There is nothing novel about the gravamens of “anti-Black racism” that Mayo Moran, the Provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, has been laying down over the last half year. Indeed, it is rather disappointing how pedestrian her pronouncements have been. When Canadian university faculty and administrators were swept up in the Great George Floyd Moral Panic of 2020 in May and June, Moran like others declared that she had suddenly discovered wide-ranging racism plaguing Trinity and announced plans for complete therapy.
As elsewhere, Moran is now taking this movement in its logical direction of abandoning deliberation and procedure in favor of revolutionary action. In November 2020, she promised that the “recommendations” due to be made by an “anti-racism task force” by the end of the year would be treated not so much as recommendations as commandments: “Our goal is to begin implementation as soon as possible.”
The idea that there is a crisis of “anti-Black racism” at Trinity, or elsewhere on Canadian college campuses, is absurd, and everyone knows it. Alongside First Nations students, black students are the most coddled and privileged members of the campus community. When three black Trinity students of the college’s Multicultural Society wrote in the university newspaper this summer about the intolerable suffering of “anti-Black racism rampant in the dining hall, the quad, and on the front steps” of the college, the most they could come up in specifics was that they had “heard of” some black students being treated rudely during orientation.
When I went to Trinity, being treated rudely during orientation was one of the purposes of the exercise, creating solidarity with one’s fellow classmen and good-natured connections to upper classmen. The three black students would have Trinity redesign its orientation with special rules for the treatment of black freshmen, surely an ironical aim for a group devoted to “inclusion.”
The other charge of pervasive anti-black racism the students made was that Trinity student groups – which include the Trivia Association, the James Bond Society, and the Garlic Bread Society – had not issued pro-Black Lives Matter statements during the summer. These non-compliant student groups, they charged, were “rooted in hate and further the exclusion of Black students at Trinity.” From what I can tell, their Multicultural Society did not issue a letter of condolence on the death of Sean Connery in deference to the feelings of the James Bond Society either. Shocking.
The totalitarian face of any political movement is never so clear as when it demands complete deference to its agenda from others in a pluralistic world. Like Provost Moran, these three students believe that the purpose of a university or college is to take a position on controversial social issues of the day and then rigorously enforce conformity among all students – sort of like the Marxist doctrines that animated the BLM movement in the first place.
In good Leninist form, the students also warned darkly that “people are choosing to protect their own images rather than acknowledging their faults” without naming anyone in particular. Perhaps sensing the threat, the college’s three main student leaders stepped down and apologized for their skin color: “As white and privileged leaders, we are the very people who have benefited from these institutions. We wholeheartedly believe that these structures need to be taken down.” This was the only blatantly racist episode that Trinity experienced over the summer, but of course it was the sort of performative virtue-signalling that progressive administrators like Moran look upon with loving kindness.
To charges of rampant racism, student radicals at the college later added rampant misogyny and “classism” (to be distinguished from classicism which these students may not have heard about in their years of thought reform at Trinity). This new Holy Trinity – race, class, and gender – has now replaced the older one that sought God’s truth.
Following the cue of the “white and privileged” students to “take down” the 170-year old college, Provost Moran and her “task force” are running headlong into a transformation of Trinity from a place of education into something truly sinister. There is already a student-led “Trinity Anti-Racism Collective” formed this year, and if its writ is as large as the Provost’s actions suggest, the college might simply rename itself accordingly as part of its Woke rebranding.
Such a renaming would at least help the shrinking number of intellectually curious high school students – as opposed to those adept at the virtue-signaling, performative moralizing, and careerist box-checking – to begin seeking out alternative places for a serious education. The list of elite colleges in the U.S. that have suffered this fate is a long one and Trinity may soon join them. Along with the disappearance of top students will go a disappearance of the “excruciating whiteness” that the organizers of the Trinity Multicultural Society insisted forced them to mobilize in 2018. During the current academic year, just 2 of Trinity’s 10 student leaders are white. Surely there will be no more excruciating whiteness once the whites have been sent packing. This is of course a problem from Trinity because there is wide evidence that top-performing high school students will avoid ethnic ghettos where the majority group has been ethnically cleansed since those places will not help them to thrive in mainstream society or to form valuable social connections.
So why care about this predictable response from Provost Moran and her anti-racist task force, any more than we care about similar developments elsewhere on Canadian college campuses? Isn’t this just the way the campus has gone, and the evidence that Canadians interested in freedom of thought and speech and a vigorous contest of ideas in the search for truth should no longer expect to find it in taxpayer funded universities and colleges?
Two reasons suggest otherwise.
One is that Trinity, like some other legacy institutions of education in Canada, holds a special place because of its deep lineage in the Canadian tradition. What happens there is more emblematic of a core shift than, say, similar developments at a newer or more experimental institution, or for that matter at Provost Moran’s alma mater, the UBC English Department whose June Statement of Solidarity Against Anti-Black violence promised with illiberal ferocity to eliminate “scholarship that still valourizes whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” We don’t expect much of the UBC English Department, which regularly suspends classes so that its students can rush to the barricades to support the latest social justice cause. But if excellence and academic freedom and merit cannot survive at Trinity, they will not survive anywhere in Canada.
More practically, there are substantial intellectual lineages of which Trinity is the steward that risk annihilation by Provost Moran’s new fanaticism. Over the summer, the college’s library was “re-evaluated and reshaped” according to an official notice, to downplay its main holdings in Canadian history and literature and emphasize the new party doctrine which the Provost helpfully enumerated as “anti-racism, anti-oppression and equity.” Surely it does not take a history degree to feel alarmed when political movements show up at the library spoiling for a fight with the stacks. Book burnings in the Quad anyone?
I dwell on these precious holdings because libraries and collections are not inert, but rise or fall depending on how they are stewarded and celebrated. The Trinity library staff spent their entire summer “reevaluating” to promote the latest Woke Studies novels, as well as reading and promoting hate-filled screeds by black American racialists. Trinity’s precious holdings, especially that Mohawk prayer book, may soon be charged with “valourizing whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” The iconoclastic destruction of Trinity’s Upjohn-Waldie Collection, by indifference and erasure even if the books survive in some forgotten vault, seems only a Provostial missive away from “immediate implementation.”
Of course, the world will not fall because Trinity (or McGill, or Queen’s, or Dalhousie) falls. But the wave of illiberalism that Provost Moran is leading is an important signpost in this larger trend. As goes Trinity, we might say, so goes Canada. “After the Struggle, the Crown”, reads the college moto from 1851. Queen Moran is now hastening to the throne after her struggles against phantom racism at Trinity. I prefer an older college motto, that of the Trinity Literary Society that came into being in the 1840s, and has recently become a focal point for the Trinity revolutionaries that Moran has unleashed: Feros Cultus Voce Formare. “To tame wild manners by power of the voice.” Canadians as a whole need to tame the wild manners of campus barbarians with the voices of their strong opposition.
A native of Calgary and a graduate of Trinity College, Bruce Gilley is professor of political science at Portland State University.
The image shows an etching of Trinity College by Owen Staples, c. 1930.
In November 2020, I helped to organise the Burlington Magazine/ Public Statues and Sculpture Association (PSSA) Webinar on “Toppling Statues.” It was a massive success, with speakers of a multiplicity of political views, representing multiple nationalities and ethnicities, multiple professions from curators to politicians to artists, with anything from Confederate monuments to Rhodes and Colston in Britain to the contemporary Philippines covered in the papers. I am publishing my own paper here and am most grateful to Nirmal Dass and the Postil Magazine for making this possible.
1. The Rule Of Law
Kudos to Sir Keir Starmer, the British Labour Party’s best leader for 25 years, for saying that Black Lives Matter protestors were “completely wrong” to pull down Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, and if they advocated this, due process should have been followed. I was forcibly reminded of W.B. Yeats’s famous quotation: “Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold… The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” These were the parting words of my teenage hero Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, reflecting on its fragility.
Had I been present at the scene, I too would have remonstrated with the protesters, demanding: “Don’t you know your Locke? ‘Where there is no law, there is tyranny.’” I rest my case, even if the likely rejoinder would be a word half-rhyming with Locke. Another important Lockean precept is the sanctity of public and private property in civil society. Colston was not the crowd’s to wrench off its base and toss into the water. “The law of nature hath obliged all human beings not to harm the life, liberty, health, limb or goods of another,” here the people of Bristol and their statue.
2. Have We Got Colston Wrong?
According to an eminent British historian who must remain anonymous, as opinions are so charged and friendships can be lost – yes, we have. They say this:
“Colston is less culpable than his public reputation has made out. Commentators on both sides describe him on the news as a ‘seventeenth-century slave trader’ pure and simple. He was not: he never ran a slave trading business himself and never made major investments into the trade or drew a steady income – even a minor one – from it. Instead, he made a fortune from trading in other commodities, though twice in his life he became a lesser shareholder in slave-trading voyages launched by others. This was – for whatever reason – not an attractive experience for him because he did not continue it. Instead he became the greatest philanthropist in Bristol’s history, the merchant who did most to help his fellow humans. In particular he ploughed back his huge fortune into three enterprises. One was a school where poor children could receive a free education good enough to enable them to rise in society. Another was a hospital, where those who could not afford medical fees would be treated for no payment. The third was a set of almshouses where elderly poor people were given comfortable retirement homes, each with their own flat. All three survive to the present day. I presume that the school was initially just for boys, but it has long taken girls as well, and all three institutions have lately benefited people from all ethnic groups. The late Victorians – themselves much concerned with finding ways of attaining better social justice – gave him a statue in gratitude for them. I myself think that his contribution to human misery, by those ill-chosen investments, is balanced by his efforts to relieve it in other ways.”
So, even an offending statue demonstrably has a far more complex sub-text once we’ve done our homework. Don’t let your opinions gallop ahead of your knowledge. Be a curious and respectful “pastist,” not a judgemental “presentist” – and remember that was then, this is now. I’ll return to this shortly.
3. Do We Ignorantly Bad-Mouth The Victorians? Are We Willfully Ignorant About Statuemania?
Yes and yes. Remember that not just Rembrandt or Andy Warhol but public statuary is art too, art which excels both in quantity and often quality. Before modernism did so much to de-skill art, if you had the standard training through a sculptor’s studio, art school or a large firm like Farmer & Brindley, your work attained a remarkably proficient technical level. Your attitude to imperialism was immaterial. Harry Bates, a working class, arts and crafts trained sculptor, could make a number of rather fine imperialist monuments.
What mattered was whether you could literally hack it. Very few of the myriad Victorian and Edwardian public monuments could be called inept. What has this got to do with toppling statues? Lots. Scratch a toppler and you’ll find they are with few exceptions ignorant of, or hostile to, Victorian art, whatever the quality. Professor David Olusoga has many interesting things to say about the politics of imperialist statuary but reveals disappointingly little art historical knowledge of, still less aesthetic responsiveness to, the works in question. Remember we’re dealing with art here, not disembodied political texts.
Talking of great Victorian art, earlier this year, I pointedly refused to sign an open letter organised by Australian academics, curators and cultural commentators, demanding the relocation of Captain James Cook’s memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney to a museum. Perusing the signatories, almost without exception, they were modernists or contemporary buffs; the number who knew anything about Cook’s sculptor, Thomas Woolner, and Victorian statuary was perhaps two or three, and they probably cared even less.
4. Beware Of Presentism!
Historically, topplers are deeply into presentism, which is worse than the Whiggery from which it derives. Presentism involves the wholesale application of present-day values, e.g., deploring slavery and racism, to a very different and often resistant past – a foreign country. Imagine if we could travel back in time in the Tardis just 60 years to Gilbert Ledward and his immense – and rather beautiful – Africa Awakening relief for Barclay’s Bank and confront him with a criticism made by a South African friend who should have known better, that it was “patronising.” Ledward would not have been offended, so much as completely baffled and bewildered. We have a nerve to assume we know far better than our equivalents in 1960 or 1860. What will they be saying about us in 2060? The Ledward relief badly needs a new home, but sadly is suffering for its – and his – whiteness.
5. How About A New Empire/Colonial Museum?
A possible new home for relevant statuary could be a UK Empire Museum, a museum of Imperialism if you like. Formerly there was one in Bristol (the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum), but the director’s conduct 10 years ago led to his dismissal and the subsequent liquidation of the museum; that’s another story. I was saddened at the time that they threw out the baby with the bathwater.
William Dalrymple is a prominent advocate of such a museum and I agree with him in principle. My main reservation about both Dalrymple and the prevalent political climate is that if established today, the museum would almost certainly be instantly dominated by decolonising “woke” forces, the Edward Saids of this world rather than the Robert Irwins (or Mark Stockers!). Politics – and Britain’s dire economy – conspire to put such a putative museum on hold, but let’s not lose sight of it. The museum could indeed serve as some kind of repository for victims of statue toppling or shifting.
6. Problems With Museums
Should offending monuments go to museums, as sometimes relative moderates in this debate argue? To contradict my previous point, mostly the answer is, No. How come?
Firstly, the basics – museums worldwide are critically short of storage space and offering them a 3-metre-high statue plus pedestal would exasperate any reasonable collection manager.
Secondly, Colston aside, and even Colston before June 2020, Robert Musil’s famous dictum that there is “nothing in the world quite as invisible as a public monument” held good and perhaps should still do so. It’s not as if a monument’s offensiveness will suddenly be dispelled by its more prominent location and visibility within a museum. The arguments against it won’t miraculously stop – or still more miraculously become more intelligent.
Thirdly, having a Victorian worthy or three in your atrium would almost certainly clash aesthetically with any desired installation of art after c. 1920.
Fourthly, which explains why any proposed relocation of Cook to a museum is crass, how can you possibly do justice to the modelling, the aspect, the halation, the everything really, of a colossal four-metre-high statue on a seven metre columnar base? It would dwarf its new setting, whereas its original location, carefully envisaged by Woolner, is ironically too commandingly successful and dramatic. Cook pays the price in today’s fraught political climate.
Yet a museum just might be a suitable location for a work like Francis Williamson’s statue of Sir George Grey in Auckland. Despite its te reo Maori pedestal inscription translating as “The Future will be grateful for thy universal goodness,” it wasn’t. Grey was decapitated by activists in 1987, while in recent months his replacement head, together with fingers, have been vandalised and his body daubed with paint, in obviously crude copycat actions. Marble is particularly vulnerable, Grey with his fairly recent head still more so, and in the absence of alternative measures a museum could provide an appropriate refuge when out there in Albert Park he’s too much of a risk to society.
7. Copycat Activism
I take a dim view of copycat attacks or calls to defund the police. Just as statuary needs to be appraised on a case-by-case basis, so do the historical records of respective nation states. New Zealand’s colonial past rendered deep injustices to Māori, but these should not be equated with the US’s brutal past. I said this in response to the New Zealand historian Professor Tony Ballantyne when he advocated removal to museums of figures “who propelled colonialism and whose values and actions are now fundamentally at odds with those of our contemporary communities.” I demanded to know “which statues does he mean?” and Tony didn’t answer me. The great white Empress Queen Victoria obviously upheld the Empire but was not racist, and her carving at Ohinemutu was honoured and indeed appropriated by the Ngāti Whakaue sub-tribe, placed on a splendid post and sheltered by a canopy. In Canterbury province, J.R. Godley established a colony which deliberately sought to avoid conflict with Maori and is immortalised in another outstanding statue by Woolner.
Sir George Grey’s role is highly equivocal, reviled in his lifetime by some Maori, eulogised by others; working closely with his friend Te Rangikaheke, he recorded Maori legends, traditions and customs, doing much more here than most academics today. The list goes on, and I concluded: “We should think twice before we violate our legally protected heritage.” Famous last words – but heated discussion has definitely died down locally.
8. Not Everyone Has It In For Statues
The art critic and cultural commentator Alexander Adams has noted the merciful immunity from iconoclasm in the European continent, which views woke excesses with intelligent scepticism, and the perceived heritage value of its historical monuments prevails over politics. President Emmanuel Macron has explicitly stated that France won’t indulge in tearing-down operations, while Ian Morley’s paper has just explored the refreshingly different attitude in the Philippines. Perhaps this is yet another unfortunate instance where the exceptionalist British world, as seen in Brexit, sets itself apart and tears itself apart.
An irony of the peaceful BLM demonstration in Wellington was the crowd gathering under the watchful eye of Thomas Brock’s parliamentary statue of R.J. Seddon, New Zealand premier from 1893 to 1906. While his relations with Maori were benign, Seddon’s racism towards New Zealand Chinese today appears disgusting: he denied them state pensions, imposed stiff poll taxes on them and called them racial “pollutants.”
I asked a good friend who is a Professor of Chinese if Seddon should go. She replied: “I’m probably more conservative than you on this issue. For me, we should leave the statues alone and they are only and can only be partial representations of history. Destroying statues doesn’t destroy historical injustice or biased historical narratives. Besides, historical fashions come and go. The Russians and the Chinese have destroyed enough statues but failed to rectify any historical wrongs. So, for me, debate historical figures and events as much as one likes but leave material historical remnants alone. I guess that also answers your question about Seddon. The statue can also enable a conversation about racism in NZ.”
Wise words, don’t you think?
Statues and monuments are art, they are heritage – and sorry, Professor Richard Evans, as a historian you need to realise they are also fascinating and insightful, highly charged historical documents. And unless they are Gilbert & George, statues can’t answer back when abused by the crowd. What we should do with them will be addressed by subsequent speakers, but I personally advocate additional plaques or virtual ones through QR codes and apps to spell out the case for people’s perceptions today. Conciliation not confrontation, love not war, and thank you Church Monuments Society, don’t expunge, explain. And, last but not least, heed the watchword of the PSSA, “retain and explain.”
Dr. Mark Stocker is an art historian and art curator who lives in New Zealand. His publications are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His recent book, When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971, will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.
The image shows, “Pulling Down the Statue of George III in New York City,” by Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, painted in 1859.
As we know, history is one of the oldest sciences in the world. But the benefits of it are far from obvious and have been constantly questioned over the centuries. How was the question of the purpose of writing history, and the tasks of a historian, answered in the past?
Moses, who began compiling sacred history, did not use the concept of “history” itself – there was no need for it. For Moses, the story of creation, humanity, and the people of Israel was not some useful knowledge, but a proclamation to Israel of Israel’s purpose. God, leading the people out of Egypt, gives history to man as a vow of salvation.
Nevertheless, the emergence of history as scientific knowledge is usually associated with ancient tradition, and Herodotus is traditionally considered the first historian (5th century BC). Herodotus saw himself as a collector of “information” about “great and surprisingly worthy deeds” so that they “over time would not go into oblivion.” Herodotus (in his work The Histories, although this name is most likely later, for earlier the work was called The Muses) for the first time appears as an “historian” – an observer and narrator about the events that took place. The goal is not soteriological, but antiquarian.
But it is Thucydides (5th century BC) who introduces a more “scientific” task – he is engaged in “investigation.” In his Peloponnesian War he writes: “As for the events of this war, I set myself the task of describing them, receiving information not by questioning the first person I met and not at my personal discretion, but to depict, on the one hand, only those events, at which I myself happened to be present, and on the other – to analyze the messages of others with all possible accuracy. A thorough verification of the information was not easy, because the witnesses of individual events gave different coverage of the same facts, depending on their location to one of the warring parties or the strength of memory. My research, in the absence of everything fabulous in it, may seem unattractive. But if anyone wants to investigate the reliability of the past and the possibility of future events (which may someday be repeated by the property of human nature in the same or similar form), then it will be enough for me if he considers my research useful. My work was created as an eternal property, and not for momentary success with listeners.”
In other words, the benefits of history are pragmatic, avoiding mistakes in the future. It is also worth making a reservation here: history for ancient and later authors is not some kind of historical process, but a text, a story about events. Later, ancient authors were engaged in similar “investigations” (collection and analysis of information). For example, Aristotle (4th century BC) wrote The History of Animals, which became the basis for the creation of philosophical works on fauna: On the Parts of Animals, and On the Generation of Animals.
A step forward was made by the historian Polybius (2nd century BC), the author of The Histories. He believed that “knowledge of the past, rather than any other knowledge, can benefit people,” since “lessons learned from history most likely lead to enlightenment and prepare for engaging in public affairs,” and “the story of the trials of other people is the most intelligible, or the only mentor teaching us to courageously endure the vicissitudes of fate.”
It was Polybius who spoke about the “lessons of history,” which for him had a universal meaning and concerned every person. In addition, “diligent study of history, enriching us with this kind of experience, can beautify our leisure and provide us with entertainment.” Polybius thus not only raised history to the pedestal of human knowledge, but also gave it moral and entertainment value. The famous phrase of Cicero “history is the teacher of life” was already a repetition of Polybius’s thought. Subsequent ancient historians in different ways repeated what Polybius, Herodotus, and Thucydides said.
The first Christian historians interpreted their writings in an ancient context. Eusebius (4th century AD) wrote about “instructive lessons of history.” However, Sozomen (1st half of the 5th century AD) posed a more significant task: “Since for the reliability of history one must take special care of the truth, it seemed to me necessary to investigate these written monuments as much as possible… The narrator, as has been said, should do everything to serve the truth.” It is important to take into account that in Sozomen’s view truth was of divine origin, and history itself, in his words, is “not a human matter.”
Thus, already early Church historians were gradually beginning to bring their tasks closer to those that were characteristic of Moses. These principles were most clearly formulated by the blessed Theodoret of Cyrus (5th century): “Painters, depicting ancient events on panels and walls, of course, give pleasure to the viewers about what happened long ago; they keep that happening fresh in memory for a long time. But historians, instead of panels used books, and instead of paints – use the color of words, to make the memory of the past even stronger and firmer, because the painter’s art is worn down by time. Therefore, everything that has not yet been included in the history of the Church, I will try to describe: for indifference to the glory of famous deeds and oblivion of the most useful legends, I consider criminal.” He considered writing history to be a spiritual duty and a heroic deed.
The Christian West right up to the Renaissance retained the ancient understanding of history. However, from the end of the 17th century, with the emergence of science in Europe in the modern sense, an idea of the world historical process was formulated, which had its own clear and invariable laws.
Thus, there were the French Catholic Bishop Bossuet (Discourse on Universal History, 1681) and the Italian scientist Vico (Principles of a New Science Concerning the Nature of Nations, 1725) for whom the laws of history were a divine institution, like the laws of nature, and were associated with ethical norms. One way or another, for the first time, it became possible to talk about the “meaning of history,” with attempts to deduce it in the manner of a mathematical formula. Now history had begun to be understood rationally – and man became its hostage, a cog in a grandiose mechanism.
The Age of Enlightenment made its own adjustments here: it began to look at history as a self-developing process. Agnostic Lessing (The Education of the Human Race, 1780) spoke of historical progress and stages of religious and social development (by which he understood paganism, Judaism and Christianity).
Another inevitable conclusion from this idea was the thought of the pantheist Condorcet (Sketch for an Historical Picture of the Advances of the Human Mind, 1794): “If a person can, with almost complete certainty, predict the phenomena whose laws he knows, if even when they are unknown to him, he can, on the basis of past experience, predict, with a high probability, future events. Then why consider the desire to draw, with some plausibility. a picture of the future fate of the human race, based on the results of its history, as a chimerical enterprise?”
Historical science was already beginning to turn into an ideology and predict a happy future. True, Condorcet himself was sitting in a Jacobin prison, while he was writing his work, waiting for the guillotine.
After Hegel, who most clearly formulated the idea of a single historical process, the “philosophy of history,” which became the foundation of political ideology, blossomed in magnificent color. It was understood both in the materialistic “formational” aspect (Marx, Braudel) and in the idealistic “civilizational” one (Danilevsky, Spengler, Toynbee). More often, the first model was adopted by the Left (socialists and liberals), and the second – by the Right.
Later, the liberal “anti-philosophy” of history (Popper) was formulated, which generally denied any meaning in history and placed technical progress at the forefront. The circle of development of European thought was closed, and man was completely lost in the heap of “laws” and the whirlwind of “processes.” Historians, inspired by philosophers, and then experiencing some disappointment from the abundance of groundless schemes, went into “pure science” – into the study of small plots (so-called microhistory) or individual texts (postmodernism).
Perhaps the most profound criticism of the “philosophy of history” belongs to the outstanding theologian of the twentieth century, Archpriest Georges Florovsky. It was the identification of history with nature, in his opinion, that became the starting point of European utopianism.
Father Georges fundamentally opposed the idea of historical progress and human responsibility for history, a certain faceless “cosmic process” and personal “moral creativity.” Instead, history is to be understood as “the mystery of salvation and the tragedy of sin.” It has no other meaning. The historian is complicit in this dilemma because his work should be evidence of it. Proclaiming a “return to the fathers” in theology, Father Georges was faithful to them in his understanding of history and the tasks of a historian.
Following Moses, theologians of the 5th and 20th centuries spoke of history as an event centered on the communication of God and man, feat and salvation. Thus, human history rises above the laws of nature, goes beyond its inherent cyclicality and strict subordination to circumstances, gives each human action the status of unique and unconditionally significance. “If you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). In this understanding, human history cannot be calculated, put into a mathematical formula, but only in this understanding does it acquire its true soteriological meaning.
Fedor Gaida is Associate Professor in the Faculty of History, Lomonosov Moscow State University. His research interests include, the political history of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century; Russian liberalism; power and society in a revolutionary era; Church and Revolution.
In Return of the Strong Gods, R.R. Reno makes this perceptive point: In “the second half of the twentieth century, we came to regard the first half as a world-historical eruption of the evils inherent in the Western tradition, which can be corrected only by the relentless pursuit of openness, disenchantment, and weakening. The anti- imperatives are now flesh-eating dogmas masquerading as the fulfillment of the anti-dogmatic spirit.”
Reno is entirely on the mark when he tells us that fighting the “dogmas” of the past has become integral to our political culture. In Western countries, particularly in Germany, this struggle has taken the form of a perpetual battle against fascism, which has become the hallmark of what is supposedly an almost uniformly evil Western past.
In pursuit of a fascist-free society, social engineers in government and education have trampled on freedoms and engaged in nonstop persecution of those who are regarded as standing outside of necessarily leftist, political conversation. In a book, in press with Cornell University, I undertake to show how utterly pernicious antifascism has become and how little it has to do with what was once understood as fascism or Nazism.
Antifascist bigots manufacture their own dogma to combat alleged “fascist” intolerance, which by now means disagreeing with progressive gatekeepers. “Fascist” is also attached to anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with the antifascist elites and who therefore must be destroyed socially and economically to protect a multicultural society.
Where I depart from others who may agree with these premises is in my insistence that certain political developments promoted the antifascist anti-dogma dogma. The Russian or Japanese government does not push this as a state ideology. Only Western countries promote this stuff; and there may be something specific to these societies that predispose them toward antifascist crusades.
All antifascist countries have undergone similar political and educational experiences, although the Germans previewed this transformational process with the “democratic” reeducation inflicted on them by their American and British conquerors after World War II. Such conversions are not attributable simply to the “spirit of the age,” or because of moralizing on the editorial pages of the New York Times or Le Monde. The conversion to antifascism as a state-enforced doctrine, particularly in Western Europe, has happened incrementally for quintessentially political reasons.
Although we can trace back this antifascist fixation to an earlier point, the best time to start may be after World War II, when there were already an entrenched concept of antifascist education and a new stress on universal rights that were to be globally enforced. In the 1960s first in the US and then in other Western countries, an expanding crusade against racism and its supposedly twin evil of sexism was taking place. This enthusiasm gained in intensity, partly under state sponsorship, and brought along a government apparatus to fight “prejudice” and “discrimination.”
In the US, this undertaking was bound up with fighting racial discrimination, while in Europe it built on the struggle against Nazism and colonialism. But this crusade, once begun, just went on and on. It became ever more intrusive and obsessive and enjoyed the support of myriads of administrators, an expanding media empire and a state-subsidized educational establishment.
Throughout this conversionary enterprise, the focus has been on a constant enemy “fascism,” but never communism; and those who have wielded power have conjured up the specter of Hitler, or his right-wing stand-ins to underline the perpetual threat to democracy.
The point to be underlined is that identifiable turning points and coercive policies contributed to the problem that Reno mentions. There were also actors who helped advance a particular model of “liberal democracy,” which supplanted other less controlling and less radical forms of constitutional government.
Certain variables might have made this all-controlling ideology less oppressive and less pervasive, e.g., fewer young people having their brains laundered at our universities by madcap academics, a smaller electorate made up of long resident, literate property-owners, and the absence of a centralized administrative state that in the name of social policy set out to reconstruct the family.
All these factors, and other discernible ones, contributed to the rise and continuity of our antifascist state religion. Here concrete interests came together with ideology in a war against “the evils inherent in the Western tradition.” These evil supposedly culminated in fascism, understood as both Nazi tyranny and whatever obstacles the cultural Left was opposing at a particular time.
A major vehicle for this new dogma has been the managerial class ensconced in both government and corporations. Although this class could conceivably profess non-radical values, this is not the case at the present time. Its members are out to expunge such values and the culture that created them.
Admittedly the “flesh-eating dogmas” we are addressing make no sense to me as a coherent, demonstrable set of beliefs related to any reality that I can grasp. But I am interested in knowing who is benefiting from this crescendo of madness. The old question of “cui bono?” remains relevant here.
Marxian thought has at least an economic component and an ontological one. I would like to address the topic of exploitation in Marxian economics, and in Marxian ontology I will examine the driving role of contradiction in human cultural evolution, the emerging forms of matter, and the reification within commodities.
The Marxian Theory Of Exploitation: An Assessment Of The Austrian Response
The Marxian conception of exploitation in capitalism conceives of the latter as the appropriation – within entrepreneurial profit – of a non-remunerated portion of the wage-earner’s daily working time.
The Austrian response to the Marxian conception notably consisted of highlighting the complementarity of the respective temporal preferences on the part of workers (preferring a smaller but quicker remuneration over a more tardy but greater one) and entrepreneurial capitalists (preferring the latter over the former). It also consisted of underlining the role of adjustment which operates freely determined equilibrium prices (via occasioned losses and profits). Friedrich A. von Hayek points to this when he speaks of Karl Marx’s alleged inability to apprehend “the signal-function of prices through which people [including entrepreneurs] are informed what they ought to do” by reason of “his labor theory of value” – namely, Marx’s theory that selling prices, at least in the long run, are fixed by production costs – and the alleged objective value of goods by the incorporated quantity of abstract labor.
It turns out that neither the complementarity of temporal preferences nor the adjustment role of equilibrium prices (in the direction of the long-run equilibrium, in which each factor finds itself to be optimally allocated) are actually inconsistent with the Marxian conception of exploitation.
The Marxian argument can be put as follows. Like any commodity, labor power is sold (at least in the context of the long-term equilibrium, i.e., the equilibrium in the presence of a completed, henceforth optimal allocation of capital) at its cost of production – therefore the employee’s living cost. In the long-run equilibrium, the entrepreneurial profit strictly appropriates the remuneration of the margin between the employee’s total working time and the working time strictly required to cover the employee’s living costs.
That said, when the economy, in the long run, does not find equilibrium, then salary and entrepreneurial profit will both oscillate around a level strictly equal to the production cost. Hans Hermann Hoppe’s answer (inspired by Eugen Richter von Böhm-Bawerk) can be put as follows. According to Hoppe, Marx’s analysis does note that the selling price of any produced good is (at least when demand is properly anticipated) greater than the wages paid to the workers involved in the production of that good. Therefore, the paid wages only cover the purchase of goods requiring fewer hours of work than those goods the wage-earners help to manufacture. Yet there is a complementarity of time preferences between the employee (who prefers a lower and faster remuneration to one more delayed and higher) and the entrepreneur (who prefers the latter to the former). It follows the selling price’s superiority, besides allowing for entrepreneurial remuneration higher than the wage bill, and supposes convergent interests in the wage earner and the entrepreneur.
Actually, Marx’s argument turns out to be misunderstood by Hoppe – and rigorously unaffected by the complementary of time he invokes. The exploitation phenomenon Marx describes does not lie in the difference between immediate salaries and postponed entrepreneurial remunerations, which is only a symptom of the aforesaid exploitation. Instead, exploitation lies in the furnishing of a salary which, instead of covering the whole daily working time (as it formally seems to do), strictly remunerates the working hours needed to cover the workforce’s subsistence costs. Marx believes incomplete remuneration to be at the origin of the subsistence – in the long-run equilibrium – of the margin between the selling price of goods and the remuneration of production factors, said margin allowing entrepreneurs to grant themselves a remuneration greater than the distributed wages.
As for the coordination of production factors, Marx fully recognizes adjustment spurred by short-run fluctuations in the rate of entrepreneurial profit (above and below its long-run level, strictly corresponding to unpaid, surplus labor time), and by the concomitant gradual equalization between production costs and the selling price of commodities – including labor power, whose remuneration is thus rendered equal to its subsistence costs in the long run. Not only does the labor theory of value (such as understood by Marx and before him David Ricardo) claim the fixation of selling prices by production costs to occur only in the context of long-run equilibrium, but the labor theory of value itself does not occupy the center of Marx’s political economy. The latter is in fact articulated around the notion of commodity fetishism, as pointed out by Soviet Marxian economist Isaak Illich Rubin.
The Flaws Of The Marxian Theory Of Exploitation
Despite the flaws of the Austrian criticism, Marx’s approach to exploitation remains wrong. Let us start with recalling the notion of “abstract working time” in Marxian economics – abstract working time boils down to working time conceived independently of the physical or mental effort associated with the considered task. Even assuming the alleged correspondence between abstract working time and (the long-term level of) exchange value, i.e., selling price, the Marxian elucidation of entrepreneurial profit as the margin (between the exchange value of a given good and the remuneration of the involved production factors) allowed by the payment to the workforce of a wage limited to strictly covering the aforesaid workforce’s subsistence costs is quite unsatisfactory.
The argument Marx invokes is that the exchange value of all goods (including manpower) revolves around a long-term level, strictly equivalent to the exchange value of the incorporated abstract working time – and therefore strictly equivalent to the production costs of the aforesaid goods, which in turn means the workforce’s subsistence costs in the case of manpower.
Hence – according to Marx – wages granted in the long-run equilibrium actually leave unpaid an entire section of the daily work-time of wage-earners. The equalization (in the long-run equilibrium) between the workforce’s subsistence costs and the workforce’s remuneration does not imply that the actual work-time on the part of a wage earner is partially remunerated.
Rather, it implies that in the long-term equilibrium, the one established once the allocation of capital in the various branches of industry – given a certain state of economic conditions, from preferences on the part of consumers and investors to technology and demography – has reached its completion, the correct, total remuneration for a wage earner’s complete performance is then fixed at a subsistence level.
It also implies entrepreneurial income is nullified at the long-term equilibrium, in which there is nothing left for the entrepreneur, once the factors of production have been wholly remunerated. Therefore, entrepreneurial profit can only exist within the framework of the process of capital allocation – with the aforesaid profit remunerating the speed (and the accuracy) of the allocation of production factors in anticipation of jointly mobile and uncertain demand. Austrian economics, especially Mises and Kirzner, extensively deals with the process through which the entrepreneur – when earning profit – adjusts the daily-generated equilibrium prices in the direction of the long-run equilibrium, in which the allocation of production factors is henceforth achieved and optimized, and in which each selling price is henceforth equal to the production costs.
The Austrian approach to equilibrium prices (and therefore the law of supply and demand) and their gradual entrepreneurial adjustment is sometimes praised for its purported realism. Yet the law of supply and demand, such as understood in Austrian economics (but also in neoclassicism), is hardly realistic. It claims, indeed, that any subjectively homogeneous product is sold at a unique price that happens to coincide with the intersection of supply and demand curves. But such claims make sense only in the framework of an auction market in which, indeed, an auctioneer may gather the different supply and demand propositions and determine the equilibrium price.
Besides, the Austrian conception of entrepreneurship applies only in the case of those of profit opportunities which are preexisting (and more or less manifested), while a number of entrepreneurs in the real world do not earn a profit through adjusting (towards the long-run equilibrium) the allocation of capital on the basis of preexistent profit opportunities, but through inventing new profit opportunities. In other words – that which results in the apparition of a new long-run direction for the economy, i.e., the breaking of the previously scheduled long-run equilibrium for the benefit of the economy’s re-direction towards a new long-run equilibrium.
A Word About The Partnership Of Opposites In Cosmic Evolution
Marxian thought is also ontological (besides its economic, political considerations). Marxian ontology stresses the driving role of contradiction in human cultural evolution – more precisely, the evolution of the emergent forms of matter in successive human cultures. Before looking more closely at the Marxian approach to contradiction in human evolution, let us turn to an example of the partnership between opposites in the cosmos. In addition to his unfortunate exclusively determinist view of human history, Marx precisely failed to notice the harmonious, collaborative character of opposites in the course of human cultural evolution – a harmonious character that at times accompanies conflictual character.
The concept of communication, generally defined in terms of consciousness, is an eminent example of a notion whose definition must be updated in view of a sharper distinction between those qualities of its object – the particular genre of things it subsumes – which are necessary, and those which are contingent. Conscious communication only comes as a modality of communication, so that the conscious character of a given conscious communication in the cosmos comes as a contingent (rather than necessary and constitutive) character of the genre of things called communication.
Communication should be redefined, consequently, as the interaction between two signals: the first acting as a stimulus; and the second providing a response which depends on its interpretation of the aforesaid stimulus. It is really the prerogative neither of humans nor even of animals endowed with consciousness. Like war, love, hierarchy, and sociability, communication preceded consciousness and a fortiori homo sapiens in the order of the universe. It was even prior to the point where the behavior of the Big Bang’s progeny, the elementary particles, was already (and has remained to this day) the behavior of communication.
Throughout the cosmos, individual and collective entities are communicating with each other by means of words, chemical signals, or gravitational force – and communicating according to patterns of opposition (integration and differentiation, fusion and fission, or attraction and repulsion), whose iteration pursues itself at each level of emergence. Let us take the very first entrepreneurs of the cosmos – namely the quarks (of which there happens to be six varieties) – communication – via the phenomenon known as “strong force” or “strong interaction” – between two quarks-entrepreneurs, which are of the same variety, will be a communication of their mutual repulsion.
Nevertheless, the communication between two quarks which are exactly different in the right way will be one of mutual attraction – and one of their attraction towards an additional quark which is of the type suitable for mounting the proton start-up (composed of two quarks “up” and one quark “down”), or the neutron start-up (composed of two quarks “down” and one quark “up”).
The Flaws Of Marxian Ontology – The Approach To Contradiction And Matter
Heraclitus understood the collaborative character of opposites. He nonetheless failed to grasp the perpetually declined (as well as complexified) character of their partnership – and the evolving character of the cosmos (including human societies).
Marxian ontology certainly has the merit of stressing the role of contradiction in the becoming of the forms which matter acquires in the world of humans – especially the industrial organization of the mineral or human material, as well as the ideology and the law structuring a human society. Nevertheless, it erroneously deals with the evolutionary process in question – and with the driving role of contradiction in the latter.
First, there is its denial of the informing action (and the existence) of the archetypal, supra-sensible forms. Second is its retention of only the passive ideological and legal “superstructures” of the sort of matter which happens to reside in the “relations of production,” which themselves serve as the passive organization that emerges from other sorts of matter that are the technological resources available at a given time.
What is more, Marxian ontology, thus delivering an incomplete understanding of the material foundations for law and ideology, reduces the aforesaid foundations to technology and to the “relations of production.” This renders Marxism entirely ignorant of the truly biological component of the material backing of ideologies and legal systems – that is, the set of genetic dispositions shaped and selected over the course of human biological evolution in groups and individuals.
As for contradiction in the process of human evolution, Marxian ontology exclusively conceives of it as a tearing apart whose particular version (characteristic of a particular time of human history) calls for its resolution through the “leap” (to quote Lenin) to a superior bearing of human history, the course of which is, besides, seen as rigorously determined – and thus seen as being spurred – through the successive resolution of the different encountered cases of contradiction – towards a prefixed final stage of human history.
Instead, contradiction should be envisioned as a harmonious (though sometimes it can be simultaneously tearing) partnership, between opposites, which perpetually manifests itself in various modes over the course of the wholly improvised process of human (and even cosmic) evolution.
Such misunderstanding in Marxian ontology is all the more devastating as the aforesaid ontology envisages the interindividual or intergroup conflict as rooted in economic life alone – and as fated to disappear through a purportedly inevitable return to primitive communism, while, nonetheless, conserving advanced technology.
Interclass struggle can no longer simply be reduced to a struggle that involves properly economic classes, technology; and the relations of production cannot be envisioned as the sole and necessary origin of ideologies. Thus, a given ideology does not necessarily accompany a given economic system – so that, for instance, capitalism of the globalized and digitized type is not necessarily accompanied by a cosmopolitan ideology (in the sense of moral relativism and universal leveling).
What is more, their perceived economic interests – instead of idealistic considerations or their perceived ethnic interests – do not serve as the only and necessary motives on the part of the dominant economic classes, for promoting the particular ideologies whose standard bearers they pretend to be. The fact is class struggle does not necessarily occur between economic classes and for economic motives – instead it comes as a derived form of the “struggle for life,” and likely to engage all kinds of classes and motives.
This point was remarkably raised in Vilfredo Pareto’s The Socialist Systems: “The class struggle is only one form of the struggle for life, and what is called ‘the conflict between labor and capital’ is only one form of the class struggle. In the middle ages, one could have thought that if religious conflicts disappeared, society would have been pacified. Those religious conflicts were only one form of the class struggle; they have disappeared, at least in part, and have been replaced by socialist conflicts.
Suppose that collectivism is established, suppose that “capitalism” no longer exists, it is clear that then it will no longer be in conflict with labor; but it will be only one form of the class struggle which will have disappeared, others will replace them. Conflicts will arise between the different kinds of workers in the socialist state, between “intellectuals” and “non-intellectuals,” between different kinds of politicians, between them and their citizens, between innovators and conservatives.”
The Flaws Of Marxian Ontology – The Approach To Commodity
In addition to excessive Marxian emphasis on economy when it comes to the backing of superstructures and the background of conflict, a word deserves to be said about the Marxian definition of merchandise. The latter retains (as necessary, constitutive characteristics of the merchandise genre) use-value and exchange-value, as well as the above-mentioned “fetish” character. This amounts to retaining the outlet for the purpose of offering goods for sale, where matter is the aforesaid merchandise – which, in the Marxian approach, sees itself notably assimilated to the “concrete” and “abstract” work incorporated in the manufacture of the aforesaid merchandise. Finally, its form, which is exclusively perceived as the reification of the relations of production.
Such conception notably commits the error of omitting the commodity’s efficient, external cause – namely the entrepreneurial expectations on the course of the demand for consumption or investment. Those expectations then become the only effective, rational aspect of economic calculation, which means that economic calculation is simply impracticable in the absence of the private ownership of capital – and the central planning Marx praises and prophesizes is necessarily dysfunctional and irrational.
Marxism also commits the error of developing a simplistic approach to the form of merchandise, which really consists of a reification above all of the immaterial capital of fantasy – the stock of dreams and legends which inspires the economic not less than cognitive development in humans.
Conclusion – And A Word On Herbert Spencer
The Marxian approach to exploitation in capitalism is flawed in that it misunderstands the alleged equalization (in long-term equilibrium) between subsistence cost and earned wage, as leaving unpaid a whole portion of the work-time. Instead, such equalization implies the work-time’s properly correct and total remuneration strictly equates a subsistence level in the long-run equilibrium. Thus, entrepreneurial profit does not exist outside the allocation of capital goods; it is not rooted in exploitation – but into the speed (and the accuracy) of anticipations before an uncertain, mobile demand.
As for the Marxian approach to the emerging forms of matter in human evolution, it neglects, for instance, the biological compartment of the involved matter – and restricts the material foundations of ideology and the law to the economic, technological component. Thus, Marxism believes ideologies come only and necessarily as the “superstructure” of the “relations of production,” themselves the superstructure only and necessarily of technology.
The truth is that a certain ideology or legal system is not necessarily indissociable from a certain economic system (just like a certain economic system is not necessarily indissociable from a certain ideology or legal system). By the way, Marxian ontology fails to notice – among merchandise’s reified components – the presence of the infrastructure of fantasy, thus neglecting the reification of human dreams and restricting itself to just one of the relations of production.
As for the Marxian approach to contradiction in human evolution, it commits the double mistake of restricting intergroup conflict to the struggle between economic classes for economic motives – and restricting contradiction to disharmony and tearing. It also commits the mistake of believing human evolution to be rigorously predetermined – and scheduled to gradually reach its predefined finish line through gradually solving and dissipating the different successive encountered cases of contradiction.
The Spencerian vision of cosmic and human history is materialist (in the sense of denying the ideational, archetypal field) like the Marxian vision of human history. It also has this characteristic in common with its great rival that it underlines the driving role of contradiction – although it conceives of the aforesaid contradiction as a harmonious tension manifesting itself perpetually. Nonetheless, the Spencerian also approach remains flawed.
Herbert Spencer rightly believed that the partnership between differentiation and integration, discerned by Karl Ernst von Baer in the growth of the embryo, to be transposable to the evolution of the cosmos and of humanity. Nevertheless, he made the mistake of considering that collaboration exclusively in the mode of the increase in the division of labor. As if, as the division of labor progressed on the scale of the world, individuals became more and more differentiated in their professions; but also more and more integrated in a humanitarian embryo leveling the nations and dissipating the borders. That faith in the advent of a division of labor. supplanting the nations (and thus war between the nations) to let subsist sole individuals producing and exchanging on the scale of the world, fits very well with Spencer’s anarcho-capitalism.
It fits less well with anthropological and historical reality – namely that, as the economic and military interaction between nations increases, those, far from disappearing (for the benefit of a humanity integrating increasingly uprooted, denationalized individuals), only further differentiate – and only further oppose each other.
Thus, the executed integration comes down to an intensification of the intergroup “struggle for life;” and applies as much to the individuals engaged in the global division of labor, as nations engaged in increasingly integrated military and economic competition.
Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. His work and interviews often appear in the Postil.
The image shows “Iron and Coal,” by William Bell Scott, painted can 1855-1860.
Plato conceived education as an art of perfecting man. According to this view, education is possible because man is a perfectible being. Nobody ever talks about perfecting God, because God is not perfectible, but perfect; nor do we ever discuss the education of angels, because, although an angel is not absolutely perfect, he is perfect within his own essence, which means that an angel receives all the perfection that is due and proper to his nature in one instantaneous act.
To be sure, there are in the visible world other perfectible things besides man; but even so, the notion of education does not seem to fit the modes of perfectibility of things that are not human. A machine, for example, can be constructed and improved, while a tree attains its proper perfections by growth. Yet we would all hesitate to talk about the “education” of a plant or of a machine; and it would be just as incorrect to speak of the education of an animal. A dog, for example, may be trained; but a dog could never be educated. A dog is trained by being made subject to human purposes and notions, not even remotely entertained by the dog itself. Besides, it is trained, not to become a more perfect dog, more suitable for beastly society, but rather, in order to become more useful or more amusing to man, even if in the process it loses its intrinsic properties and gets to be, not more, but less of a dog.
Education remains, therefore, a distinctively human affair, and as such, derives its distinctiveness from man’s peculiar way of growing into his perfections. Like all living things, man possesses within himself a vital principle of growth; but in man, this principle is further determined by rationality. It is by virtue of his rationality that man can consciously entertain his purposes, choose his means, and criticize his own actions. This coincidence of growth and rationality in the same being is a privilege which renders man unique in the whole universe.
Plato must have been fascinated by this marvelous blend of qualities in man, this blend of intelligence and growth, for he makes it the central theme of practically all hisDialogues. In these Dialogues we have a most vivid picture of education. In every case we find that education is a growth, a movement from confusion to clarity, from ignorance to knowledge; and also we find that in every case, the student is his own first teacher.
The role of the teacher is simply to help the student in his seeking and to guide his steps. The teacher of the Dialogues, usually Socrates, is supposed to be the wise man, the man who has already attained those perfections desired for and by the student. The teacher stands as a proximate exemplar; and, by virtue of the fact that he is supposed to see the end of the road, he can also guide and direct, by ruling out false starts and by suggesting better ones. To put it in a more characteristically Platonic simile, the teacher is a midwife, who assists at the birth of the idea in the mind of the student.
We can learn a great deal more about human nature and also about education, by observing with Plato, the way man grows into the attainment of his perfections. In contrast with other intelligent beings (God and the angels), man must accomplish his rationality through effort and discipline. Because human rationality is an accomplishment, it enjoys only a precarious existence.
All our human concerns which manifest man’s rationality under any aspect, whether of order, purpose, truth, or beauty (the sciences and the arts, institutions, laws cultural values, etc.), depend for their continued existence upon the disciplined activities of men. Cathedrals do not grow like weeds, and no painting was ever made haphazardly. Every new-born baby is an absolutely new beginning, and every new generation of babies is a terrific challenge and threat to the existing civilization and to the established order of things.
Indeed, our life here is an explosive situation! Man is a joining together of the nothingness and am infinity, and it is education which must span the chasm between the two extremes. No wonder that Plato, having understood the nature if education, should view it as the highest social function, commensurate with the whole of life, and absolutely necessary for the perfection of the individual and of society. Plato had such a profound appreciation of the importance of education, that starting to describe the building of a state, he ended up, in his famous Republic, with a kind of super-school on his hands.
But there comes a point where we must remind ourselves that, after all, we are with a pagan philosopher, and should be on guard lest we let him mislead us in matters about which we ought to know better. And we do, as a matter of fact, know more than Plato about the origin and purpose of our human existence. Let us, therefore, be on the alert for any possible defects in Plato’s educational theories and practices which might flow from his pagan errors about man.
Plato certainly understood that education must be of the whole man, which means of the complete composite of soul and body. He also rightly defended and emphasized the primacy of the soul in matters of education. He knew that the human soul is immortal, and at least vaguely suspected that man’s life-long educational activity finds its consummation in another life.
But Plato also held some erroneous doctrines about the soul. It is a well known fact, for example, that he taught that the human soul exists prior to this life. We Christians, on the other hand, know that every individual human soul is created singularly and immediately, at the moment of conception, by a separate act of God. Here we have in this issue what might seem at first glance like a slight difference of belief: but on more careful examination, this disagreement between the Christian and pagan outlooks, reveals such a chasm as can only be explained by the tremendous intervening fact of the Incarnation.
Plato can hardly be blamed for missing the point with regard to the fact, the manner, or the purpose of creation. This kind of knowledge requires a far greater intimacy with God than was given to the pagan world. It remains to the immortal credit of Plato that he attained, by mere reason, a clear concept of the kind of reality the human soul is. He knew the soul in its spirituality and in its simplicity; he recognized its power and its dignity; he understood its activity of life in the body, and its activity of knowledge beyond the body; and he proved philosophically, that this kind of being cannot be dissolved or destroyed by natural means.
But the same kind of argument led Plato also to believe that the soul could be neither made nor developed by any natural process. He, therefore, concluded that the soul is not only immortal, but also eternal, having no beginning as well as no end in time. The Christian alternative, namely, that the soul is created out of nothing by the omnipotence of God, did not present itself to Plato; for to him, God is neither infinite nor omnipotent, and the very idea of creation out of nothing would have sounded to him as no less that a philosophic absurdity.
Plato, therefore, according to his own lights, had to educate a soul which was never created, which had no beginning in time, and no definite destiny for the future. The human soul to Plato is a little sad deity which cannot die, but can lose everything else it ever attained; even to the very memory of its personal identity in previous lives. This unconscious deity is accidentally united to, or rather, imprisoned in a material body, which it must leave after a certain length of time, to be united, perhaps to another body, and to go through the same cycle all over again.
This soul has already had more intimate contacts with eternal realities that it has in this life, and therefore must have been in a higher state of perfection than in its present state. Unfortunately, however, it has lost all memory of these perfections and must now make a new start at re-ascending the scales of perfection to lose them again once more. How futile the whole thing must appear when viewed from the total perspective of eternity! And yet, this is as optimistic a view of human existence as the pagan world ever attained.
These errors of Plato are at least partly responsible for some of the most obvious defects in his theory of education: depreciation of the body and of sense experience; a false theory of knowledge according to which we learn by remembering what we already knew in a previous life; and, most seriously, a relative disregard of personal values by treating the individual primarily as a function of the state. Yet, in spite of these defects, Plato remains, even today, a great master of the art of teaching, and the leading champion of the very concept of liberal education. It is in this last capacity that we are now primarily interested in Plato, and therefore, let us proceed to examine more specifically what Plato means by liberal education.
II. What Is Liberal Education?
We are used to distinguishing between two kinds of education: liberal and vocational. But Plato, while recognizing the need of developing the practical arts and professions, reserved the term “education”, at least in its absolute unrestricted sense, to what we would call liberal education. “This is the only training which, upon our view, would be characterized as education: that other sort of training which aims at the acquisition of wealth or bodily strength, or mere cleverness apart from intelligence and justice, is mean and illiberal, and it is not worthy to be called education at all.”
From following the thoughts of Plato we get a hint as to the essence of liberal, or in his language, true education, which distinguishes it from all kinds of training for useful skill or for useless cleverness. Liberal or true education is education whose end is man himself. It is the education of man as man.
When a man is trained for the perfection of what he makes, he receives vocational training, or, if we call it education, we are using the term in a forced sense; but when a man is trained and instructed for the perfection of what he is and what he does (immanently) within himself, then we may say that he is being educated in the most absolute sense of the term. We may teach a man to become a carpenter, a farmer, a physician, or an engineer. We may also teach a man to become a good man, good not only in the moral sense but primarily in the ontological sense, in the sense of perfected, developed, accomplished, in the sense that he can exercise and apply his faculties coordinately and for their natural purposes.
When men are trained vocationally we have every right to expect better products (potatoes, chairs, medical services, or efficient machines), but we have no right to expect better men unless somewhere in our educational plans and activities we aim at the proper perfections of a man. You are as likely to produce a well-constructed bridge by accident and without aiming at it, as you are to produce a well-educated man by a scheme of training thoroughly directed to other ends.
It should go without saying and as part of nature’s justice, that in a society where leaders receive specialized vocational training without liberal education, no sound norms can rightly be expected and no human values are secure. When the present trend towards vocational training finally succeeds in overwhelming and washing away the last vestiges of liberal education, we can expect to live in a world of good things and bad men. We shall have, to give one good example, unintelligent and confused leaders, on the one hand, and excellent atomic bombs, on the other!
What are, then, those human perfections which constitute the end of liberal education? Plato’s answer to this question is in a way the major theme of all his writings. If one dares put it briefly and succinctly in one sentence, this is what it would be: man’s proper perfection consists in the knowledge of the absolute good, and in response to beauty. The absolute good is the good-in-itself and the source of the goodness all other things.
It is good, not mediately as being the cause of something else, but immediately, ultimately, as being the end to which all other things are means. Man seeks this end, not only by his senses but by his intellect, and can attain it only with his intellect. But man must begin with his sense experience, and gradually advance, through higher and higher aspects of the good, reflected in the world of contingent things, until he is finally ready to see the primal source of all goodness
On the way to this absolute good, beauty is the sign-post. Man, therefore, must begin by learning to respond to beauty as given to the senses and as found in the visible universe, but he must not dwell in it nor let it conceal that invisible beauty it is meant to proclaim.
Not all knowledge, therefore, is conducive to the perfection of man, and consequently, not all knowledge has value in liberal education. All the sciences of space and time, of experience and experiment, of statistics and measurements, such sciences as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, economics, etc., must find their justification primarily in the practical order, in the order of what man makes outside of himself.
Man’s perfection consists in a growth from the fragmentary knowledge of sense experience to a unified vision of the mind; and hence all the above mentioned experimental sciences, can figure in the course of liberal education, only in so far as they lead the way to philosophic science; they must be treated as preludes to philosophy. Their end must be the understanding of the eternal truth, first as reflected in the visible world, but finally and consummately, as it is in itself. The climax of liberal education consists in philosophy and theology, and all its earlier stages must be ordered to this end, both in the selection of their subject matter and in the mode of their presentation.
It is especially remarkable that Plato, who is the greatest pioneer in the field of philosophy, should recognize the necessity of revealed truth, and admit the superiority of such truth over the highest truths of human reason working on its own. Although he was handicapped by an inadequate pagan religion, he still had the genius to see that those intimate truths of the inner life of God could only be known if God Himself were to reveal them, and that once known, such truths would unquestionably be the crown of all human knowledge, and the summit of wisdom in this life.
Thus in the Republic, after making Socrates describe the building of a state by the guidance of reason, Plato makes one interrogator raise the question as to whether any thing is left out. “Nothing to us,” replies Socrates, “But to Apollo, the god of Delphi, there remains the ordering of the greatest and noblest and chiefest things of all.”
“Which are they?” asks again the interrogator.
“The institution of temples and sacrifices, and the entire service of the gods, demigods, and heroes. . . These are matters of which we are ignorant ourselves, and as founders of a city we should be unwise in trusting them to any interpreter but our ancestral deity. He is the god who sits in the center on the naval of the earth, and he is the interpreter of religion to all mankind.”
III. The Epochs In Plato’s Educational System
The key for Plato’s system of education is the Greek word μουσικε (sounds like “musikay”) which has survived in our modern languages in such words as “music” and “museum”. To the Greeks the term had a wider signification, including within its comprehension all the liberal arts. Greek mythology personified the liberal arts, making each one of them a goddess, a Muse, who guides, inspires, and stands as a type and an ideal. Thus we have the Muses of history, poetry, astronomy, eloquence, music, dance, tragedy, comedy, and lyric poetry.
The Greeks saw beauty everywhere; whenever reality is known, it reveals rhythm and harmony, and hence education must progressively direct the mind to higher and higher aspects of beauty. The mind rises from beauty in the plane of sheer sense experience, the rhythm and harmony of sounds, shapes, and movements, to the beauty of law and order manifested in the visible world, the music of the spheres; and finally to the source of all beauty, Beauty in itself, the eternal Logos, attained by the art of dialectics.
Every one of the arts and sciences is called μουσικε in this sense; and it is in this sense that we must understand the passage in the Republic where Plato makes Socrates say: “When the modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state change with them.” Corresponding to the different planes of knowledge, we can distinguish four epochs in Plato’s educational plan. Here is a brief description of each of these epochs in their sequence.
1. The first twenty years are concerned mainly with the body and with the organic faculties. The children, as early as the age of three are introduced to mythology; this is meant to train their imagination, and to cultivate love of valor and heroic deeds. The mythology must be purged of any references to the gods which might degrade the concept of divinity in the child.
The fact that mythology does not give the factual or historic truth does not matter, but it must be censored and purified from anything that might give a permanently false impression of reality. Factual truth is not so important at this stage, because it is an intellectual concern, and this stage of education is mainly concerned with the senses.
After mythology, follow in sequence: gymnastics, reading and writing, poetry and music, and mathematics, until finally this epoch is rounded off in two years of military training, from the eighteenth to the twentieth year. Plato recognized the imitative tendencies of the soul, and thus he prescribes that the child must be surrounded from early childhood with beautiful objects which embody the truth he will come to understand later on in life. Hence the surroundings and environment are tremendously important in this formative period.
2. The second period, extending from the year twenty to the year thirty, is concerned with the sciences of measurement and understanding. Plato mentions plane geometry, solid geometry, astronomy, and harmonies. He conceives their role as a prelude to dialects.
Evidently, he envisaged a patient treatment of these topics, with sufficient time for creative reasoning on the part of the students, and meditations on fundamental truths and notions which prepare the way for philosophy. This is clear from the amount of time he allows for this kind of work, although the amount of facts, principles, experiments, in such a variety of sciences, and in such a short time, that we leave him no leisure for reflection, meditation, wonder, nor for any creative work on his own initiative.
Furthermore, the language of these experimental physical sciences today, is so little related to the language and truths of philosophy, that instead of being a prelude to philosophy as Plato intended, these positive sciences stand in our day as a tremendous handicap to philosophic thought.
3. The third epoch, which occupies the years thirty to thirty-five, is concerned with the art of dialectics, “the art which elevates the mind to the contemplation of what is best in existence”. This is the crowning mark of liberal education; the mind’s eye, which so far had been trained only to recognize the reflections of Good, must now be exercised to see the Good itself, the ultimate source of truth and beauty in the universe.
To Plato, philosophy was not an organized science, or a system of sciences. The task of organizing truths of philosophy was to be carried out by his disciple Aristotle. This is why Plato was mainly concerned with the art of attaining philosophical knowledge, and this art he called “dialectics”. In our days, we possess not only the fruits of Plato’s and Aristotle’s efforts towards discovery and organization of philosophical truths.
We have, in addition, the results of centuries of collective effort on the part of scholastic philosophers, ending in a body of logically related sciences, full of precise notions, clear definitions, and well established truths. This philosophic tradition was accomplished through gradual steps, beginning with sense experience and common-sense knowledge.
We must remember that the individual also must grow to philosophic understanding through the same way. Philosophy is a science, but philosophizing is an art. If we realize this truth sufficiently, we would not depend so exclusively in our teaching on the presentation of philosophic truths as finally and definitely formulated.
The dialect method of Plato can still teach us a great deal as to how to teach philosophy effectively, and how to train the student to raise philosophic problems, to attain a realization of a philosophic truth, and to formulate and defend this truth. We can make philosophy much more of a living tradition by reviving the Platonic method, if not the Platonic science of philosophy.
4. The fourth and last epoch, requiring fifteen years of life and terminating at the age of fifty, is a period dedicated to real experience in the world. It is significant that Plato did not try to carry the world into the school; the only way to know what life is, is to go through it. No man is truly wise enough to be entrusted with the destiny of a state until he has seen the real world in the light of universal truth.
Philosophic ideas alone may be sufficient for the purpose of philosophic contemplation, but the philosopher-king, must make practical decisions for the common good, who must have more than ideas, namely, experience. Nor would experience without the philosophic discipline and knowledge of the Good suffice, because experience can move on a plane of insignificant facts unless illuminated by the idea of the Good.
It is twenty-three centuries since Plato opened his academy and invited the youths of Athens to seek the knowledge of the Good. Since that time, something has happened on our planet; the Eternal Truth, the very Person of Good, has broken the bounds of eternity, plunged into our world, and lived as one of us. If Plato were to come to life today, how would he respond to our tidings of great joy? What would he think of our response?
A simple song, but it contains a good thought… (Adam Mickiewicz, Dziady, Part IV)
I should warn my readers at the outset that the topic of this piece is not my area of expertise. I am not an avid fan of Queen, and my knowledge of rock and roll is no different from others of my generation and those who spent their youth enjoying this type of music. I also haven’t seen Brian Singer’s 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody, and I am unlikely to have time to see it anytime soon.
Although it was never more than just fun for me, two friends whom I played football with after school in the 1970s later became well-known music journalists in Poland. My friends would meet in the evening at one of the student clubs in Krakow, and listen to records together. One of the two, who later became a music specialist, received these records from an uncle in London – they would come in packages that contained clothes for the family and other items that were hard to get in a socialist country. Sending such packages was also typical of post-war immigrants.
It so happens that I also had an uncle who helped us, and who invited me to Hanover in 1979. At that first trip out from behind the Iron Curtain, I brought back three CDs that were not available in our country. One of them was Queen’s double album, Queen Live Killers, with many hits that were hugely popular at the time. Over subsequent years, Polish Radio began to broadcast this type of music in programs for young listeners. These programs were highly popular. And, I can still remember the first appearance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” on Polish Radio and even the comment of the journalist who hosted the program, who said that the “new, little known” band Queen is “very skilled vocally.”
This truth was confirmed in the following years, when Freddie Mercury and his bandmates celebrated their greatest triumphs, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” won numerous accolades from listeners around the globe. This song, known to everyone, recently came back into my head again by accident. I was preparing a lecture on romantic ballads for my students at the Jagiellonian University, and it occurred to me that the words of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” especially the opening part of the song, correspond exactly to one of the most popular traditional folk ballad patterns. The hero of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Freddie Mercury) complains to his mother that he has shot someone, so if he’s “not home tomorrow,” she should “carry on.” His life “had just begun,” and now he’s gone and thrown it all away.” He then speaks of “shivers down my spine” and his “body aching all the time.” He says goodbye to his friends because he has to “face the truth,” alone. And although he “doesn’t want to die,” he sometimes wishes he’d “never been born at all.”
Even for the listener who knows that the subject of crime and punishment constantly appears in ballads of all eras and in all countries (from the Polish Romantic poems of Adam Mickiewicz to the songs of the American Johnny Cash), Freddie Mercury’s lamentation sticks in our heads, hitting us hard; the piano keyboard sounds surprisingly serious.
Even stranger thoughts come to mind, if you listen to the lyrics of the middle section of the song, a quartet sung by all the band members. This quartet breaks the continuity of the ballad story with a monumental scene of judgment over the hero’s soul in the afterlife. The operatic associations suggested appear not only in the musical layer, but also in the text, in which individual Italian words stand out (“Figaro,” “magnifico,” and others). But this is not just a reference to Italian as the language of opera. It is also a trace of Catholic religiosity. The “Galileo” that Freddie asks to “let him go” is not Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) the famous physicist persecuted by the Church and the hero of the progressive education we received in the 1970s. He is the “Galilean” – Jesus Christ, whom the hero asks for freedom from this monstrosity, accompanied by a choir asking angels for his release (“Let him go, let him go, let him go…”).
Similarly, the “mama” Freddie invokes when he cries out “Mama mia” – after the chorus of Hell spirits declare, “We will not let you go” — is also not the mother of the protagonist from the first part of the song, but the Mother of God, whom Freddie calls in his hour of death, as does every Catholic. Of course, with these terms (“Galileo,” “mama mia”), the entire religious morality play is camouflaged and parodied here. Freddie plays to his judges for pity, complaining that he is only a “poor boy” and the backing choir adds that he is “a poor boy from a poor family” – as if hoping that “Galileo” will give him credibility points for his humble origin. However, mixing seriousness with irony in this part does not change the essence of the outcome: the punishment of the hero is condemnation – “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me ….”
And at this point, in the transition to the third and final part, the ballad convention is finally broken. In ballads, crime is always accompanied by punishment. This “law” is accepted by everyone, including the punished hero, because these are the moral foundations of traditional society and ancient popular culture. Meanwhile, in its dynamic ending, “Bohemian Rhapsody” expresses a vehement rejection of this judgment. The soloist breaks the bonds that had bound him thus far (during the performance of the song, Freddie Mercury emphasized this with appropriate behavior on stage) and throws out – against God – rebellious, well-known Promethean accusations:
So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye, So you think you can love me and leave me to die. Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby…
Addressing God as “baby” is a special idea. I don’t know (although perhaps it should be checked) if Shelley and Byron came up with something similar. So now by freeing himself from his guilt, from reproach, from the Last Judgment and by throwing his accusations back on his Judge, the hero of “Bohemian Rhapsody” becomes both the modern Prometheus and Don Juan. Since judgment no longer has any authority for him, the difference between good and evil ceases to matter. The phrase “nothing really matters” changes its traditional meaning, as expressed in the first part of the song. Now it means the state of ataraxia promoted by libertine philosophers: “Nothing really matters, anyone can see, nothing really matters… to me.”
A strange song. Sweet and bitter; simple but full of hidden allusions, mixing buffoonery with seriousness, and seriousness with irony and mockery. Cheap? Pretentious? And is this important, since the song has conquered the world? The story told in “Bohemian Rhapsody” corresponds to that of Don Juan from Mozart’s opera. Only that Molière and Mozart showed in their works the horror of sin and the justice of the punishment that befell Don Juan. But the sinner condemned in our song, the self-pitying “poor boy” in the end becomes a rebel against harsh moral law. He declaims a manifesto of self-liberation from the shackles of religious morality and gives others a model to follow.
We couldn’t understand all of this as teenagers. We swayed to the beat of the song, glad that the words were sonorous and matched the music. Music that released our youthful emotions and provided a sweet purification from the fear of life awaiting us. Now that we have more experience, in the seemingly nonsensical flow of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” we find something from our later experiences and thoughts. Something that was already in the song from the beginning and which is probably not at odds with maturity. Undoubtedly, 40 years ago Freddie Mercury knew much more about serious matters than we could have imagined then as teenagers.
Today we are no longer “poor boys from poor families,” as we used to be. We may not be completely innocent either; but that doesn’t bother us too much, since we have rejected the religious superstition that Galileo will judge us someday for all that we have done. Anyway, even if he could judge us, he would have to show us that he has the right to do so. Isn’t that the moral history of the entire modern West, especially the West in the age of pop culture? It may not be that “nothing really matters” to us – but certainly nothing matters to us the way it used to. Unfortunately.
Andrzej Waśko is professor of Polish Literature at the Jagiellonian University, Krakow. He is the author of Romantic Sarmatism, History According to Poets, Zygmunt Krasinski, Democracy Without Roots, Outside the System, and On Literary Education. The former Vice-Minister of Education, he is curretnly the editor-in-chief of the conservative bimonthly magazine Arcana and is presently Adviser to Polish President Andrzej Duda.
The image shows, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Dan Sproul, 2019.
In their eternal quest to remake reality, a perennial target of the Left is the family: man, woman, and children, the bedrock of all human societies. The family, by its existence and by what it brings forth, mocks the Left project, and so the Left has tried to destroy it for 250 years. But only in the twentieth century did this effort gain real traction, when our elites became converts to the fantasy that sex roles as they existed were artefacts of oppression, not organic reality. What followed was mass indoctrination in falsehoods about men and women, in which this infamous book played a key role. If you see a sad wine aunt (they are all sad), and you see them everywhere, you see a small part of the resulting social wreckage.
The Feminine Mystique was chosen in the 1960s, the decade that really began our decline, as the central pillar of the enormously destructive myth that a woman can “have it all” – both a fully-realized family in the home and a fully-realized career outside the home. Many elements of our present ruin can be traced back to this propaganda. The myth itself is duplicitous, however. For its purveyors, a woman’s career is far more important than the family – lip service is only paid to the family because women keep stubbornly insisting they want a family. To their great frustration, this is a problem our rulers have been unable to solve, causing them to resort to ever more extreme and ultimately self-defeating falsehoods about men and women. It would be funny if it had not been so catastrophic.
I could spend hours amusing myself blowing holes in this execrable book, but I have sworn off reviewing books merely to show how they are wrong. Therefore, we will instead use this book to discuss some of the defects in societal structures in America today as they relate to men and women, and how those structures should be remade. A sneak peek: men and women are very different. They always have been, and they always will be. And from a societal structure perspective, the crucial truth is that men drive a society forward, while women bind a society together. So, it will always be in any successful society, and any society that attempts to contradict truth will only find its own obliteration.
But you will be disappointed, I am sure, if I do not at least summarize this book, and doing so is helpful to frame discussion about recapturing our future. It’s not easy – a reader has to excavate in layers, removing all the primitive psychobabble and 1950s ephemera. Moreover, he must reconcile himself that there are no hard facts in this book with which to grapple. None. It is purely a series of cherry-picked anecdotes, presented in a pseudo-scientific manner in order to compel conclusions the author, Betty Friedan, had already reached about society.
She was born into and raised in a far-left family, and from her earliest youth to her death in 2006 worked unceasingly to impose on our society all her radical politics. Agitation was her life. In 1957 Friedan, bored with her part-time job writing for the radical press and unhappy with her marriage to an advertising executive, sent an amateurish questionnaire to her classmates from her 1942 graduating class at Smith College (an all-women’s college still extant).
The survey had thirty-eight questions, all yes-no or multiple choice. None are surprising or all that interesting, and the survey is loaded: the desired responses are indicated by the choice of questions and by using guiding adjectives (e.g., “Is your marriage truly satisfying?” – meaning that unless it is truly satisfying, the only possible answer is “no”). Friedan claims that the responses surprised her, so she then conducted interviews with eighty women. Upon the supposed results of these interviews a book claiming to show a new understanding of all of American society is built.
What, then, is the “feminine mystique?” It is the “strange discrepancy between the reality of our lives as women and the image to which we were trying to conform.” “Our” and “we” here mean a small set of women very similarly situated to Friedan, but in a neat sleight of hand, Friedan manages to pretend that “our” and “we” is all American women, or at least all educated, married, upper-middle class American women. (Working-class women receive a grand total of zero words in this book, other than a suggestion that career women hire cleaning women. LGBTQQIP2SAA people get more attention, at least – in the form of Friedan’s complaint that bored women without careers turn their sons into homosexuals).
According to Friedan’s “data,” women are “unsatisfied,” even though they objectively had gotten everything they wanted. They have “a hunger that food cannot fill.” They all say “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.” The “mystique” is the supposedly-false belief that they don’t have a hunger, that they don’t want something more, but are instead very happy, or at least satisfied, with traditional sex roles, the “image to which we were trying to conform.”
OK, then, what do women actually want, if it’s not family and home? Well, Friedan meanders a lot, but basically she tells us women want self-fulfillment through “the life of the mind and spirit.” So, do we all, I suppose, but to Friedan, this means a job, any full-time job, outside the home – nothing more. A housewife, that is, a woman who raises children, has a sound marriage, and acts feminine, but does not work full-time outside the home, is a sad and contemptible person in Friedan’s eyes.
In an early instance of the scientism that has, during the Wuhan Plague, swallowed the world, Friedan lectures us that “In [the] new psychological thinking… it is not enough for an individual to be loved and accepted by others, to be ‘adjusted’ to his culture. He must take his existence seriously enough to make his own commitment to life, and to the future; he forfeits his existence by failing to fulfill his entire being.” This piece of infantile babbling is illustrative of the entire book.
Friedan faces a problem in selling this story, though, which she grudgingly admits – all other contemporaneous surveys showed that what women actually want is to be a housewife. This makes Friedan angry. She is greatly offended that at a time when more and more women are getting college degrees, an ever-higher percentage of women show no interest in a career.
But there is an easy answer! They are not lying; they have been tricked. They have been bamboozled by women’s magazines written by men, which exist to sell them products they will only buy if they are kept in the home, just like Adolf Hitler did, you know. If these poor, deluded women could only be objective, they would all know they suffer “terrible boredom,” which can only be cured by working outside the home.
Without a career, you see, a woman can have no identity at all; she is “barred from the freedom of human existence and a voice in human destiny.” She’s also “doomed to be castrative to her husband and sons” (a clear instance of projection by Friedan, who was nothing if not that to her own husband and sons). But good news! Friedan has uncovered the “truth” that has escaped us all.
The rest of the book, 500 sophomoric, tedious pages in all, is terrible. Repetitive anecdotes interspersed with bad history; cut-rate Freudian analysis (Friedan can’t get enough Freud) that no doubt seemed very daring at the time; praise for the ludicrous and discredited Margaret Mead’s fantastical lies about sex relations in primitive cultures; claims that colleges are failing women because women don’t choose the same subjects as men; demands for population restriction; psychological drivel about nuclear weapons; praise for the silly Dr. Spock; comparing the position of American housewives to that of inmates in Nazi death camps; endless pushing the idea that women are kept in the home so they will buy things (ignoring that they can buy a lot more things if they work outside the home); lecturing the reader that women forced to be housewives “offer themselves [sexually] eagerly to strangers and neighbors” because they’re so bored; and numerous variations on the claim that any woman without a career is infantile and prone to “severe pathologies, both physiological and emotional.”
All this is gloriously evidence-free; Friedan’s usual technique is to make a sweeping statement, quote from an (always anonymous) “expert” supporting her, and blare triumphant conclusions.
The author’s contempt for children permeates the book. The only thing worse than a woman who wants to stay home and make her and her husband a happy home is one who wants to add children to her living nightmare, which only seems like a dream to her because she can’t see as clearly as Friedan. She herself threw over her family, including three children.
In an Epilogue, written in 1970, Friedan crows about how wonderful the reception to her book was. As a result, she “finally found the courage to get a divorce,” from which she concludes that “I think the next great issue for the women’s movement is basic reform of marriage and divorce” (the wreckage of which we can see all around us today). She herself has moved into “an airy, magic New York tower, with open sky and river and bridges to the future all around.” She has “started a weekend commune of grownups for whom marriage hasn’t worked – an extended family of choice, whose members are now moving into new kinds of marriages.” She does not mention that she conducted a long affair with a married man (who refused to leave his wife); it seems likely that, like John Stuart Mill, she constructed an entire philosophy around justifying her own bad behavior.
You get the idea; there is no need to continue examining the details of this book, the pages of which are only useful to line birdcages. This is all propaganda, which we have been fed so long that we believe it as history. As with other, slicker propaganda, such as the television series Mad Men, it portrays a set of falsehoods, laced with enough true background facts to pacify the reader eager to agree and comply. (It is always crucial to remember that much of what “everybody knows” now about many periods in the past is simply lies, and there is no better example of this than the 1950s and 1960s, in nearly every facet of their history, fed to us through our screens). Boring. Let’s talk instead about what a well-run society would look like.
But first, let me expand my thinking about why this book “succeeded” in its goal of massive social change. As with all major social changes, mere propaganda is not adequate explanation. The propaganda was successful because it hit our society at precisely the right moment, when it was open to the infection. First, emancipation was in the air; as Yuval Levin discusses at considerable length in The Fractured Republic, the 1950s were a unique moment in American history, when it falsely seemed like everyone could have unlimited freedom without cost, and this belief was not confined to those on the Left, but permeated society.
Second, and tied to the first, intermediary institutions, and the thicker web in which families were set, had already evaporated. Housewives, at least the suburban housewives who are Friedan’s sole focus, were in fact very frequently alienated and atomized, because the organic social structures that had supported both men and women had declined sharply (and would disappear entirely, as Robert Putnam narrated in Bowling Alone). These women did have more free time as the result of labor-saving devices; Friedan claims work expands to fill the time available – but the real problem is that given their removal from the thick social structures of previous decades, free time had no satisfying social outlet, giving Friedan’s explanatory fantasies a surface appeal, like a poisoned apple.
Third, and perhaps most important, the Left goal of destruction of the family fit precisely, in this case, with the unbridled capitalism, the excessively free market, that has worked hand-in-glove with the Left for decades to destroy our society (aided by the government). As a result of this book, or rather the propaganda campaign built around it, we got a massive movement of women into the workforce. Did those women get fulfillment, as Friedan promised? Maybe a few did, but most of them got BS jobs of various types, and we all got a massive increase in consumerism, which we are told is wonderful, because “look how much GDP has increased as a result of women entering the workforce!”
Of course, even this “fact” is a lie, because GDP excludes work inside the home. If two women raise their children, their work is excluded from GDP, but if each is paid by the other to raise the other’s children, GDP expands. But then GDP is largely a fake statistic and much of our economy a fake economy; and anyway it is simply false that any expansion in GDP is a social good, especially when the resulting costs, in the form of mass social destruction, are treated as disconnected, mere happening coincident in time but unrelated.
Regardless, with the assistance of the government and free-market enthusiasts eager to enrich a rotten ruling class, now a two-income family is required for what is regarded as a decent lifestyle, or even just to make modest ends meet, and this was independently a goal of too many in our society.
Better yet for our neoliberal overlords is a one-income family consisting of a permanently single woman. If you want to shudder, read a completely insane CNN article from 2019, titled “There are more single working women than ever, and that’s changing the US economy.”
The point is that single women spend an ever-greater proportion of the money spent on consumer goods, so we must further this trend, in particular by ensuring that those such women foolish enough to have children are given a place to park their children while they work to get money for the consumer goods that should be the real focus of their lives. There is more and more advertising, if you pay attention, to single women of luxury goods that in the past would be bought as gifts for those women – who now have nobody in their lives who will buy them any gifts at all, and must purchase artificial joy. It is enough to make one cry, if one wasn’t already fully occupied in flogging the cretins who brought us to this stupid pass.
So, enough abuse of the stupid. What should the social roles of women and men be in a well-run society? As you can doubtless tell, we are working our way to a call to limit women working outside the home. Let’s start by asking what women want. We are often lectured today, by the commissars of the loathsome ideology of “diversity and inclusion,” that fifty percent of all jobs should be held by women (or at least desirable jobs – men will keep all the dangerous and dirty jobs).
The usual response of “conservatives” is to point out that, empirically, most women simply don’t want the same jobs as men, so in a world of perfect choice far fewer than fifty percent of most jobs would be held by women. This fact is on actual display in countries that are most egalitarian about sex-role choice, notably the Scandinavian countries, where women choose traditional roles at very high rates. The timid “conservative” naturally begins, as demanded by the Left, with a preemptive apology. “Of course, I think women should be allowed to choose the path they want.”
Wrong. I don’t think women should be allowed to freely choose the path they want (nor should men). They should make the choice for family. To that end, society should largely nullify choosing career over family as an option, and coerce women into certain occupations and modes of life – and should in like manner coerce men, among other things to lead a life of being the sole provider for a family (unmarried men, beyond say, thirty, and men who fail to provide, should also be socially penalized)
In other words, society should reflect the natural division of the sexes, regardless of whether some people in society would prefer to make some other choice, whether because of their outrider nature, excessive focus on self, or because of ideology. We should return to social compulsion, shame and ostracism, to achieve this, as well as major changes to tax and legal structures, such as by absolutely barring no-fault divorce and offering (like the government of Hungary) massive payments to married couples with multiple children.
I’ll end with more thoughts on specific structural changes, but to expand on this positive vision, let’s begin with the end in mind. How should society recognize and beneficially implement the telos of both men and women? Therefore, let’s talk about astronauts. That is, let’s discuss Space, the first pillar of Foundationalism’s twelve pillars, and the role of women in Space.
The overriding principle of Foundationalism is reality, and restoring a realistic understanding of the roles of men and society is another pillar of Foundationalism. The crucial fact about men and women in society is that they are, and must be, partners. That women cannot do everything that men can do, and men cannot do everything women can do, and that even when each can do what the other can do, usually cannot do it as well, does not make one sex subordinate. But without recognizing and honoring this basic fact of different competencies, no society can operate for long.
Astronauts show how this works in practice. What is the purpose of astronauts? This is really one question in two parts. First, what is the purpose of astronauts in the present day, when astronauts are limited to short trips to, and short stays in, near-earth orbit? At most, perhaps, astronauts might visit Mars in the relatively near term, if Elon Musk has his way, although I’ll believe it when I see it. And second, what is the purpose of astronauts if humanity were to expand permanently, as often depicted in science fiction, such that astronauts are not just travelers, but off-earth inhabitants, the conquerors of a new frontier?
There are quite a few female astronauts today. If sex were ignored, would there be as many? Of course not. Far more men than women have the characteristics that make one want to be an astronaut, and make one a good astronaut. All our children are collectively assaulted from their earliest youth with massive propaganda pushing the idea of female astronauts.
Try something – go to any museum exhibit related to Space, and count the number of female astronauts depicted. It’ll be around eighty percent of the total, always with hagiographic sub-exhibits about specific women astronauts who accomplished nothing at all. Women who express any interest in being an astronaut are giving an unmerited boost at every stage, beginning in kindergarten, and when the time comes to choose astronauts, are placed at the front of the line. I doubt if astronaut selection were sex-blind there would ever have been a single female astronaut.
The purpose of astronauts today is to increase our knowledge and make possible future expansion outside the confines of Earth, what I think is a very important part of our society’s work. What are the costs and benefits of distorting the reality of female astronauts? Among other costs, choosing inferior candidates must mean, on average, not only that inferior work is done. It also means that the pool of outstanding candidates diminishes, because there is a strong incentive for the most talented and driven, and thus the most prideful, all men, to walk away in disgust from a rigged system.
A society that does not seek out and reward its best is a doomed society, and this is just one example of our such habits tied to sex roles. There are other costs to coddling female astronauts, of course – many of them very similar to the costs of allowing women in the military. What are the benefits? None, really, but I suppose the argument is that some women feel better about themselves, in the same way a child praised for crude finger painting by his parents feels better about himself. That is, unjustifiably, but in this case, knowing the praise is unjustified, and thus made simultaneously humiliated, and aggressively on the lookout for anyone adding to the humiliation by pointing out the obvious.
As to permanent human expansion, an excellent depiction of this is the books and television series The Expanse. Well, it’s excellent, except for its depiction of women, which is insane. In fact, there are no women at all in The Expanse. There are many men, each of whom acts like a stereotypical high-testosterone man, who are given female names and female physical characteristics, but none of them bears any resemblance to actual women (except for one, a Margaret Thatcher type, real but extremely rare).
In real life, if our society were to expand into the solar frontier, no “female” character in the show would occupy any position she occupies in the show – even if there were no social barriers to occupying that position. Real women as characters are totally and completely absent. Children almost never appear, and never under the care of any female character (except the lesbian “wife” of one character, who abandoned her “family”). All this is extremely jarring, making the show difficult to watch, except if you are deluding yourself, or have given it no thought at all. Yet, sixty years after The Feminine Mystique, this lying propaganda is not only ubiquitous, but ever more aggressive – probably because our ruling classes feel their hold on the greased pig of reality slipping away.
If we really got the frontier world of The Expanse, as far as sex roles, it would be like Little House on the Prairie with fusion drives and rail guns. Not only would no woman fight, and spaceships crewed only by men, both military and commercial, be the absolute rule, but women would have large families, over which they, embedded in a larger web of families and women, would exercise most of the responsibilities.
The simple reality is that men, far more than women, are interested in what’s involved in conquering Space, or conquering anything: fighting, risk-taking, adventure and glory, as well as dangerous and physically demanding jobs. Men and women would partner to achieve the near impossible tasks required to push mankind forward, but men would do the pushing and take the risks, in large part to protect the women. Such natural partnership is demanded by any harsh environment – it is only in our current softness that we can pretend otherwise. When reality is busy asserting itself in the form of hard vacuum silently waiting to kill you and your children, nobody will pretend that women and men are interchangeable.
Sadly, we must return to today, and hope our future in Space will work itself out, or that we can work our future out to make that possible. What did women, and all of us, get when women were pressured for decades to work outside the home? Let’s see – the women got BS jobs, often make-work funded by government dollars or the expansion of worthless work such as human resources, or innumerable other forms of paper pushing (many the result of pointless and destructive government regulation of one sort or another).
Friedan promises that women who listen to her siren call will be “mastering the secrets of the atoms or the stars, composing symphonies, [or] pioneering a new concept in government or society.” A wave of bitter laughter from millions of women can be heard, women who discovered too late that those type of jobs were not on offer, and they gave up children and a decent family life for a delusion. It’s not just women, though – only a tiny segment of men has a job that offers real accomplishment, “the life of mind and spirit,” either.
The job does not give them fulfillment; it is a means to their real method of fulfillment, providing for and protecting their family. And two careers maximizes success for neither spouse; meaning that men, who in their nature do get meaning much more than women from their success in the outside world, are more damaged by the demand for two careers – not collateral damage, but intended damage in the Left’s age-old war on the family. The result, when the natural order of sex roles is upset, is that nobody benefits, and society circles the drain.
I keep banging on about the differences between men and women, as if they were self-evident. They are, of course, and that used to be a commonplace, but dispelling the fog of self-induced unknowing is, I suppose, necessary. There are many differences between the sexes, and I have discussed them before in other, but related, contexts, such as the insanity of allowing women into the military.
As regards the question of work within and outside the home, the key facts are as follows. First, women are far better suited to, and far more interested in, raising children than men, and the point of the family is children – a family consisting of a childless couple has a great sadness at its core (yes, I know we’re not supposed to say that out loud).
Second, men seek glory, power, and dominance. Women simply don’t. (Offering exceptions to this general rule does not prove anything; it is equivalent to pointing to hermaphrodites to argue against the unalterable truth that mankind is divided universally into male and female). True, few jobs offer the chance for glory – but providing and protecting largely satisfy, for most men, this urgent drive.
Women therefore don’t choose to do what it takes to have a successful career, meaning achievement in a hierarchy earned through competition. The vast majority of women lack the drives necessary. They may in fact be smarter, better organized, and have other traits associated with career success. But their essential drives are directed toward family.
By studying societies of the past, we can see how a non-ideological society organically develops. In Western countries, the usual structure for well over a thousand years has been a partnership between men and women, where each is supreme in one sphere of family life, contained in a larger family web, but consults the other. Women do hold up half the sky – it’s just that their role, in its nature, is inward-facing, and men’s is outward-facing.
In the West, there has never been any equivalent of the “eastern” approach, typified by purdah, the separation and seclusion of women (driven by defective religious or cultural imperatives that, just as Friedan did, mar the natural order of a society).
Muslims during the Crusades were famously scandalized by how the men of the Franks allowed their women not only to appear in public, but to scold them and order them about. To take a more recent example, one cannot do better than Matthew B. Crawford’s talk in Why We Drive about women and men in Appalachian motocross racing, where, on and off the track, men and women act in (sometimes coarse) partnership, together striving towards excellence (something Crawford heretically contrasts with the sickening inversions he sees in Portland).
As with any human society, within this broad truth, there have been many local variations. Even Friedan admits that until near her present day, American women were not oppressed or unhappy. (Friedan does not make the flatly untrue claims about historical “patriarchy” that are the norm now, such that “everybody knows” that The Handmaid’s Tale is both history and future. She doesn’t because everyone would have laughed at the obvious untruth and pitched her book into the trash; it is only now, after sixty years of propaganda, that we believe there ever was a patriarchy). “Until, and even into, the last century, strong, capable women were needed to pioneer our new land; with their husbands, they ran the farms and plantations and Western homesteads.” (She should be cancelled for mentioning plantation).
Friedan doesn’t make the obvious conclusion – that if the subset of women on whom she is focusing are alienated by their circumstances, returning to the thicker social web even Friedan praises, not destroying the family, is the answer. But then, after all, destroying the family in the pursuit of emancipation from all unchosen bonds was her real end, not offering fulfilment within families to women.
This does not exclude women from ever working outside the home. Quite the contrary, actually. In the past, young women often worked. When rural life was the norm, women and men both worked, but neither could be said to have a career – this was division of labor, rather. As city life became the norm, young women often worked, until they found a husband. Often this was in work at which they excelled and tied to female talents and preferences, such as teaching and nursing.
Higher-status women, like Friedan, went to college and found a husband there (something Friedan, famously masculine and no doubt finding it hard to find a husband, bitterly complains about). Women whose children had left the home might work as well, or women with children might work-part time upon necessity. There is nothing inherently societally destructive of this. What is destructive is where the woman prioritizes that work over family, demanding it become a career – that is, a main focus of her life, and the driver of her happiness, or more likely, the lack of it.
What of a woman who does not get married, not purely by choice? That is, some women, because of their personality or physical appearance, find it difficult or impossible to marry. Or maybe failure to marry is some combination of bad luck and bad management; past a certain age, as everyone knows, a woman’s ability to get married drops precipitously (hence wine aunts). Usually, in our modern atomized society, such women have no choice but to substitute career for family – in the past, they would be woven into the structure of an extended family.
Until we can return to that latter, career is really their only option – like my own recently-deceased aunt, who chose a career in virology, after getting an M.D. from Harvard, and with whom I was close. She loved children, but never married (though she could have – she was indoctrinated into “career first”), and as a result was desperately lonely and unhappy for decades. I blame Friedan (and my aunt’s mother, my grandmother, who pushed anti-family ideology years before this book was published).
I have to admit, though, that had you had asked me twenty years ago, I would have largely bought into the myth that women having a career, and being treated as the equivalent of men in pursuit of that career, was a sound social choice. My wife and I met as big-firm M&A lawyers in Chicago; we presumed, early on, that we’d both end up with legal careers at large firms, with a nanny for our children.
We were conditioned to believe that any other system is monstrous, and that women lawyers should be viewed the same as male lawyers, even though everyone knew that women lawyers dropped out of law firms at vastly greater rates than men, either after they had a child or simply because the aggressive, high-pressure, competitive hierarchy of a large law firm is not congenial to the nature of women in general. (That it is congenial to some is irrelevant; one can always find exceptions to most general rules, and social structures are built on general rules, not exceptions).
My wife soon realized that wasn’t for her, though, and quit her law firm job some time before I quit mine to become an entrepreneur. But what followed has been an organic partnership. I was the public face of our company, but it would have been a failure without her guidance, encouragement, and support, since she balanced, among other defects, my disagreeable tendencies and limited ability to judge character (although, contrary to questions I get sometimes, I am not in the least autistic).
On the other hand, along the way we formed a spin-off company for which I suggested, or insisted, she be CEO, and that was a grievous mistake, only corrected after some years. But it all worked out great for us. For many of our friends, who refused to change course as we did, it has not worked out so well at all.
It is true that if women are discouraged from working outside the home, there will be some price to pay. Nothing is free. First, some women will be less happy than if they had careers – few perhaps, but not zero. Second, to the extent women working outside the home are producing real value, actual economic output will dip, and people will be able to afford fewer goods and services.
This may or may not be a problem; the reason most two-parent families must have both parents work is to make ends meet, because unbridled capitalism has allowed employers to squeeze “efficiencies” out on the backs of the workers, in order to enrich executives and stockholders, and claim these steps are necessary (expertly covered by James Bloodworth in Hired). Yes, it’s also social expectations on the consumer side; if you “need” a large house, frequent new cars, and a $1,400 phone, you need more income. Changing this terrible system to make it the norm that one income adequately supports a family, by limiting the “free market,” will be essential.
Third, you will give up those relatively rare occasions when a woman working outside the home makes, through her employment, a significant contribution to advancing society. I don’t mean, say, women working as scientists at pharmaceutical companies – any discoveries made by them would also be made by men, and probably sooner and better, given the real differences in men’s and women’s capabilities and drives, and the destructive advantages bestowed on women in any male-dominated profession. I mean exceptional production.
True, the bumper sticker phrase, “Well-behaved women rarely make history” is only fully accurate if you delete the “Well-behaved.” As I say, men drive a society forward, while women bind a society together; and this necessarily means that all, or nearly all, spectacular achievements will be those of men. But this is still a potential cost.
What structural/legal changes should be made, other than the social compulsion mentioned earlier? No, not ticky-tack programs such as new family leave policies, which anyway just encourage women to work outside the home. Rather, government policies, tax and otherwise, should massively favor single-income married families where the man works.
Employment discrimination (and all other types of discrimination) on the basis of sex, and marital status, should not only be completely legal, but socially encouraged, even demanded. Not only is sex discrimination, like age discrimination, almost always entirely rational, such discrimination is affirmatively necessary to accomplish the desirable society.
Again, no-fault divorce should be banned, and modern technology that erodes healthy relationships between men and women, from Tinder to online pornography, should be rigorously suppressed. No doubt other matters will deserve similar attention, and a new propaganda campaign, especially in popular entertainment, to reverse sixty years of indoctrination will also be needed. Let’s get started!
Life being what it is, some women will always choose to work outside the home. Sometimes this is in their particular nature; sometimes they actually need the money. This should not be made illegal, but there should be a substantial social penalty for women who make work a career.
In the same way as for decades women who choose not to have a career have been held in contempt, viciously portrayed across all popular media and vilified by our ruling classes, a married woman who chooses to have a career should be looked down upon, especially if she has children, and most of all if she chooses not to have children. (One can multiply special cases – what if a woman cannot have children? Hard cases make bad law, and bad social policy; the median case is what matters). And a “career woman” should presumptively be discriminated against in favor of a man competing in the same career path, and most of all in favor of men with children.
It is doubtless true that we cannot turn a switch. If all women in the workforce today left the workforce tomorrow, much disruption would result. A lot of it, that tied to BS jobs, would be temporary. But in some jobs, such as family-practice physicians, where women are the majority, rebalancing jobs could only be done over time. And some jobs, such as elementary-school teaching and nursing, will always have women in the majority, since those jobs always appeal more to women, and it is possible to enter and leave those jobs as a woman’s life changes – most of all, before, and perhaps after, a woman marries and has children. The exact result will derive organically from general rules, not from an artificial ideology.
The goal, across all of society, is to return to a natural partnership between men and women. This is very much not a siloed partnership, where the man and woman each operate completely separately in pursuit of a unified goal. Instead, there is necessarily overlap – a woman advises her husband in his role outside the home, and the husband assists his wife in her roles inside the home, in particular with children, especially with boys as they come of age, but also simple relief of the drudgery that characterizes much household work. But human nature dictates that those spheres and roles be different, and only by a return to this can human flourishing be reborn, relegating this book to history as an unfortunate footnote.
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, “Dans le bleu (Into the Blue)” by Amélie Beaury-Saurel, painted in 1894.
In the tenth chapter of Ecclesiastes we read that, “The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin; and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers; and enthrones the lowly in their place.”
Since time in memorial humans have tried – through their own arrogance and supposed knowledge to supplant the all-knowing God to become godlike. It is first recorded in the early chapters of Genesis with a tempting bite from the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.
Over and over again, in biblical literature and in subsequent history, we find the same aberrant phenomenon repeating itself. That’s why in Judaism, pride was called, “the root of all evil.“
It is as if we never learn.
Since the violent terror of the French Revolution man has thrown off any semblance of normative, God-given rules and exerted – a pure lust for power.
The Left, oftentimes under the guise of so-called liberal enlightenment, tries to “immanentize the eschaton” – to bring their definition of heaven to earth.
We saw this most vividly is the 2020 US election and the false promises made by the Democrats and their compliant, senile, illegitimate leader.
In political theory, this means trying to bring about the final, heaven-like stage of history in the present fallen world.
In all these contexts it means attempting to make that which belongs to the afterlife happen here and now – on earth.
In other cases, it means killing God altogether or denying His very existence.
In the process, instead, what we find is modern history littered with movements, leaders and ideologies that, as the poet William Blake shouted, ‘More! More!’ is the cry of a mistaken soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man.”
In the twentieth century alone more than 120 million lives were lost in wars and campaigns started by the Left: national socialism, communism, genocides, revolutions and various liberations. This year we commemorated the start of the last such world war in Poland.
The Left never has enough power.
We also heard the chairman of the Democrat National Party (DNC) was very enthused by the fact that religion is on the wane in America and that the secularist persuasion has endorsed and embraced the increasingly Leftist, Democrat Party.
The Republicans, too God-fearing, evangelical and anti-revolutionary, are to be banished and censored in the latest pride of the Left.
The Left has clear ambition to wipe out all transcendent faiths as the ‘opium of the people,’ as their hero, Karl Marx termed it. His ardent follower, Vladimir Lenin called for a Leftist revolution by the “vanguard of the proletariat,” to take hold of all history.
Listen to some of the 2020 Democrat voices demonstrating this same and ominous pride of the Left:
Celebrating Hugo Chavez’s leadership in Venezuela, “His brand of socialism achieved real economic gains.”
“China under Mao made more progress than any other to end poverty.”
“Homophobia is the real enemy of America.”
“Fck that dude. I’ll smack that fcker’s comb-over right off his fcking scalp. Like, for real, if I met Donald Trump, I’d punch him in his fcking face. And that’s not a joke.”
“It’s a political civil war, Trump’s racist tirades set the tone for 2020.”
“Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the environment.”
“May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases.”
“I wish they (Republicans) were all f*cking dead!”
” Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I’m outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House, but I know that this won’t change anything.”
“It’s time we seized control and had democratic socialism for working families .“ Well, we all know the saying, “Pride cometh before the fall.”
It is pride – in the power of the State and its omnipotent rulers that leads to the destruction of America and its very Founding values of ordered liberty and limited government. It is the Left who continuously and vividly exhibit that sin.
Someday, perhaps we will acknowledge biblical wisdom again and turn away from the ever-present pride of the Left, wherever and whenever, it raises its ugly head.
Recall, the antidote to pride and hubris is trust in God’s providence. The hubris of Biden-Harris is most abundantly found in their presumption of victory.
In political science, legitimacy is the right and acceptance of an authority, usually a governing law or a regime itself. Whereas authority denotes a specific position in an established government, such as the Presidency in American government, the term legitimacy denotes a system of government—wherein government denotes “sphere of rightful and legal influence”.
The 2020 elections call the legitimacy of the Democrats and their candidate and those down ballot as well, into question. If Biden is sworn in on January 21, 2021 which is by no means certain at this point, he will be an illegitimate President.
An illegitimate presidency of Joe Biden based on mounting; documented evidence is the culmination of the pride of the Left.
In overt actions to steal the election from the rightful winners and insert their lame duck, senile cut-out, the Left has manufactured the greatest pride of all – a corrupting of power that Lord Acton himself predicted years ago in his famous dictum.
This month, we are greatly honored to present this interview with Professor Andrzej Nowak, a Polish historian and a public intellectual. He is a professor at the Institute of History, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, and is the head of the Comparative Imperial Studies Section at the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Professor Nowak has lectured as a visiting professor at Columbia University, Harvard University, Rice University, the University of Virginia, University of Cambridge, and University College, London. He is also a recipient of the Order of the White Eagle – Poland’s highest order.
He is the author of over 30 books, among them a multivolume history of Poland, Między nieładem a niewolą. Krótka historia myśli politycznej (Between Disorder and Captivity. A Short History of Political Ideas), Metamorfozy Imperium Rosyjskiego: 1721-1921 (Metamorphoses of Russian Empire), and History and Geopolitics: A Contest for Eastern Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe.
He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.
Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Thirty years ago, when we met, you were a scholar of Russia. You had published several books on the topic. They drew the attention of Andrzej Walicki and Richard Pipes, two well-known experts on Russian history. Now you are writing about the history of Poland. Thus far you have written four out of ten intended volumes. Could you briefly describe your intellectual trajectory? What made you leave Russian history?
Andrzej Nowak (AN): Indeed, my research interests began with an analysis of the concept of the multiplicity of civilizations by Nikolay Danilevsky, a contemporary of Dostoevsky, an ideologue of Russian Pan-Slavism. That was forty years ago.
In recent years, however, I have returned to the history of Russian imperial thought. In 2018, I published an extensive volume of studies on the manifestations of this thought in Russian culture, from the time of Peter the Great to the formation of the group of so-called Eurasianists during the First World War. I am still interested in Russian topics. Not only because it is fascinating in itself, but also because of its numerous connections with the history of Poland to the present day. For Russia, over the centuries, Poland has been the first obstacle on the way to Europe, leading to its subordination.
Marx expressed it succinctly in 1863, when he wrote that “the rebuilding of Poland meant the annihilation of (imperial) Russia, the cancellation of the Russian candidate for world rule” (“Wiederherstellung Polens ist die Vernichtung Rußlands, (die) Rußlands Absetzung von seiner Kandidatur zur Weltherrschaft”). The issue of neighboring Russia and its geopolitical significance has been my concern for a long time; and it is precisely the historical Russian-Polish relations and the comparison of two political cultures that have developed so differently in the two countries.
When it comes to the multi-volume history of Poland, for me it is an attempt to reread the specificity of Polish political culture, its rootedness in the European republican tradition (this issue has been discovered in recent years by such outstanding scholars as Quentin Skinner and Martin van Gelderen).
But has anyone pointed out that the term “Polish citizen” – civis Polonis – appears for the first time in a document from the mid-12th century? I found out about it while writing the first volume of my synthesis. Now that I am on volume five, which covers the 17th century, I wonder about the crisis of the republican system, as well as the geopolitical conditions of its duration (wars with Russia, Protestant Sweden, and Islamic Turkey).
Such issues give me a lot of intellectual pleasure – and also because they allow me to look at the present day, for example, of the European Union, from the point of view of the longest lasting union in the history of Europe: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1385-1795). Why did this union end up being partitioned by its imperial neighbors? How did they use the mechanisms of republican freedom (veto, applied in the Polish parliamentary system until 1791)? These are not just historical issues. In each case, like a shadow, being a neighbor to Russia brings back the problem of the empire.
ZJ: Russia is fascinating. One reason is Russian literature: Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekov, Gogol, Pasternak, Bulgakov, and, above all, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. No nation, I dare say, can claim to have so many outstanding writers. Yet Dostoevsky stands out among them. He is not just a great writer but a great thinker; one of the most insightful critics of Modernity.
If you want to understand the cultural malaise of the West in the 20th century, you turn to Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset and Dostoevsky. “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” lays out all the fundamental problems of political and social organization. It is a real tour de force of political theory, which, matches only Plato’s considerations in The Republic. Chapters 7 and 8 of Notes from Underground, on the other hand, is an unsurpassed analysis of the dangers of the nascent scientific mentality, the danger of which was described in the 1950s by Jacques Ellul in his The Technological Society. Aldous Huxley, on the other hand, turned Notes into his Brave New World (1932) – which describes a soft totalitarianism, the world which we seem to be building.
On the one hand, Dostoevsky is a great prophet, who saw the future of the West, a future where the scientific mentality dominated everything and discredited the Past (tradition, religion, hierarchy, custom, history); and, on the other hand, Dostoevsky is the Russian sui generis. He is suspicious of the West, Western ideas, Western Christianity, and, let me add, who passionately dislikes the Poles for Poland’s Western orientation and Catholicism.
Czeslaw Milosz saw Dostoevsky as someone from a backward country, who realized the danger that Western ideas posed, which were flooding Russia at the beginning of the 19th century. Dostoevsky’s literary output is a short history of modern Europe. Do you agree with Milosz? And what is your attitude toward Dostoevsky?
AN: The term “backward country” of course implies that there are “progressive” countries which are the yardstick for the rest of the world. Such an attitude was adopted by Dostoevsky himself, fascinated by the ideas of Saint-Simon and Fourier, which he got to know in the circle of the young intelligentsia in St. Petersburg. The death sentence he was given for participating in this circle, and then exile, certainly came as a shock.
When, after Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, the so-called “progressive countries” – Great Britain, France and Sardinia, saw a liberal “thaw” in domestic politics, so that Dostoevsky was no longer enthusiastic about following “progress.” He quickly saw that liberalism and the so-called the utopian socialism, which fascinated him earlier, had a common source. And it is a poisoned source – the belief that man can build a paradise on earth on his own, and that the West is close to this paradise; and countries such as Russia should intensely imitate the West, so that one day they may find themselves at least in the vestibule of this paradise.
Imitation of the West will end in the revolution of nihilism, the foretelling of which Dostoevsky already noticed in Russia. He described them in the form of two generations in Demons: the older generation – “rotten” liberals and the younger generation – radical revolutionists.
The same observations were made earlier by poets of the Polish Romantic emigration: Adam Mickiewicz and Zygmunt Krasiński. The latter, in the drama “the Undivine Comedy” of 1833, presented exactly the vision of total revolution as a rebellion against God, as Dostoevsky had done 40 years later. The difference is that for Krasiński, the criticism of the revolution and of the preceding evolution of Western civilization is an “internal” criticism – he mourns this crisis because it is his civilization. He would like to save it, like Joseph de Maistre; he would like the Polish nobility to support the collapsing dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome with their sabers.
Polish Romantic thinkers imagined that Poland could play the role of the last defender of the European classical and Christian moral tradition against the forces of decay.
On the other hand, Dostoevsky, along with a large part of the Russian intellectual elite, took a different perspective: the crisis arises from the very essence of the West, from the rebellion of the West (that is, Catholicism) against the only true faith that has been preserved by the Orthodox Church. This is the perspective of the criticism of the West that continues in Russian thought right up to Solzhenitsyn and contemporary ideologues of Putin’s era. There are also great Russian writers who refer to this tradition today, especially Zachar Prilepin, a contemporary Dostoevsky.
ZJ: However, one can raise the following argument: Poland, as a country, disappeared from the map of Europe in 1795. Polish nobility turned Poland into “a country for sale,” because they invented a political system that made the Polish state (and the regal power) weak. Its downfall was predicted by King Sobieski.
The idea that the Polish nobles can “support the collapsing dome” is – pardon me – a piece of rhetoric, which inscribes itself well within the context of the post-French Revolution world, but it misses the point. How could de Maistre think that one could entrust the fate of Christianity, Catholicism to the people who could not even manage the political affairs of their own country? If one looks for defense of Catholicism or Christianity, a better place than de Maistre, in my opinion, is Chateaubriand’s The Genius of Christianityand Constant essays on religion.
AN: Sorry for the misunderstanding. The vision of the Polish nobility supporting the collapsing dome of St. Peter was written by Zygmunt Krasiński, a Polish Romantic conservative. Yes, he was inspired by de Maistre’s political philosophy, but this was a vision of Krasiński, not of a Savoyard reactionary.
De Maistre saw, for a time, in tsarist Russia the hope of saving the European tradition, until he realized how much revolutionary fuel was in Russia itself. Krasiński’s vision assumed that the Polish nobility most consistently represented the traditions of Roman republicanism, combined with Latin Christianity. As a conservative, however, he considered original sin as the cause of the contamination of all worldly endeavors and projects. That is why he saw in the attitude of defending the traditions of European Christianity a heroic but futile act. Poland’s act is to defend a struggling Christian Europe desperately to the end, just as it fought desperately for the independence of the lost (also through its own fault) Poland. But she will win this fight alone. Only Providence can win this fight. We have a duty to fight; we have no guarantee of victory.
It seems to me that this attitude is absent both in Chateaubriand and in Constant. Their “bland,” more melancholic and cultural view of Christianity presents it as a beautiful adventure of the European past, which may be saved as a kind of museum monument in the modern world. Krasiński, on the other hand, sees the issue of Catholic Europe as a fundamental existential, dramatic choice – against “this world” created by the triumph of liberalism and capitalism.
This is a completely different kind of romanticism than the ethos found in Chateaubriand. I think more realistic – at least from today’s perspective. This does not mean, however, that I believe that “Polish nobility” or Poland simply had some unique opportunities to save tradition.
Poland itself is part of the European community of fate. People who consider themselves in some sense heirs of Krasiński, but also of John Paul II and Saint Faustina (a Polish nun who initiated the world cult of God’s Mercy), must look for those Germans who feel spiritual communion with Pope Ratzinger, those Italians who understand one’s identity in the spirit of the Catholic tradition; Spaniards who still know who Miguel de Unamuno was; the French who understand the choice of Pascal and Antoine de Saint-Exupery; The English who have in their spiritual heritage Thomas More, Cardinal John Henry Newman, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Chesterton. We are all in one boat and we will drown together, or we will keep on going together. We will reach the shore as Providence decides. We have a duty to row, in spite of those who want to sink our boat now.
ZJ: But the fate of a nation, unless we understand it in Oedipian sense, is not sealed. Fate of countries lies either in having a strong culture which gives a people a specific national identity – different from others – or strong political institutions capable of sustaining that culture.
Poland is a unique example. After more than eight centuries, it disappeared from the map of Europe at the very end of 18th century. What happened was more a result of the malfunctioning of political institutions than a lack of national identity, which, let us recall, was forged in the historical process since 966 AD, when Poland became a Christian country. Poland had elected kings and a republican system of government, which led to political weakness.
If you look at the American debate (the so-called The Federalist Papers) how such a new political system should work, the Founding Fathers (Madison and Hamilton) thought of the legislative process as an attempt to reconcile the conflicting interests that take place in a society at large. Representatives of the states are supposed to represent the general attitude of the people they represent; they do not have a mandate to act or vote in a predetermined way. They are not delegates!
The Polish republican experiment was exactly the opposite. It was based on, first, the unanimity principle and, second, the “imperative mandate.” What the result of it was that the Polish Diet was prevented from being a deliberative assembly, like the English House of Commons around the same period.
Such a system left virtually no room for strong central government – the elected king – to govern effectively. The king was stripped of the power to govern, whereas the nobility could claim to enjoy “Golden Liberty.” But this liberty could be had only at the expense of the weak State and submission of the vast part of the population.
The American Founding Fathers, on the other hand, worked on the assumption that the people are free to participate, and the role of the government is to mitigate the conflicts. To prevent anarchy, or impotence of the government, the State – the federal government – had to have considerable power. Polish liberum veto, which made it possible for one person to veto the majority decision, was the opposite of the majority principle.
Can you very briefly explain how such a system came about? Were there any serious political thinkers – like Grotius, Hobbes, Locke – behind it? Or was it something that was spontaneously generated during the historical process?
AN: The system was modeled on a Roman one that lasted only a little longer. And it was not Grotius, Hobbes, or Locke who supported the creation of this system, but much more “serious thinkers” – Aristotle and Cicero first of all.
The founders of Polish republicanism modeled themselves on their works above all. They believed, somewhat anachronistically, that in the sixteenth or seventeenth century their republicanism could exist between Moscow – the “third Rome”- the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Protestant military monarchy of the Swedes, the Commonwealth, i.e. the republic – as in Cicero or Aristotle (monarchia mixta), with the Polish nobility as equals, the Seym (the parliament) as a concilium plebis, the senate as the senate, and the king as an elected consul or princeps.
This is how Jan Zamoyski, influential co-founder of this system, imagined an extremely influential co-founder of this system. Zamoyski authored the Latin treatise on the Roman Senate, and was at the same time chancellor and hetman of the Republic of Poland at the end of the 16th century. He was the author of the concept of the free election of a king, in which every noble had an equal voting right. Thus, theoretically, it had the right to vote, active and passive(!), with several hundred thousand citizens of the Republic of Poland (in practice, the election of the king came from 10 to 40 thousand).
The right of veto was to secure the union with Lithuania. Lithuania was smaller than the Polish part of the union; it could always vote in the Sejm. Thanks to the right of veto, the Lithuanians could feel safer as a political minority. For the first time, a single veto, i.e., the vote of one deputy, broke the deliberations of the Seym only in 1652, that is, after a very long earlier period of efficient functioning of the Seym. The election instruction of the sejmik (imperative mandate), which elected a deputy to the Seym, was to guarantee the voting power of the local government.
There is no place here to analyze this system in detail, which was much more complex and effective (for at least 200 years) than the caricatures that Bodin or Montesquieu created on the basis of their ignorance and arrogance, or the ideological enemies of republican freedom, such as, Hobbes or Locke.
ZJ: I want to return to Russia, and explore a bit more the Dostoevsky question. As we said, he was Russian, Orthodox Christian, skeptical of science, which he thought was dangerous for man’s understanding of himself as a man endowed with free will, and thus responsible for his actions. As Dostoevsky observes in Notes, the belief that man’s behavior can be “tabulated and calculated” spells out the end of mankind.
Dostoyevsky understood that scientific thinking was bound to see man as a machine, whose life will be organized by the scientific state. This is the premise of Huxley’s “brave new world,” and, let me stress it, our world. We are daily bombarded by phrases such as “A new study shows…” “New research demonstrates…” Such phrases take away from us the power of making decisions about our individual lives.
Would you agree that for historical reasons, which brought Russia closer to Europe, early 19th century Russia became a focal point of Western civilization, where the problems of the modern West shone with much brighter intensity than in Western Europe. Nowhere – not in London, Paris, Berlin or even Warsaw – writers or philosophers reacted so intensely, as did Dostoevsky, at the thought of where the West was heading.
AN: But all that fascination with Russia, the “depth” of the Russian soul, which 20th century Western European writers discovered in Dostoevsky, can also be found in the great literature of Romantic Europe: in Adam Mickiewicz, Zygmunt Krasiński, but also in Shelley, Keats, and even earlier at Byron. The terrifying pattern of a “brave new world” can be found in the practical idea of the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham.
To illustrate the relationship between the vision of horror, which Western thought was able to perfectly design, and the implementation of this vision, which was possible (for some time) only outside the West, e.g., in the authoritarian system of Russia, let me recall the history of the Panopticon. Jeremy Bentham had a brother, Samuel. Together they created a project of perfect supervision of imperfect humanity. They named it the Panopticon. They created it in Krzyczew (today on the eastern border of Belarus), which was occupied by Catherine II during the first partition of Poland.
Samuel Bentham found employment, like many world reform enthusiasts, in imperial Russia. Krzyczew and several thousand surrounding square versts taken from Lithuanian owners was given by the empress to her favorite Prince Grigory Potemkin. It was for him that the English engineer invented a new factory in the fall of 1786: a building with such a system of corridors and mirrors to be able to observe all its employees from one place. It was not about disciplining simple peasants in the area, but about supervising overseers brought in from England. To have control over every movement of those who are to act as “intelligence,” “professionals,” “elite.” This is the starting idea of the Panopticon.
Jeremy Bentham, who visited his brother in Krzyczew in 1787, was fascinated. He took up his idea and turned it into a project of an ideal prison, under the same name. He was ready to develop other applications of the same idea – apart from prisons and factories, also for hospitals and schools. See and supervise everyone without interruption. The prison inspector, playing this role, could, according to a utilitarian concept, combine business with pleasure: invite guests to his gallery, from which one could admire what the supervised do at any one time. Big Brother watches, controls and provides entertainment.
A union of perfect supervision, with the ideal of social transparency was to make life happy and safe (I recommend the movie The Circle from 2017, which shows perfectly how it works – and therefore destroyed by “right” criticism). Minimum pain, maximum pleasure. In England, the idea of the Bentham brothers was not realized – at least during their lifetime. In Russia, the younger brother did not manage to bring complete the factory: Potemkin sold Krzyczew in 1787 and set out to prepare the way for Catherine II’s triumphal journey from St. Petersburg to the Black Sea.
Samuel Bentham busied himself with the construction of Potemkin villages along the route. He returned to the idea of the Panopticon in 1806, when commissioned by Tsar Alexander I, he built such a school in St. Petersburg. A perfect prison according to the model of the Bentham brothers, including the US and Cuba, was only constructed with the use of electronic surveillance bracelets in Amsterdam, the capital of post-modern utility and pleasure (drugs plus euthanasia), in 2006.
ZJ: Dostoevsky’s suspicion of the West appears to be a distinguishing feature of the Russian mentality. But suspicion can translate itself into a political posture that one country assumes vis-à-vis other countries or civilizations. Suspicion can also produce a mentality which has a sense of its own of mission. Russia, like America, believes that it has a historical mission. Marquis de Custine, a French aristocrat who visited Russia, even prophesized that that the fate of the 20th century would be decided by Russia and America.
Let me quote here the 15th century letter by Philotheus of Pskov, which he wrote to the Grand Duke Basil III of Moscow: “The Church of Old Rome fell because of its heresy; the gates of the Second Rome, Constantinople, have been hewn down by the axes of the infidel Turks; but the Church of Moscow, the Church of the New Rome, shines brighter than the Sun in the whole Universe… Two Romes have fallen, but the Third stands fast; a fourth there cannot be.”
If you take the message of the letter to be an expression of a mind-set, there is Putin’s rule today, in that he sees nothing wrong with 74 years of Communist rule in Russia; he pours tears over the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest disaster of the 20th century. Russia’s aggressive posturing under Putin appears to be more than lack of civility, or even cynicism of a former KGB agent. Russia in Putin’s mind continues to be a country with a historical mission.
Arnold Toynbee, who used this letter in a chapter on Russia in his Civilization on Trial (1948), wrote: “In thus assuming the Byzantine heritage deliberately and self-consciously, the Russians were taking over, among other things, the traditional Byzantine attitude towards the West; and this has had a profound effect on Russia’s own attitude towards the West, not only before the Revolution of 1917 but after it.”
Ultimately, it would appear that today’s world expresses the ideas that go back to the sources of our civilizations: Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) Christianity, Eastern and Western Roman Empires, two different sets of political culture, political institutions. We find the echo of it in Dostoevsky too, in “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” in his criticism of Caesaro-papism, don’t we?
AN: Russia is born with a sense of a threat to its civilizational identity; it defends itself against the specter of political and spiritual colonization. This is how the fundamental idea of Russia is formed: Moscow – the Third Rome. Ruthenia linked its identity with Byzantium, with the Orthodox center of civilization. In 988, at the time of Vladimir the Great’s choice of state religion for Kievan Rus, this Byzantine center seemed to be an unchallenged alternative to “Latin” identity. In the 15th century, this center collapsed.
Orthodox civilization was then the basis of identity of only one sovereign political center: Moscow. Triumphant “Latin” pressed on it from the West, and Islam from the South. If Moscow dies, all civilization will die. Civilizational violence threatens the Orthodox world primarily from the West, from the “Latin” side. Byzantium itself succumbed to the West’s temptation just before the fall, accepting the ecclesiastical union in Florence (Moscow rejects this temptation). However, at stake in this game is not only defense against civilizational violence. The fate of the world is at stake, since it is about defending not so much one civilization as such, but the only true religion and its place in the world. Philotheus, the monk of the Pskov monastery of Eleazar, writes about it, puts this thought into words and presents it as an ideal-mission addressed to the power of the Moscow principality.
Laid out for the first time in a message to Grand Duke Vasilii III (around 1514-1521) and elaborated in letters in the years following, the idea of Moscow – Rome III – became the best known and most frequently updated concept of Russia’s special mission from the 19th to the 21st century. Thanks to this, Philotheus can be considered the first intellectual in the history of Russia. He is not an official writing for the state.
He is, in a sense, a man from the margins (Pskov had only just joined Moscow in 1510), passionately experiencing public affairs, the affairs of his spiritual and political community and seeking to rescue it in the face of a new great “civilizational” challenge. He seeks this rescue in the sphere of ideas and suggests it to the authorities. He does not appear as an unconditional servant of this authority, but shows its immense responsibility to protect the great idea it reveals.
Philotheus also shows examples of the betrayal of this idea by the state power – in Rome I and in Rome II (Byzantium) – and the punishment of the inevitable fall that the government’s betrayal of the ideal entails. Philotheus teaches authority: “let him know… let him remember….” He sets the condition: “If you will arrange your empire well – you will be a son of light and an inhabitant of upper Jerusalem, and, as I wrote above, so now I say: beware and note that all Christian empires have joined in yours, that two Romes have fallen and the third is standing. There will be no fourth. Contrary to the widespread interpretation of this text, it seems that it is not an unequivocal expression of faith that Moscow will always remain Rome III, that it will certainly bear the burden of this responsibility. Moscow is also threatened with the “Sodom sin,” an internal apostasy warned against by the voice of a 16th-century “intellectual.”
Philotheus only states that Moscow has no one to replace it, in its great mission to save the truth and the world. If it collapses – Rome will certainly not exist; there will be no more truth and justice in the world. That is why Moscow must not be allowed to fall! This is the pathos of the mission assigned by Philotheus to the Orthodox empire, and thus the pathos of his own, “first intelligence” of the mission.
Combined with Moscow’s heritage of Rome – empire, strength, and Jerusalem – is the heritage of the spirit. And against the world in which “lies in evil.” In practice, to the ”Latin” and Western world, which in the 16th century, after an internal split connected with the Reformation, and which entered the phase of great colonial expansion and became an obvious source of the problem of modernization and, at the same time, Moscow gives models and techniques for solving it. Russia needs to strengthen its empire to save its spiritual identity from the threat from the West, and thus maintain the ability to salvage/save/liberate the whole world. This is how the thought of Philoteus is read by some in intellectual circles and is not without influence on contemporary public opinion in Russia.
ZJ: Hostility, mutual suspicion between the Russians and the Poles is well known. The Polish see Russians as aggressors, the country that dismembered Poland in the 18th century, that erased the Dutchy of Warsaw in the 19th century. The Poles fought the Russians in the 1919-1920 war, after Poland regained statehood in 1918, after 123 years. Finally, it was Soviet Russia which imposed communist rule on Poland after WWII. This is only a handful of historical events that shape the attitude of the Poles toward Russia. Putin’s hostile attitude toward Poland today can be seen as the continuation of “the old story.”
However, looking at Polish-Russian relationships in a long historical perspective, one can see a different picture. If one takes into account the Polish conquest of most of White Russia and the Ukraine – in the 17th century Polish forces came close to Moscow, but were driven out. Russia can see itself not as aggressor but as a victim of Western aggression, of Western or Latin Christianity against the true Eastern Christianity, the Orthodox Church. If you add to it Napoleon’s Russian adventure, then the German invasion, the feeling of victimhood gets more augmented. One could say, Russia’s imperial posture was never motivated by the desire to dominate others but was a defensive posture, a posture that Russia had to assume to save herself and her Orthodox faith. Can such an argument on behalf of Russia be made?
AN: Yes, Russia has for centuries justified its expansion with the need to obtain a “security buffer” that would protect it against aggressive neighbors from the East and West. When Moscow began its expansion in the 15th century, it occupied a territory the size of the state of Utah. She “felt” threatened by her neighbors, such as the Tver principality or the republic of Novgorod – she absorbed these neighbors.
Then she “felt” threatened by subsequent neighbors. In the West, it was Lithuania, which was joined in the 14th century by many small principalities of Kievan Rus (today’s Ukraine and Belarus), emerging from the rule of the Mongolian Golden Horde. Moscow then announced the ideology of “collecting Ruthenian lands” (which had never belonged to Moscow before).
Poland did not make any conquest of the lands of Belarus or Ukraine, but entered into a dynastic union with Lithuania in 1385 – and on this basis (the marriage of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jagiełło with the Queen of Poland, Jadwiga), a state union was established, which for four hundred years united Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania, including the lands of today’s Belarus and Ukraine.
During these four hundred years, Moscow had been waging a series of wars in which it had finally taken all these territories, except for a small scrap of former Russia which was occupied by Austria as a result of the partitions of Poland.
At the same time, in the East, Moscow “felt” threatened by the remnants of the Mongolian Golden Horde, the Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberian khanates – and conquered them militarily in half a century (1550-1600).
Then, of course, it was “threatened” again by successive neighbors, small khanates, in Central Asia – it took them all by the mid-19th century. It also reached China at the end of the 17th century. And she felt “threatened” by China. However, it has not managed to permanently remove this threat, that is, to conquer China.
In the South, Russia “felt,” from the 16th century, “threatened” by Turkey and Persia, so it began to conquer their possessions, including Transcaucasia – Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as the Crimean Khanate on the Black Sea. It has not yet conquered Turkey itself (although that was the goal of Russian policy from the end of the 18th century). But she still “feels” threatened by Turkey. After the partition of Poland, under Catherine II at the end of the 18th century, Russia became a neighbor of Prussia. Of course, she “felt” threatened by the power of Germany united by Prussia in the times of Bismarck.
If we adopt such a logic of a threat that justifies defensive conquests only. Then let us note that from the 15th century to the end of the 18th century, Russia conquered on average about 60,000 square kilometers each year, combined territories of Maryland and Massachusetts. Each year, Russia was enlarging its territory in this way for over 300 years!
Stalin, in the name of this logic, persuaded Roosevelt to agree in Tehran and Yalta to give Russia (the Soviet Union) a “security buffer” covering all of Eastern and Central Europe, including Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, and including half of Berlin and Vienna. Of course, he still could not “feel” safe. Russia’s security can only mean to bring the whole of Eurasia under its control, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
You can accept this reasoning only if you see in it an analogy to the American “Manifest Destiny.” But it is worth asking the opinion of the inhabitants of all the countries that first Moscow, then imperial Russia, and finally the Soviet Union, conquered in the name of Russia’s “sense of security” and the right to “self-defense.”
ZJ: Let us talk about 1989, the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, and 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Eastern European countries rushed to join the EU. Russia, on the other hand, is where it always was. For the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, the citizens of the Baltic states – Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia (former Soviet “republics”) – the motivation was not just economic but cultural above all. One could hear the language of “returning to Europe” after decades of the culturally foreign rule. What prevented Russia from getting closer to Europe after the collapse of Communism?
AN: We need to remember, Russia has formed its political and cultural identity as an Orthodox empire, in contrast, often, against Latin, that is, Catholic Europe. Under Mongol rule for two and a half centuries, it was, as it were, forcibly opened to Asia. Since the 15th century, Moscow, pursuing a policy of “collecting Ruthenian lands,” entered into intense diplomatic and trade relations with European powers: the Habsburg Empire, and the England of Elizabeth, in order to geopolitically surround its immediate neighbors.
However, Russia did not participate in the spiritual life of Europe, in the crucial period of the Renaissance. Only from the Baroque, actually from the end of the 17th century, does Russia interact with the intellectual currents animating European culture. At that time, however, Russia had already made a great march in the opposite direction to the former Asian steppe empires – from the Western end of the Great Steppe, over the Black Sea, it reached the Pacific; in the 17th century it began to border China, Korea, followed by Japan.
Such a geopolitically enlarged Russia could no longer enter Europe, “fit” in it. The intellectual challenge, often fascinatingly analyzed by Russian writers and ideologues, is not “Russia in Europe,” but “Russia and Europe.” Space – prostor – history and religion make up a deeply rooted political culture in Russia. Together they create a “mental map” on which the memory of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, Pushkin’s poems or Dostoevsky’s novels is not “evidence” of Russia’s Europeanness, but a reason for imperial pride, along with the equally grateful memory of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Stalin.
ZJ: Let me go back one more time to 1989. One thing one notices is that the 1989 European dream in Eastern European countries is gone, and to some, the dream became a nightmare. Brexit is the prime example of that. The British sentiment can be said to be this – we did not sign up for that. We did not think our sovereignty would be limited to such an extent. This is what one hears in Budapest and Warsaw.
Recently, I asked a Polish politician – what do you think of a Polish Brexit? To my surprise, he said: “Nothing would make me happier.” Let me stress – this is not a view prevalent among Poles, most of them like where they are. But there is a considerable segment of Polish society which considers it as a serious intellectual option. The reason is the sovereignty of the Polish or Hungarian state, which EU crushes – the sovereignty that Poland was deprived of, first by partition and then the Soviet rule. It should not surprise anyone why Poles (but also others) are sensitive about a bunch of Euro-bureaucrats deciding their fate. You cannot be yourself – English, Polish, French, Italian – you must be a “European,” which means being a total abstraction.
A few months ago, I saw a headline in a major Polish newspaper: “EU must defend its citizens in Poland.” The article concerned so called minorities. According to the liberal Polish newspaper, they are EU citizens and therefore, Polish laws are violations of their rights as EU citizens. One wants to repeat after Bentham, it is nonsense on stilts, yet it is the de facto European reality. Was the post-communist dream false, or did the West change in the last 30 years?
AN: Both. The expectations of the intellectual opposition in Poland towards the West were certainly exaggerated. The image of the “free world” depicted in our imagination in contrast to the gray and openly oppressive world of the “Communist camp” was idealized.
At the same time, however, it must be remembered that the West in 1989 was still the West, politically represented by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and above all – John Paul II was in Rome. Back then in Europe they referred to the so-called founding fathers of the European Union, to their Christian-democratic roots: Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman.
Marxism, after the obvious failure of this ideology in the countries under its authority, seemed finished, at least from our perspective. In 2020, you can see how Marxist inspiration fills the longest shelves with philosophy and politics in bookstores in Paris and London. As it dominates universities in Western Europe and our part of Europe, described in a postcolonial way as “new” (“new” democracies, “new” Europe, etc.), it actually follows these trends in a way that perfectly confirms the mechanisms described by some theorists of postcolonial studies.
However, part of the “intellectual layer,” and many so-called ordinary people, in countries with a strong historical and cultural identity of their own, such as Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic, still keep the memory of the real experience of enslavement by the Communist logocracy, from which today comes the political correctness that dominates in the West and is imposed on us. That is why this new enslavement, this time coming from the West, is met with some resistance here.
However, fears of the real neo-imperialism of Putin’s Russia do not allow countries, such as Poland or Lithuania, to suddenly cut off from the European community, even in its present, disastrous shape. We can try to change Europe, stop this fatal process from within. This is what worries the Brussels, Parisian and Berlin political and intellectual elites. They ascribe to themselves the role of teacher and therapist for a “backward,” “sick” part of Europe (here the most frequently mentioned are Hungary and Poland).
In fact, I see in this attitude also a deep fear that the attitude of the elites currently ruling in Poland and Hungary, in matters of culture, customs, understanding of the European tradition – may turn out to be attractive to many Germans, French, Italians, and Spaniards – who do not necessarily want to run after the “bright future” promised by European progress officials. Many European people are looking to defend their common sense against ideological madness. Some people recall that Europe has always been rich because of its diversity and not of top-down centralization, and not by exchanging arguments about the good life, development models, and not by imposing “just the right approach.”
ZJ: What you have said makes me think of a famous sentence from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859): “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting the end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate to find one.”
Unlike democracy, despotism or autocracy, with which we associate the Orient and Russia, is not a political system or a theory of government. Rather, it is mode of governing a people. As a specialist on Russia, can you say that Mill’s words apply well to the state of Russian society at that time? In other words, is autocracy a system of government – the only force that could guarantee social and political order?
AN: I would disagree. Aleksander Wat, a Polish futurist poet who passed through nearly 20 prisons of Stalinist Russia during World War II, once gave a very good definition of the Soviet system – the absolute concentration of absolute power on an absolutely large area. An alternative to despotism (i.e., centralism) may be federalism – the development of regional self-government in a territorially large state.
Let me remind you that until the beginning of the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian state was larger in terms of territory than Moscow and until the partitions (in 1772) it was the second largest state on the European continent. And it was on such a large area that a system of decentralized authority was created, based on local self-government (district councils), which functioned well from at least the 15th to the 17th century.
As is known in the United States, this system continues. In Moscow, they also showed possibilities of developing a system of representation of the society several times: at the beginning of the 17th century, in the form of the so-called “earthly councils.” The movement of local, that is, earthly self-government, became strong again at the end of the 19th century – this is the self-government in which people like Chekhov and the heroes of his plays could find their place.
The defenders of despotism as the only recipe for the problems of the great state refer to one argument above all: if we do not have a tsar and we do not listen to him – then we will lose the empire. Putin successfully appealed to this argument after the last great experience of the crisis of the empire, which also coincided with the revival of Russian self-government – in 1991.
Ultimately, the dilemma faced by the supporters of this power for Russians (and not only for them) is – either size (grandezza as Machiavelli would say), or freedom – a liberta. You want greatness, give up your (republican, self-governing) freedom. At the same time, a new tone appears in this argumentation – state despotism (meaning the lack of civil self-government) can be reconciled with liberalism – economic and the right to privacy.
In the Russian philosophical tradition of Slavicism, there is such a contrast – the state is a heavy-duty power – and society willingly gives its burden to the people of power, and itself enjoys non-political freedom. And this is probably not only the Russian tradition, but the constantly reviving temptation to organize political life without citizens. There is only the state (and its guardians) – and on the other end – individual consumers.
ZJ: Could one say the same thing about China, and the Chinese leaders’ rhetoric that we have been hearing for about 20 years – that what China fears the most is anarchy. Ergo, the Chinese Communist Party is the sole guardian of social order; and since anarchy is worse than anything, despotism or autocracy is a legitimate way of governing the population. Some 15 years ago, Boris Johnson wrote a piece for the Spectator, where he accepted this view about anarchy in China, which makes me think that Chinese rhetoric works. Today Johnson is Prime minister, and what he thinks can translate into his country’s foreign policy.
AN: China has just adopted the model I outlined at the end of the answer to the previous question. Does this mean that it is the only model that suits the Chinese? After an intense indoctrination lasting for generations, one can get this impression. The Chinese from Hong Kong have a different opinion, however.
Please allow me to express my opinion on Prime Minister Johnson’s view and on Mill’s remark earlier cited. Well, I see them as a reflection of the imperial-colonial tradition, especially strong in the English (later also American) elites. Outside of Great Britain, and maybe even outside the club, which brings together the elite from Eton and Oxbridge, there are actually no gentlemen. There are barbarians all around – at least to the East of Germany are surely the habitats of barbaria. The barbarians living there can be cannibals, if that suits them, we – gentlemen from the club – will not hinder trading with them.
The most cynical example of this attitude I found in the liberal prime minister, David Lloyd George, who in 1920, when he initiated political negotiations with Lenin, said that he did not care about the political principles of these barbarians, let them even have the Mikado – it is their business, as long as they kill other barbarians (this is what Lloyd George meant about the Armia Czerowna – the Red Army – which at that moment was storming Warsaw). And let them get together as they please – this is their freedom. And this is our liberalism that we will not impose our political standards on them. We must reach an agreement with them, if they are so strong that without them it is impossible to establish a global order. This is a specific combination of liberalism (à la Lloyd George) and imperial Realpolitik.
In America, this is the approach of many – formerly Henry Kissinger, now John Mearsheimer. For me, this is a very short-sighted doctrine of appeasement – the false hope that aggressive despotism will feed on victims only from the circle of “barbarians.” Eventually, however, comes the moment when the “barbarians” start eating the gentlemen. Such is the logic of despotic empires. It is perfectly summarized by the saying of Bezborodko, Chancellor of Catherine II – what does not grow, rots. The despotic empire must continue to expand – otherwise it risks imploding. And they know this very well not only in Russia, but also in China. It is good that this has also been remembered in London and Chicago.
ZJ: Now that the Democrat Biden has become president of the United States, we will have a different foreign policy. If you were on the team of Russia advisers to the president, what would you say should be the US policy vis-à-vis Russia?
AN: President Biden will have other advisers. I can only express some concerns based on the historical experience with the presidents of the United States, who over the past three decades came from the Democratic Party and represented a left-liberal ideology. They were, let me remind you, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama.
The former started with dreams of a “reset” with Russia. Fortunately, Russia was so weak during this period that it could not take advantage of this policy. The disaster happened under Obama, who has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria on his hands. His complete irresponsibility led to an escalation of the civil war and to the re-installing of Putin’s Russia as a key player in the Middle East.
Obama also made a significant gesture to Putin – he resigned from the project adopted by the previous administration (Bush Jr.) to install the so-called anti-missile shield in Poland. President Obama announced his decision to withdraw from this project, which was indeed very irritating to Putin and which strengthened the sense of security for Poland and the entire region of Central and Eastern Europe, on September 17, 2009. It was exactly the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
Putin may have felt invited to a new expansion – and he tried it in Ukraine. At that time, however, President Obama was probably instructed by people who knew the rules of world security better than him – and there was a certain reaction to the aggression in Crimea, and then in the Donbas.
What am I afraid of? That under the slogan of the fight for a “brave new world,” led again by liberal America, the US president will not recognize that it is not good stigmatizing smaller countries that do not accept this ideology and handing them over to Russia as “pariahs of the democratic order.” It does not have to be democratic or liberal, but it is very important to this vision of “restoring order” that it be fulfilled by restoring its former zone of domination (Ukraine? Maybe Poland? Maybe most of Central and Eastern Europe?).
In short, I am afraid of combining the slogans of the ideological “crusade” (actually, anti-crusade) inside the so-called Western community, understood as a community of LGBTQ+ rights and unlimited abortion – with a practical policy of the so-called realism in relations with non-Western empires such as Russia. The costs of such a policy would be paid primarily by the countries of the inter-imperial border, such as Poland, Lithuania, or – on the border with China – Korea and Taiwan.
ZJ: Given what you said about Russia and China, it seems to me to be only proper to invoke here two Frenchmen. In the 1830, they embarked on long trips in two different directions – Alexis de Tocqueville went to America; Marquis de Custine went to Russia.
Not much was known about the two countries. Before Tocqueville published his book, there were, I believe, only three or four books about America. Tocqueville’s and his young companion Beaumont’s books were the first ones to offer an exhaustive view of both the country and, above all, American democracy.
De Custine, on the other hand, was looking for an alternative to democracy. For Custine, in the words of Robin Buss, the English translator and editor of his Letters, “democracy meant mob rule and the dictatorship of public opinion, through rabble-rousing speeches and the press.” Encouraged by his friend Balzac and the Polish Count Ignacy Gurowski, he set out for Russia.
The fruit of his visit is Russia (1839), or The Letters from Russia. By today’s standards, Tocqueville’s book is an international bestseller, and everyone who wants to understand democracy must read it. Given its success in the 20th century, the popularity of Tocqueville’s work is not surprising. However, the 21st century is different.
The rise of China with its autocratic style of government should be of concern to everyone. Russian democracy is a democracy in name only; for all intents and purposes it is a mild form of old autocracy. The difference between it and China is that the Chinese rulers do not hide their contempt for democracy, Xi Jing Ping openly says that the system is a failure. Both leaders share two things – the respective countries’ tradition of autocratic rule (strengthened in the 20th century by the experience of Communism) and the belief that only autocratic rule is capable of preventing a country from sliding into anarchy.
Would you agree that given democracy’s current performance in America and Europe, there is every reason to read de Custine’s account.
AN: People knew quite a lot about Russia in France before de Custine. Let us recall, for example, that the French Grand Army visited Russia in 1812, and two years later France was “returned” by the Russian army (Normandy was a Russian occupation zone for two years). A lot of arguments have already been gathered, both on the side of Russophobia and Russophilia.
The first French treaty stigmatizing the Russian political system as oriental despotism was published in 1771. It was written by Abbé Chappe d’Auteroche who visited Siberia (voluntarily), and Catherine II herself replied to him with a two-volume refutation of his arguments (I write about it at length in my recent book, entitled, Metamorphoses of the Russian Empire 1721-1921). This work, published immediately in French under the title Antidote and translated into English, was not only the defense of Russia’s right to the name of a European power, but also the justification of the autocracy.
As I argue in this book, in such a huge country as Russia, another form of power would lead to disintegration. The Russian system is not despotic, but a noble, enlightened absolutism, motivated by concern for the greatness of the state and the welfare of its subjects. So much for Catherine the Great. And it is so today, until the time of Putin’s apologists.
These arguments excellently convinced the French elite (and not only them). After all, Montesquieu said the same – this is why we should refer to de Custine’s work, because it helps us understand that the nature of the Russian despotic system is not autocracy itself, but above all lies, systematic, omnipresent, gradually disturbing cognitive abilities. The lie of the subjects against the authorities, the lie of the authorities against the subjects, and the systematic lie of the power of the Empire against its foreign partners.
No partner is actually a partner; each one is treated as an enemy to be deceived and manipulated. The KGB school, from which most of Russia’s current political elite hails, has raised this ability to lie to an incomparably higher degree than was possible in the days of Nicholas I and de Custine.
The contradiction of the various “narratives” that this Russian rule presents about itself is staggering. For the right wing, Putin is to be the “eschaton” of the Christian order, the last defender of the Cross against neo-paganism and Islam. For the Left (the propaganda of the Russia Today television station is addressed to this audience) – the last tough opponent of hated America, to some extent heir to Lenin’s Russia. For Western businessmen – a model of a good business partner. And so on. Whoever reads de Custine will understand the genesis of these narratives.
ZJ: Russia is not the only country that created national myths, such as the Third Rome. Other nations have this tendency too: Rule Britannia, the City on the Hill, the Third Reich, and many, many others.
The Poles – very much like the French – are obsessed with national history. They created a myth which is not about ruling the world but saving the Western World from barbarian onslaught. It is the myth of the antemurale chirstianitatis, the Bulwark of Christianity. The origin of it is not Polish. As far as I know, it was coined in 15th century, during the papacy of Pius II. It was Skadenberg, an Albanian Nobleman, who coined the term, which meant that Albania (and Croatia) was Italy’s Christian bulwark against the Ottoman Empire. Poles adopted it; it functions in Poland, but in Poland it means more than the fight against the Muslims or infidels at the battle of Vienna on September 11 (!) 1683, where the Poles defeated the Turks. It is understood as antemurale against the East, Orient, the oriental despotism. It includes Russia as a barbarian force as well. Given the Christian (Orthodox) nature of Russia, is this historical vision justified; and using it against Eastern Orthodoxy, are we not in danger of creating a false historical imagination?
AN: I do not know if Poles are “obsessed” with national history. I have a different impression when I look at the youth which is protesting today in the streets of Polish cities with the most vulgar words, to emphasize their hatred for the Catholic Church, Christian tradition and the historical identity of Poland.
Let me make a comment on this issue. It is difficult, for example, for Belgium to be “obsessed” with its history, since it was created as a completely artificial state entity less than 200 years ago. It is difficult for Germany to express “obsession with history,” that is pride in its tradition, for obvious reasons. Simply put, nations have different histories, of different lengths, and different intensity as to how this history is experienced by social groups of different sizes. No one matches China in this respect. When you compare Poles with Jews, the Jews will undoubtedly turn out to be a nation much more “obsessed with their history.”
And now about the “bulwark of Christianity.” Again – a complete misunderstanding. The idea of a bulwark appears in Polish history in 1241 – during the great Mongol invasion. After the conquest of Ruthenia (Kievan Rus’ or Ruthenia!!! – not Russia), the Mongols moved to Hungary and Poland. On April 9, 1241, the prince of Poland, Henry the Pious blocked the way of the Mongols near Legnica. He led about 7000 – 8000 Polish and German knights, including 36 Templars. The prince was killed, the battle was lost, but the Mongols, having suffered heavy losses (similar to the parallel battle fought in Hungary), turned back.
The mood in Latin Europe at that time was truly apocalyptic. The fear of the Mongols as invaders from a completely different, completely alien world, as if of an invasion of the Martians, paralyzed the will of defense in many, but fired the imagination of no fewer people in the Latin West. Part of the Jewish communities scattered around the cities of the Reich were very excited about the news of the mysterious approaching Mongols. The Jews waited for liberation in the year of 5000 (1240/1241), which was exactly at this time on their calendar. There were also those who expected such liberation to come from the hands of the Mongols. In fact, some even saw in Genghis Khan the Messiah, the son of David.
After the defeat in Legnica, the echoes quickly reached even out to Frankfurt am Main, where the local Jews in May opposed with unprecedented audacity the baptism of one of their fellow believers who had freely chosen Christianity. It ended on May 24 with a terrible pogrom, which brought upon the Jews the fear of the Frankfurters and rumors of favoring the wild invaders from the East by the followers of Moses. The threatened rulers, including the Hungarian king Béla IV, the Czech king Wenceslaus I, Prince Frederick of Austria, and the emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen himself, in letters, called for defense against the Mongols.
This was the context in which in Poland, Henryk the Pious, Legnica appeared, the heroic but lost fight on the Eastern fringes of the empire and Latin Europe. And this was the beginning of not only a myth, but a practical experience, the last (thus far) military act which, in Poland, is considered as having stopped the invasion of Central Europe by the Bolshevik Red Army in the summer of 1920, in the Battle of Warsaw. Legnica 1241 was most often mentioned in the journalism of the time. Will new experiences be added to this in the 21st century? I do not know, but I do not rule it out.
ZJ: Allow me to finish this conversation with a question which has been on my mind for many years. At the beginning of the 1990s, Poles coined the word “lustracja” (from the word “lustro,” mirror) which means “mirroring.” It is a made-up term that describes the process of making former communists, State apparatchiks, secret agents and collaborators accountable for their participation in building socialism. In the post-communist societies people who did not support socialism, who suffered, who were persecuted or prevented from social advancement felt it necessary to expose those who upheld the system, who held power at the expense of the people who refused to participate in the Great Lie.
It was a form of showing the former commies and collaborators that their participation in the system was simply a matter of human indecency.
Unlike Poland, former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Russia have never undergone such a process – no moral or legal punishment for the former communists and collaborators. The old communists and collaborators, KGB agents, like Putin, became the lords of the New Russia. No such thing would be imaginable in Soviet satellite countries.
In your expert opinion, first, how significant has been the lack of “lustration” for the moral health of Russia, and, second, did the Russians realize what Communism did to Russia?
AN: The importance of this issue was best described by James Billington, an outstanding scholar of Russian thought and culture, in his book Russia in Search of Itself. Let me quote a key excerpt from the summary of this book: “There are essentially four ways that a nation can move beyond the fact of massive complicity in unprecedented evil. 1. Remove the problem from public consciousness. 2. Transfer the burden of evil to others. 3 . Evade the problem of evil in society by creating a noble personal philosophy for an elite. 4. Overcome evil by accepting the redemptive power of innocent suffering.”
This book was published in 2004. In 2020, it can be said that the official policy of remembrance in Putin’s Russia is a combination of the first two attitudes. The attitude most consistent with the Christian, Orthodox tradition, listed as the fourth in this list, has been marginalized.
As early as 2004, Billington was able to accurately pinpoint the cause of this state of affairs: “What is missing for this fact to open up broader redemptive possibilities for the Russian people is accountability, or even searching self-scrutiny, on the part of the Church itself.”
I am sorry to note that the lack of full accountability in a part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Poland, for the cooperative spying of a small minority of priests with the communist police system in 1945-1989, also brings poisoned fruit into my country, Poland.
ZJ: Do you see any similarities between this and participating in all kinds of PC projects today – which is all morally questionable? Many people in the West, especially in academia, sold themselves to the Devil for the same reason that communists of old did. They are willing to justify today’s injustice in the name of future benefits. I am afraid, they, like the former commies will wake up from their dream of the better world, where all are equal and happy – very disappointed.
AN: Conformism, the lack of civil courage, is the most important, established and widespread feature of academia, at least in the humanities and social sciences. The ideology of “emancipation,” which today is the main instrument of the degradation of these areas, works – in my opinion – on a slightly different principle than you presented in your question.
In fact, under the lofty slogans of redressing past wrongs (towards women, animals, sexual minorities, and countries once colonized), professors of sociology, English studies, philosophy, political science, history and similar fields (displaced by new, more politically correct combinations) are ruthlessly fighting for their particular, current interests – for survival in a ruthless struggle. Survival of the fittest – this is the reality of this essentially amoral struggle, in which the stakes are a professorship, appearing on television, or the role of a social media star – and the alternative is the loss of a job, or experience of attacks by the media and environmental campaigns.
Adapt to the ideology currently imposed by the big media and their disposers – this is the method of survival. This is how the cultural revolution unfolds, more and more like the one that swept through China under Mao Zedong. Anyone who does not want the media and groups of students manipulated by it – to put on a “hat of shame” (as was done in China) – must join in stigmatizing colleagues who are still defending themselves against such degradation.
There is no labor camp waiting for them yet, but it is becoming more and more real to hand over those who still have the courage to think “incorrectly” to therapy, into the hands of therapists who will, anyway, remove “wrong” thoughts, concepts, and memories from their defiant heads. .
Probably no one has described the attitudes of intellectuals subjected to terror and the temptation to justify their cowardice better than the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz in his book, The Captive Mind. It is a book written in 1951 about the Polish intelligentsia conquered by the Stalinist diamat (dialectical materialism). This is also a book about the situation today at American and European universities. It is worth reading again.”
ZJ: Thank you, Dr. Nowak for this enlightening conversation.
The image shows, “Introduction of Christianity in Poland,” by Jan Matejko, painted in 1889.