding houses for spinsters who raves about power, egoism, and an unscrupulous hero. If he had been the hero he extols in his texts, we would not be intrigued by him any more.

Not to mention what remains of the idea of Übermensch not only after Nazism but also after Hollywood – note that merciful English editors change the original translation “Superman” by a more sophisticated “Overman” just to avoid the grotesque connotation with the flying guy in the red stockinet panties.

And what remains of Kundera, we should ask at last, the one who denounced the “totalitarian kitsch” of Communism? Well, the answer is: evidence (whether actual or alleged) of his cooperation with the communist regime secret service…

Thus both Nietzsche and Kundera are defeated by their own principles. And yet, does their failure invalidate their diagnoses? Not at all. If we put aside Nietzschean axiology (which results from his reductive materialistic premises) we will discover a great physiologist of the spirit (as Hegel was a great phenomenologist of the spirit). If we put aside Kundera’s nihilism (which itself results from the burning out of the “metaphysical instinct”), we will discover an accurate description of collective memory’s mechanisms.

The lesson of Nietzsche (and of Kundera as well) is in fact the great lesson of existential hermeneutics. What we call “values” by the nature of our language and cognitive skills have intrinsic possibility to turn into heartless idols, purely formal abstracts, kitsch-narrations, which are no longer compatible with life.

On the other hand, the institutions which were genetically invented to preserve values and make them universal have the intrinsic possibility to turn against the community itself when it no longer has any vital instincts to establish sound institutions. Furthermore, a community which loses its vitality may reject true values, because of its incapability to live them.

The permanent transvaluation of values is the fact in the history of our culture, but only the understanding of its real causes may let us regain the substantial unity of its “spirit” and “body” and make us again the subjects, not objects of our institutions. So the effort to re-evaluate values rests in the community’s hermeneutic and existential work.

Surprisingly there is probably only one voice in contemporary culture which takes up this task. This is the voice of Pope Benedict XVI, who unceasingly urges the interpretation of European history as a whole without reducing it to particular narrative traditions. He mentioned this idea a few days ago here in Prague, as he had before in Paris, La Sapienza or Regensburg.

In fact, the main topic of Benedict XVI’s pontificate was the problem of the so called “hermeneutic of continuity”, which he expressed in his manifesto to the Roman Curia (note that the Catholic Church is struggling with the same illness as European culture – the identity crisis). Generally, its goal is to discover in history what he calls, after the Greeks, Logos – transcending reason which alone gives the perspective to judge unnecessary cultural changes and discern them from real values.

So, is the re-evaluation of all values still possible? Yes, it is, provided that we rediscover the unity of life and values which was the foundation of Western culture. Thus, our task is undertaking the effort of establishing existential hermeneutics. And, after all, if there is not any Logos transcending this History, if the unity of values and life is not to be achieved – we are, Ladies and Gentlemen, only the “transvestited” “opinion makers” who participate in some Grand March of kitsch, among the other Nietzschean “Last Men” described in Zarathustra.

This article appears courtesy of Christianitas.

The image shows, “Šaulys (Sagittarius),” by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, painted in 1907.

Wilhelm Röpke And The Third “Neo-Liberal” Path

World history has not become a long, tranquil river as some had hoped. Various tragic events tell us otherwise – September 11, 2001, the economic crisis of 2008 and finally the identity crisis of the 2010s (crisis of conscience or perception of cultural and historical roots that affects the countries of Europe and, likely perhaps to a lesser extent, the rest of the West).

Since the 2008 crisis, many have expressed the strongest reservations about the evolution of Western economies and societies. Economic reductionism, the cult of the market, the capitalist logic of interest have never been so denounced in the media.

Combined with liberalization, deregulation (especially the financial markets), the withdrawal of the state, the disproportionate power of the “giants” of business and finance, the concentration of wealth, the explosion of inequality and wild competition, the word “neoliberalism,” ubiquitous in the vocabulary of the general public, has become a kind of synonym for “hypercapitalism,” “market fundamentalism,” an absolute repellent. A label so overused and depreciated in Europe that it can no longer be used openly by neo-liberal or social-liberal political leaders, but only surreptitiously, the French presidential election of 2017 being, in this respect, a real case in point.

A plethora of philosophers and ideologues, a minority of whom seem to want more or less consciously the return of wage and price control, state leadership, and even the resurgence of “sweet collectivism,” also support the thesis of the fundamental unity of liberalism. At the root of political and economic liberalism, they believe, there should be, above all, individualism and universalism.

The neo-liberalism of the turn of the 21st century would only be the logical and inevitable culmination of the individualistic and universalist philosophical project, defined since the 17th century in particular by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Even the most radical of these philosophers and ideologues, risk prophesying that liberalism and neo-liberalism are coming to an end. But for the historian of ideas and facts things are not so simple.

Contrary to what some have suggested, liberalism and neo-liberalism are not univocal or monolithic currents. Their stories are diverse and plural, made up of ruptures and disagreements, as well as continuity and convergence. There is a political liberalism and an economic liberalism, with concomitances, and no doubt, simultaneity, but both of which are far from absolute and permanent.

On the political level alone, we can distinguish five liberalisms: first, a legal-economic liberalism based on a minimum state or “gendarme” (as per David Hume, Frédéric Bastiat, Friedrich Hayek, or even the Chicago School).

Second, there is libertarian liberalism, which regards the state or political power as useless (as per the Austrian School, Murray Rothbard, Walter Block, etc.).

Third, there is the liberalism which wants a state whose mission is to foster a level playing field, and which is close to redistributive and bureaucratic social democracy (as per John Stuart Mill, John Rawls, Keynes, etc.).

Fourthly, there is a Jacobin, centralist, egalitarian, statolatry, or even totalitarian liberalism (as per Jean-Jacques Rousseau).

And, finally, there is a realistic or skeptical liberalism, which recognizes the existence and necessity of power as the inevitable component of social and political life – in other words that which considers “the “political (i.e. the essence of politics and not the “policy that it is contingent,” to use Julien Freund’s distinction) as the sociological articulation of the “polemos,” that is, as the inevitable theatre of recurrent conflicts and struggles (as per Tocqueville, Isaiah Berlin, Mosca, Pareto, Ortega y Gasset, Unamuno, Max Weber, Croce, Wilhelm Röpke, Raymond Aron, Julien Freund, etc.).

With regard to economic liberalism, the differences between the Vienna School (Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek), or the Chicago School (Milton Friedman and George Stigler) at the Fribourg-en-Brisgau School (Walter Eucken and Wilhelm Röpke) are blatant and profound.

Forged to oppose the older liberalism (or paleo-liberalism), the term neo-liberalism is not new. It appeared in the late 1930s; the updated version of the book by the German economist Franz Oppenheimer, Der Staat (1929), undoubtedly played a pioneering role in this field. But at that time, the meaning of the word neo-liberalism was very different. It was almost the opposite of the one it took in the 1970s, following the experience of the “Chicago Boys,” Friedman’s ultra-liberal disciples, who were much under the influence of English and American think-tanks that supported a minimal state, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs (London), or the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education (Atlanta).

In the emergence of neo-liberal thought, an important first step must be pointed out: the Walter Lippmann Symposium, convened in Paris in 1938 at the initiative of Louis Rougier. For the twenty-six participants, it was a question of defining a neo-liberalism conceived as a third way between the “laisser-faire” of old liberalism (“the providentialism of the invisible hand”), and the dirigisme of Marxist communism, National socialism, fascism, and the various forms of Keynesianism, Planists and Neo-Socialists.

The economists, political scientists and sociologists of the time had largely aligned themselves with Lippmann, Rougier, Jacques Rueff, Alexander Rüstow or Wilhelm Röpke. The “old or paleo-liberals” such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek were in the minority at the time. For the majority of participants, it was clear that neo-liberalism had to accept a good deal of interventionism and integrate a political, social and moral dimension. Their neo-liberalism – ordo-liberalism or “rule liberalism” – was defined by four points: priority to the price mechanism, free enterprise, a competitive system, and a strong, impartial state.

The second major stage was the birth of the Mont Pèlerin Society (Vevey, Switzerland), in April 1947. Founded, among others, by Hayek, Albert Hunold and Röpke, this organization was to bring together, at its first conference, thirty-seven members, fifty percent of whom were American. Significantly, the final statement stressed the “need for a legal and institutional framework to preserve the proper functioning of competition” (point 5), and “the need and presupposition of a free society,” namely, “a moral code widely accepted which would govern public and private actions” (point 8). Hayek served as president from 1948 to 1960, and Wilhelm Röpke succeeded him from 1961 to 1962. But it is well known that there were significant disputes within the “Society” over how to understand liberalism.

At the first regular meeting, held in Seelisberg (Switzerland) in 1949, the ordo-liberal, Walter Eucken, opposed the utilitarian, Ludwig von Mises. Dissension broke out again at the Turin assembly in 1961, which saw Friedrich Hayek and Wilhelm Röpke oppose each other. Severe lamenting of the “tragedy and crisis of historical or Manchesterian capitalism,” German ordo-liberals and more generally European economists who favored third-way neoliberalism (such as, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Rueff, Rougier or Maurice Allais), were all-too-often considered “too socialist,” at times labeled as “reactionary utopians,” and even occasionally accused, perfidiously, of “hidden connivance with fascism.” They were soon relegated to the background by the supporters of the Austrian and Anglo-Saxon schools, all of which favored the return of classical liberalism.

The Mont Pèlerin Society evolved, got radicalized, and became, in the late 1970s, a kind of ultra-liberal think tank. In view of the history and political and economic debates of the turn of the 21st century, the thought of Wilhelm Röpke, a great rival and loser to Friedrich Hayek, takes on an unexpected dimension. Forgotten and unknown for nearly forty years, his intellectual figure deserves all the more to be rediscovered.

Röpke was born in Schwarmstedt, Lower Saxony (near Hanover) on October 10, 1899, and died on February 12, 1966 in Coligny (in the canton of Geneva). His thinking is an interesting synthesis of the defense of market economy and that of political-ethical-religious conservatism.

His respect for traditional life forms, his hostility to the gigantism and cult of the colossal, his denunciation of the consumer society and commercial advertising, his criticism of the catastrophic destruction of urban landscapes and the natural environment, his opposition to globalization and the homogenization of political communities that he considered incompatible with the cultural heterogeneity of European civilization, and finally, his deploring the loss of the sense of community, made him a leading neo-liberal economist who advocated the “third way,” beyond liberalism and socialism. Röpke also used the terms “constructive liberalism” and “economic humanism, but he preferred the designation the “third way” (der dritte Weg).

During his lifetime, Röpke held a prominent position. His prestige even eclipsed that of other ordo-liberal economists and political writers such as Walter Eucken, Franz Boehm, Alexander Rüstow or Alfred Müller-Armack.

Mobilized in September 1917, a year before the end of the First World War, he was wounded in 1918 at the Battle of Cambrai. Decorated with the Iron Cross Second-Class and demobilized, he resumed his studies in law and economics, which he had begun at the University of Göttingen. He then joined the University of Tübingen, and finally the University of Marburg, where he defended his doctoral thesis, under the direction of the economist, Walter Troeltsch, in January 1921.

He was not only a professor and an economic theorist, but also an advisor to the prince. He first worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin as a consultant in charge of payments for war reparations. Between 1924 and 1928, he taught at the University of Jena.

Then, on a Rockefeller Foundation grant, he visited the United States where he studied agrarian economics. In 1928, he gave courses in political economy at the University of Graz (Austria) and, barely a year later, obtained a chair at the University of Marburg. In 1930-31, he was part of a commission of experts charged with proposing counter-cyclical policies against unemployment to the government.

On the eve of the elections of September 14, 1930, which would see a breakthrough by the National Socialist Party, he clearly opposed the NSDAP. A controversy pitted him against the intellectuals of the Die Tat group, which was the emblematic reference-point of the Conservative Revolution up to 1937. He published three articles on anti-capitalism in the magazine, which he considered “catastrophic;” and, in particular, attacked Ferdinand Fried (Friedrich Zimmermann), the outspoken propagator of National Socialist theories about the end of capitalism and the need for autarky.

Once again, in a speech in Frankfurt on February 8, 1933, he criticized the demagoguery of National Socialist rhetoric. His university career ended three weeks later, on February 27, 1933, the day of the Reichstag fire. As Dean of the faculty, and given the responsibility of giving the funeral oration for his teacher, Walter Troeltsch, at the cemetery of Ockershauser (Marburg), Röpke denounced: “an era that likes to convert the garden of civilization into a primitive forest.”

Declared an enemy of the people and expelled from the university on April 25, 1933, he refused to publicly recant and join the NSDAP. He had to leave Germany with his wife, son and two daughters. After a brief exile in England and Holland, the family sailed for Turkey, where the regime of President Ataturk, then considered in the West to be “a good dictator,” welcomed university exiles of the Reich.

At the University of Istanbul, he was reunited with his colleague and friend, Professor Alexander Rüstow. He held the chair of political economy until September 1937, when he joined the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. During the war, he wrote a famous trilogy: Die Gesellschaftskrisis der Gegenwart, 1942 (The Social Crisis of Our Time), Civitas Humana, 1944 (Civitas Humana or the fundamental questions of economic and social reform), and International Ordnung, (The International Community). This trilogy was translated into several languages and helped establish his reputation.

At the end of the Second World War, he published a more polemical essay, Die deutsche Frage, 1945 (The German Question), which earned him the hatred of both the right and the left, because for Röpke the tragedy of Germany was a consequence of the Prussian spirit, romanticism, and a certain fundamentalism in the realization of ideas.

According to him, the solution for Germany could only come from a moral revolution, a re-education of the values of Western civilization, a deproletarization, and a confederation of autonomous states. More specifically, he wanted the absolute prevention of Russian collectivism, which also explained his desire for Germany to join the Atlantic community.

His thinking and rhetoric very soon informed the speeches of Minister Ludwig Erhard, who had obtained allies as early as 1945 to be appointed Economic Minister in the Bavarian government. Röpke was a first-time ministerial and then presidential adviser in Konrad Adenauer’s government. He defended the “social market economy,” a term already used by Muller-Armack and supported in France, Italy and Spain by Jacques Rueff, Luigi Einaudi and Alberto Ullastres.

But he eventually broke with the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) because of his opposition to German integration into the European Communities. The supranational path, which opened in the 1950s, seemed dangerous to the future of the homelands and cultures, spiritually, and damaging to the market, economically.

Röpke’s thinking is marked by the doctrinal criticism of totalitarianism, the welfare state, and Keynesian policies, but also by a stated sympathy for political-moral neo-conservatism. He drew the various strands of his doctrine from Sismondi, Proudhon, Le Play, Kropotkin, Chesterton or Belloc, but his school of thought is that of Ortega y Gasset, Lippmann, Johan Huizinga, Guglielmo Ferrero, Jouvenel, Halévy, Benda or Hazard.

The experience of the crisis of the late 1920s was proof to him that the economy cannot organize itself. Collectivist responses to capitalism are reactions he regarded as understandable in the face of misery, but he also thought that they reinforced the miserable condition of the proletariat and that they inevitably lead to tyranny.

Just as forcefully he rejected the welfare state as “an expression of the emotion and passion of the masses,” which “institutionalizes the proletariat and disempowers the citizen.” But he nevertheless very harshly denounced the blindness of classical liberalism, the so-called liberal apoliticism, which he considered a mystification. His economic liberalism was associated with political realism.

He recognized the social irrationality of capitalism, in particular the inevitable concentration of ownership, the expansion of wage-earning and proletarianization, which were fatal steps on the path of collectivism, and proposed ways to avoid them, in order to restore the entrepreneurial vitality of workers.

The real cause of the discontent of the working class was the devitalization of existence which could not be cured by higher wages, holidays or games. Instead of locking workers in the Welfare State, he said that it was necessary to promote their freedom and responsibility, to make them want to be owner-occupiers.

The ordo-liberalism of Röpke held that markets need an ethico-legal-political framework to ensure the survival of liberal values. For him, competition was essential and the deproletarization of social relations, such as the fight against capitalist concentration and in favor of the promotion of free enterprise, were the duties of the state.

The neo-liberalism of Röpke did not identify with a weak state, at the mercy of economic forces, but rather with a strong state; a state capable of restricting competition and ensuring the social and ideological conditions of a free economy. Economic freedom and political authority are two sides of the same coin for him. There is interdependence of the two; the economy does not have an independent existence.

The free market is unable to provide an integrated society on its own. The tendency towards proletarianization is inherent in capitalist social relations; and when it is not controlled, it results in social crises and disorder. This containment is the responsibility of the state; so, it is a political responsibility.

The market economy cannot survive without moral capital, without the support of tradition, religion and civic sense. The state must intervene in the economic and non-economic spheres to ensure the ethical and social conditions on which effective competition is based.

Röpke wanted economic activity on a human scale, based on the social fabric of small and medium-sized enterprises. He wanted legislation against monopolies, the widest possible dissemination of ownership, market control to ensure healthy competition, state intervention limited to indispensable sectors only, and strict application of the principle of subsidiarity.

Warning of the danger of extreme inequality, he accepted income redistribution and subsidies when they did not interfere with the market economy. He refused to exalt the private sector at the expense of legitimate functions of the state. He deplored the uncritical adoption of all technological advances and concerns, the consequences of the destruction of the traditional family, demographic decline and unlimited immigration.

Hedonism, selfishness, idol pleasure, psychological atomism, naturalism and determinism were values and ideas that were entirely foreign to him. The quarrels over the comparative importance of identity and sovereignty were, in his view, specious, illusory and dissolving.

Identity (linked to the historical-cultural community) and sovereignty (the political power associated with the consent community) could not be opposed. They are two complementary and inseparable aspects of the unity of destiny in the universal. Demassification, deproletarization, decollectivization and social decentralization are the key words of his thinking.

He was a Protestant, but he held in high esteem the social doctrine of the Church with which he sought to build a bridge from liberalism. His concern for the deterioration of the Western Christian tradition and the irreligiousness of contemporary man continued to grow during his life. “Europe’s decadence is not only moral or political,” he wrote, “it is also religious.” And again: “Everything is held together and toppled by religion” (Civitas Humana).

The neo-liberalism of Röpke is, in fact, the perfect alternative to the neo-liberalism of the turn of the 21st century. While the latter defends capitalism against the state, the neo-liberalism of Röpke defends the state against capitalism. The theorist of American conservatism, Russell Kirk, bête noire of present-day neoconservatives and neo-liberals but a fine connoisseur of the disagreements between the utilitarian Mises and the ordo-liberal Röpke, liked to tell the following anecdote.

A professor at the University Institute of Advanced International Studies, Röpke welcomed the success of the workers’ gardens, the plots of land made available to the inhabitants by the municipality of Geneva.

One day he showed Mises, workers digging away in their plots. At this sight, Mises pouted, sadly shook his head and lamented, “A really very inefficient way of producing food.” To which Röpke replied, “Perhaps, yes, but perhaps not, because it is also a very effective way of producing human happiness.”

A pioneer, though pessimistic, as were his most prestigious ordo-liberal and neo-liberal colleagues of the 1930s and 1970s, Röpke had the reasoned conviction that a society obsessed with GNP, exclusively concerned with so-called efficiency and profitability, regardless of the consequences on human beings, inevitably runs out of steam.

Having said that, it is clear that at the beginning of the 21st century the conditions of a democratic, entrenched community, respectful of the human freedom of civic sense and of small and medium-sized property, are no longer compatible with the requirements of a model grossly disfigured free trade economy.

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

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.

The image shows Wilhelm Röpke, ca. 1951.

Interview: Drieu Godefridi

This is a new series we are launching – interviews with important thinkers of our time.

For our inaugural interview, we are very honored to have Dr. Drieu Godefridi. He obtained his PhD from the Sorbonne in philosophy, and he has written several important books on gender, the IPCC and environmentalism.

Dr. Godefridi’s books may be found here.

The Postil (TP): Welcome, Dr. Godefridi. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. To start, do you think the West is in crisis, where everything must be questioned so that it can be replaced by something “better?” Or, is it simply bad political management, in that we are in a period of kakistocracy?

Drieu Godefridi (DG): There is an element of risk in answering such a broad question. The West is more powerful than ever, its military might is peerless and its cultural impact is probably greater than ever. At the same time, the threats to this hegemony are evident — mass migration, economic stagnation in Europe, self-destructive totalitarian environmentalism — and a Left getting more and more extreme by the day.

TP: Why does the West still want to be “moral”, while also being aggressively atheistic (where science alone is the arbiter of truth)? Can this contradiction be easily resolved, or will it only produce chaos?

DG: I don’t see either the United States or Eastern Europe as being particularly “atheistic”. What you say is true only of Western Europe, and of the American Left. This is not “the West” as a whole; the Kulturkampf is still very much ongoing. As for the “morality” of Western Europe, for instance regarding foreign affairs, it leads nowhere, as Henry Kissinger predicted in his formidable book Diplomacy. After Brexit, I see the European Union — beyond its function as a common market — as condemned; it is now only a question of time. When Germany is unable to pour huge amounts of money into Eastern Europe anymore — which will soon come about, given the utter folly of the Energiewende, Germany’s energy transition to poverty — Eastern Europe will exit, too.

TP: The native populations of the West have constructed all kinds of myths about their own “evil” (white supremacy, colonialism, misandry, environmentalism, and now genderism). These are very powerful myths which now determine global intellectual and socio-political discourse. Where does this self-loathing come from? And how can we diminish its harmful impact?

DG: Myth and ideology are consubstantial with mankind. That aside, I see no commonality to those ideologies, for instance, you may think that colonialism was economically deleterious — as F.A. Hayek did — yet be radically opposed to the other ideologies you mention. Nevertheless, one thing they do have in common it is that they are false. To say that the West is “white supremacist” is grotesque and does not deserve serious consideration, no civilisation has taken in so many people from every race, continent, creed, religion and origin as has the West over the last 50 years. And genderism, basically the idea that sex is a cultural creation, not a biological reality, is a false theory with absurd consequences, particularly detrimental for women. As for environmentalism that is a very powerful and comprehensive ideology that is the subject of my latest essay.

TP: You have long defended Liberalism, while also refuting Libertarianism (or perhaps, “Rothbardianism”). Why is Libertarianism a failed project? And why is Liberalism still important?

DG: Capitalism is fundamental to the West and is the embodiment of freedom in economic affairs. I’m very much in favour of capitalism. Libertarianism as an apriorist theory that pretends to “derive” all rules of law and of morals from a single axiom —non-aggression— which seems to me a very simplistic contrivance. An anarchist political theory is a contradiction in terms.

TP: Is Croce correct in observing that liberalism has been replaced by “active libertarianism?” And is Croce also correct in calling “active libertarianism” a form of fascism?

DG: I do my utmost to avoid those words. The word ‘Liberalism’ had been employed, particularly in English, in so many different and irreconcilable ways, that even Joseph Schumpeter and Hayek were sceptical of its usefulness back in their day. It’s even more true nowadays. People in favour of infanticide — postnatal abortion — and euthanasia without consent or those viewing sex as a cultural creation are not libertarian, liberal or whatever: they are merely rationally and morally wrong. 

TP: You have also written about George Soros and his efforts to construct his own “empire.” This “Sorosian” imperialism has its roots in the ideas of Karl Popper (which is Marxism without Marx, in that the desire to change the world remains valid). But Soros is also a highly successful capitalist. How can “Sorosian” imperialism (making the West into an “Open Society”) be properly critiqued, while retaining the importance of capitalism?

DG: The political philosophy of Mr. Soros is international socialism with a heavy accent on “crony-capitalism” — he is himself the ultimate insider, and has been criminally convicted as such. Mr. Soros, who has invested $35 billion not in true philanthropy but in the promotion of his political ideas, must be seen as a sui generis phenomenon. You are right regarding its origins, for his foundation was named after the “open society” of Karl Popper. But in fact Soros is no Popperian at all. Popper was in favour of democracy; Soros is funding hundreds of extreme NGOs; some of which use violence and intend to abolish democracy in the name of Gaïa, Allah or whatever. Soros is no Popperian, he’s an international socialist who fancies himself as some kind of god. Popper defined himself as a liberal in the classic sense of the word, close to the philosophy of Hayek and the Founding Fathers of the Unites States.

TP: You have just written a very important book on the dangers of environmentalism, which we had the pleasure of reviewing. Why did you write this book?

DG: My goal is to show that the end result of the green ideology will be misery and the complete abolition of freedom. If human CO2 is the problem and we have to reduce it to zero —as stated by the IPCC, the EU, the UN and the American Left— there is no room left for freedom. Freedom = CO2. Whichever perspective we choose, be that theoretical or practical, contemporary environmentalism brings us back to this truism, this obvious truth: if human CO2 is the problem, then Man’s every activity, endeavor, action, and ambition is the problem.

TP: Why has environmentalism become the West’s new religion?

DG: People in Western Europe do not believe in God anymore so were ready for a new source of “meaning”. As Ayn Rand stated, real atheism is not for the weak. Most people try to find a substitute for God. Gaïa — the “All-Living” — is exactly that to the environmentalists.

TP: Freedom is disappearing very rapidly. Theoretically, freedom is a Western virtue. But in current Western socio-political policy, freedom has become a crime. Why this contradiction, and how can we overcome the emerging oppression?

DG: By winning the Kulturkampf. Cultural submission to the Left — the European way — is no solution. We must fight for freedom and defeat these extremists within the framework of the constitutional order — which is the American way, thanks to the ultimate fighter Donald J. Trump, probably the most important political figure of our time. You do not collaborate with the enemies of freedom: you fight them, you defeat them. There is no middle ground. We will not be subordinate to “Gaïa” — which is a concept devoid of meaning — nor material “equality” — which is a natural impossibility — we are the resistance; we are freedom fighters.

TP: Lastly, what do you think is the most important issue of our time? And why?

DG: Freedom is the most important issue of all time in the West because, from ancient Greece to today, it is the value on which our civilisation rests and is, at the same time, the driving force of our society. If you abolish freedom, you abolish the West as a distinct concept.

TP: Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to share your valuable ideas with our readers.

DG: And I’d like to thank you for the recent appreciative review of my humble essay on the totalitarian essence of environmentalism.

The image shows, “Green Graveyard,” by the Brazilian artist, Benki Solal.

What Is God’s Image And Likeness?

“The internal counsels of the Blessed Trinity when He deigned to create man have been mercifully revealed to us in the book of Genesis: “Let us make man to our image and likeness” (1:26).

This passage, frequently cited, is not widely understood. In what way may it be said that man is in God’s image and likeness? Is this likeness to God natural or supernatural? What is the purpose of man being so made?

The questions are worth pondering because they touch directly upon man’s origins, his nature, and his ultimate purpose.

In Question 93 of Part I of the Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas Aquinas considers “the end or term of the production of man” in nine articles. What I propose to do in this Ad Rem is, first, to give a truncated summary of all nine articles, with the help of Father Paul Glenn, whose work I have used with my own embellishments; second, I purpose to dwell in more detail on some select points Saint Thomas makes regarding the nature and purpose of the divine image in man.

Here are each of the articles as Saint Thomas posits them, with a summary of what he says under each heading:

1. Whether the image of God is in man? YES. An image is a kind of copy of its prototype. Unless the image is in every way perfect, it is not the equal of its prototype. Finite man cannot be a perfect image of the infinite God. Man is therefore an imperfect image of God.

2. Whether the image of God is to be found in irrational creatures? NO. Of earthly creatures, only man has a true likeness to God; other creatures have a trace or vestige of God rather than an image.

3. Whether the angels are more to the image of God than man is? The angels are more perfect in their intellectual nature than man is, and, therefore bear a more perfect image of God than man does. In some respects, however, man is more like to God than angels are. For man proceeds from man, as God (in the mysterious proceeding of the divine Persons) proceeds from God; whereas angels do not proceed from angels. Also, the manner of the human soul’s presence in the body has a likeness to God’s presence in the universe. But these human resemblances lacking in angels are only accidental qualities. Substantially, angels bear a more perfect image of God than man does.

4. Whether the image of God is found in every man? YES. There are three ways that man is in the image of God (which will be considered below).

5. Whether the image of God is in man according to the Trinity of Persons? YES. The divine image in man reflects God in Unity and also in Trinity. In creating man, God said (Gen. 1:26): “Let us make man to our own image and likeness.”

6. Whether the image of God is in man as regards the mind only? YES. The image of God in Trinity appears in man’s intellect and will and their interaction. In God, the Father begets the Word; the Father and the Word spirate the Holy Ghost. In man, the intellect begets the word or concept; the intellect with its word wins the recognition or love of the will. God’s image is not in the body, where there are only to be found “traces” or “vestiges” of God (just as in brute creation), by virtue of God’s being the cause of man’s body.

7. Whether the image of God is to be found in the acts of the soul? YES. The image of the Trinity is found in the acts of the soul. In a secondary way, this image is found in the faculties of the soul, and in the habits which render the faculties apt and facile in operation.

8. Whether the image of the Divine Trinity is in the soul only by comparison with God as its object? YES. The image of God is in the soul, not simply because the soul can know and love itself or other created things, but because it can know and love God. And the divine image is found in the soul because the soul turns to God, or, at any rate, has a nature that enables it to turn to God. (More on this below.)

9. Whether “likeness” is properly distinguished from “image”? YES. The image of God is discerned in the acts and faculties and habits of the soul. The likeness of God is either a quality of this image, or it is the state of the soul as spiritual, not subject to decay or dissolution.

Essential to the notion of an image is “that it is copied from something else.” Every image is a likeness, but not every likeness is an image. Saint Thomas gives the example of two eggs being like each other, but the one is not the image of the other, because it is not copied from it.

For a copy to be an image of the original, it need not be equal to it; for instance, the reflection of a man in a glass, which is an image, is not equal to the man himself. Because the only-begotten Son of God — “who is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) — is the only image that actually equals God, He is a perfect image of God, whereas each man is an imperfect image of God. Of the only-begotten Son of God, it may be said that he is the image of God simply; of man it may be said that he was made “to the image of God,” says Saint Thomas, because, “‘to’ signifies a certain approach, as of something at a distance.”

Saint Thomas follows Augustine in saying that “image” and “likeness” are not identical. Certain passages in the writings of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, of Saint John Damascene, and of Peter Lombard could lead us to interpret the word “image” to mean man’s nature as a rational, free-willed creature, and “likeness” as a closer resemblance to God by grace. This is not exactly how Saint Thomas views the question.

For him, “likeness” signifies two distinct things, one lower, the other higher. First, a likeness is a “preamble” to image inasmuch as it is “more general than image”; but, in a higher way, a likeness is a “perfection” of the image. (It is to get ahead of ourselves, but “likeness” in this higher sense as a perfection of the image admits of degrees:

Mary is more like God than the great Saints; those higher in heaven are more “God-like” than those lower; and on earth, the members of the Church Militant in a higher degree of grace and charity are more divinized or “like God” than their less perfect brethren.)

There are three ways that man is in God’s image. Saint Thomas’ explanation of this is clear and easy to understand:

“Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature. Now the intellectual nature imitates God chiefly in this, that God understands and loves Himself. Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways.

“First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men.

“Secondly, inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace.

Thirdly, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likeness of glory. Wherefore on the words, “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us” (Psalm 4:7), the gloss distinguishes a threefold image of “creation,” of “re-creation,” and of “likeness.” The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed.”

The image of God in man is not merely the image of the divine nature or the image of one or other of the divine Persons, but it is specifically the image of the Trinity. The proofs for this that Saint Thomas offers are a very theological and would take too much space even to summarize here. But Thomas’ explanation of how man images the Trinity is within our grasp. He bases himself on the doctrine of the Trinitarian processions he has already developed:

“As the uncreated Trinity is distinguished by the procession of the Word from the Speaker [the Father], and of Love [the Holy Ghost] from both of these, as we have seen…; so we may say that in rational creatures wherein we find a procession of the word in the intellect, and a procession of the love in the will, there exists an image of the uncreated Trinity.…”

The question Saint Thomas asks in article eight (“Whether the image of the Divine Trinity is in the soul only by comparison with God as its object?”) is difficult to grasp, but worth considering for its richness and how it perfectly corresponds to Saint Thomas’ teaching on grace. Indeed, it is a prelude to that beautiful doctrine.

I will try to simplify the article.

God knows Himself and loves Himself, and thence originate the Trinity of Persons. Is man in God’s image because he can, like God, know himself and love himself, or is he is God’s image because he can know and love God? The ability to know and love himself would make man like God is some way, as he would resemble God’s abilities to know and love.

But, this would not make man attain a “representation of the species,” i.e., a resemblance to the form or mental idea of God, which is required for man to be in the “image” of God. “Wherefore we need to seek in the image of the Divine Trinity in the soul some kind of representation of species [i.e., mental concept, form, or idea] of the Divine Persons, so far as this is possible to a creature. … Thus the image of God is found in the soul according as the soul turns to God, or possesses a nature that enables it to turn to God.”

Hard to understand, I know, especially if the reader is not familiar with the scholastic concept of species. The argument is Saint Thomas’ attempt at explaining why Saint Augustine said, “The image of God exists in the mind, not because it has a remembrance of itself, loves itself, and understands itself; but because it can also remember, understand, and love God by Whom it was made.”

What this implies is that, even in God’s very creation of man in His own (Trinitarian) image and likeness, God orients man toward Himself as the end of our knowledge and love.

By nature, we have the capacity to know and love God as He is naturally knowable, but, with grace and the infused theological virtues, we can know and love God supernaturally, as He has revealed Himself. We can thereby merit, and the reward of that merit is the consummation of our knowledge and love of God in Heaven.

Thus man’s final cause, or purpose – of which the philosophers say that it is “the first [cause] in intention and the last in execution” – was placed in him when he was created, being made to God’s own image and likeness.

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

The photo shows, “God the Father on a throne, with Virgin Mary and Jesus,” ca. 15th-century, anonymous.

The Trinity: A History

When the first Sunday of Advent comes and the new liturgical year begins, the Church once again relives the Mysteries of Christ for a whole year. She also summarizes all of history, from Creation to the end of time. The four Sundays of Advent symbolizing the four thousand years of the Old Testament (if we rely on the Vulgate, not the Septuagint), we are, as it were, mystically transported back to the time before the Incarnation of the Man-God. It is opportune, then, to dwell during this time on the Law of types and figures to see New-Testament realities hidden in it.

Saint Augustine has it that novum testamentum in vetere latet. Vetus testamentum in novo patet — “the New Testament is hidden in the Old. The Old Testament is revealed in the New” (see reference information here and here). This canon of interpretation is a standard part of the Catholic approach to the Bible. Let us look, then, for the Blessed Trinity “hidden” in the Old Testament.

We begin at the beginning, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.” The Hebrew for “God created” is bara Elohim, which has the linguistic peculiarity of a plural noun followed by a singular verb, something which actually does not violate the grammatical rules of Hebrew.

The particular kind of plural here used means three or more, (there is, in Hebrew, a plural that indicates only two). A conventional way of dismissing the trinitarian interpretation of this name for God is to say that it is a plurality “of majesty,” much as the queen or the pope might say “we” instead of the first person singular.

This, of course, is not how Christian exegetes classically understood such passages. See, for instance, Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, a man learned enough in Hebrew to preach in it:

“Therefore, since Moses, inspired by the Holy Ghost, wrote bara Elohim, literally, ‘the gods, he-created’ (a plural subject with a singular verb), without doubt we understand the sense of these words: he means plurality of divine Persons in the word Elohim and the unity of essence in the singular verb, ‘he-created.’ That is to say, three divine Persons are not three gods, but one God” (Explicatio in Genesim, Ch. 1).

Nobody, of course, says that this passages proves that there is one God in three divine Persons. That would be a reach. But it does foreshadow what the New Testament later reveals clearly when it indicates a plurality of Persons in the Godhead.

We can say the same about two other passages in Genesis where the so-called “plural of majesty” is found: “And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness…” (Gen. 1:26), and “Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7). The first is the divine utterance preceding the creation of Adam, while the second concerns the builders of the Tower of Babel.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God. He was not speaking to the angels, in whose image man was not created, but to Himself in Gen. 1:26. In both Latin and English, we have a plural hortatory subjunctive verb, “Let us make…” in verse 26, followed in the next verse by the singular indicative verb, “God created.” This is substantially the same in the language of inspiration: see an interlinear translation of the Hebrew — v. 26 and v. 27 — for proof.

In confounding the tongues at Babel, there is a similar structure: in Genesis 11:7, the two verbs for “let us go down and confound…” are plural, while the subsequent verse eight has a singular verb for “the Lord [Yahweh] scattered….”

In both cases, Moses was privileged to know — and we to read — the internal counsels of God, speaking in a plurality of Persons.

Remaining in Genesis for one more account, we turn to Chapters eighteen and nineteen, where Moses relates the interaction of the three angels with Abraham and then with Lot. This is the account that terminates in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The whole thing is quite mystical, for Genesis alternately calls these three persons “men” and “angels” — as do the Gospels, by the way, concerning the angels who appeared to the women after the Resurrection. More mysterious is that these three angels show up just after Genesis eighteen mentions that “Yahweh” appeared to Abraham, of whose appearance nothing else is said, unless we assume that the appearance of the three angels is the appearance of Yahweh. Moreover, Abraham “adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord [Adonai], if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant” (Gen. 18:2-3).

If these angels did not stand in the place of God, such an act would be a shocking violation of the Old Testament’s strict monotheism. By comparison, when Saint John bowed down to the feet of an angel (Apoc. 22:8-9), the angel stayed him, and forbidding that he should receive such honors: “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant… Adore God.” But the angels who received similar honors from Abraham made no such remonstration, probably because they were standing in the Person(s) of God.

Saint Augustine interpreted this passage in a Trinitarian sense in book two of his On the Trinity(see here for a brief but interesting discussion of this passage). According to Monsignor Pohle, Saint Augustine was of the opinion that the three angels of Genesis eighteen were just that, angels, not actually God Himself, but their mission was such that the words they spoke were understood to be the words of God; they were, in other words, standing in God’s place. This opinion was shared by Saints Athanasius, Basil, Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Jerome, Gregory the Great, and others. This “standing in the place of” would help us to make sense out of the Angel’s willingness to allow Abraham to “adore down to the ground”: the adoration was going to the three divine Persons whom they were visibly manifesting.

As can be seen from the list in the last paragraph, it is not only Western but also Eastern Fathers who read this episode as a Trinitarian theophany. One of Christian Russia’s most celebrated icons, the Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, is a depiction of Abraham’s hospitality to these three angels, but with a clear Trinitarian interpretation.

Still remaining in the Pentateuch, we come to the Book of Numbers 6:24-27. This is the blessing that God instructed Moses to teach to Aaron and his priestly sons: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord shew his face to thee, and have mercy on thee. The Lord turn his countenance to thee, and give thee peace.” The blessing is threefold, leading many Christian commentators to see in it the Holy Trinity. Notice that the “face” the Levitical priest wishes God to show us is the second of the three: it is the Holy Face of Jesus! For a brief explanation of this blessing by an exegete who is apparently not a Catholic, see this YouTube video.

Many Franciscan priests will use this formula of Numbers six to bless people. The story of how this blessing came to be known as “the blessing of Saint Francis” is edifying.

We pass now to the Prophesy of Isaias, chapter six, which gives us the Sanctus in our Holy Mass. Here is what Monsignor Joseph Pohle says on it in his text on the Trinity (pg. 12):

“The clearest allusion to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity in the Old Testament is probably the so-called Trisagion [“thrice holy”] of Isaias (VI, 3): “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of Hosts, all the earth is full of his glory,” which is rightly made much of by many Fathers and not a few theologians. This triple “Holy” [uttered by the seraphim, the highest angelic choir] refers to an ecstatic vision of the Godhead, by which Isaias was solemnly called and consecrated as the Prophet of the Incarnate Word, an office which won for him the title of the “Evangelist” among the four major prophets.”

The Hebrew word for “holy” is Kadosh (or qā-ḏō-wōš). Regarding the tripling of the word, some authors claim that there is no regular way of forming the comparative and superlative degrees of the adjective in Hebrew, and that this triple utterance of the adjective is an effort at the superlative. I’ve seen this contested by others, who say that the tripling of the adjective is merely an “intensifier.” I will let the Hebrew specialists fight it out; either way — whether constrained by the conventions of Hebrew usage or the desire to be “intense” — the Holy Isaias taught us that God is not simply “holy,” but “Holy, holy, holy”; and the Church has seen in this sublime utterance of the seraphim a foreshadowing of the full revelation of the Trinity.

In another indication of plurality in the Godhead, the same Isaias also presents the future Messias as God. Here are some of his descriptions of Christ to come: “the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Prince of Peace… God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come” (Is. 9:6, cf. Luke 1:32); “Emmanuel,” literally, “God with us” (Is. 7:14, cf. Matt. 1:23); “God himself will come and will save you” (Is. 35:4; cf. Matt. 9:5); “Prepare ye the way of the Lord… . Behold, the Lord God shall come with strength” (Is. 40:3, 10; cf. Mark 1:3).

Of the Messianic Psalms, I will select only two passages: “The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day I have begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7) and “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand . . . from the womb before the day star I begot thee” (Ps. 109 [110]:1-3). Here, the Messias is shown to be the Son of God. Moreover, He is “my [David’s] Lord,” who is at the same time the Son of “the Lord”; He is, in other words, both Son of God and God. During His public life, Our Lord confounded the Pharisees with the mystery hidden in Psalm 109 (cf. Matt. 22:41-46). If they had had good will, His enemies would have asked Him to explain the passage, which was perfectly fulfilled in Himself, but they held their tongues. Concerning Our Lord’s enemies, Saint Augustine pointed out that the unbelieving Jews of His day understood more of Christ’s claims than the Arians did, for the unbelievers understood Him to call Himself God simply because he called God His Father (cf. Jn. 5:18, and Jn. 10:33; note that Jesus did not deny the accusation), whereas the heretics missed that point, and denied Him divine honors. All of this shows a plurality of persons in the Godhead, at least as concerns the Father and the Son.

One last strain of Old-Testament prophesies that show the plurality of persons in God comes to us from the Wisdom Books. To keep this Ad Rem from getting too long, I will refer the reader to Monsignor Pohle’s page sixteen and following: “The Teaching of the Sapiential Books”.

Those who would like to read more of our offerings on this tremendous Mystery are invited to view a small catalogue of them on

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity is a “pure Mystery” or an “absolute Mystery,” meaning both that we have no way of knowing it without the benefit of supernatural revelation, and that we cannot comprehend it fully. Because It is such a Mystery — indeed, it is the greatest of our Mysteries — we cannot know everything about It, but we can know what God has taught us through the Church. And that is both true and sufficient for us to adore the Three:

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!”

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

The photo shows, “The Holy Trinity,” by Luca Rossetti da Orta, fresco, 1738-9, St. Gaudenzio Church at Ivrea (Torino).

The Reach Of Philosophy

Can we imagine knowing anything much about the world without the microscope and the telescope? Our knowledge of the world around us has become so much dependent upon such instruments of science, becoming more and more sophisticated and “technical” in their use, that without them we appear to be as children or naifs if we try to explain things without relying upon those who are expert in their use.

Yet it is easily forgotten that these are relatively recent inventions in the long course of the history of human knowledge and science. It is important to appreciate that such artificial aids to our understanding need to be used with discretion.

Marvelous as they are, we can become overawed by their power. We ought from time to time to put them aside and look at the world with our own natural eyesight. That is to say we should not forgo our common sense and the philosophy of life that we are able to build upon this natural basis of all knowledge. Almost without our realizing it, the possession of these powerful instruments of modern science has changed the “focus” of the eyes of our understanding.

We need to be careful that these magnifying glasses do not in fact narrow our focus instead of enlarge it; that they do not direct our attention away from the real world rather than towards it, according to the warning contained in the celebrated French saying: ce que l’on voit se cache ce que l’on ne voit pas; “that which one sees hides that which one does not see”.

Such an artificial concentration of attention can mean that we miss seeing much that is nearby, and otherwise obvious, to ordinary eyesight. The astronomers, for instance, tell us there is no evidence of God in the outer reaches of the Universe; the bio-chemists tell us that there is no evidence of an invisible principle of life in the innermost parts of the human body and endeavour to explain its vitality without recourse to any soul.

Yet these intangibles are conclusions of the natural and superior wisdom of the sages of mankind, such as Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, and are almost universally recognised, if indistinctly, by people of ordinary common sense. One has only to refer to the common language of all peoples to see this is so.

John Young has done us a great service by reminding us of the real world around us, which we have almost forgotten about because we have come to neglect “old” Philosophy in our admiration for the latest science. For there is much, indeed in a real sense everything, within the Scope of Philosophy.

The title is significant. We do not need a telescope to see a distant God; the Supreme Being, as a conclusion of reason, is within the scope of philosophy. We do not need a microscope to observe the soul; it is within the scope of natural philosophy as known to Aristotle, no mean example of human intelligence (il maestro di color che sanno; “the master of those who know”. Inferno 4, 131).

It is of course an ambitious project, to deal with the scope of philosophy within 340 pages. Indeed, it can only be an introduction, but it is a necessary re-introduction for many of us. The author’s plan is a good one. A brief survey of the history of philosophy is a good way to start, dealt with by a degree of familiarity with the subjects and a clarity of exposition that will satisfy I believe both expert and general reader.

Then follows a comparison of philosophy with other kinds of knowledge; beginning with common sense knowledge, the important connection with which is sadly overlooked in many other books on philosophy. He includes here, of course, the much-vexed matter of the relation of philosophy to science as understood today.

Necessarily, this can only be touched upon in a short overview. Finally, he mentions the relation of philosophy to Sacred Theology. As an evident admirer of St. Thomas he brings out well the intimate connection but clear distinction between these two.

As a concession to the somewhat excessive concentration in modern philosophy upon knowledge as such, rather than starting with the study of reality as obviously known, the author deals next with the nature of knowledge, devoting three chapters to it, treating first of knowledge in general, then of sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge.

This I believe is a good strategy. For, unfortunately, the main difficulty today with studying Philosophy is the underlying skepticism that seeks to undermine our confidence in human reason. Following upon this is a chapter with a critique of various schools of modern and contemporary philosophy. This fits appropriately after the discussion of knowledge.

Then there is a chapter on human nature which also appropriately follows the treatment of human knowledge. Within the confines of such a short treatment many issues have to be dealt with rather perfunctorily. Some “technical” terms of Thomistic philosophy may cause some difficulty.

But, overall, the author succeeds to maintain a clear and coherent presentation. One of the virtues of this author is his ability to present concepts and principles in an easy to understand manner. A chapter outlining the classification of the various parts of philosophy follows.

This makes use of St. Thomas’s classification of theoretical sciences in his commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate, of which there is a translation in English under the title The Division and Methods of the Sciences.

To this he adds the division of the practical sciences. It is the traditional Aristotelian division. The terminology may prove a bit off-putting to some, but the author generally explains it clearly and simply. As to the content of the division one might quibble here and there about details but it gives a good overview.

I would have liked a bit more to have been said about the rational art of Dialectic as defined by Aristotle and its relation to Logic. Omitting it leaves Logic a bit stark on the philosophical landscape. Aristotle in fact includes Logic in a whole complex of rational arts. The remaining chapters deal with “some questions in philosophy”.

It is a good sample of the more principal parts of philosophy, including Metaphysics, Ethics and “Poetics”. This last one concerns the philosophy of the fine and useful arts (though he treats almost exclusively of the fine arts). It ought not to be confused with “Poietics” as used by Aristotle, which is concerned with the literary arts such as drama and poetry.

Finally, there is a chapter on the importance of philosophy, perhaps something that ought to have been placed at the beginning. But there can be no doubting that John Young has produced a book that is of the utmost importance to our time. There is no more crying need today than a return to reason in the ordinary sense of looking at the world with our own eyes and reasoning things out.

The value of the telescope and the microscope is not to be denied. But they have not necessarily extended the scope of our understanding; rather have they helped to fill in the details of what lies beyond the ordinary range of our senses. Philosophy is a universal kind of knowledge, founded on our common knowledge of things, on experience available to all.

Science, especially modern science, tends more and more to be a series of specialisms, in many respects the preserve of a few in whom the rest of us must put our trust. An increase in specialized knowledge does not, or should not, change our common sense grasp of things and our basic philosophy of life.

Unfortunately, the modern philosophical fashion of ignoring the obvious and promoting a radical skepticism has encouraged many to endeavor to reconstruct reality upon speculative theories, purportedly based on the findings of highly specialized sciences, that fly in the face of common sense.

John Young’s book, hopefully, will show up the spuriousness of this “scientific” vision of the world. It will certainly prove to be a tonic for those wanting to see a restoration of a sane philosophy to its rightful place in the culture and educational institutions of our society.

Don Boland is a lecturer at the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.

The photo shows, “Lady Philosophy offers Boethius wings so his mind can fly aloft.” The French School (15th Century).

What Is Free Will?

The act of the will is much less known to us than the act of the intellect. However, it is not impossible for the human intellect to prove the freedom of the will basing this proof on the root of freedom which is understood good.

The will is the appetitive power of the intellect, so that before any act of the will can take place, there must be an act of intellect preceding it; for the will is not a knower, it is a ‘goer’. It goes towards what the intellect presents to it as good and appetible and away from what is presented to it by the intellect as being non-appetible.

The problem about free will is this: as said above, the will is subordinated to the intellect, its acts must be about what the intellect presents to it. But the intellect is not free, it is tied to evidence. Consequently, it seems, that the will is not free either.

One could go no further and decide that the will is not free since it is under compulsion to follow the intellect. But the difficulty is this; we are quite conscious that the will is free. This is very obvious from the way we act: for we are conscious when we do something that we need not have done it, that we could have acted in another way; besides, we have laws, and laws pre-suppose that we are free; we have such things as rewards and punishments. Sometimes we praise people and at other times we blame them; all these things point to the fact that the will is free.

The solution of this problem must consist in reconciling these two truths, (a) that the will is an intellectual appetite and must follow intellect and (b) that the will is free to choose this or that or to act or not to act; for no problem is solved by denying either of the terms, for to deny either of them would be to suppress the problem.

The freedom of the will is exercised in the act of choice or election which follows and is subordinated to the act of intellect which is called the practico-practical judgment.

At this point it will be a great help to us to have a good look at these two acts. Here we are considering both these acts as they are about some particular good which of necessity is a limited or a mixed good, mixed, because it is made up of act and potency; for as we see in other places, the will is not free about a pure good or good in common or universal good.

Since the will is an appetite for understood good, and not ‘this good’, by its nature it has to appetise what seems to it to be absolutely good with no admixture of evil. Regarding a mixed good the will is together able and unable to will it. It follows then that when the intellect understands something to be somewise good and somewise not good, the will is indifferent to will it or not to will it.

Still in order to do the elective act, the will must make a choice between one particular good and another, or a choice to act or not to act. But for the will to pass from a position where it is indifferent to act or not to act, or to choose one thing rather than another, and to arrive at a determinate choice there has to be an act of intellect which makes it possible for the will to come to a decision, that is, the will cannot move from indetermination to determination by itself without the intellect intervening, for that would imply contradiction, since to be able to choose and not to be able to choose are contradictories.

In other words, the will follows the practico-practical judgment which is about a paticular good which the will may or may not go for since every particular good has in it a reason to be loved by the will and a reason for the will not to love it.

If the will is going to make a choice it must follow a judgment by the intellect presenting the thing to it as completely good and as completely befitting it. This means that for the will to will the particular good there must occur a change in the practico-practical judgment, so that this change must be caused either by the particular good itself, or by the will, for if two things are not in agreement, they can be brought to agree only by changing one or the other.

Since the particular good remains the same, the change must occur in the will so that the intellect can be presented with a new object by the practico-practical judgment and make a decision about the particular thing in question.

But, the intellect can judge that the particular thing befits the will only if new evidence arises. This evidence can only come from the will itself since, as said above, the particular thing remains unchanged, so it must be from the will acquiring a new reality within it, that is a new order of befittingness towards that particular thing, so that the will has itself towards that thing, as from its nature, it has itself towards universal good.

This order of befittingness or coaptation of the will for the thing makes it possible for the intellect to judge that the particular thing it is considering, is that which perfectly suits the will here and now, because now the intellect is looking not at the will alone but at the will together with its dispositions, (a new object). Then, this new judgment by the practico-practical intellect becomes the form according to which the will makes its choice. It is about this new judgment by the practico-practical judgment that Aristotle said “of what sort each one is, such is the end that to him seems good.” In other words we judge as we are disposed.

It follows from this that it is the will itself that causes (efficiently) and determines (objectively) the very form accordiing to which it acts and that it does this not from necessity, since from its nature the will is indifferent to appetise this or that particular good.

But, the question may be asked, how does the will effect this change in itself? The answer is that it does this by using the new judgment put before it by the intellect for this new judgment is the potential mover of the will. It uses it as a man uses a crutch; the crutch moves the man and the man moves it.

Let us recall here two principles: the principle that causes are causes to each other in diverse order of cause. This principle is the key to the problem of free will. (Causation and cause are simultaneous in duration; the priority of the cause is only an ontological priority). The principle of Denis is that every perfection loved, inclines the will towards it. St. Thomas says in Con. Gent. IV, a 19, “the loved is in the will as inclining and in a certain manner intrinsically compelling the living (subject) towards the very thing loved.” It is in this way that the loved is in the lover.

Just as in understanding, something is produced in the intellect, namely a concept, wherein the thing is known and the concept is specified by the known thing—which is the object—so in the will when it loves something, a certain inclination or love or weightedness arises in it, which inclination or coaptation inclines it towards the beloved;.

By this coaptation, which arises in the will, the will is changed and consequently it presents a new object to the intellect. This makes the intellect judge that the thing is perfectly suited to the will and makes it possible for the will to will it. But what makes the will inclined towards the thing in the first place is a certain connaturality of the will with the thing, a certain inclination towards it (there is a certain mystery here). This inclination in the will is a physical reality, specified by the loved thing which makes the beloved present to the will.

It is the will itself that is the efficient cause of its weightedness, it makes itself love by loving. It is by loving that the will produces in itself its lopsidedness towards the loved. John does not love Mary until his love has produced that lopsidedness. So John’s love for Mary is determined by his dispositions.

So it is that the weighted will presents new evidence to the practico-practical judgement which unlike the speculativo-practical judgment (which merely judges that something is good), judges the good thing in relation to the will as it is affected by its weightedness (i.e. by its dispositions.)

The will can will one thing in preference to another only if, by itself, it adjusts itself to it. In this way the will turns an indifferent form into a determinate form (i.e. a ‘can-move’ into a ‘does move’) i.e. uses the practico-practical judgment to make its choice.

In two orders of causality the practico-practical judgment goes before the act of choice, and in two orders of causality the choice goes before the practico-practical judgment. This reciprocity of causes is what is peculiar to the free act, it is found only in the free act. This interaction between the two acts has to be explained.

The two causalities exercised by the intellect on the will are: objective causality and final causality. The intellect from itself has no efficient causality. It has only extrinsic formal causality, that is, specific causality, by doing that it provides the will with final causality. By the particular object presented by the intellect to the will is specified the nature of the quality weighting the will towards this object.

The will exercises only one act by which it has two influences on the intellect; a) objective causality and b) efficient causality. This act is formally one, but virtually two (causations). As it is efficient it explains the ‘be’ of the practico-practical judgment in the intellect, as it is objective it explains the ‘be-such’ of the practico-practical judgment.

The two causalities the will exercises on the intellect are: Efficient (bends the intellect down from considering good simply to considering a particular good) and Objective causality (provides the intellect with an evident reality which it can judge.) So it is the will that provides the intellect with a new object and also moves it efficiently to make the judgment about this new object.

Therefore, it is the will that picks the form according to which it acts. But to pick the form is to pick the ‘be’ and to pick the ‘be’ is to pick the ‘do’. But to pick one’s do is to be free. Therefore the will is free.

It remains to explain that the loved is in the lover in a different fashion from which the known is in the knower. For the will is not loving the thing as it is something in it, but as it is out in the real, whereas the concept is that wherein the thing is known. “Good and bad are in things but true and false are in mind”.

Although it is true to say that the known is in the knower and the loved is in the lover, it must be realised that the intentionality of the intellect is vastly different from the intentionality of the will; for whereas knowledge is terminated at the word as it is in the intellect, in such fashion that the intellect reposes in it, the loved existing intentionally in the will is there as an impulse whereby the will is weighted and inclined towards the thing outside, although it is vitally elicited by the will for “insofar does it weight the will, insofar as it is voluntary and not from without, for the will is inclined only voluntarily” John of St. Thomas Curs. Theol. IV ed vives 927 disp. 12, a. 7, n XII.

It all comes from the will and all from the object but from the object as the specificative and from the will as the efficient cause.

All particular goods are equally unfit to move the will because all of them are infinitely deficient from being a universal good.

Therefore, if the will prefers one particular good to another, it is not necessitated by the object of the intellect (because the intellect is tied to evidence and does not move the will efficiently), but because it chooses to do so.

Therefore, the will is free since it is not under necessity to will what it wills – neither by necessity of nature not by necessity of instinct. It follows that the will can’t will a particular good unless it wills it freely, it is the cause of its own loves. So the two terms of the problem, are solved. The will is subordinated to the intellect, but nevertheless it is free, since it has dominative indifference over its acts.

This proof is reduced to the fundamental doctrine of act and potency since it is because there is potency in things that the will is free about them.

Alice Nelson is a lecturer at the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.

The photo shows, “Echo,” by Ellen Thesleff, painted in 1891.