I am a novelist, and I suppose I have made up this story. I write “I suppose,” though I know for a fact that I have made it up, but yet I keep fancying that it must have happened on Christmas Eve in some great town in a time of terrible frost.
I have a vision of a boy, a little boy, six years old or even younger. This boy woke up that morning in a cold damp cellar. He was dressed in a sort of little dressing-gown and was shivering with cold. There was a cloud of white steam from his breath, and sitting on a box in the corner, he blew the steam out of his mouth and amused himself in his dullness watching it float away. But he was terribly hungry.
Several times that morning he went up to the plank bed where his sick mother was lying on a mattress as thin as a pancake, with some sort of bundle under her head for a pillow. How had she come here? She must have come with her boy from some other town and suddenly fallen ill. The landlady who let the “concerns” had been taken two days before the police station, the lodgers were out and about as the holiday was so near, and the only one left had been lying for the last twenty-four hours dead drunk, not having waited for Christmas.
In another corner of the room a wretched old woman of eighty, who had once been a children’s nurse but was now left to die friendless, was moaning and groaning with rheumatism, scolding and grumbling at the boy so that he was afraid to go near her corner. He had got a drink of water in the outer room, but could not find a crust anywhere, and had been on the point of waking his mother a dozen times. He felt frightened at last in the darkness: it had long been dusk, but no light was kindled. Touching his mother’s face, he was surprised that she did not move at all, and that she was as cold as the wall.
“It is very cold here,” he thought.
He stood a little, unconsciously letting his hands rest on the dead woman’s shoulders, then he breathed on his fingers to warm them, and then quietly fumbling for his cap on the bed, he went out of the cellar. He would have gone earlier, but was afraid of the big dog which had been howling all day at the neighbor’s door at the top of the stairs. But the dog was not there now, and he went out into the street.
Mercy on us, what a town! He had never seen anything like it before. In the town from he had come, it was always such black darkness at night. There was one lamp for the whole street, the little, low-pitched, wooden houses were closed up with shutters, there was no one to be seen in the street after dusk, all the people shut themselves up in their houses, and there was nothing but the howling all night.
But there it was so warm and he was given food, while here—oh, dear, if he only had something to eat! And what a noise and rattle here, what light and what people, horses and carriages, and what a frost! The frozen steam hung in clouds over the horses, over their warmly breathing mouths; their hoofs clanged against the stones through the powdery snow, and everyone pushed so, and—oh, dear, how he longed for some morsel to eat, and how wretched he suddenly felt. A policeman walked by and turned away to avoid seeing the boy.
There was another street—oh, what a wide one, here he would be run over for certain; how everyone was shouting, racing and driving along, and the light, the light! And what was this? A huge glass window, and through the window a tree reaching up to the ceiling; it was a fir tree, and on it were ever so many lights, gold papers and apples and little dolls and horses; and there were children clean and dressed in their best running about the room, laughing and playing and eating and drinking something.
And then a little girl began dancing with one of the boys, what a pretty little girl! And he could hear the music through the window. The boy looked and wondered and laughed, though his toes were aching with the cold and his fingers were red and stiff so that it hurt him to move them.
And all at once the boy remembered how his toes and fingers hurt him, and began crying, and ran on; and again through another window-pane he saw another Christmas tree, and on a table cakes of all sorts—almond cakes, red cakes and yellow cakes, and three grand young ladies were sitting there, and they gave the cakes to any one who went up to them, and the door kept opening, lots of gentlemen and ladies went in from the street.
The boy crept up, suddenly opened the door and went in. oh, how they shouted at him and waved him back! One lady went up to him hurriedly and slipped a kopeck into his hand, and with her own hands opened the door into the street for him!
How frightened he was. And the kopeck rolled away and clinked upon the steps; he could not bend his red fingers to hold it right. the boy ran away and went on, where he did not know. He was ready to cry again but he was afraid, and ran on and on and blew his fingers. And he was miserable because he felt suddenly so lonely and terrified, and all at once, mercy on us! What was this again?
People were standing in a crowd admiring. Behind a glass window there were three little dolls, dressed in red and green dresses, and exactly, exactly as though they were alive. Once was a little old man sitting and playing a big violin, the two others were standing close by and playing little violins, and nodding in time, and looking at one another, and their lips moved, they were speaking, actually speaking, only one couldn’t hear through the glass.
And at first the boy thought they were alive, and when he grasped that they were dolls he laughed. He had never seen such dolls before, and had no idea there were such dolls! All at once he fancied that some one caught at his smock behind: a wicked big boy was standing beside him and suddenly hit him on the head, snatched off his cap and tripped him up. The boy fell down on the ground, at once there was s shout, he was numb with fright, he jumped up and ran away.
He ran, and not knowing where he was going, ran in at the gate of some one’s courtyard, and sat down behind a stack of wood: “They won’t find me here, besides it’s dark!”
He sat huddled up and was breathless from fright, and all at once, quite suddenly, he felt so happy: his hands and feet suddenly left off aching and grew so warm, as warm as though he were on a stove; then he shivered all over, then he gave a start, why, he must have been asleep. How nice to have a sleep here! “I’ll sit here a little and go and look at the dolls again,” said the boy, and smiled thinking of them. “Just as though they were alive! …” and suddenly he heard his mother singing over him. “Mammy, I am asleep; how nice it is to sleep here!”
“Come to my Christmas tree, little one,” a soft voice suddenly whispered over his head.
He thought that this was still his mother, but no, it was not she. Who it was calling him, he could not see, but someone bent over to him, and … and all at once—oh, what a bright light! Oh, what a Christmas tree! And yet it was not a fir tree, he had never seen a tree like that! Where was he now?
Everything was bright and shining, and all around him were dolls; but no, they were not dolls, they were little boys and girls, only so bright and shining. They all came flying round him, they all kissed him, took him and carried him along with them, and he was flying himself, and he saw that his mother was looking at him and laughing joyfully. “Mammy, Mammy; oh, how nice it is here, Mammy!” and again he kissed the children and wanted to tell them at once of those dolls in the shop windows.
“Who are you, boys” who are you, girls?” he asked, laughing and admiring them.
“This is Christ’s Christmas tree,” they answered. “Christ always has a Christmas tree on this day, for the little children who have no tree of their own.…”
And he found out that all these little boys and girls were children just like himself; that some had been frozen in the baskets in which they had as babies been laid on the doorsteps of well-to-do Petersburg people, others had been boarded out with Finnish women by the Foundling and had been suffocated, others had died at their starved mothers’ breasts (in the Samara famine), others had died in the third-class railway carriages from the foul air; and yet they were all here, they were all like angels about Christmas, and He was in the midst of them and held out His hands to them and blessed them and their sinful mothers.… and the mothers of these children stood on one side weeping; each one knew her boy or girl, and the children flew up to them and kissed them and wiped away their tears with their little hands, and begged them not to weep because they were so happy.
And down below in the morning the porter found the little dead body of the frozen child on the woodstack; they sought out his mother too.… she had died before him. They met before the Lord God in heaven.
Why have I made up such a story, so out of keeping with an ordinary diary, and a writer’s above all? And I promised two stories dealing with real events! But that is just it, I keep fancying that all this may have happened really—that is, what took place in the cellar and on the woodstack; but as for Christ’s Christmas tree, I cannot tell you whether that could have happened or not.
The featured image shows, “Petite misère (Mendiant au chapeau), Little Misery (Beggar with a Hat),” by Fernand Pelez; painted ca. 1886.
Today’s skeptics, who seem to reject something traditional just because it’s traditional, cannot sit still during the holy season of Christmas without mocking the notion that Christ would have been born on December 25th. If it were just the unbelievers who engaged in this mockery, it would be expected, since unbelievers, by their very nature, are not expected to believe.
More troubling is the fact that, like evolution and all other modern atheistic fantasies, this one has seeped through the all-too narrow wall separating Catholics from the rest of the world. The anti-Christmas myth, which makes a myth out of Christmas, is being foisted on Catholic children as fact. To benefit these, and any Christian who respects piety, history, Scripture, and Tradition, we present our defense of Christmas.
Since there is no date for the Nativity recorded in Holy Scripture, we rely on the testimony of the Church Fathers and of history to get an answer to the question, “When did Christmas take place?”
First, let us see the essential significance of the Savior’s birth at the time usually attributed to it. The winter solstice, the astronomical event which recurs every year, is traditionally said to be the birthday of the Messias. To elucidate the meaning of this fact, we will turn to Saint Gregory of Nyssa (+ 385 or 386):
“On this day, which the Lord hath made, darkness decreases, light increases, and night is driven back again. No, brethren, it is not by chance, nor by any created will, that this natural change begins on the day when He shows Himself in the brightness of His coming, which is the spiritual Life of the world. It is Nature revealing, under this symbol, a secret to them whose eye is quick enough to see it; to them, I mean, who are able to appreciate this circumstance, of our Savior’s coming. Nature seems to me to say: “Know, oh man! that under the things which I show thee, mysteries lie concealed. Hast thou not seen the night, that had grown so long, suddenly checked? Learn hence, that the black night of Sin, which had reached its height, by the accumulation of every guilty device, is this day, stopped in its course. Yes, from this day forward, its duration shall be shortened until at length there shall be naught but Light. Look, I pray thee, on the Sun; and see how his rays are stronger and his position higher in the heavens: Learn from that how the other Light, the Light of the Gospel, is now shedding itself over the whole earth.” (Homily On the Nativity)
Saint Augustine, a Western Father, concurs with Gregory, the Easterner:
“Let us, my brethren, rejoice, this day is sacred, not because of the visible sun, but because of the Birth of Him Who is the invisible Creator of the sun. He chose this day whereon to be born, as He chose the Mother of whom to be born, and He made both the day and the Mother. The day He chose was that on which the light begins to increase, and it typifies the work of Christ, who renews our interior man day by day. For the eternal Creator, having willed to be born in time, His birthday would necessarily be in harmony with the rest of creation” (On the Nativity of Our Lord, iii).
Similar sentiments are echoed by St. Ambrose, St. Leo, St. Maximus of Turin, and St. Cyprian.
To further the beauty of this mysterious agreement between grace and nature, Catholic commentators have shown this to be a marvellous fulfilment of the utterance of St. John the Baptist, the Voice who heralded the Word: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Literally fulfilled by the ending of the Precursor’s mission and the beginning of the Savior’s, this passage had its spiritual fulfillment in the celebration of John’s feast on the 24th of June, three days after the summer solstice. As St. Augustine put it: “John came into this world at the season of the year when the length of the day decreases; Jesus was born in the season when the length of the day increases.” (In Natali Domini, xi).
Lest anyone find all this Astronomy to reek of paganism, we remind him that in Genesis, it is recorded: “And God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years: To shine in the firmament of heaven, and to give light upon the earth. ” Further, the Magi, those holy men from the East, who came to greet the Expectation of the Nations, were led thence by a star.
“But,” you may say, “the winter solstice is on the 21st of December, not the 25th.” Correct. But if, from the time of the Council of Nicea (325) to that of Gregory XIII’s reform of the calendar (1582), there was a 10 day discrepancy between the calendar and the actual astronomical pattern governing it, then it is entirely possible that a four-day discrepancy had occurred between our Lord’s birth and the Council. We illustrate this possibility as follows: The calendar that many of the Greek schismatics still follow (the Julian calendar), is presently fourteen days off from the Gregorian. This additional four day discrepancy from Gregory’s time has happened over about 400 years.
But now for the meat of the issue: when did it happen? According to St. John Chrysostom, the foundation for the Nativity occurring on the 25th of December is a strong one. In a Christmas Sermon, he shows that the Western Chruches had, from the very commencement of Christianity, kept the Feast on that day. This fact bears great weight to the Doctor, who adds that the Romans, having full access to the census taken by Augustus Caesar (Luke 2, 1) — which was in the public archives of the city of Rome — were well versed in their history on this point. A second argument he adduces thusly: The priest Zachary offered incense in the month of Tisri, the seventh of the Hebrew calendar, corresponding with the end of our September or the beginning of our October. (This he most likely knew from details of the temple rites which were transmitted to him by a living tradition, supported by Holy Scripture.) At that same time, St. Luke tells us that Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist. Since, according to the Bible, Our Blessed Lady conceived in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (the end of March: when we celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation), then she gave birth nine months later: the end of December.
Having no reason to doubt the great Chrysostom, or any of the other Fathers mentioned; in fact, seeing objections issued only by heretics and cynics, we agree with the learned Doctor and conclude that, by God’s Providence, His Church has correctly commemorated the Feast of His Nativity.
Further, as the continuity of the Old Testament with the New Testament was preserved in two of the principal feasts of the New: Easter corresponding to the Pasch and Pentecost to Pentecost (same name in both dispensations), it would have been unlikely for the Birth of the Eternal God into our world not to have had a corresponding feast in the Old Testament.
Until the time of the Machabees, when the temple was re-dedicated after its desecration by the Greek Antiochus IV, Antiochus Epiphanes (see 1 Machabees 4). One hundred and sixty-seven years before Jesus, the commemoration was instituted according to what was written: “And Judas, and his brethren, and all the church of Israel decreed, that the day of the dedication of the altar should be kept in its season from year to year for eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Casleu, with joy and gladness” (I Macc. 4, 59). To this day, Jews celebrate the twenty-fifth of Casleu (or Kislev, as they say) as the first night of Hannukah. This year (5757 in the Jewish calendar), 25 Casleu was on December 12. Even though the two calendars are not in sync, Christmas and Hannukah are always in close vicinity. With the Festival of Lights instituted less than two centuries before Our Lord’s advent, the Old Testament calendar joined nature in welcoming the Light of the world on his birthday.
As for the objection, “Jesus couldn’t have been born in the winter, since the shepherds were watching their flocks, which they couldn’t have done in winter”: This is really no objection. Palestine has a very mild climate, and December 25 is early enough in winter for the flocks and the shepherds to be out. The superior of our monastery, Brother Francis Maluf, grew up 30 miles from Beirut, which has the same climate as Bethlehem, both being near the Mediterranean coast, and he has personally testified to this fact.
For almost 2,000 years, the Church has been defending Christmas against a concerted, diabolical attack.
No, it’s not another wacko conspiracy theory; it’s a fact. Since the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, the truth that God was born a Baby at Christmas has been assaulted with relentless demonic fury. Saint John, the very Apostle of Love, tells us: “For many seducers are gone out into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: this is a seducer and an Antichrist” (2 John 1:7).
What the Apostle was condemning in those strong words were the earliest of the gnostic heresies, those strange amalgamations of Christianity and pagan mystery religions. Their sectarians fancied that they were little sparks of divinity trapped in matter, who could only be liberated by the gnosis, the secret knowledge.
There was also an early heresy, called docetism, which said that the Word did not assume real flesh, but took the appearance of a man (dokein in Greek, means “to appear”). Rebuked by St. Ignatius of Antioch and condemned by the Church, docetism would return in more subtle forms, admitting that our Lord was man, but denying that he had a real human soul (Apollinarianism), a true human nature (Monophysitism), or a human will and operation (Monothelitism). The last of these heresies was so repulsive to St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662), that he preferred to have his hand cut off, his tongue sliced out, and to die in exile rather than submit to a corrupt bishop who professed it.
Then there were the denials of our Lord’s divinity in heresies like Arianism, which still persists in sects as divergent as Unitarianism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Finally, there was Nestorianism, the heresy that denied the union of the two natures in the one Person of Christ. The heretical Patriarch Nestorius had it that there were two persons in Christ, the divine Person of the Word and the person of Jesus Christ the man. Consequently, he asserted in a sermon that Mary should not be called the Mother of God; she was only the mother of a human person.
The Fathers of the Church have left us heroic professions of truth against these blasphemies, and all of them impress upon us that the little Inhabitant of the Christmas Crib was Almighty God come in the flesh to save us. St. Athanasius made the point, against Arianism, that since Christ was supposed to divinize us by grace, He could not perform this mission if He were not Himself divine by nature. St. Gregory Nazianzen professed, against the Apollinarians, that “What has not been assumed has not been healed,” i.e., our Lord did not redeem human nature unless he possessed a human nature. Far from being satisfied with artful turns of phrase in their polemics, these Fathers, like St. Maximus the Confessor, suffered for their confession at the hands of the antichrist heretics.
The entire Catholic Faith is summed up in the image of the Madonna and Child: She, the Immaculate Conception, was conceived full of grace to be Mother of God; and He is One of the Holy Trinity come down to take her Flesh as true Man in order to save us. So much do heretics hate this beautiful scene that the Iconoclasts, who inherited many of the earlier eastern heresies, cut off St. John Damascene’s hand for painting it! That hand was miraculously restored it to him by our Lady.
Orthodoxy has always been attacked by antichrists. (Yes, there will be one Antichrist at the end — “the man of sin” of 2 Thess 2:3 — but St. John speaks of many “antichrists” in 1 John 2:18.) Is it any wonder that certain nefarious elements in society “have issues” with Christmas? As the early heretics wished to “dissolve” Jesus by destroying the union of two natures in one divine Person, so too, modern antichrists wish to dissolve the divine Babe from our public square: “And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God: and this is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh, and he is now already in the world” (1 John 4:1).
According to St. Robert Bellarmine, the focus of the devil’s attack in the second millennium has moved away from the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Instead, the old goat has taken aim primarily at the Church, giving us the Great Eastern Schism and the Protestant Revolt. And he has been refining his approach ever since. In our own day, he has given us the “deadly error” of indifferentism (to quote Pope Gregory XVI), the heresy that says one religion is as good as another. He has caused an even worse pandemonium: an identity crisis within the Church herself. Some of our very own ecclesiastics do not know what the Church is. They have “dissolved Jesus” in His Mystical Body.
But even in the midst of such a crisis, we find consolation: “Behold, I make all things new!” (Apoc. 21:5). All the historical triumphs against error won by the martyrs and confessors will be renewed in grand style. The victories of the devil and his antichrists continue to mount, but the Triumph of the divine Babe will be all the sweeter because of it. It will mark the victory of our Lord, His Church, and His Vicar. What’s more, to the eternal confusion of Antichrist and Satan, Christ’s Triumph will be the Triumph of His Mother, the Woman who will crush the head of the ancient serpent!
This month, through the kind courtesy of La Nef magazine, we are so very honored to present this discussion with Pierre Manent, the well-known French political philosopher who of course hardly needs an introduction. Suffice to say that he is the author of very many influential books and articles on the condition and direction of modernity.
Christophe Geffroy (CG): How can we best summarize Tocqueville’s political analysis of democracy? What definition does he give? What is his contribution, his originality?
Pierre Manent (PM): French political thought in the first half of the 19th century is exceptionally rich. The French Revolution had signified an unprecedented break in the history of Europe. The upheaval suffered, the immense task of reconstruction to be accomplished, all this stirred the hearts and sharpened the minds of all parties. However, it was in the liberal school, taken in the broadest sense, that political reflection was most acute and relevant. Its members accepted the new society as a fact—a fact to be understood and organized politically by founding a representative regime.
Three figures successively dominated the field of political reflection: Benjamin Constant, François Guizot, Alexis de Tocqueville. The first is the most explicit and—I would say—the most naively liberal. He wanted above all to defend, as he says, that “part of human existence which, of necessity, remains individual and independent, and which is by right outside any social competence.” His liberalism is of opposition. Guizot is, in short, the one who opposes. He looks at things from the point of view of the one who governs; he is concerned first of all with the “means of government,” so that the new power, he explains, must know how to discern and draw from the new society.
And Tocqueville? He perceives, with an acuity that belongs only to him, a new phenomenon that had not escaped his predecessors, but of which he is the first to perceive to what extent it modifies the conditions of human life in all its dimensions. This phenomenon is democracy. An old word, an old notion, an old reality. But now a brand-new reality: Equality, as an idea and as a feeling, and even as a passion, has acquired an unprecedented power over minds and hearts. Once we have understood that this fact is irreversible, we must learn to organize social and political life in such a way as to realize the human vocation in this new social and moral element.
(CG): In what way is Tocqueville a liberal author, who fits into this precise philosophical tradition?
PM: Tocqueville is a liberal. But in his case, the qualifier is not very illuminating. Certainly, he values freedom; he even celebrates it in grandiose terms. Certainly, he accepts the main doctrinal elements of modern liberalism, and first of all what he calls “the just notion of liberty” according to which each man “is born with an equal and imprescriptible right to live independent of his fellow men in all that relates only to himself.” But, at the same time, he vigorously denounces the “individualism” which “draws [each one] unceasingly towards himself alone and threatens to enclose him at last entirely in the solitude of his own heart.”
We can formulate the tension that runs through his thought and his soul in this way: On the one hand, liberalism is just because it places a principle of justice at the basis of the new society, whereas all previous human orders necessarily rested, in one way or another, on force. But on the other hand, it is imperative for him to combat the most serious tendency of a society founded on these principles, which is to divert the members of the society from the concern for the common good and thus to leave the highest faculties of man lying fallow. In terms of the contemporary French debate, one could say that Tocqueville is frankly liberal, but also more republican than liberal.
PM: It is a book on the political history of France, very thorough, carefully and admirably written. He prepared and wrote it in the early years of the Second Empire, which was not yet “liberal.” Tocqueville’s outlook is very dark. The coup d’état of Louis-Napoleon, and the regime that was then installed, humiliated Tocqueville and discouraged him. Was France condemned to fail unceasingly at the doors of political freedom? How is it that after a Revolution that brought down the monarchical State, that even made a clean sweep of the society of old orders, and then, this new society found itself to be like the old one, and even more than the old one, under the hand of a State that was still “vertical,” as we would say today?
Tocqueville is very harsh on our Old Regime, but his indictment has little to do with revolutionary diatribes. In some respects, his book is even a “tomb,” in the poetic sense of the word, of the Ancien Régime and its “greatness.” One can read for example: “It will always be regretted that instead of bending this nobility under the empire of laws, [the Revolution] has cut it down and uprooted it. By doing so, it has taken away from the nation a necessary part of its substance and made a wound to liberty that will never heal.” But here is the indictment: “Class division was the crime of the old royalty, and later became its excuse.”
By devitalizing the old institutions that ensured the collaboration of the classes without replacing them with the institutions of political liberty, the monarchy locked everyone into their own condition, thus nourishing the individualism that was the condition of the Revolution and was found, even more virulent, among its major consequences.
CG: For Tocqueville, was the French Revolution part of a movement towards democracy? And what links are there between the revolutionary spirit and the democratic spirit?
PM: This is an essential point. Tocqueville is especially concerned to distinguish the two, which the French are inclined to confuse because of their historical experience: Democracy came for them with the Revolution. This confusion is particularly harmful in France because democrats believe they are obliged to be revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries to be against democracy. Thus, good citizens who should share the same affection for a regime that knows how to combine equality and liberty become irreconcilable political adversaries.
To show that the democratic spirit is essentially distinct from the revolutionary spirit is one of Tocqueville’s principal objects. American democracy provides him with the crucial experience that proves the thesis: The Americans live under an entirely democratic regime—if we except, of course, the institution of slavery in certain southern states—and they know a social and political life that is clearly better regulated than the French. This is because they were “born equal instead of becoming equal.” By a cruel irony that would not, I believe, have surprised Tocqueville too much, the American Democrats of today are inclined to reverse his thesis, and to see in slavery not the anomaly, but the ineradicable root of the American regime.
CG: Why was Tocqueville long forgotten in France, which was not the case in the United States, only to be rediscovered fairly recently and to have become an “indispensable” thinker of any analysis of democracy?
PM: It is undoubtedly because the social and political movement has led the French in the direction from which Tocqueville wished to turn them away. On the one hand, the revolutionary spirit found new motives in the extension of industry, which, in the eyes of socialists, especially Marxists, made a new and more radical revolution inevitable. On the other hand, opposition to democracy became independent of nostalgia for the Old Regime, and found in the new France a powerful resource in the form of nationalism.
One fact strikes me—after 1848, and more and more as we approached the new century, the generous and finely discriminating intelligence that characterized the political thought of the first nineteenth century gave way more and more to a fierce polemic that granted nothing to the adversary. Socialists and nationalists competed, if I may say so, in certainty and implacability. There are always great minds, or at least great talents, but imaginations are narrowed and hearts often shriveled.
Tocqueville returned to the public debate in France, first thanks to Raymond Aron who placed him in the history of social sciences, as one of the great interpreters of modern society alongside Marx, Comte or Weber. Then his star shone at the same time as that of Marx waned—the experience of communist totalitarianism made the idea of the despotic potentialities of equality strikingly relevant.
CG: Our democracies are in crisis, as the record abstention of the last elections confirms. Is Tocqueville a help in understanding this crisis and getting out of it?
PM: The current crisis brings to a climax the tendencies described by Tocqueville. As I said, democracy, as he understands it, is not so much a political regime as a spiritual regime; it is based on an extraordinarily powerful and pervasive affect, namely, the “passion for equality,” combined with the “feeling of similarity.” It is not only proclaimed that all citizens are equal before the law, or that a judge does not take into account the class, the race or the education of the accused when he judges. One wants to remove any mark of inequality or simply of difference in the social body.
The feeling of the similar, the compassion for the “suffering other,” are not only a constitutive part of the feelings of the social man, they form the very atmosphere of the collective life; they give it the tone; they are ordered by the social authority and more and more by the law of politics itself. This social religion certainly has its orthodoxy and its heretics—who would dare contest that men are equal and similar, if not perverse minds, or hearts closed to all humanity?
The consequence of this empire of the similar is that all the differences, natural or acquired, which structure human life—differences of the sexes, of generations, of the contents of life, of the forms of life, of human virtues and vices—all these differences which give human life its form and its meaning, its taste too—well, social religion commands us to refuse to take them into account in our words or our actions, and first of all forbids us to even see them.
Indeed, the real life, ordered by a complex mixture of equality and inequality, of resemblance and difference, is so to speak overlaid by an unreal but obligatory life, where the law commands that we ignore the difference of the sexes, erases the mention of the father, and continuously reforms the language so that this one cannot designate another subject of attribution of what it is to be human in general. They even want to erase the difference between the human species and the animal species. Thus, the democratic religion commands us to live in a humanity without anything human of its own, without form or order, without any other task than to erase any trace of form or order, and finally any trace of meaning.
CG: The pandemic and the often liberticidal measures taken to contain it have shown that our fellow citizens are more attached to their well-being than to their freedom. Is this in line with Tocqueville’s analysis of the nature of democracy?
PM: Compassion is primarily concerned with physical suffering. It is the “pity” of which Rousseau speaks, in which the “animal spectator” identifies with the “suffering animal.” In the absence of a moral education, we limit ourselves to “feeling with” the “sensitive” animal. Together with the progress of medicine, the feeling of the fellow man and compassion have encouraged the construction of these extraordinary “health systems” which are one of the most admirable achievements of modern civilization. Let’s not kid ourselves—we all want to be well cared for!
But the more collective resources and attention are focused on a particular area, the more unbalanced our common life is likely to be. If we only know how to see suffering bodies, and if the only commandment that makes sense to us is to remove or alleviate physical suffering, then we are handing over not only our bodies but our souls to the machinery of prevention and cure. If our societies have become so organized around the concern for health, it is first of all of course that this concern is universally shared, but it is also because other human concerns have withered away. The desire to control everything, which is natural to governments, finds a docile subject among members of society whose imagination and ambition are increasingly narrowed, and who no longer know how to attach themselves to something greater than their “naked lives.”
CG: What role does Tocqueville see for religion in the balance and viability of a democratic society? Does the decline of Christianity in the West threaten democratic vitality?
PM: In a humanity sucked in by the vortex of sameness, transcendent religion, and primarily the Christian religion, introduces difference par excellence. One can think that, at the beginning, it is the desire to bring the transcendent back to us, to domesticate the Most High, that has engaged us in the movement of democratization and homogenization that is reaching its extreme phase today in the West.
If this is the case, the vital prognosis of our civilization is threatened, because how can we revive the concern for transcendence when we are caught in a social and moral movement motivated by the refusal of transcendence? In fact, Christianity itself is today profoundly affected, if not transformed by this rejection. Current Christian preaching tends to be confused with the religion of human likeness. There is a reluctance to take seriously the object of faith. Christianity is deliberately confused with “other religions.”
CG: Do we find in Tocqueville a link between nation and democracy? In other words, for him, can democracy be envisaged anywhere, on any scale and independently of a specific history anchored in a culture and a religion?
PM: Tocqueville’s analyses presuppose the national framework; he speaks of “European nations” or “democratic nations,” but he does not thematize the question of the nation. Tocqueville elaborated his thought before the national question became central to European life. His general approach can, however, enlighten us.
As the progress of democratic equality made European societies more similar, they experienced more keenly their national character, which came to the fore both in their mutual relations and in the relationship of each nation to itself. The internal homogenization was, so to speak, counterbalanced by the ever-increasing value placed on national specificity.
While the different nations were coming closer together in their social form and seemed to be moving towards the same future, each one turned with predilection to its original past. National history became constitutive of the self-consciousness of each to a degree that Europe had never known. The institutions that were directly linked to the national past, the pre-democratic institutions, such as the army or the Church, were able to acquire an unprecedented prestige or role—that of embodying the nation, and possibly providing a point of reference for the rejection of democracy.
Modern democracy has developed within the national framework, and in this sense democracy and national form are closely related. On the other hand, in the nationalist impulse, the nation appears as the synthesis and protector of all those differences that democracy tends to erase, at the risk that these differences serve above all as fuel and pretext for anti-democratic passion.
Today, in North America and in Europe, the democratic movement wants to “do away” with the nation that has nourished and protected it for so long. That is why it is turning with particular aggression against national histories. While an imaginary similarity is imposed on all elements of present life, the past becomes that reserve of differences from which our memory and imagination must be purged.
The nation as it developed in Europe combined the past, the present and the future; it synthesized the three dimensions of time in a way that no political form had been able to do before. Today, the passion for similarity and indistinction between men has reached such a degree of virulence that the present devours both the past and the future: The past because it was so different; the future because it might be very different.
The featured image shows a portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau, painted in 1850.
Without being pessimistic, we all feel that we are living in a new and difficult period, with serious threats on the horizon that create a climate of uncertainty and anxiety. And if the health crisis contributes to this climate, it is neither the origin nor the main reason. Rather, it seems to me, this reason is rather to be sought in the worrying fact that everywhere divisions increase, fractures grow; to the point that what constitutes the nation, a community welded by a history, a religion, a culture and values—fruit of a long civilization—is bursting apart under the blows of an individualism which managed to erase the very notion of the good (so that each one must be free to determine “his” good) and thus necessarily of the common good.
Four Major Fractures
Without being exhaustive, I would cite four major fractures to illustrate my point, all of which contribute in one way or another to the atmosphere of existential insecurity that is developing.
1. The social fractures that draw two very unequal France: The one that benefits from globalization—the “France of the top” or the Anywhere which shamelessly sells off the sovereignty of the nation; and the one that suffers from it—the “peripheral France” or the Somewhere, which has formed the large battalions of the Yellow Vests, and bolsters one part of the “anti-vaccine passport” movement.
2. The anthropological fractures that have proliferated ever since the modern philosophies of deconstruction ousted the classical vision of man as a created being endowed with a nature of his own that cannot be denied or violated without serious damage, with a clear limit set by natural law. The first step was the separation between fertility and sexuality, brought about by the pill, which contributed to putting all forms of sexuality on the same level and allowed, afterwards, to think of fertility outside sexuality. In this deadly logic, after having trivialized abortion, we have come to legitimize “marriage” between people of the same sex, then to deny sexual difference and to allow the manufacture of children as simple products, and this is far from over.
3. The demographic divide, resulting from a drop in the birth rate, in France as in all Western countries, compensated in the early 1970s by labor immigration, which quickly turned into a massive immigration that was never controlled, bringing in large Muslim minorities and a number of insurmountable problems of assimilation, education, social distress, delinquency, etc. Islam has thus formed expanding communitarian zones—the “lost territories of the Republic”—where French law no longer penetrates.
4. The ecological divide: Not a week goes by without the announcement of “climate chaos,” as if the coming “catastrophe” were real. That there is an ecological emergency is obvious. But is it by infantilizing the population, by playing on fear with binary and guilt-inducing speeches that we are really going to move things forward?
Oppositions and divisions have always existed and are even consubstantial to the functioning of a democracy. In the past, during the “Cold War,” these were not small when they concerned the “choice of society” between a Marxist left-leaning towards the Soviet Union and a liberal right close to the United States. However, the differences remained mainly confined to political aspects. Today, they have invaded all areas. There is nothing that cannot be contested and questioned: Everything has become a reason for quarrelling; almost nothing is stable and acquired anymore. There is no longer a common basis for a peaceful life in society. History, religion, culture, the principles that forged our Christian civilization and more particularly the nation of France with its vision of man, all this is questioned, rejected or dismissed (by “wokism,” for example), remnants of an obscurantist past that must be quickly forgotten.
From such a basis, divisions and fractures are inevitable and are bound to multiply. The logical outcome of such an evolution is either civil war or the establishment of a directive regime determined to impose its views by marginalizing or silencing the recalcitrant.
Is this not the path we are already on? Denouncing abortion or “marriage for all,” crucial “societal” subjects that should be at the heart of the debate of ideas, is more and more akin to the crime of opinion, as we saw in August with the showing of the film Unplanned. It is the same for all the “advances” that methodically deconstruct man. Thus, the field of freedom of expression is gradually being restricted as society disintegrates, a harbinger of a disturbing evolution.
In this serious context, Christians have a primordial role to play, certainly made difficult by the deep dechristianization and their own divisions, but facilitated by the supernatural hope that they carry within them.
Christophe Geffroy publishes the journal La Nef, through whose kind assistance we are publishing this article.
The featured image shows an oil on panel portrait by Nadine Callebaut.
Did the great writer Feodor Dostoevsky know when he was writing his landmark novel, Demons (also translated as, The Possessed) that he was recording a prophecy? This novel astounds its readers again and again with its description of revolutionary forces past, present, and future—descriptions that span a number of levels: psychological, spiritual, and mundane, and the subtle interconnections between each. It is set in the microcosm of a nameless provincial Russian town, but history shows that the blueprint, the seeds, and the mentality are universal. Anyone who wishes to understand how the bloody revolution gained momentum in Russia, and how it could do so anywhere, must definitely read this book.
This topic is enormous, and surprisingly little has been written in English on the subject of revolution and Dostoevsky’s Demons. Needless to say, it was banned after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and an aura of prejudice remained around it in the late soviet era. Perhaps in the West, the subtleties are harder to grasp—one needs to understand at least a little the Orthodox Christian soul of Russia. But one sub-theme that is painfully relevant to us everywhere seems to run through the novel, linking the chain of personalities and deeds that lead up to the final breakdown of a once stable society: It is the theme of fatherlessness.
The phenomenon of fatherlessness has a name in Russian that evokes a whole modern portrait. It is the word, “bezotsovshchina”—bezotsov meaning “without fathers”, with the suffix “-shchina” implying a state or phenomenon. The suffix is usually attached to something negative, or at least nuanced in a negative direction. Demons seems to break the record for its number of pointedly fatherless anti-heroes.
It must first be noted that part of what makes Dostoevsky such an outstanding writer is that there are no unnecessary details, no useless digressions, or picturesque descriptions simply for the sake of beauty (or ugliness) itself. The absence of fathers in the characters’ family is but a passing detail—but an important detail. Even the names are descriptive and indicate to the reader what purpose each character serves in his tightly-woven story. We begin with the first character whom the narrator introduces in the novel: Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky.
“In approaching the recent, very strange events that occurred in our hitherto rather unremarkable town, I feel that I must start further back by supplying some facts about the life of the gifted and well-respected Stepan Trofimofich Verkhovensky. This may serve as an introduction to the story to come.” Note that the story begins with Stepan Verkhovensky, whose not irreproachable yet loveable personality is immediately explained by his childhood daydreams of “taking a gallant civic stand”—that is, becoming a romantic, important figure. The narrator points to his role in the future terrible event, but at the same time offers an excuse for him, saying that “after all, his behavior was milder and less offensive, for he was really a very nice man.” This indicates that those to come after him are not nice, mild, men, and were rather more offensive. His surname is also points to the fact that he would be the first in a line of people bearing his “seed”—the root “verkh” indicates “upper” or “over the others”.
Stepan Verkhovensky is described as man of letters, a scholar, who in reality has no academic achievements—something generally overlooked by those in his town, who generally indulge his vanity. He is basically spat out by the revolutionary circles of Herzen and Belinsky because they understand that he hasn’t the real stuff of a revolutionary, but his imagination is able to transform his “exile” from St. Petersburg to this provincial town and general irrelevance into something like martyrdom.
His main social coin is his elegance, which was acquired and not inherent, as the narrator shows in a passing remark that could almost go unnoticed: “Verkhovensky felt he had to make a good impression, which should have been easy with his elegant manners. For, although he was, I believe, of humble origin, he had been brought up from earliest boyhood in a well-known Moscow family and spoke French like a native Parisian.” So, Stepan Verkhovensky is also fatherless, otherwise he would not have been brought up in someone else’s family. But that is all we know about his origins. We know that he is basically good and decent, but severed from his real family he grows up nursed on his own daydreams of greatness, a fantasy supported by his highly cultured environment in what was probably a noble family of very old lineage.
Because he grew up in this fantasy world without a real father, he is basically incapable of having a serious family life of his own—only a series of romantic monogamous relationships without any responsibility. The fruit of one of these relationships would become the novel’s main monster, but more about him later.
We find Stepan Verkhovensky in the novel no longer young, and because he has no real achievements, and no real family, he has become the de facto dependent of a wealthy widow—Varvara Petrovna Stavrogina—whose estate is located near the small house he inherited from his first wife. Mrs. Stavrogina hired Stepan as a tutor to her only son, Nicholai, and her other underaged wards.
Mrs. Stavrogina and Stepan Verkhovensky had a “strange relationship”. She became the mother he perhaps never had, but when a man is fifty years old and dependent upon a “mother”, the relationship is bound to be strange. The narrator points out early in the novel that “he had become, above all, a sort of son for her—a creation, her own invention… She had invented him, and she was also the first to believe in her own invention. He was a bit like a part of her private daydream. Consequently, she made great demands upon him, almost making a slave of him.” Varvara Stavrogina also dreamed of becoming an important public figure, and thus she needed this man whose main asset was his learned refinement.
Nevertheless, for all the dysfunction in their platonic friendship they were truly, deeply attached to each other, and as the narrator first described it, “Separation is unthinkable because the one who loses his temper and decides to break it up would probably die himself if he went through with it.” So, Varvara Petrovna continually seeks to put Stepan to good use. However, when they go to St. Petersburg to offer their services to the “Cause”, they leave utterly humiliated. The new generation of liberals, spawned by the older generation of liberals, turns out to be completely without any veneer of refinement, and only mocks and ridicules their forebears. S. Verkhovensky finds that his supposedly noble ideas have become the “toys of mindless brats”.
Nicolas Stravrogin, Varvara’s son, grew up essentially fatherless. Even when his frivolous father was alive he was estranged from his wife, who was by far the wealthier of the two. Verkhovensky was invited to be Nicholai’s tutor when he was eight years old. With an absent father he was completely under the care of his mother, who “didn’t talk to him much and hardly ever prevented him from doing what he wanted”. She was not the kind of mother who could even have pretended to replace a father, and to make matters worse she tried to fill the gap with Stepan Verkhovensky. “In fairness to Mr. Verkhovensky, it must be said that he knew how to gain the affection of his pupil. His secret was quite simple: he was a child himself.” However, Verkhovensky indulged himself in a way totally impermissible for a professional tutor: He would wake the boy up at night and confide family secrets in him, pour his heart out to him about his own grievances against his mother, and they would sob in each other’s arms. “We may assume that the tutor was to some extent responsible for upsetting his pupil’s nerves…”
Amazingly, Dostoevsky touches here on what is now well known in psychology concerning the psyche of some men who grew up fatherless, and their vulnerability to a father figure, no matter how that figure fails as an example of manhood. “We may assume that the two friends’ tears, when they sobbed in each other’s arms at night, were not always caused by domestic intrigues. Mr. Verkhovensky had managed to touch the deepest-seated chords in the boy’s heart, causing the first, still undefined, sensation of the undying, sacred longing that a superior soul, having once tasted, will never exchange for vulgar satisfaction. (There are even people who value that longing more than the more radical fulfillment, even when it is possible.)” This gives us a hint as to why Nicholai Stravrogin, a handsome, gifted, and elegant man, was not only incapable of loving the women who adored him, but took a certain pleasure in tormenting them. He was guilty of serious crimes and various outrages, but he was never held accountable because no one seemed to be able to decide whether he was a tormented superior soul, mentally ill, or simply an evil man wearing a mask of mystery and elegance.
This unhealthy relationship was observed, and Nicholas was sent to boarding school, where he became even more distant from his mother, who nevertheless sends him all the money he requests. He becomes a reckless, wanton bully who exploits high society women and then insults them publicly. It is in this depraved St. Petersburg period that he takes an action that is interpreted in turns as either noble or base, but around which the entire novel ultimately revolves, and which triggers the tragic finale.
The implications of the surname Stavrogin clearly come to rest in Nicholas. The root “stav” means “to put”, while “rog” means “horn”. These two words together also form an idiom used in reference to marital infidelity.
Having failed miserably in the capital, Stepan Verkhovensky becomes the ideological leader to a group of young people in the province. But soon his real son Peter arrives, and takes what was deemed lofty ideology to its next level, causing great harm to people’s lives and in fact, disrupting the life of this staid provincial town. Peter Verkhovensky was born to Stepan Verkhovensky’s frivolous first wife while the couple was living in Germany. This fact also points to a kind of fatherlessness—Russians often call their country either the Fatherland—Otechesvto, or the Motherland—Rodina. This child was born without a Fatherland, so to speak. Stepan Verkhovensky had sent his little son back to Russia “like a package”, where he was raised in a foster family. He grows up to be precisely what the apostle talks about: “Without natural affection” (Rom. 1:31; 2 Tim. 3:3). If out of Nicholai Stravrogin, Verkhovensky senior’s “foster son”, some noble feeling or passion would occasionally break loose, the senior’s natural son is utterly devoid of any real feeling, never mind anything noble or Christian. To the contrary, he’s like the devil himself.
Even the physical description of him given when he appears on the scene as an intruder at a provincial evening gives us the impression of a reptile, a serpent: “No one could say he was bad-looking, yet nobody liked his looks. His head was elongated at the back and seemed compressed at the sides, making his face rather pointed. His forehead was high and narrow and his other features small and fine: a sharp nose and long, thin lips.” He had deep folds on his cheeks and wrinkles on his cheekbones. “He moved and walked hurriedly, even when he wasn’t pressed for time… He spoke rapidly and hurriedly, but with assurance, and without having to search for the right word… One began to imagine that the tongue in his mouth had something special about it, that it was very long and thin, very red, and exceptionally pointed, with a constantly flickering tip.”
Peter Verkhovensky, who openly despises his own father, seems to be seeking a father in Nicholai Stavrogin. Stavrogin is the only person Peter looks up to, even idolizes. Stavrogin is everything Peter is not, and the latter is well aware that his own image is not polished or charismatic enough to take charge of the Cause outside their provincial town. He wants to make Stavrogin the figurehead of a movement Peter would control behind the scenes, and he is even willing to humiliate himself before Stavrogin’s contempt. Peter, like a devil, wants to use Stravrogin as his antichrist.
Of course, the simple fact that Peter Verkhovensky grew up fatherless is not intended to show that fatherlessness is itself an indictment, that such children will always turn out bad. I think that Dostoevsky uses this very negative figure to characterize a revolutionary leader, types he had himself been involved with in his youth, who were basically “spawned” by the previous generation of poetic liberals who had given them no real upbringing, no rootedness, and no faith in God. The result was that many of them became not only atheists, but even antichrists.
Besides, there are two other characters in the novel who would prove that growing up without their natural father did not ruin them completely; however, they do not escape spiritual harm, because only a caring father can completely protect a child from the evils of the world. These are the Shatovs: Ivan Pavlovich and his sister, Daria (Dasha) Pavlovna. Ivan Shatov was the son of Varvara Petrovna’s valet, and Dasha became her ward. Varvara Petrovna was a complicated woman but very generous. She gave both of these peasant-born children educations and provided for them. Stepan Verkhovensky was also set as a mentor for them, inculcating liberal ideas into Shatov.
These ideas would cause him to be expelled from university. He goes down the path of the liberal “Westernizers”, travelling to Europe and entering into a “free-love” marriage with an “emancipated woman”. He even travels to America to see what life is like without a monarchy. After returning to Russia, he completely sheds his revolutionary ideas and begins to earn his own meager living, accepting no more charity from his former benefactors. Stepan Verkhovensky considers him an ungrateful traitor to his ideas, saying that he is constantly shouting about “Holy Mother Russia—notre sainte Russie.” He supposes that it’s due to the violent upheaval in his personal life: His wife had amicably parted with him to pursue “freedom”, only to be abused by Stavrogin abroad. But the story shows that Shatov’s change of heart and return to his roots is more complex and profound—and he ultimately suffers for it.
Shatov is disgusted with the revolutionary “five” that has been commandeered by Verkhovensky Jr., and he becomes a morose loner. But the more we get to know him the more we see that he is a deep and noble soul, who has returned to his Christian roots. He is a defender of the downtrodden; and when his “emancipated” wife shows up at his poor home, he receives her lovingly and chastely, ready to start a new, wholesome life with her.
His sister, Dasha, also stumbles in that she is ready to do anything for the profligate Stravrogin because she is hopelessly in love with him. Her love is self-sacrificing, expressed in a readiness to forever serve a man whom she knows is incapable of loving her back.
But here we see a higher level in the ongoing theme of “fatherhood”. While Stravrogin makes nervous attempts to return to a “father”—he even visits the holy Bishop Tikhon to confess a grave sin—the demons in him always get the upper hand. Whereas although Dasha and Ivan Shatov are cut off in a sense from their natural father, they are able to return to the embrace of their Heavenly Father, and their earthly Fatherland. They are wounded, but capable of becoming whole.
More tragic is Elizaveta Nicholaevna Tushina (Liza), the daughter of Varvara Petrovna’s childhood friend, Praskovia Ivanovna Drozdova. Liza also lost her father in childhood, and also received the tutelage of Stepan Verkhovensky. She is lively, attractive, and intelligent, but capricious, and also fatally drawn to the dangerous Stravrogin like a moth to the flame. He ultimately destroys her—almost against his own will, urged on by the devilish Peter Verkhovensky. She is a good soul, with natural religious piety. Her distant relative Maurice Drozdov loves her tenderly, chastely, and selflessly. That such a man would love her is already an indication of her goodness.
It is interesting that the most noble, religious, wholesome, and self-sacrificing person in the whole novel is also possibly the only character coming from a normal family. His father was well known, upright and respected. Maurice, incidentally, is the only person that Peter Verkhovensky can’t manipulate. He has a firm understanding of right and wrong, and sees through all his evil machinations. Notable again is the surname, Drozdov.
The holy hierarch Philaret (Drozdov), Metropolitan of Moscow, was an important figure in the Russian literary world. It was he who answered Pushkin in the lofty, impeccable verses entitled, “Remember Me, Who Have Forgotten Thee”. In one episode, Maurice also very symbolically knees before a holy man whom his companions, which included Liza, had come to visit out of idle curiosity. To everyone’s astonishment, the holy elder bows down before him. As the tragic story unfolds, it becomes clear that this was a prophecy concerning the good Maurice, about whose fate at the end is only known that he left that town. Does he leave the world and become a holy monk?
There is one more fatherless child who appears only at the ominous end—Erkel, a young ensign artilleryman. “Erkel was the sort of “little fool” who lacked the real sense that should rule a man’s head… He was fanatically and childishly devoted to the Movement—that is, essentially to Peter Verkhovensky… Carrying out orders was a vital need of Erkel’s shallow, unthinking nature, which longed instinctively to be subordinated to another’s will. Oh, it goes without saying, it could only be in the name of some ‘great, common cause’—but what cause made no difference.” Erkel looks up to Peter Verkhovensky as the father he never had, someone to tell him what to do and guide him to something worthwhile. But in fact, Peter is really more like one of our modern cult leaders, teenage idols, or Antifa-type gang leaders who only use such youthful “zeal without knowledge” to their own egotistical ends, than he is a true father replacement. Erkel will do anything to gain his approval, even murder. His fanatical devotion to Peter makes him ready even to go to prison rather than betray him, imagining himself to be a kind of martyr for the “cause”.
Dostoevsky’s Demons portrays many more important psychological types who all contribute to the birth and growth of a Movement, the stated goal of which is “systematically to undermine the foundations of the existing order, to bring about the disintegration of the social structure and the collapse of all moral values, which would cause general demoralization and confusion. Then the broken, decaying society, sick and in full ferment, cynical and godless, but thirsting for some guiding idea and for self-preservation, could be taken over when the banner of revolution was raised…”
Most of those contributing to the movement don’t even realize that they are digging their own graves. One can’t help but recall the fate of the Russian intelligentsia who so blithely, simply to make themselves relevant in the academic world, conveyed their liberal ideas to the youth, who then bore that seed and produced a vast, satanic meatgrinder, even murdering the main father of the Russian land—the “Tsar Batiushka” as Russian folk used to call their “Little Father, the Tsar”. The elder liberals ultimately spawned the younger nihilists. These cultured surrogate fathers could only look in horror at their own creations before either escaping the country, or disappearing into the hopper themselves. But they had no authority to control them, and were no match for their infernal dedication.
Fatherlessness is a tragedy, and the cause of so many blighted lives. But the worst kind of fatherlessness is when people have lost their connection with God the Father. They become like the lost souls who follow the devil, symbolized in Demons by the younger Verkhovensky, into the abyss of lawlessness. Dostoevsky, however, showed by his own life that when one remembers God and seeks Him, he can be pulled out of that abyss—albeit not without profound suffering.
Nun Vornelia Rees is an Orthodox religious who writes on literature and theology. This article appears courtesy of Orthodox Christianity.
The featured image shows, “The Flight of Faust and Mephistopheles,” by Mikhail Vrubel; painted ca. 1890.
Would it be useful or realistic to re-name Manhattan and call it Transhattan in respect of gender fluidity? Would that new name not also reveal that not only is gender fluid, but New York City is fluid in the sense of being a crossroads of the world? Millions emigrated into the USA through Ellis Island in Manhattan. If Manhattan is renamed Transhattan, would not the past migration of people be seen for what it is — a dramatic change in demographics revealing the inherent changeableness of the world, and that radical change is progress? Would not the re-naming help us see that deviation from the norm is normal. Our norms of today would have been considered deviations from the norm a couple of centuries ago. The philosopher Heraclitus said “all is change,” so if we accept his slogan as truth, “change” is the stable reality.
Yet, such a change does not sit well with most of us. We see that there are many radical changes in social composition, creation of new societies and even new civilizations throughout history. Yet, aspects of life, especially the biological compatibility and union of male and female seem to be an ongoing and ahistorical desideratum. Although this writer is a creationist, even evolutionists like Jean-Baptiste Lamarck believed that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This means that the development of the individual organism mirrors the evolutionary development of the human race. If this statement were to be taken seriously, even the atheistic gender fluidity crowd would have to accept gender bifurcation as nature’s final say in the matter. Gender bifurcation into male and female is a phylogenetic reality for all times, cultures, places, societies, governmental systems, etc. Therefore, it trumps our individual “choices.”
How can we resolve this tension between ongoing changes and desire to maintain the status quo which seems to have consolidated radical “changes” that occurred in the past?
We saw a tremendous influx of people into the USA from 1890-1920 but in the short run it led to massive poverty, and especially brought socialistic and communistic ideas into the USA that were less popular at that time than they are today. There was no USSR, no PRC, no commie Vietnam, no Venezuela, and no Cuba. There was no welfare system at that time, and unlike today the USA was not a place where 39% pay income tax and 60% do not (2020). There were no violent, unemployed punks in the street chanting for the overthrow of the USA for extensive periods of time or occupying Wall Street or setting fires or defacing buildings or looting millions of dollars worth of Levi’s, headsets, and panties from stores. Fluidity seen as historical change, as movement of people, as innovations in our everyday lifestyles and in our mores is thus the norm. Yet, we desire to control, to resist change, to harbor grievances against “change agents.” Both trends are historical realities.
This tension has in the past given rise to dialectic thinking whereby the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel took the “transcendental categories” of another German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in a new direction. For Kant, those categories of the mind gave order and direction to our choices and understanding, but the Hegelian dialectic found an inherent tension in those categories which Kant failed to describe or analyze. Thus, for Hegel, there is in all historical experience a Thesis which is opposed by an Antithesis. The Antithesis negates the Thesis, and the Thesis is then replaced by a Synthesis. The Synthesis is not merely a mixture of Thesis and Antithesis, but a historical condition that is different from Thesis and Antithesis, and this “condition” could not have emerged had there not been a conflict between Thesis and Antithesis. The Synthesis becomes the new Thesis, and the march of time and history continues. The path taken is one of continuous progress towards the Absolute. The perfectibility of mankind is implied.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel said that this dialectic was more specifically grounded in economics than in Hegel’s philosophy as seen historically by looking at the “class struggles” throughout the ages. This dialectic they believed would and should culminate in the classless society called “communism.”
The most valid alternative to the dialectical reasoning arising out of Germanic culture is the one found in the English/Protestant tradition. Although Marxists would disparage this tradition as being bourgeois and proposing values opposed both to dialectic and to the proletariat, the English/Protestant tradition allows for progress without contaminating that progress with an ideal of a perfectly just social order and governance. Rather, it is a progress that is mediated and limited by purity of our motives, the requirements of conscience, the moral law as revealed in the Old Testament, and through faith in both the reason and revelation of the Messiah through the New Testament.
Faith is the linchpin of this progress since it is a progress supported by Almighty God through His Providential will. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as well as Protestant colonial leaders who preceded them purposely cultivated their spiritual lives through Biblical study and prayer. Further, John Locke, Jonathan Edwards, and William Penn provided the philosophical and theological momentum for the ideal of the USA as a city on a hill. Although it may not be obvious on its face, the struggle we are seeing about human sexuality, economic and political justice, and health and happiness are at bottom a profound philosophical and theological struggle between German culture and English culture; and the English tradition is by far more vibrant and hopeful.
Jeffrey Ludwig teaches philosophy in New York City and preaches regularly at pulpits in Queens, a borough of New York City.
The featured image shows, “Declaration of Independence,” by John Trumbull; painted in 1819.
Some speak of Black Lives Matter and of LGBT, of Cancel Culture, Wokism and such great games as these. But of all the world’s great challenges, none can compare With banks, stocks, and production – the Real Capitalism.
All the Western World is engaged in great changes under the guise of “Wokism,” whose most extreme aspects occur in English-speaking countries and are exported and then mirrored in various non-English-speaking countries. But what is being “woke?” I do not pretend to have the answer, and yet there are some possible interpretations that inform us as to what lies before us.
As I see it, the real problem is not Wokism, BLM, or the LGBT et similia movements, but what is behind them, and what silently exploits such movements, the honesty of whose members I do not object to at all. I regard them attack columns – but they are not the headquarters. And if we just focus on the “foot-soldiers” and disregard the HQ and its objectives, we will be misled because we will not have the panoramic view, which alone can give us the much-needed insights.
So, what is the HQ? In the USA, many people are certain that they know for sure: Communists, or former Communists; Soviet Zombies who have come back to life to destroy the USA. To be fair, there are certain aspects of Cancel Culture which suggest a link with what took place in the past. In Stalin’s day, books were modified, in order to cancel those parts related to the “enemies of the people;” or entire books were canceled. Paintings too were modified. In Stalin’s time, the famous painting showing Lenin’s 1917 speech at the Smolny changed very many times – each time cancelling (deleting) a recently liquidated prominent Bolshevik who had fallen out of favor – so that at the end, in its definitive version, only Lenin and Stalin appeared to have been there.
Whilst Mussolini never played this game, Hitler indulged in the same Stalinist tricks, along with book-burning. And the sport of destroying statues is as old as the statues themselves, being an integral part of any given riot or revolution, since the ancient Egypt – think of Akhenaton.
We could suppose that the root of this phenomenon lies in Hegel’s philosophy, and the evolution of left and right Hegelianism (hence, Nazism and Communism). But I do not think so. Not at all.
Rather, capitalism is the answer. I know that such an answer will sound quite misleading, odd, amazing, especially in capitalistic countries – what has capitalism to do with Wokism and the various movements derive from it?
An explanation is very much needed; but it will involve a broader and greater context. So, bear with me, even if what I am going to say may seem off-topic. But it will all make sense once we reach a conclusion.
Let us go back a couple of centuries. In the early days of the 19t century, when Britannia ruled the waves, when Wellington had just defeated Napoleon, and the London stock exchange ruled the world of finance. The incipient Industrial Revolution was triggering a deep change of British, and then European and American, society – for the new entrepreneurs had to resolve a remarkable problem: How to balance supply and demand? Anyone who has studied at least some economics knows what a problem this is. But for those who are not aware of this problem, let me provide an explanation.
Let us take the example of a hypothetical early 19th century tissue producer, Mr Tissue, whose factory works well, is powered by coal, and its production is shipped by horse-towed wagons.
Let us say that this Mr. Tissue created a new cotton tissue, which becomes a fashion hit; and is so successful that suddenly everybody wants it, and ready to pay – let’s say – $1.00 per piece. Mr. Tissue’s factory is flooded with orders. What does Mr. Tissue do? Seeing the success, he decides to exploit the situation and to at once fulfill all the orders. He immediately improves production. His factory now operates longer hours and Mr. Tissue buys all the cotton that he can find.
Then, he encounters his first problem. The cotton producer he normally relies on, just does not have as much cotton Mr. Tissue needs, who now has to look for additional cotton producers he has never dealt with. The new cotton producers that he contacts say, “OK, we have cotton, but you must pay it 10 cents per pound, instead of 9 cents as you previously did.” Well, Mr. Tissue knows that he will sell a lot of his products, so, if he pays 10 cents of 9 cents, he will earn a bit less than he hoped, but his loss is not so great either. So, Mr. Tissue accepts. But shortly after, even these new producers are not enough, and Mr. Tissue has to find additional producers, and he now accepts paying 11 cents per pound for the cotton that he greatly needs.
At the same time, Mr. Tissue realizes that he does not have as many specialized workers as needed to increase production. So, he looks for additional specialized workers. But, unfortunately, there are none available, as all are already working in other factories and all are paid the same wages as his own workers – $1.00 a day. What does he do? He offers to pay $1.10 per day to new specialized workers. But gets his old specialized workers upset. And so, to keep production moving along, Mr. Tissue has to pay his old specialized workers $1.10 per day as well.
Of course, given such a remarkable 10 percent wage increase, he gets all the workers he needs – but he now has all his fellow entrepreneurs very upset, who must also increase the wages of their specialized workers’ wage – to keep them from all moving to Tissue’s factory.
Then Mr. Tissue realizes that he needs much more coal than in the past, because his factory is working twice as much as before. This means that he also needs more wagons (and horses and fodder) as well as more carriages to bring in the additional cotton and to ship out the finished goods (the tissues). And in all these cases too, given what is available on the market, he can’t get the needed additional coal, horses, wagons and fodder unless he pays more than the price he usually paid in the past. Costs rise; but Mr. Tissue doesn’t care, because he has plenty of orders still coming in.
Then, orders start to decrease, because almost everybody has the new cotton tissue, and suddenly, in a month, Tissue’s production must be reduced by one-third. What does he do? To limit his losses, he reduces the price of his tissue to 90 cents, lays off many workers, stops purchasing cotton and sells some horses and wagons, perhaps at a loss.
Finally, Mr. Tissue also is stuck with a lot of cotton, coal and fodder. He could use it in production, but the problem nobody needs Mr. Tissue’s products as much, since most people have bought lots. So, it is possible that Mr. Tissue will have to further reduce production, or stop it altogether. Hence, many more workers will lose their jobs, and their wages.
This brings about a small financial crisis will start, because without a wage the laid-off workers won’t buy as much as they used to. This leads to a domino effect, affecting other producers whose products will also not be sold in the same quantities as before. On the other hand, it is also possible that, when looking at his budget, Mr. Tissue’s business proves less convenient than he thought – he may have spent much more than he anticipated in wages, and in the purchase of horses, wagons, cotton, and coal. Tissue may end up losing everything; or, he might lose a percentage when business got bad. How does Mr. Tissue avoid these problems in the future? What does he do next time?
The early 19th century economists faced this problem. It was a new one, because never in the past did so a massive production occurred, which also meant that a massive amount of money could be lost or earned in a matter of weeks, or even days.
The main problem affecting economy was clearly the economical crisis. You can have a crisis because of overproduction – Mr. Tissue’s case at the end of the story – and underproduction – Mr. Tissue’s case at the beginning of the story.
Bear in mind that the final price is made up of the cost of the raw material, the cost of manpower, the cost of power, the cost of logistics, the cost of the infrastructure maintenance, the savings to invest in new machinery, and, last, by the entrepreneur’s profit.
In case the market suddenly asks you for more items than you are producing, or can produce, you must find the raw materials and do the handiwork as fast as you can, practically on the spot, no matter how expensive that can all be. And this means that you can earn less than usual – because if you sell your products always at the same price – and you must do that, otherwise you lose market shares – the expenditure rate composed of the prices of raw materials, wages and all the other items, will be higher than usual. Thus, your net income will be lower.
On the other hand, when the market suddenly stops purchasing your products, you may find yourself with a lot of unsold products. And, no matter if you hang onto unsold inventory or sell it at a lower price – you lose money.
Boring? Very boring? How does all this useless economics stuff pertain to the topic at hand? Wait a bit more and you’ll start matching the dots.
How to avoid this crisis in the first place was the question. The answer provided by some economists in the first half of 19th century was – “planning.” But planning what? The crisis occurred depending on how many goods were sold, or not sold – thus, it depended on the buyer. Hence the analysis of economist focused on the consumer, and they soon realized how unpredictable the single consumer really is. Therefore, would it not be better if, somehow, one could predict which kind of goods and assets the consumer could want over a lifetime?
But soon economists also realized another cause of this crises – the unpredictable number of consumers. If a single consumer was a “mad variable,” whose needs more or less could be somehow predicted, thus allowing for production synchronized to consumer demand – what if the number of global consumers changed suddenly? A consumer plus another consumer meant a family; and in nine months one could expect the consumers to become three. But what if the consumers – especially in Catholic countries – did not stop and kept increasing like rabbits? The family could hardly enhance its income as much as needed to keep their initial life standard, and this would cause a reduced in purchasing power, and thus a reduction in the goods they bought, which on a general level would be mirrored by a reduction of industrial production. So what?
The smart answer was “social planning,” because a planned society was supposed to have planned behaviors and thus planned and predictable needs, to be fulfilled through predictable and planned consumption – and hence by a long-term planned economy.
Are you connecting dots? What renders consumption unpredictable? Families. Why? Because families have children, and often they do not care how many they have. So, what does it all mean?
Such behavior has two bad consequences: Families can’t spend so much on other expensive goods, because they must eat, and dress, first. Plus, the unpredictable number of children renders consumption by families, and thus family behavior and expenditure, absolutely unpredictable. And this is bad for a planned economy – and economy in general.
In other words, traditional, unplanned families cause an economic crisis. Additionally, an economic crisis is the nightmare, the doom of capitalism. It must be avoided at any cost. Consequently, traditional, unplanned families are the enemies of capitalism because they are the origin of the economic crisis.
On the other hand, as it has more or less been explicitly said over the 60 years ago, whoever has fewer or no children, has much more money to spend. Thus, whoever has no children is welcomed; well, not completely welcomed, otherwise in a generation the market would be over, due to the death of all the consumers – and then who would capitalism sell to? Think what a bad business proposal that would it be. Now what? Well, the best thing is to have planned families – two parents and two children. Don’t forget the UN supported Family planning campaigns, mostly in the 1960’s, in places as different as India and the USA. If at that time it was said everywhere that India was overcrowded in comparison to her food production, and this such a campaign could be understood as reasonable – what about the USA? Were they short of food? Not at all. Let’s keep this in mind and let’s go move forward.
If a family plans to have two children, there is an additional unpredictable factor – how many males and females? One and one? Two and zero? Zero and two? This is troublesome, for how can you have a long-termed plan for shaving blades, or for make-up production in the next twenty years? It’s annoying. What to do? Well, for instance one could introduce a planned system but… but that would mean planning in advance what you want to have – not how many children, but how many children of which sex? It is scientifically doable, but how do you introduce the concept?
If you destroy the standard traditional family – as the Nazis did, and as the Soviets before Stalin did too – and if you introduce a “new” family, relying on birth-assistance, that is to say, on birth-planning, you can do it.
Are the dots connecting yet? The “new” family can be exploited as a tool to let the capitalistic enterprises gain much more through a planned economy based on planned life. Thus, if the capitalist system supports such a family, it is in its own monetary interests – not in the interests of families and the people.
One step more. And it will be a nasty one, but we’ve already taken quite a few nasty steps that one more is not such a tragedy.
There is another group of “bad consumers” – the old and ill. What do they live for? Only to be a burden on the public health system, if any, or on their families. Thus, aside from the expenditures welcomed only by some of the Big Pharma, what do they live for?
Moreover, they don’t have that many needs (except for medicines and assistance), and most of them can’t pay for it, either. So, what to do? How can they live without assistance, if they can’t pay for it? It would be a life without dignity… so, let’s kill them off, because no life deprived of dignity is worth living, is it? And this is what is currently done – officially in half a dozen countries of the world, and unofficially probably in many more. In fact, these people are killed simply because they are a financial burden and no longer an active portion of the consumer-world.
And, and what about those affected by mental illness? They too can’t have a life with dignity (and are unable to spend their money, if they have any). So, what do they live for? OK, there would be small problem, that is to say – who defines this “standard of dignity?” And who determines whether these “standards” are being “enjoyed” or not the people to be killed? But this is a small and negligible problem. It’s not worth discussing, as every is on agrees that life without “dignity” is not worth living.
Next point – how do you achieve all these goals? By destroying mankind as it is now and by modeling, by shaping a new one.
If you want to build something, the first thing you must do is to clear the ground. Now, this is exactly what Liberals, Wokists, Cancel Culture and so on are doing. They are cleaning the ground to “build back better” – which means a new society, a new society they claim that will be more equal, more democratic, and so on. But this new society in fact will be shaped as I described above.
As things are, they are sweeping away whatever that is linked to identity – identity in general. They are sweeping out existing culture, removing statues, modifying books, and they are sweeping away personal identity – because what kind of family can here ever be, if gender is a choice and does not depend on how the body is, and identity is no longer something determined by nature and self-existing but is something determined by…? What? Whom? By the rulers. And the rulers will determine it using an indirect approach – there will not be a law telling the people how to be. There will be a system of laws allowing this or that and causing a pre-emptive self-censorship – as already happens – and an instinctive conforming to the general behavior.
Once personal identity and identity in general is cancelled, people will simply be a mass of units, whose behavior will be directed from outside in an indirect and effective way by, and according to, indirect pressures. The more time will pass, the more rigid and apparent the pressures and conditioning will be.
Additional point. How to prevent insurgency? Simply by depriving the people of its own money. How? By paying low wages to all who are not embedded, or enrolled into the system. And how can you keep wages low? By the same system used at the eve of the Industrial Revolution – by relying on a wide offer of manpower, because there will always be the poor – who are poorer than the workers working for you – and who will therefore accept that same job for a lot less wage. Thus, you can blackmail your worker; and, if that worker does not accept your terms, you can say “goodbye.”
Really? Yes, really. Otherwise, what are we importing illegal immigrants for? For the sake of human solidarity? If that were true, we would be investing and developing instead in their countries (with lesser and longer-termed profit). What a terrible idea! No, no! We need them to keep the price of tomatoes low in the supermarket! Were the tomatoes to be picked by regular workers, they would cost four times their current price! Would you like that? And what about the onions? Would you really like to spend that much for your salad?
And what can we do with all this manpower? Well, the not-specialized manpower can die when exploited, just like a squeezed lemon. Specialized manpower will get something more, because, by the way, they are also the consumers. But they will get a low wage, big enough to purchase what the planned economy allows them to get, but not a cent more. Think of how expensive and time-consuming it is simply to buy a new car, not to say a home. But in the happy planned future, the vast majority will have long-termed rented cars (as it is usual and cheaper in the USA and not at all in Europe) and will live in rented homes, because only the happy very few will be able to purchase a home, because of their wages, and because of the high prices.
If the majority of the people have to depend on a small wage, just allowing them to have all they think they need for their daily life (and “daily-life” will be precisely planned), the big corporations will earn a lot more money, a lot longer, given the combined effect of planned production to fulfill planned consumption, all feeding the planned life of each human being. And when the human being can no longer afford to pay for what he/she needs, how can he/she still live with dignity? Thus, euthanasia, and requiescat in pace, and let’s make use of the body for transplants, for beauty farms and, last but not least, ash for the ground (never waste anything – don’t forget – that is an economic moral duty).
Is it all clear now?
So, as you see, Wokism, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, Cancel Culture they all appear as tools used and exploited by something different. And they are effective because they do not know how, and which way, they are being exploited, and to which aims. They are genuinely certain that they are fighting for rights and liberty, for a better new society. But in fact they can be compared to a smoke screen – and behind that screen you have the worst and most greedy capitalism.
Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, is the Secretary General of the Italian Commission of Military History. He is the author of 25 books, and more than 400 other smaller works\, published in Italy and abroad, and mostly dealing with modern and contemporary Italian military history and policy.
The featured image shows, “The Tower of Babel,” by Lucas van Valckenborch; painted in 1594.
Significant and noticeable changes have occurred in the U.S. in our culture, institutions, and political practice since the 2020 election. These changes reflect features of what I identify as the leftist mindset.
In what follows, the “leftist” mind will refer to anyone who advocates an all-powerful government with the potential to manage all other societal institutions. That management is to be carried out allegedly by experts trained in the social sciences, not by any individual or class or special interest group or leaders of another institution like religious ones, etc.
My explanation will identify four reasons why the leftist view has become a permanent feature of the modern political landscape and why it remains popular despite its consistent record of economic failure and often mass genocide.
The first reason is psychological. It is natural for humans to wish for immortality and perennial happiness.
A second reason is historical: The Enlightenment Project (EP) originated a belief that social science, not religion or some other institution, can help us achieve perennial happiness, if not immortality.
The third reason is the theory and practice of the leftist mindset, specifically the semantic barbed-wire or defense mechanism that has been constructed to protect this mindset from external challenge. That is, I shall identify the logical structure of the arguments that need to be advanced for the Project (EP) to be taken seriously.
The fourth part will show the extent to which the practices of democracy helps to sustain the leftist mind.
The Human Predicament: The Desire To Live Happily Ever After
The leftist mind will always be with us. If there is universal truth about humanity it is the desire to flourish indefinitely or to live happily forever. Every society from the least sophisticated to the most sophisticated has its “witch doctors” who claim the ability to help us do just that. Even some of those who commit suicide reflect this truth since living under present conditions of finitude for these individuals is unbearable and they see suicide as leading to some sort of better afterlife or at least permanent relief from the pain they are currently enduring.
Many religions, Christianity in particular, have responded to this need by promising to help us achieve immortality, but its promissory note is for the “next” life. Even the agnostic wisdom literature designed to reconcile us to mortality would not be so robust if there were not a powerful basic impulse to live happily ever after. To the extent that people wish to live happily “ever after” there will always be a market for or an audience receptive to any promised policy or remedy for the human predicament.
At the other extreme, if you adopt a totally reductive materialistic account of humanity in which we are all only members of an animal species struggling to survive in a zero-sum world, then there are no objective moral constraints. In such a world, there will always be cynical fraudsters who will seek to exploit human gullibility. To quote an old folksong, “it is better to be a hammer than a nail.”
Recent advances in medical science have only reinforced the urgency of the human predicament. Life expectancy has increased dramatically. There is no scientific reason to date to believe that medical science will stop making advances and perhaps enable some version of “immortality.” It is precisely at this point that leftists enter the debate. The first item on their agenda is state/government control of healthcare.
If the desire to live happily forever is as fundamental as I think it is, then guaranteed healthcare is the top item on the leftist agenda. Given even the present state of advances in medical technology, there is already not enough money to provide everything to everybody (“Affordable Care Act” is unaffordable). This means that government must either ration care or be given a blank check and potentially unlimited power. The blank check requires political leaders to raise taxes (the government does not have any resources other than a printing press at the Treasury Department).
Increasing the national debt (average person does not really understand this, and the rest of us may have ungrateful children anyway) is the first step; raising taxes on the “rich” is the second step, and this in turn leads to increasing class warfare. Class warfare gets redefined as equity, inclusion, etc. and entails controlling education so everyone understands the new definitions. Such warfare might lead to serious armed resistance, so confiscating weapons is the next priority. The confiscation is justified on the grounds that guns not people – who are born naturally good (see below)– are responsible for mass homicides.
The Enlightenment Project – A Social Technology
Of course, living longer and living happily ever after are not the same. Nevertheless, advances in medical science are part of a trend that has emboldened the leftist mind. Modern physical science has given us a technology that allows us to control much of the physical world. The leftist (post-Enlightenment) thinking is that there must be a social science(s) that can give us a comparable social technology.
The “Enlightenment” is a term used broadly to refer to the intellectual and social ferment in Western Europe during the eighteenth century. Our intention is not to generalize about this entire period but to identify a specific, salient project that we shall call the Enlightenment Project. The Enlightenment Project is a program to define and explain the human predicament through science as well as to achieve mastery over it through the use of a social technology. Becker claims that the dream of a technological utopia is the common inheritance of liberals, socialists, and Marxists.
Isaiah Berlin characterizes the Project as follows: “The conviction that the world, or nature, was a single whole, subject to a single set of laws, in principle discoverable by the intelligence of man; that the laws which governed inanimate nature were in principle the same as those which governed plants, animals and sentient beings; that man was capable of improvement; that there existed certain objectively recognizable human goals which all men, rightly so described, sought after, namely, happiness, knowledge, justice, liberty… that these goals were common to all men as such…that human misery, vice and folly were mainly due to ignorance either of what these goals consisted in or of the means of attaining them-ignorance due in turn to insufficient knowledge of the laws of nature. . . Consequently, the discovery of general laws that governed human behaviour, their clear and logical integration into scientific systems-of psychology, sociology, economics, political science and the like. . . create a new, sane, rational, happy, just and self-perpetuating human society, which, having arrived at the peak of attainable perfection, would preserve itself against all hostile influences, save perhaps those of nature.” Voegelin identified the EP as one of the historical forms of Gnosticism.
Theory And Practice
The logical consequences of this Enlightenment belief system are:
If there are such experts, then all former traditional centers of authority (family, religion) and all symbols of past authority (e.g. statues, holidays) need to be replaced.
If there are such experts, then there will be a consensus on policy. Those who disagree reflect ignorance, cultural lag, or subversive elements in society. Subversives will sometimes pretend to be whistleblowers.
Ignorance and cultural lag can be overcome with patience, re-education programs, or psychological counselling (e.g., sensitivity training).
Subversion may require more stringent measures such as public shaming, firing people, reassignment, or institutional restraint (imprisonment).
Educational institutions will be run by experts, not by parents.
All public media (news, social media, etc.) will be censored to insure the public is properly informed. This is not a matter of information but of judgments about the relevance and interpretation of the information. Given how complicated the world is, only properly educated and full-time experts are in a position to make these judgments.
Elections should be positive events and not divisive ones: Consensus building, public reaffirmations, confirmation of public support, etc. Having a single political party (with the most college graduates) will be a sign of such a successful endeavor.
Political and legal institutions (in fact all institutions) will be run by bureaucratic experts who possess theoretical knowledge of the collective good. There is no longer any need for brokering interests in an adversarial atmosphere.
In addition to the call for experts and censorship, the Project impliedly led directly to a destruction of traditional Christian values. Christianity had wisely and traditionally maintained that human beings were complex beings endowed with free will and with destructive tendencies (original sin) as well as wholesome ones. One does not have to accept a particular theology or philosophy to believe this – one could just use one’s own experience or your own eyes.
Advocates of the EP identified this belief as a false one perpetrated upon the ignorant and designed to maintain control over them. In its place, the EP advocates were led to maintain that human beings are born (fundamentally) good, and either (a) obstacles to their natural goodness could be removed (classical liberalism) or (b) they could be provided with the resources (redistribution) to express their natural goodness (modern liberalism, socialism, Marxism).
It was no accident that freedom in the modern world came to be defined negatively, in its most popular version, as the absence of external constraints. In an analogous way, rationality could seemingly be promoted by removing obstacles such as the belief in religion, authority, custom, or tradition. No seemingly dysfunctional person would be left behind. This has the added benefit of reinforcing the progressive-scientific story by providing a naturalistic account of why it has taken so long to arrive at the super-rationalism of the Enlightenment.
Given the economic and social challenges of the modern world, it seemed to many of those impatient to alter the status quo that a wholesale rejection of authority, tradition, and the religious institutions that seemed to support the status quo was the quickest way to achieve reform; hence, the enthusiasm for a liberated (contextless, ahistorical, purely theoretical) reason. Since traditional institutions had justified themselves on the grounds that they embody a certain wisdom about human shortcomings, theories about the natural goodness of human nature seem doubly attractive to critics of the status quo.
Part of the problem with parents, grand-parents, and older people in general (lol) is that they not only failed to produce a utopia but they found excuses for their failure by citing books that no one reads anymore (Plato to Orwell), by pointing to human imperfection and by claiming that custom reflected the experience of failed utopian dreams. That is why “properly” educated young people will be the vanguard of progress.
The University Becomes The Home Of The Enlightenment Project
Universities emerged during the Middle Ages as both repositories of human wisdom and training institutions for the intellectual and moral elite, namely the clergy. They still claim this role, but the elite are now civil servants trained in the alleged social sciences.
How did all of this come about? Historically the American university emerged in the 19th century from a variety of sources: Religious affiliation, local communities, and private benefactors. The university consisted of factions with competing paradigms. The oldest paradigm is epitomized in Newman, and originated in the small liberal arts college with a religious affiliation: The traditional purpose of liberal education was to preserve, critique, and to transmit our cultural inheritance, to pursue knowledge and to foster a sense of liberty and responsibility. To subordinate itself to the outside world, the university would only compromise itself and become an instrument for commercial or political exploitation.
A second paradigm is the German research model with its emphasis on the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, the graduate school and the training of professionals. Knowledge should not be in the service of special interest groups because knowledge knows no political boundaries. The spectacular success of this model in physical science and technology encouraged government subvention.
The third paradigm is utilitarian: The university is seen as an institution for solving various and sundry social problems. It exists as a means to social ends defined externally to the university itself. The notion of the college graduate as a civil servant evolved into the notion of a special class which aims to run society.
Newman’s moral model of the university has been marginalized (Honors Program), the research model has been corrupted (e.g., hundreds of Western epidemiologists sign a statement denying that covid-19 came from a Wuhan laboratory – and they know this how?) and coopted through government financing, and the politicized utilitarian model has triumphed. The intellectual origin of this triumph lies in the Enlightenment Project.
In theory, governing boards exist to represent the interests of taxpayer citizens in public universities and the original intent of philanthropists in private universities. In practice, the boards of universities tend to “rubber-stamp” policy actions generated by university administrations and faculties. There is little effective external control on the internal authorities that run educational institutions. Government funding of private universities has now reached the point where there are virtually no universities that could be described as “private.” More important, the feudal guild system of academic disciplines operates in both systems so that the same people circulate from one to the other.
We have witnessed the collapse of the distinction between public and private education. The university is an industry in which those who consume its product do not purchase it; those who produce it do not sell it; and those who finance it do not control it. Is there any wonder that faculties offer the sort of product they themselves derive most pleasure in supplying – a product which need not meet the desires or the needs of those for whom it is produced?
Because of the vast expansion of universities in the 1960s, all standards have been eroded, and the ethos of what it means to be a responsible faculty member has been lost. These newer faculties now control the commanding heights of all other institutions because the faculties are the gatekeepers of all professions, including the clergy! Even culture has been professionalized. Academic freedom (and creativity) have been replaced by a new politicized orthodoxy.
There are two sources for the current state of degradation: The domination of higher education by a faction with a social and political agenda (EP); and second, the addiction to financing education through increased reliance and ultimate dependence upon local, state, and federal governments. These two sources work in tandem because the political agenda construes social life as a series of problems beyond the control of individuals and capable of solution only through a statist controlled social technology. It is easier, more remunerative, and more prestigious to get a government grant than to teach summer school; it is easier to get a government grant if the purpose of your research is to show that we need more government subvention and control.
Voting the bums out and changing administrations through elections is important. But, if we do not seriously reform the university – the problems will never go away. When in the minority, leftist faculty demand toleration/academic freedom on our principles, and when in the majority they deny it on theirs.
The Logic Of The Left
There are serious problems with the EP. First, the social sciences are not in fact sciences. They neither explain, nor predict, nor offer any serious social technology.
When the physical sciences explain, they do so by identifying a substructure (not immediately visible to the naked eye like atoms, molecules, microbes, black holes, etc.). That substructure is later accessed often through sophisticated equipment. The alleged social sciences claim there is a substructure but they never produce it (e.g. how does one confirm the presence of “institutional racism?” Numerical “disparities” are not explanations of themselves.). Instead of a cumulative growth as in the physical sciences, we get an endless series of fashionable terminologies (psycho-babble).
The alleged social sciences offer competing accounts with no way to determine which, if any, is correct. And it gets worse from there. Competing hidden structure theories offer second level hidden structure accounts of why rivals disagree. This undermined any possibility of civil discussion. For example, If I deny the existence of “institutional racism” that becomes evidence in the eyes of some that I am a “racist.” What the left now insists upon is that all people will be judged on the basis of their race – this is what racism used to mean, but now it means just the opposite. It is precisely this kind of self-contradictory and illegitimate intellectual maneuver that allows the alleged social technocrats to undermine all traditional sources of authority. There are good reasons to study the social world, and there may be some insightful historical narratives, but such narratives are not and should not be presented as science.
There is a peculiar menace associated with the hyper-rationalism of this alleged social science. It is not rational precisely because it does not recognize any realistic or meaningful limits. It dissolves the difference between a potentially efficacious restraint and the cynical employment of violence. It encourages violence, that is, force intended to hurt or to damage others. It becomes more focused on resentment of the rich than on love of the poor. By delegitimating protest, it undermines the very possibility of human communication. Perhaps it was not an accident that the title of B.F. Skinner’s book was Beyond Freedom and Dignity.
Aside from their intellectual bankruptcy, the alleged social sciences are incapable of providing a liberal education: to preserve, to critique, and to transmit our cultural inheritance, to pursue knowledge and to foster a sense of liberty and responsibility. The present faculty deny the legitimacy of our cultural inheritance. Moreover, our cultural inheritance is not simply a body of knowledge about which one can theorize. That inheritance (a series of practices with many voices not just one) is something that has to be instantiated and imparted. It is not, and should not be, found in only one institution. The study of the liberal arts and obtaining a degree does not make one either a decent human being or even wise.
An example of make-believe social science is the recent discussion of “race.” Terms like “white,” “black,” “yellow,” etc. have a long history that reflects historical accident, private agendas, different social, economic, and political circumstances. In the nineteenth century, some biologists tried to make “race” a meaningful physical science concept. They failed. The term “race” is a social construct, but that raises the question is it a useful construct and to whom. Nowadays, the author of White Fragility has tried to turn “white” into a meaningful social science concept. This too has failed and merely reflects a political agenda. I predict that it will someday be as embarrassing as racial biology.
Second, are human beings to be understood as mechanisms, organic (teleological) entities, or something else? If we are mechanisms (stimulus/response) then we can be reprogrammed. But on what basis would we decide to program people? Are not the choices/decisions of the programmers themselves the result of prior programming? This kind of proposed social technology requires the alleged social scientists to be the only ones (special kind of elite) who are truly free from outside control. The original purveyors of this kind of irresponsible intellectual position (Comte and Marx) tried to evade this criticism by claiming that historical progress led to this immaculate emancipation – unfortunately, this is just another level of question-begging social science ad infinitum [it just did not happen].
The denial of free will absolves all responsibility. In a world in which everyone is a victim, there is no one to blame. But blaming some target is essential to the leftist mindset. This is not a fact (what kind of experience or empirical evidence would constitute proof that we are totally the result of external influences?) but an assumption to justify a policy. For example, it is sometime said that “there is no teaching if there is no learning,” thereby putting the entire onus for failure on the teacher and none on the student or the parents of the student, etc. This can then lead either to a wholesale replacement of the faculty or to intimidating the faculty. Most of what passes for policy is not a solution to a problem but a policy in search of a problem, that is, either a “solution” to a problem that does not exist or it leaves the real problem untouched or unrecognized.
If we were organic entities, then we would have built in goals. All of these goals would have to be part of a consistent whole with a master goal? How would you prove that? Does this really square with our daily experience of having to resolve conflict by making hard but not happy choices? For example, the left has always had trouble dealing with sexual taboos. It is neither semantically nor realistically possible to “choose” everything. Do we want to grant that there are experts who “know” what we “really” want as opposed to what we think or say we want?
Ironically, the left does not solve problems by actually producing a social technology. Instead, it uses other means. For example, it uses the new physical technology (wire-taps, social media, control of news outlets, rigging of elections, etc.) both to silence dissent and to create the impression that there is a real social consensus.
The new technocrats also solve problems by redefinition. If there is a numerical disparity (e.g. larger percentage of one group in prison than their percentage of the population), we change the numbers by emptying the prisons. Problem solved! We can eliminate incarceration by “reducing” crime (or statistics thereof), by reducing the list of forbidden activities or not prosecuting people (think of drug dealers as “unlicensed” pharmacists). If there is an unequal distribution of income, then redistribute it through taxation, by the government of course. If student achievement shows disparity or if previous leftist policies lead to an overall decline in performance, then eliminate grading or assessment (or alternatively just assess the graders). Eliminating standards merely reinforces stereotypes and feeds the anxiety of an inferiority complex.
Since we now can define crime out of existence there is no need for a police force. Hence, we can defund the police department. This is not the reduction in the number of public employees (real police confront evil on a daily basis), but the prelude to hiring a different group of people (who deny the existence of evil) to address social issues. It’s all about the personnel or getting one’s own people in there.
Perhaps it is now time to redefine “social” technology. Social technology is the creation of a bureaucratic structure, both formal and informal, to reprogram public attitudes. The formal structure will include such things as revitalized public-employee unions, a new kind of police presence (we need to get rid of “force”), only hiring public service bureaucrats who believe in the program, etc.
The informal structure will embody many of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The execution of Alinsky’s rules requires the use of “shock troops.” This has, for a variety of historical reasons, become the assigned role primarily of vulnerable African-Americans. One of the saddest aspects of this entire charade is the way in which African–Americans continue to be treated in a patronizing and condescending way.
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.” Translation: You are not allowed to challenge anything an African-American says about race (Black Privilege of playing the race card) because you are incapable of understanding “their” world; never engage in polite rule-governed debate; use late-night comedy TV shows for character assassination, fake news, cancel culture, cyber bullying, accosting officials in public places such as restaurants, restrooms, etc.
“The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Translation: Carefully planned and executed public demonstrations, small scale riots, looting, burnings preferably confined to low-income African-American neighborhoods or down-town high profile shopping areas rather than “white” middle-class residential neighborhoods.
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Translation: Demonize Donald Trump; the “white” male; the top 2% of income earners, etc.
This is actually the Achilles heel of the leftist mindset. To begin with, a negative narrative is never as effective as a positive one. A negative narrative is also inconsistent with the assumption that people are born good and corrupted by their environment because that implies no one is to blame. On the other hand, given the absence of any positive achievement (redistribution never leads to the transmission of wealth from the rich to the poor; instead it leads to the destruction of wealth and to the transfer of power from the individual to the state [de Jouvenel]), the blame game is all they have.
More to the point, the blamers reflect the fact that there are chronic non-achievers: “The emergence of this disposition to be an individual is the pre-eminent event in modern European history… there were some people, by circumstance or by temperament, less ready than others to respond… the counterpart of the… entrepreneur of the sixteenth century was the displaced laborer… the familiar anonymity of communal life was replaced by a personal identity which was burdensome… it bred envy, jealousy and resentment… a new morality… not of ‘liberty’ and ‘self-determination,’ but of ‘equality’ and ‘solidarity’… not… the ‘love of others’ or ‘charity’ or…’benevolence’…but… the love of ‘the community’ [common good]… [the anti-individual or mass man] remains an unmistakably derivative character… helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality… [only] The desire of the ‘masses’ to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge” [Oakeshott]. Obama’s claim that “you did not build that” was the clearest expression of the attempt to undermine the prestige of real achievers.
“A good tactic is one your people [leftist activists] enjoy.” Translation: Enlist students to execute the rules since for them it is fun and games, an exciting form of bonding, meeting potential people to date, and a chance to do something to change the world without serious study (you might even be excused from a boring class or demanding exam).
“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” Translation: Use demonstrations to provoke police overreaction and then claim that the establishment is engaged in repression; make the public believe that you are playing by the rules when you really intend to subvert the system; claim that you want to be part of the system when what you really want is to change the system altogether.
Political Democracy And The Leftist Mindset
“Democracy” simply means majority rule. It is a form of government in which any majority (e.g. the bottom 51%) has the potential to mistreat or rip-off the other 49%. You can be exploited by one, the few, or the many. Almost every major writer from the ancients to the early 19th-century condemned democracy. That is why the U.S. founders created a “Republic” designed to minimize conflict, not pretend to eliminate it altogether. The standard tactic of all leftist demagogues has always been to insist on more democratization. Democratization is not just about extending the franchise (one of my feminist students repeatedly refused to answer me when I asked who was allowed to vote and thereby to pass the 19th Amendment- most likely because acknowledging that white males passed the 19th Amendment did not fit her narrative).
As de Tocqueville, Mill and others pointed out, democratization is an attack on meritocracy and the elevation of mediocrity. The major theoretical question for the U.S. is whether a Republic and a meritocratic culture are compatible with a democratic society (social mobility/not a permanent class structure). The left, as I have defined it, wants greater government control of every institution. To achieve this in a democratic society you need to persuade the majority that meritocracy is a fraud and a form of oppression. That is why the left focuses on community organizers to fabricate a “majority” composed of the resentful, willing to endorse an all-powerful government. Among these are “race hustlers” who are often no better than Jews who served the Nazi atrocities.
To date, advocates of a meritocratic culture (self-interest rightly understood) have prevailed because of (1) the unprecedented achievements of the U.S. economy (e.g. covid-19 vaccines – why is it that the U.S. economy under Trump produced three, the UK one, and the rest of the world nothing worth mentioning?); (2) the achievements of the meritocrats have grown the pie for everyone; and (3) the continuous failures of government controlled economies.
For the left to prevail, it will be necessary to cobble together a majority composed of all those who think or have been persuaded to think that the U.S. meritocracy is a wholesale fraud (African-Americans, radical feminists, recent migrants from failed nation-states who want to move to the US but have no understanding of why the US is different). There are two versions of this:
Replace one meritocracy with a “better” one (perhaps redefine achievement).
Give up on meritocracy all together. In this version, the “spoils” are divided up by spokespersons for the various voter constituencies.
The politicians who exemplify or endorse the outlook of the left are not to be confused with intellectuals, academics, social scientists, journalists or anyone who really believes in or articulates the leftist mindset (at best, the latter may serve as bureaucrats).
These particular politicians have a different skill set and mentality. They exhibit no outstanding intellectual accomplishments. They crave success, recognition, power, riches, etc. but lack either the talents or personality to achieve those things in real world occupations. They have no record of prior successful achievement even in political life (except for winning an election; how could they when the leftist agenda is unachievable?). They are ambitious people but without substance (a too common American trait). They are salespeople who sell dreams, in short, con-artists. The most that they can accomplish is to enrich themselves and to provide jobs for the true-believers by increasing the size of government bureaucracies. They are entrepreneurs of a sort for whom success is a matter of winning elections and maintaining themselves in power or at least gaining a sinecure in leftist institutions (universities, think tanks, nonprofits, etc.).
If seeking and holding public office were a temporary responsibility (e.g. term limits, etc.) one could rely upon integrity, and if you lose on any issue you can go back to your real life. If you are a professional or career politician, then that is your real life, and you have no alternative except to win at all costs. Failed or even disgraced leftist politicians automatically get a “pass” because their “heart was in the right place,” because they too were victims of something or other, but most of all because the leftist mindset is unable/unwilling to surrender or question the dream of utopia or its own role/responsibility for promoting the failure.
Time To Fight Back
Let me put this into historical perspective. It is no accident that so much of phony social science has focused on “race.” Western Europeans (Brits in particular), who generally had “lighter” skin color than inhabitants of sub-Sahara Africa, Asia, South America, etc., were the first to formulate and adopt the logic of modernity: The Technological Project (Descartes’ suggestion that we make humanity the masters and possessors of nature – instead of conforming to nature we control it for human betterment – this includes both modern weapons and modern medicine), market economies (Adam Smith), limited government (Locke), the rule of law, and a culture of autonomous individuality. This enabled Western Europeans to “colonize” the rest of the world. In time, the rest of the (“developing”) world gradually and painfully adopted or is in the process of adopting all or part of the Technological Project.
That same logic, especially the concept of individual autonomy (J.S. Mill), led to the discrediting of “colonization.” As noble-prize winner Naipaul has put it:
“The universal civilization has been a long time in the making. It wasn’t always universal; it wasn’t always as attractive as it is today… the extraordinary attempt of this civilization to accommodate the rest of the world, and all the currents of that world’s thought…This idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery… It is an elastic idea; it fits all men. It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. I don’t imagine my father’s parents would have been able to understand the idea. So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement… It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.”
Regardless of skin color, ethnicity, etc. people from all backgrounds, both inside and outside the U.S., have succeeded in adopting and thriving within that universal civilization. There is a mountain of statistics and narratives to support this contention, but it is egregiously ignored by purveyors of misinformation, phony social science, and fabricators of false and misleading historical narratives about slavery. Was it not the British who ended the 19th-century Atlantic slave trade?
At the same time, there are large numbers of people who either reject this civilization or are dysfunctional within it. The presumption on the part of the leftist mindset is that the dysfunction is solely the result of some kind of external conspiracy (e.g. “orientalism”) that can only be overcome by an all-powerful government is (a) question-begging, (b) self-serving, and (c) ignores the extent to which public policies advocated by the leftist mindset (e.g., welfare; see Charles Murray’s work) are themselves responsible for the problem. If things are so bad, why do so many foreign scholars of color who excoriate the West compete for academic positions in New York and London?
It seems to me to be a legitimate question to ask the following: (a) might we have to live in a world in which many people are either incapable or unwilling to become autonomous? (b) if so, should we aim for something less demanding? (c) what would it look like? (d) Is the guaranteed annual income a recognition of this problem or the creation of a permanent under-class? Shall we be defined by our “winners” or by our “losers?” I do not pretend to have final and definitive answers to those questions.
The foregoing is a conversation we must have among ourselves (if you are reading this far). There cannot be an honest conversation with the leftist mindset since its pursuit of a phony social science has led it to the land of invincible ignorance.
A Multiplicity Of Narratives
What I have just offered is not social science (there are no hidden structures) but an historical narrative. If there is a “better” narrative, then let us politely discuss both it and what you might mean by “better.” I suggest that each of us will have to ask ourselves what narrative rings true and which narrative each of us will choose to live by. In the end it will be a matter of choice and not the discovery of some hidden structure.
The leftist mindset has one more arrow in its quiver. Leftists announce with great fanfare (Lyotard) that there is not, and there can not be, one authoritative narrative. They are correct. Let me go one step further and not only endorse this claim but add to it. It is precisely because of this capacity of the human imagination that we can formulate different accounts. This is a good thing, a useful thing that accounts for the incredible creative potential of the human race.
The really important question is: What sort of social structure is most compatible with the recognition that there will probably always be a multiplicity of narratives? Curiously, the recognition of this condition is not a new or unique event. We have already been through this during the religious wars of the 17th-century and the subsequent discussion of what to do when there is a multiplicity of religious (and agnostic) narratives. Locke gave us an answer then, and it is one that still works for most of us. We tolerate any narrative that does not deny the legitimacy of other narratives and that does not impose its narrative upon others.
A free and open society in which each of us pursues our own dream without imposing on others is the only one compatible with a multiplicity of narratives. If there is no authoritative collective narrative, then there is no collective good. Without a collective good, the leftist mindset has no basis on which to promote an all-powerful government. Such a government would amount to a form of fanatical oppression. This may satisfy constituencies who seek power over others, but it will not solve any problem. The leftist mindset is intellectually bankrupt and leads only to despair.
People of substance understand that utopias are intellectual frauds, that life is a continuous and difficult balancing act, that benefits come with costs, that success is often a matter of luck, and that public service is or should be a temporary responsibility. Keeping this in mind can lead us back to hope. It can remind us that there is something worth fighting and even dying for, namely freedom.
To comment on Revelation is first to search the Old Testament for insights. However, can we gain further insights, in the sense that Saint John was inspired in particular by texts such as those found in the caves of the Dead Sea? This idea has been advanced by certain exegetes, who sometimes go so far as to make Saint John (even Jesus himself) a disciple of the “Essenes,” presumed to have inhabited the site of Qumran (roughly above one of the caves that had the manuscripts, namely, Cave 4).
It should be noted that this idea occurs in a larger discourse, frequently held at university departments of religious studies: That the Trinitarian faith, clearly expressed in the New Testament, is a derivative and late form of Christianity, which would not initially speak of the presence of God in Jesus (a presence which fulfills the biblical promise of God coming to visit his people). Since the New Testament never speaks of the Essenes, this very absence is taken as proof of the late writing of the Gospels, which would not have been composed by witnesses (apostles and disciples), and in Aramaic (in oral style), but written late and in Greek. Moreover, the reason for the alleged late drafting is that it would have been done in Greek, and it was done in Greek since it is presumed late. One can wonder if this “evidence,” in the form of a vicious circle, is not part of a larger and a priori negation.
A recent example of “negationism” is the lavish book (subsidized by the French Ministry of Culture), Après Jésus: l’invention du christianisme (After Jesus. The invention of Christianity), in which we find denied the existence of Christians, East of the Roman Empire before the third century. A contradictory variant of this negation consists in postulating that the Christians of Mesopotamia, predominantly Jewish, certainly existed, but believed “in astrology, in magic and in the divinity of the natural elements,” as per Luigi Cirillo.
However, other exegetes have shown that even the Greek texts cannot be very late, or at least some of them, because they fall into seven unreducible families of manuscripts. For example Philippe Rolland who, at the end of his life, published with Lucien Houdry a summary of the evidence: On the basis of a primitive “gospel of Jerusalem,” they placed the official and final writing of the synoptics in Greek at the beginning of the 60s AD. Papias points to the first gospel: “Matthew organized (συνετάξατο) the words of the Lord in the language of the Hebrews (= Aramaic), and each one made the translation of it as he could (ἡρμήνευσεν δ ‘αὐτὰ ὡς ἦν δυνατὸς ταστος) ”(Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16).
The great recent rediscovery has been that these “families” are rooted in oral compositions in Aramaic, the manuscripts of which form only one family: It is these compositions, originally written down as a reminder, collected for the most part in our “gospels,” which originally (except for John) were used as lectionaries – and which were quickly translated into Latin and Greek. These new perspectives, answering questions which have haunted the world of exegesis for centuries (in particular: what are the gospels?), answer what the Eastern Churches have always affirmed: The New Testament gives an account, in a way contemporary, and first in Aramaic, of the faith of the apostles and disciples, for which they gave their lives.
What then are we to make, in relation to the Revelation of Saint John, of texts known since the discoveries at the Dead Sea, or other comparable texts already previously known, and which reflect a “faith” other than that of the apostles?
Questions To Be Addressed
Any possible comparison first raises the problem of the authors of these texts. For more than fifty years, they have been attributed to a sect called “Essenes” who supposedly inhabited the site of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. Today, most serious researchers have been led to relegate this idea of the “Essene monks” and their monastery of Qumran to the rank of an absurd belief – not without reservations, because it must be admitted that the academic world had fabricated a myth.
Once the origins of this accumulation of errors have been clarified, it will then be appropriate to look at the question of the dating of the later documents of the Dead Sea, among which we find passages of “apocalyptic” or eschatological style which can be compared to those of the Revelation of Saint John. But in what capacity can they be compared to it? If they are prior to the year 70 and therefore to Revelation, one might think that Saint John was inspired by them. But if they are contemporary – Saint John lived for almost 90 years – or later, the question requires a radically new look.
Some Reminders Relating To The Myth Of The “Essene Monks Of Qumran”
André Paul (1933-2019) had been one of the main popularizers of the Essene thesis. In 2000, he was still teaching that Jesus went to be trained with these Essenes. But he completely changed his mind in 2007. And in 2008 he published Qumrân et les Esséniens (Qumran and the Essenes) with the eloquent subtitle, L’éclatement d’un dogme (The Shattering of a Dogma). And again, he was not familiar with the work of Professors Robert and Pauline Donceel-Voute, who studied the remains collected on the ground of the Qumran site, remains which had been entrusted to the care of the Catholic University of Louvain. Their conclusions are very clear – in these places, there had never been anything other than a rich commerce in balms and perfumes (related to the balsam trees of the surroundings ). This put a definitive end to the idea of a mythical monastic community there, with a scriptorium in the style of Western medieval abbeys.
Note that this myth, originally unrelated to a specific place, had a distant origin. It begins with a pagan interpolator of the only Greek text by Flavius Josephus that we have (a copy of the 9th century), a fairly anti-Semitic author, close to Roman power, who was inspired by the Philosophoumena, attributed to Hippolytus. The myth emerged in the modern era, notably with Voltaire and was much discussed in the 18th century; and then it resurfaced a second time after 1947, following the discoveries of the so-called “Dead Sea” scrolls, before collapsing in the 21st century. This story, still very little known, was summarized in the first volume of myLe Messie et son prophète(The Messiah and His Prophet).
One of the problems with this myth is that it functioned like a tree hiding the forest, the forest being the multitude of Jewish community associations, especially in the Diaspora, whose goal was the preservation of worship and its own freedom. The writings attributed to the legendary “Essenes” must therefore be redistributed to their various true authors, in particular to Jewish or even Greek Christian communities, or even to groups of ex-Judeo-Christians who had deviated from the preaching of the apostles.
The Dating Of The Latest Dead Sea Texts
Confusion surrounds the dating of these manuscripts; they are usually said to have been buried before the year 70 (end of the First “Jewish War”), which tends to present them all as pre-Christian. However, this terminus ad quem is arbitrary: such a deadline has no other reason than to harmonize the age of the manuscripts with the myth of the “Essenes of Qumran,” whose existence one cannot decently posit after the year 70 AD. Now, it should be considered that the eleven caves of the Dead Sea – twelve now and located many kilometers from each other, certainly have different histories; to assign a priori the same date for the caves is absurd.
In addition, in 95 AD, the Pharisee Synod of Yabneh decided to suppress a number of writings deemed to be non-conforming; and if they contained the name of YHWH, it was out of the question to destroy them, they were to be stored in inaccessible caches. Many of the Dead Sea writings meet this criterion, some have even been burned on one side, as a sign of being excluded. It is therefore most certainly in the year 135 AD (end of the Second “Jewish war”) that we must locate the terminus ad quem.
An additional argument for the year 135 comes from the discovery, at the end of 2016, of a twelfth manuscript cave in the Judean Desert. This Cave 12 of the Dead Sea (very difficult to access) contained manuscript jars – they were most likely broken and looted in the 19th century – but a few fragments of manuscripts were found on the ground. However, it was occupied during the Second “Jewish War,” as evidenced by the coins linked to this second uprising and the remains of weapons found there. Recall that two fragments of the New Testament in Greek were found in Cave 7: 7Q4 (1Tim 3,16.4,3) and 7Q5 (Mk 6,52-53).
Moreover, it was obvious that the Dead Sea Scrolls dated from various periods and in particular after the year 70 AD. Some of them bear witness to different versions, in which there are additions – which presupposes successive editorial periods. Some of these additions have a “Christian” aftertaste, which corresponds well to a period between 70 and 135 AD.
What We Learn From The Testament Of Zabulon
Consequently, it is no longer appropriate to present these additions as pre-Christian, nor those passages of the same ideological bent found in the caves, or known long before the discoveries of 1947. There is no need to invent “Christian interpolators” who, in the end, during the second or third century, falsified supposedly pre-Christian texts; and for this reason, all the more mysterious, as these passages are not really Christian. Obviously, the simple solution is that these texts with their “Christian” passages go back as they are to 1st or early 2nd century versions. Nothing like an example to understand.
In the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the simplest (and very well attested) example is that of passage 9.8 of the Testament of Zabulon, which is presented in two versions, between which versions the manuscripts are more or less evenly distributed. It should be noted in passing that the additions in question are less interpolations than rewritings which lengthen the passage. The first version is short, the other is significantly longer.
The short version reads: “After that, the Lord himself, the light of righteousness, will arise for you, and you will return to your land. And you will see Him in Jerusalem, because of His holy name” (Test. Zab. 9.8).
The second, longer version reads:
“After that, the Lord himself will raise for you, the light of righteousness [unchanged quote from Hosea 10:12], and healing and compassion will be in his wings. He will deliver from Beliar all the captivity of the children of men, and every straying spirit will be trampled underfoot; and He will convert all nations to serve Him zealously. And you will see God in the form of a man chosen by the Lord, in Jerusalem, because of his name.”
The lesson of the short version does not summarize that of the longer version, for it is clearly anterior: it simply evokes the eschatological vision of the victorious return to the Country, a biblical vision taking as a model either the return from Exile with Nehemiah, or even the Exodus. Perhaps this is a prophecy of comfort after the insurrection of 66-70 AD, which forced all those who did not want to take part to flee the country.
The lesson in the longer version, which is obviously later, is that it may well be a “Christian prophecy” ex post facto? In fact, if the author were a Christian, he would not have written that the Lord would have “chosen” to take the “form of a grown man.” Rather, Christian theology says that the “(announced) visit of God” to His people took place in that He “took flesh,” not in that He took a “form” (an already existing body). We find a comparable formulation in two others Testaments (“God takes a body” [Test. Simeon 6: 7]; God “appeared in the form of a lowly man/came in the flesh” [Test. Benjamin 10: 7;8])’ and it indicates that God invests and manipulates an adult man, as suggested in another way, notably in Fragment 3 of Ms. 4Q286-287: “…Holy Spirit [rep] daring on His Messiah….” This corresponds to the conception of a Messiah Jesus inhabited by the Spirit (= adopted by God) from his baptism in the Jordan, a conception that the Sabellians or Mandaeans of Mesopotamia had, and later the disciples of Paul of Samosata had, that is, the monarchianists, and many others.
Thus, the author of the Testament of Zabulon, 9.8, a late version, offers very little apostolic “Christianity;” and it is even more evident when one notices that here it is God who invests a man with His Spirit, and not the Word (Logos or meltā in Aramaic) who “becomes flesh” (Jn 1:14). The difference is not minimal; it is of a Trinitarian nature. We are therefore not faced with a “naive Christology,” as Marc Philonenko thinks, but with a radical reinterpretation. Certainly, the first expressions of the apostolic faith do not have the precision of the later formulations or forms (especially conciliar); but they are biblical and clearly Trinitarian.
We should not focus on the term “form,” which renders the Greek, morphe. We find it with the qualifier of “human” in the Letter to the Ephesians (XVIII) of Ignatius of Antioch (martyred around 107); but it is precisely not the question of a God who is to come in this “form” but who “appears” it in: “Then… the old kingdom was ruined, when God appeared in the form of a man, for a newness of eternal life.” In fact, behind the Greek expression, morphe Theou, we must see the Aramaic dmwtᵓ dᵓlhᵓ, “consanguinity-likeness of Aloha,” which refers to Genesis, when God created man “in his image (Hebrew tselem, shadow-image) and his likeness-aspect (Hebrew demuwth – see also Ezekiel 1:13).” We are very far from the negation of the divinity of the Messiah (Jesus), implied by the messianist formula “to come in a man.”
Where do these confusions come from?
A Lack Of Knowledge Of The Historical (Aramaic) Context?
A lack of knowledge of apostolic Syro-Aramaic Christianity and of the first drifting away is certainly a cause of confusion. Few scholars have understood that expressions referred to as “non-Trinitarian Christians” (in the Testaments, or other parallel writings referred by these scholars as “inter-Testamentary”) were in fact shifts from the apostolic faith expressed in the New Testament (and not the other way around).
Even before the discoveries of the Dead Sea, the idea circulated that the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs could have inspired the New Testament writings – when in fact in the matter of influence, one should consider the reverse. Thus, according to R.H. Charles, Gad 6:3-6 would have given Matthew 18: 15-35 (+ Luke 17:3); Daniel 5:3 would have given Matthew 22:37-39; Joseph 1:5-6 would have given Matthew 25:35-36; Levi 6:2 would have given Luke 2:19; Levi 14:4 would have given John 1:9; Benjamin 6:4 would have given John 5:41; Simeon 2:8 would have given Acts 12:11. Charles also pointed out 70 terms common to these Testaments and to the Pauline corpus.
Indeed, Jesus did not promise a triumph to come but world trials preceding the Judgment of his Coming: Luke 21: 9-11;27: “And when you shall hear of wars and seditions, be not terrified: these things must first come to pass; but the end is not yet presently. Then he said to them: Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there shall be great earthquakes in divers places, and pestilences, and famines, and terrors from heaven; and there shall be great signs… And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty.” Matthew 24: 7;29-30: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places… And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty.”
This is all the more evident here as this shift is expressed in a co-text which apocalyptically emphasizes earthly success. On the contrary, in Luke 21 and Matthew 24, Jesus does not announce an earthly success. This is a post-Christian doctrine, focused on the kingdom of God to be built (or imposed) on the earth. That is, a “messianist” doctrine – and even the first of its kind in history. Such a doctrine could only have arisen as a distortion of a prior Announcement of the Kingdom of God to come, that which Jesus gave but whose realization on earth depends on his Second Coming.
In fact, when we put things in their place, we realize that we must consider the existence of two distortions or primitive drifts of the apostolic faith, one of which is messianism which claims to save the world – the other being focused on the future of the individual person (Irenaeus of Lyon, in Against Heresies, essentially focused on the Gnostic drifts of the apostolic faith, and marginally on the messianist drift.). These deviant doctrines are unlikely to have been clearly developed before the year 70; they certainly were developed in the years following the destruction of the Temple, so shocking to Jewish religious consciousness (and to some extent also to Judeo-Christians, despite Jesus’ warnings).
Thus, when we read the later versions of the Testaments today, there is no longer any need to ask the insoluble question of supposed late “Christian interpolators” – they are post-Christian rewritings, inspired by messianist ideology, created by Jewish Christians who opposed the teaching of the apostles (i.e., ex-Judeo-Christians); and this after the crisis of the destruction of the Temple.
Saint John Confronted By Post-Christian Currents?
By definition, the writings of Saint John owe nothing to later texts. As for earlier texts, one could largely mention the Book of Enoch, whose apocalyptic style has an air of resemblance to the Revelation of Saint John. This text may date back to the 3rd century BC, but it went through different versions – it was a bestseller. There is much talk of visions, angels and demons punished by the fire in which kings and the powerful, who follow them, also burn. These are spiritual commonplaces. Saint John was not inspired by this especially when he describes a lake of fire engulfing the beast, the false prophet and the devil (Rev. 19:20; 20:10); and all those who were not found written in the book of Life (Rev 20:15). His images are much more significant.
There remain therefore the writings which were contemporary with him, and those which interest us, especially are those which, after the year 70, testify to doctrines opposed to those of the apostles, whether in a Messianist sense or in the sense of an exaltation of the “spiritual me” – that is to say the current of masters who claimed a more or less magical “spiritual knowledge,” who therefore qualified as “Gnostics” (in any case explicitly since Carpocrates, at the beginning of the second century), and who, more often than not, claimed to be the “true Christians.” (Gnosis is a “reinterpretation of Christian doctrine,” writes Robert M. Grant). Did Saint John want to respond to the promoters of these currents which distorted faith in Jesus Christ?
We note first that in its own way, each of these two currents is led to deny the death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus. Since the Messianist perspective is the salvation of the world, it is unthinkable that the Messiah failed in the project of world domination that God is presumed to have entrusted to him, to the point of dying on a cross – which is a curse in the biblical view (Deuteronomy 21:23). Thus, someone else was substituted for him and he was taken to Heaven, where he awaits the moment to return to earth, to resume work and to succeed in conquering the world. (In a passage from the Testament of Levi, written as a reproach to the Jews who reject Jesus as Messiah, it is not specified that Jesus died: “The man who renews the Law by the power of the Most High, you hail him with the title of Impostor. Then by your malice, you then throw yourself on him to kill him, without knowing if he will rise up and let his innocent blood fall on your heads. But I say to you, because of him, your holt sanctuary will be razed to the ground” (16:3-4). Curiously, we read in the Koran: “[The Jews say:] We really killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, messenger of God. But they neither killed nor crucified him, but someone resembling him was put before them [before their eyes]… but God raised him up to him”(Sur. 4.157-158).
As the Messiah is a superman, he will reign 400 years. The number 400 can be read in the Latin, Georgian and Proto-Arabic versions of the Fourth Book of Ezra 7: 28-31. Islam inherits this expectation of a re-descending of “the Messiah Jesus” (al-masiḥ ‘Isa in the proper words of the Koran), an essential expectation in the historical preaching of Muhammad, according to many hadith-s (Amir-Moezzi ), and far from the character created by legend. But Islamic theology (well after the Koran) divided the 400 years by ten: after having killed the dragon and defeated his armies, Jesus only lives 40 years.
As for the spiritualist perspective (known as “Gnostic”), it too cannot envisage that the Messiah Son of God is really dead – and therefore he did not really rise from the dead either. It was his body, or an appearance, that was crucified – the Master was no longer there, he had already left his body – and he was made to say: “I am not the one who is fixed to the cross” (Acts of John, No. 99). This has been called “Docetism;” but it is simply a feature of all spiritualist systems.
(The Acts of John is subtly Gnostic, it never attacks the Christian faith head-on. In No. 101, we read, “Nothing, therefore, of the things which they will say of me have I suffered: nay, that suffering also which I showed unto thee and the rest in the dance, I will that it be called a mystery…. that I am, not what I said, but what thou art able to know, because thou art akin thereto. Thou hearest that I suffered, yet did I not suffer; that I suffered not, yet did I suffer; that I was pierced, yet I was not smitten; hanged, and I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, and it flowed not; and, in a word, what they say of me, that befell me not, but what they say not, that did I suffer. Now what those things are I signify unto thee, for I know that thou wilt understand.”. Regarding the negation of the cross, there is Ignatius of Antioch, Epistola ad Smyrnaeos, 2 – P.G. V, 707: “All this he suffered for us, so that we may be saved. And he truly suffered, as he also truly rose from the dead, not, as some unbelievers say, that he suffered only in appearance.” As well, Ad Trallianos, 10 – P.G. V, 682, and Epiphanius, Panarion, 24.3 – P.G. XLI, 311).
In his Revelation, Saint John is clear. The angel, spokesperson for Jesus, tells of his pre-existence and his Easter mystery: “Thus saith he who is the First and the Last, he who was dead and who [re] lived” (Rev 2:8 FG ). And John saw a vision, in the middle of the throne, of a Lamb slain (Rev 56). He is the Word-Speech [Logos, Aramaic, meltā] of God (Rev 19:13). God and the Lamb sit together on the Throne, from which flows the river of living waters (Rev 22:1). The first response to the distortions of Revelation received by the apostles and disciples is the affirmation of it.
However, Saint John goes further; his Revelation takes into account the nascent post-Christian currents. Without claiming to be exhaustive, let’s take a closer look.
Revelation In The Face Of The Messianist Distortion Of Revelation
We have already looked at passages from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in their later versions, which are heavily borrowed from Messianist ideology dreaming of an Israel that will rebuild the Temple (destroyed in 70 AD – Test. Levi XVII, 10), and ruling over the whole world through a King-Priest (Test. Levi XVIII, 3-4).
Another writing, also found in the caves of the Dead Sea in several copies (seven in all – which speaks to its importance), the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, is still more explicit. It reads: “The first attack of the Sons of Light shall be undertaken against the forces of the Sons of Darkness… when the exiles of the Sons of Light return from the Wilderness of the Peoples to camp in the Wilderness of Jerusalem…. On the day when the Kittim [the Romans] fall there shall be a battle and horrible carnage before the God of Israel, for it is a day appointed by Him from ancient times as a battle of annihilation for the Sons of Darkness” (Col. 1: 1-9; 1QM1-14).
What has been called the Rule of the Community prescribes “to love all the children of light, each according to his good for the divine purpose, and to hate all the children of darkness, each according to his guilt in the vengeance of God” (1QS 1.9-10). And if this is not understood, it clearly calls for an “eternal hatred towards men of perdition” (1QS 9,21-22). André Dupont-Sommer translates “men of perdition,” as “men of the pit,” which Josephus uses to designate the ungodly (Jewish War II, 11,155). A similar expression, “way of the Pit,” can be found in another cave writing, The Wiles of the Wanton Woman.
A fragment of an Isaiah Commentary, found in Cave IV, speaks of the descendant of “David who will appear in the last [days]… And God will sustain him with [a spirit] mighty [… and give him ] a glorious throne, [a] [sacred] diadem and ceremonial vestments… scepter in his hands, and he will reign over all the G[enti]ls and even Magog [and his army… all] the peoples will be submitted to his sword”(4Q161 10 22-26).
Note the logic of the system. If we are to save the world and establish the will of God in it, we must hate those who oppose the global takeover, since they are enemies of God, no matter how sympathetic they may appear. Similar beliefs are expressed later in the Quran: “It was not you who killed them, it was God who killed them” (Quran 8,17); “Fight them (to death that is to say go so far as to kill them) so that God by your hands may chastise them” (Quran 9,14).
We should also note the mistrust taught towards women, who, concerned about their home, always run the risk of diverting man from the eschatological combat prescribed for him. A fragmentary text, also taken from one of the caves in the Dead Sea and aptly entitled, The Wiles of the Wicked Woman, reads: “Her [woman’s] eyes she casts here and there, and she flutters her eyelashes shamelessly… in order to make the humble to rebel from God and to turn their steps far from the ways of righteousness… in order to lead man astray into the ways of the Pit and to seduce the sons of men with flattery.” As the translator points out, there is no allegorical meaning to seek: the prostitute here is the image of woman herself.
We can note weaker anti-feminist passages in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; the strongest is in the Testament of Judah: “The angel of God showed me that women will always rule, over kings as well as over the poor. From the king, they take away his glory, from the brave, his strength, from the poor the least support in his poverty” (15.5-6. Trans. In la Bible , p. 867).
On the other hand, in the Koran, the messianist logic goes all the way: “From your wives and your children [comes] an enemy for you (min azwâji-kum wa awlâdi-kum‘ adûwan lakum); take care!… Your goods and your children are only a seduction (fitnah, temptation)” (Sura 64.14-15). The translator Kechrid captures the meaning well: “You have an enemy in your wives and in your children.” Wives and children represent a potential danger, because from them (min here clearly means, “derived from”) comes opposition (an enemy) to the Cause – which verse 15 confirms. “By making his wife submit,” explains Antoine Moussali, “the man assures his own submission and that of his wife to the good of the ummah which has the responsibility for the rights of God” (Judaïsme, christianisme et islam. Etude comparée, p. 171).
To understand the source from which these messianist delusions come, we must look at the teaching of Jesus who certainly spoke of the “children of light” (John 12:36 and 1 Thessalonians 5: 5). But he never used the phrase “sons of darkness” – and it is not found anywhere in the New Testament either. We only read this, at the end of a parable: “for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light” (Luke 16,8). The difference between “sons of this world” and “sons of darkness,” in the same opposition to “sons of [the] light” is blatantly obvious: the expression “sons of darkness” implies a condemnation, almost a predestination of the world to Hell, while “sons of this world,” admittedly a negative expression, leaves the door open. The messianist ideology classifies those of this earth, mankind, into two camps: “the good” on the one hand and, on the other, those who do not follow the good and who are therefore bad.
In fact, this idea of classifying people, never more current than today in media propaganda, comes from a dramatic secularization of the sorting conducted by God in the Hereafter and during the Judgment which belongs only to Him – a conviction that permeates the whole of the New Testament and particularly Revelation. The shift from a Judgment carried out by God (and by his Angels) to a judgment conducted by messianist powers through exterminations and genocides is a radical distortion.
Jesus had guarded against such distortion ahead of time; it is the parable of the wheat and the cockle: “Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire, so will it be in the culmination of the present time (en te sunteleïai tou aíonos – aïon, epoch). The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13: 40-42).
The harvest will not be made by the workers of the parable. Under what circumstances will this be done? This is precisely the object of the Book of Revelation which, in particular and like other passages of the New Testament, announces a time to come of the “kingdom of the righteous,” as Saint Irenaeus says. But such a time is after the Judgment of those who will be on the earth. If one reverses the prospect and pretends to bring about the Kingdom of God before He intervenes Himself, one is doing the work of Satan who pushes the hatred of “others,” as is always seen.
There was already a certain danger of distortion from the Old Testament, because of the awareness of belonging to the “chosen people.” This is why Jesus affirmed: “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you” (Matthew 5: 43-44). With messianism, the “negation of the other,” to use the expression of Claude Levi=Strauss, is no longer a danger – it is an established doctrine.
In Revelation, God’s faithful are busy learning a new song (Rev 14: 1-3), or singing the song of Moses and the Lamb (Rev 15, 1-3), not exterminating the sons of darkness in great carnage. Jesus is the only one who can dispense judgment. He holds “the two-edged sword [ḥarbā, pūmēh]” (Rev 2,12). It is “the sword [ḥarbā] of my mouth [pūmēh],” he says (Rev 2,16) that is, the Word of God (cf., Isaiah 49:2). He is aided by “the powers of Heaven [which] follow him on white mares,” carrying a sword “in” their mouths [pūmhon]” (Rev 19:15). Satan-Dragon is conquered by the sons of the woman, “conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the power of the Word [melṯā] of his testimony” (Rev 12:11), not by the armed hand of warriors. “Babel the great” destroys itself; or more exactly is destroyed because of “the Beast” and the “false prophet” who, for their part, are then thrown into the lake of fire by the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19).
Only the one who wears the golden crown (Rev 14,14) can bring peace on earth and, through his angel, bind Satan (Rev 20,1-10). It is priestly work, that of the Lamb who is at the same time high priest of the Holy City which is a Temple (a cube, Rev 21:16;22). As the song of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders already said, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. And hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10 FG).
Without having fully covered the question, we see that Revelation responds in a way to the nascent messianism, which has already formed itself into a frightening doctrine. Likewise, this writing of Saint John also responds to the other nascent post-Christianity, spiritualism.
Revelation In The Face Of The Spiritualist Distortion Of Revelation
The reproaches made to the seven churches at the beginning of Revelation relate to temptations that can sometimes be called spiritualist-Gnostic. We have seen above (see also note 22) that this current fundamentally denies the death and therefore the resurrection of Jesus. Why?
Close to the “seat of Satan,” the Church which was in Pergamum, the third Church, was confronted by the Nicolaitans who professed a certain doctrine that detracted from the moral sense rooted in created nature (Rev 2:14). Certain members of the community had fallen into this trap, one which was not very different from the teaching of “Balaam,” king of Moab, to which chapters 22 to 24 of Deuteronomy are devoted – but he was also known outside the Bible. Balaam was the figure known as the corruptor of the faith according to the Epistle of Jude (1:11) and the 2nd Epistle of Peter (2:15). Such a corruptor of the religious and moral sense makes one think of gnosis.
If we go directly to the Seventh Church, that of Laodicea, we suspect here not a confrontation but a spiritualist shift. This church thinks, “I’m rich, I don’t need anything,” all the while it is “destitute and naked.” Spiritual sufficiency is the hallmark of the Gnostics, who believe they have accessed the depths of God but who are “neither hot nor cold” – such is the first reproach made to this Church – they play spiritual but their works are miserable (Rev 3: 14-18).
Despite its good works and burning love, the Fourth Church, that of Thyatira, was grimly grappling with a false prophetess (whose biblical figure is Jezebel), who was dragging this church into esotericism and “the depths of Satan, as they say” (Rev 2:23-24). This is another trait gnosis, and not the least. Of course, the Gnostics do not officially claim to be Lucifer, although there is today in the United States an openly dedicated “Church” of Satan, with a storefront, and many other satanic public manifestations. According to their doctrine, they dedicate themselves to the Angels and to “God,” a God who is not the good Creator but a kind of pantheistic entity nevertheless marked by a negative pole, either hidden or brought to light according to the Gnostic schools, and always related to matter. Man must to extricate himself from material reality, in order to probe spiritual depths. “Admirable Sophists,” writes Saint Irenaeus (he died in 201 AD) not without humor; “they scrutinize the depths of the unknown Father and recount the supra-celestial mysteries into which the angels wish to lose their gaze” (Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II, 37, 6 et 38,1).
In practice, each having its “master,” these currents are multiple and include both moral depravity and forms of asceticism based on the capture of spiritual powers – angelic, in fact. Magic and angel worship are never far away, and the angels who play these games are not from God. Besides, John writes: “And I fell before his [Angel’s] feet, and bowed myself down to him. And he said to me: No! I am your companion and that of your brothers, those to whom there is [who have] the testimony of Jesus. Bow down more to God” (Rev 19.10 FG). And he makes us hear the angel of “Good Hope” who invites the inhabitants of the earth to recognize the Creator: “Bow down to [Him] who made the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the springs of ‘waters!” (Rev 14.7). The only angel who awaits the prostration of men is Lucifer.
It is very difficult to determine by analysis what exactly the spiritualist denaturation of Christianity is, since there is the impression of finding contradictions from one system to another; and there are always incomprehensible subtleties. Gnoses defy rationality – they are its tomb. However, if we ask ourselves the question of their origins, rather than trying to submit them to a broad analysis, things become clearer.
The text of Revelation speaks of a woman who claims to be a “prophetess” and who deceives the faithful of Thyatira. It must be understood that, first of all, there are authentic prophets and prophetesses, and that the normal Christian life is (or should be) through the living link with God which is called “the Holy Spirit,” a link with the divine Life which unites to Jesus Christ, who leads to the Father. When we speak of the “Trinity,” we are not simply speaking of a Revelation (of God) – we are at the same time speaking of a participation of human life in this “Trinitarian” life; that is, of a certain human experience. This diverse and personal experience is certainly not reduced to prophetic inspirations, through which angels give intuitions on behalf of God about the present or the future – but these inspirations are very important: “And those whom God has appointed in the Church are first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then doers of mighty deeds, those who have the gifts of healing, helping others, administering, and various kinds of tongues,” writes St. Paul (1Co 12:28).
Obviously, the gift of prophecy is the most striking, along with that of miracles. And, moreover, prophecy is most important for Christians, even though rationalism, which has invaded the Latin Church since the Renaissance (and already before in academic circles), ended up suffocating it. But these brilliant gifts can become objects of lust, though they are free gifts given for the common good of the community. Hence this warning from Saint Paul: “It was he [Christ] who established some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints [the new people of God] for the work of ministry in building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).
Sadly, many work for their own power, fame, or wealth, and this has even become the self-centered norm of the world we live in. The Acts of the Apostles tell us about a certain Simon, who was a magician before being baptized, and who “was astonished when he saw the great signs and mighty deeds that were taking place” (Acts 8:13). And, “When Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power too so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 8:18-19). Of course, the apostles rejected this.
If we want to understand the spiritualist approach, it is fundamental to look at the common intention that underlies the abundant diversity of the gnostic beliefs or practices that go from intellectualism to magical forms of religiosity – in order to have access to the spiritual power of the spirits; that is to say, of the angelic world. This is a counterfeit of the Christian experience of the action of the Spirit and of the angels of God – for it is no longer with the Holy Spirit and these angels that one comes into contact. As much as messianisms are counterfeits of the redemptive action of Christ (it is a question of liberating and saving the world in the place of Christ, while basically claiming to do so in His name), spiritualisms are counterfeits of the Spirit (it is a question of liberating the human being from that which prevents him from accessing the world of spiritual powers; that is to say, of helping each one to save himself, primarily by following the “true” path opened by the guide Jesus).
(Raymond Aaron has clearly shown that totalitarian atheistic messianisms are in reality “secular religions.” Hannah Arendt’s work must also be reread from this angle. Gnosis, writes Jacques Lacarriere, appears in history from the first centuries of Christianity, preached by a character mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, by the name of Simon Magus. And we find there the essential principles that characterize it – the creation of the world is the work of a false God, the true God is unknown to man, the world is there only to separate him from Him. For Simon Magus, the only way for man to break the illusion of the world and to reach plenitude is to live out his desires freely. Desire, in all its forms, is the only divine part that resides in the human being).
Often, we take too lightly the beginning of the treatise, Against Heresies, where St. Irenaeus relates with precision how the proliferation of spiritualisms is historically rooted in Simon the Magician and his very inventive disciples – Menander, then Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates, Cerinthus, etc. It is especially Irenaeus in Against Heresies who endeavors to trace the genealogy of the first branches of spiritualism, and gives many details concerning their respective doctrines. But about the Nicolaitans, founded according to him by the disciple of the apostles named Nicholas, he says nothing more (I, 26,3) than Revelation.
Everything was at stake in the Jewish world, already well-established wherever access to great trade was possible, from Spain to China and from the steppes in the north to Ethiopia (Nubia at the time) in the south. It was a Jewish world which was prompted to take a position with regard to Jesus, which was far from simple. To want to look at spiritualisms as a type of extension of Greek philosophy (or a development of Indian Brahmanic thought) is a dead end that goes back a long way. “The Philosophoumena, a work of the 2nd or 3rd centuries,” notes Roland Hureaux, “examines the relationship of the gnostic doctrines with Greek philosophy, endeavoring to show, and not in a very convincing way, the filiation of this to those. The work is attributed without certainty to Hippolytus of Rome (170-234).” The spiritualist doctrines, which excel in taking on very diverse forms, do not hesitate to integrate elements of local or philosophical traditions, according to the inspiration of this or that teacher.
The knowledge of “hidden things” – occult powers, the future, etc. – is what Gnostics seek. Among the fragments found in the Dead Sea caves, only two, 4Q301 and 1Q27 – per present state of research – insist on the importance of knowledge by advocating a certain disdain for the world and an elitism – we are still far from gnosis. Moreover, we have seen that the manuscripts of the caves were often marked by that other post-Christianism, namely, messianism. On the other hand, when in Revelation it is a question of the “false prophet” at whose instigation the blood of the saints and prophets of the moment is shed (16:6), it is indeed of the Gnoses and their anti-Christianism that we are talking about: “I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come forth from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits with the power to work miracles. They were sent to the kings of the entire world to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty… In her [Babylon the great] In her was found the blood of the Prophets, of the saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (16:13-14; 18:24).
Escaping The Trap Of Post-Christian Dialectics
We have perceived the dialectic of current history.
Messianisms oppose their saviors against the enemies of God and who are doomed to be exterminated so that the world may be saved. There is, of course, the vision of a negative and obscurantist past, of a present filled with struggle and sacrifices to be made for the Cause, and of a future that will be filled with joy. Communism and Nazism functioned on this dialectic, and it has not yet finished functioning today.
Spiritualisms also have their dialectic, subtle as it should be – the dialectic of the divine man. Their common conviction can be stated as follows: Jesus is “God;” we all are “God,” but some more than others. In order to become divine and to dominate the spiritual world, man must free himself from his antagonisms, from the appearances of good and evil, and from suffering – the latter being the sign of the still unresolved clash between flesh and spirit. The dialectic by which Gnosticism justifies itself can be schematized in a single way – only the themes differ from one Gnostic group to another. Saint Paul again writes: “[you are] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph2:20); and, “[the mystery of Christ] was not disclosed to human beings in previous generations, but now it has been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph3:5):
The idea of metempsychosis, linked to the presumed imperfection of a previous life and taken up from old Indo-European traditions, is external to this system, and very marginal; it is mentioned by Iranaeus, Epiphanius, and the Philosophoumena – only when speaking about Basilides.
Philosophers will immediately notice here a Hegelian functioning – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – well known to be central in the dialectic of history. There is nothing surprising in this. The two dialectics, that of history and that of the divine man, are never more than two antagonistic counterfeits of the one and only dialectic that is true and that reveals in particular – the Revelation of Saint John.
And this is how we escape the traps of messianisms and spiritualisms, announced by Jesus himself – the former under the term, “false messiahs,” and the latter under that of “false prophets” (Mt 24:24). Revelation reveals to us the struggle, both historical and trans-historical, between the angels of God and the saints on the one hand, and the angelic and human forces of evil on the other. There are never two fixed human opposites that confront each other, even at the time of the Judgment, because Judgment will be the work of God alone and of his angels, and because the history of each person is played out in the course of his or her life. Nor is there a division in man in the sense of a part that is good (his spirit) and another that is evil (his body).
This apocalyptic revelation is much stronger and more precise than a similar passage in the letters written by St. John many years earlier. For example: “Dear children, this is the last hour. You have heard that the Antichrist was coming, and now many antichrists have already come. Thus, we know that it is the final hour. They went out from us, but they never really belonged to us” (1Jn 2:18-19); and: “Many deceivers have gone forth into the world, those who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Any such person is the Deceiver and the Antichrist” (2Jn 7). John does not yet see what exactly is at stake and what is to come.
For that, the revelation of an angel becomes necessary, through which Jesus speaks to him (Rev 1:1-2).
Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. For more information, see http://rootsofislamtruehistory.com and http://thegreatsecretofislam.com. Father Edouard-Marie also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.
The featured image shows an illustration from the Ottheinrich Bible (folio 295r, Revelation, chapter 12). ca. 1530-1532.
All societies require an elite – a group of people who are trained in decision making, and are schooled in the complexities that decisions involve. Our elite differs from most, but not all, elites in their imbecilic ideas, knowledge -base, narratives, priorities and decisions, and the totalizing scale of what aspects of life they think they should rule. They are, in this respect, akin to communist, Nazi, and the elite of the Mountain in the French Revolution.
Marx’s view of the state ultimately made him oblivious to the dialectical nexus of state and markets. That nexus was appreciated by Marx’s fascist critics, who were content to make the market a state subordinate, yet a relatively independent sphere of human action, as done by the Chinese who recognized that corporatism was the means for protecting a political privileged elite but also for allowing for both market forces to elevate living standards and produce an economic elite, who, nevertheless, could be politically controlled.
Our globalist Western elite have also followed the logic of corporatism, though they added the important utopian element of the identity politics of anti-domination. The reasoning is: If the state is construed, not solely as the means of brokering between the different interests that classes (the division of labour) engenders (which it does – and which old liberalism still tended to emphasize), but also as the means of ensuring not only public goods, and a degree of public safety, but the establishment of complete social harmony by committing itself to complete social emancipation, and if capitalists can also make their profits compatible with exactly the same social objectives, then the symbiotic relationship between them and the state will be complete. Note that this particular objective of the state is completely in keeping with the ideocratic nature of the modern world.
One distinctive feature of the modern world is that it is an epistemic contrivance deployed to delegitimize the historically grown pre-Enlightenment political order. This is the partial truth behind the idiotic mantra of our intellectuals that society is a social construct (the idiotic bit is thinking we can make society be anything we want, which overlooks the limitations of consciousness and underestimates unintended consequences). That is, the aspirant elite that eventually overthrew the elite from the Old Regime believed that (a) it knew how the world worked, i.e., it had the right ideas about nature and society (even though there was actually little agreement about that working other than the conviction that they knew how they worked); and (b) the institutions of government had to be reestablished on the basis of ideas (which happened to be an admixture of empirical and rationalistic ones). The American War of Independence helped forge some of these new ideas; but the non-denominational, freely detached intellectual – the new philosopher – had emerged in Europe, initially in response to the Thirty Years War (thus their god would also be non-denominational, and not even Christian).
All social breakdown requires a crisis as an opportunity for the new to sweep away the old – now it is a virus; in the 1960s in the USA, it was the Vietnam War; in Russia it was the Great War; in France it was the aftermath of the Seven Years War, and the financial cost of its geopolitical ambition combined with a broken revenue system and a class, which had been feasting off the new philosophical ideas about nature, God and society which in turn was chomping at the bit to have the world mirror its talent. It gave birth to the political clubs and groupings of common yet deadly inimical interests and uncompromising ambition, which sought to rebuild the world from year zero on the basis of their ideas. The subsequent social and political breakdown of the revolution did lead to a sequence of political formations in which the objectives of the state itself seemed to be toned down. But if the reality being played out in France was empire, restoration, republic, back to empire, the intelligentsia was ever coming up with schemes in which society would be completely free. French, German, Russian intellectuals dreamt up visions of new societies, and talked and wrote incessantly about politics and political salvation – as if a society were the kind of thing that someone with a few dozen books under his belt could create. (Of course, they could “create” a certain kind of society – ask Pol Pot or Uncle Joe).
In Russia, the state was the most autocratic and the economy the most backward; it could not resist the imperative to modernize, and the class of people it had to train in order to successfully modernize were absolutely convinced of their ability to fix their world; and, not surprisingly, they would fix it with the things they knew, i.e., their ideas. The contingencies that enabled the successful coup of the resolute Lenin and his followers yielded the complete disaster of war communism – the “program” of class plunder and chaos was the direct result of the seizure of power by an educated class that had discussed, written on, and killed for their ideas about how the world should be. (The three all important aspects and stages of the revolution have been the launching pad for what I consider the three most insightful writers on the revolution: Martin Malia – focusing on the ideas that drove it; Richard Pipes focusing on the class that would bring about the revolution, the intelligentsia; and, most recently, Sean McMeekin, focusing on the crisis or moment – the Great War – which gave the class its opportune moment to gain power and attempt to “realize” its objectives.
As with other radicals, such as the Jacobins and Woke of today, the ideas of the Russian intelligentsia were clientelist (originally the clients were the peasants, then the workers) and sentimental, vacuous and bloated abstractions. The earlier generation of the Russian radical intelligentsia romanticized the peasantry, and only once Marx’s ideas had come into Russia, were they replaced by the industrial working class as the preferred object of liberation. There was no serious detail about fixing anything; and hence while they fueled tearing the world down; and like those of today who call for defunding the police and opening up prisons who don’t have a clue about doing anything about crime other than ensuring that what they say is what is done, which is irrelevant to actually running anything, at least anything serious. Having the ideas and having power is what gave Jacobins and the Leninists and what gives today’s Woke their self-assuredness, their sense of certainty.
To genuine statesmen and people who were and are running functioning political bodies dealing with solving real problems, this was and is all nonsense – and yet the more the educated elite of the most developed countries in the world heard these ideas, the more prone they were, and still are, to taking them seriously, the more beguiled they were and are by the abstract and the (not remotely) possible. What was (and is) happening was (and is) that ideas that originated in political clubs, that were dreamed up over late night conversations over many steins of beer and bottles of wine, or in classrooms and now even board rooms which were/are written up as if holy writ, which had/have an air of sagacity to them, were/are seeping into the institutions of higher learning, and thus were/are impacting the world due to the fact that they had/ have taken over the minds and life worlds of the younger elite. The ideas were/are explosive – and different experiences tended to create different avenues of reception for equally mad and bad ideas that served the function of offering leadership positions to those who mastered them.
In Germany, the incumbent elite were embittered young men returned from battle – torn between choosing to continue with their patriotic zeal that had led them into war, or becoming vassals of the Soviets, they chose the former, and race was the idea that provided the glue. In spite of the fact that its nationalistic and racist boundaries meant that it had limited appeal for the class that really was a universal class in its own minds – that is a class that not only grasped the truthful universal of the world and history, but a class that purported to represent the universal, just as the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel had claimed was the case for the bureaucracy (which, by the way, the young Marx ridiculed when tearing into Hegel’s Philosophy of Right) – was no more nor less hateful than the glue of class was in the Soviet Union. Although enemies until death – though, when necessary, willing to enter into tactical alliances – communism and National Socialism were both responses to the problems confronting people aspiring to rule the world in their image with the ideas they understood and held sacred.
The ideologies of liberalism, communism/socialism, and fascism were developed sequentially; and in so far as their goals seem to be inimical, they are treated and in some ways are drastically different from each other. Yet while the sequential nature and location of their respective birth places is an indicator of how and why they differ, they also share important features, most notably they are all ideational and narrative chains of elite empowerment. The particular crisis and conditions of their birthplace is important for grasping where they would be successful. In so far as the ideologically committed were devoting themselves to ideational programs, in so far as their ambitions and spiritual commitments (for they were and are all surrogate religions), they were uncompromising doctrines. The adherents, though, could readily move from one to another, if their faith were shaken – Mussolini, like many other Italian fascists was a man whose faith in Marxism was shaken by the War; his new faith was in the myth of the nation, and most of his intellectual accomplices in fascist theory had been former socialists, just as in post Great War Germany hundreds of thousands of National Socialists had drifted across from the socialist parties.
Although liberal democracy provided a far more comfortable existence, the intellectuals of democratic societies were generally drawn to the more radical programs, largely because the circumstances required more drastic and ultimately less real ideas to be followed, if they were to achieve power within the chaos. The other worldly and absolutist nature of the ideas was what defined them as not compromising with the reality they would completely transform, as if the world were simply the potential reflection of their ideas.
Ironically Marx wanted to distance himself from this way of thinking thus he always used the term idealism pejoratively. But his ideology was nothing but idealism, whereas the idealism of liberalism (in its pre-twentieth century American variant) was mainly limited to the abstract nature of the normative props (equality and freedom and rights); but its acknowledgment of the reality of law and property gave it some ground.
On the surface, the sequence of ideologies seemed to follow a pattern, in which the former spawned the latter to resolve its own contradictions. This was how Marx saw the relationship between liberalism and socialism, and Mussolini the relationship between fascism and communism. Likewise, it seemed that the latter (Nazism), being the least grounded in reality (communism at least relied upon exporting civil wars around the globe, but Nazism was never really going to cut with Indians, Chinese, Africans etc.) collapsed first; then the second collapsed; and only liberal democracy was left standing.
What was the case, though, was something else: While each ideology was the expression of the aspirations and ideas of the class of its creators and adherents within a specific location with its own history, the class itself was relatively constant; certainly, as constant, say, as the industrial working class or bourgeois was. And then there is the tragic component alluded to above, and which we in the West are now living within. Because modernity, from its technological to its productive, to its legal and administrative and commercial systems, is so intricately formed, it is impossible to continue without education. The systems are constituted by ideas and disciplines (bodies of knowledge); and hence its reproduction is dependent upon people who are trained in ideas. And just as the Tsars quickly discovered that they were producing a class of people to run the society who were intent on their overthrow, the social reproduction of the West is dependent upon people who now hold ideas that must lead to its destruction.
Belief in the consensus of normative ideas that has swept through the institutions of higher learning is a condition of being socially accepted, and now even employable. This feature of the modern West has often been considered as the tactic first spelled out by the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci – that is true, but if it were a tactic, it was a tactic that simply followed from the structural character of social reproduction within the modern Western world itself.
Moreover, with the intensification of modern economy and industry, and the ever-greater social dependency upon education, the expansion of higher education meant that an ever-greater percentage of people was being inculcated in the ideas needed for orientation with the social, economic, technological, administrative and normative systems. The Humanities was the natural site of the finessing of the normative systems and the location for the capture by a generation that did not actually know that much, but that was charged with teaching young people who knew even less.
As the universities expanded, so did the need for university teachers – very quickly people in their twenties with very limited book-learning and life experience were teaching those not much younger than they themselves. Indeed, by the late 1960s, what was becoming abundantly clear was that elder provincial school teachers had read and digested, that is knew far more about history, literature and the world at large than the freshly minted PhDs and incumbent university teachers who, in order to feel important, and to assure themselves about their knowledge, drifted towards ideological know-all-ness, like the starving to a feast.
For those employed at universities at this time – with all the available sex, drugs, and rock n roll, being a radical university teacher was the equivalent of being a rock star – the girls wanted to sleep with them, the guys wanted to be them. More, this was a generation that could see the rack and ruin of its parents’ world – their parents’ world was a world of war. Proof was that they still could not see the error of their ways – hence they were sacrificing their kids in the Vietnam War (there was probably not one radical in the country that could have given a reasonable account of the nature of diplomatic alliances, obligations, and the geopolitical imperatives of the day). This lot just had – to quote Lennon yet again – simply “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance” and then there would be no more war – Lennon yet again: “War is over if you want it.” And they had also discovered the causes of: poverty – capitalism; inequality – capitalism; war- capitalism; sexual oppression – capitalism; imperialism – capitalism, etc. It would get more refined – answer to the above – men, then; and now, answer – whites.
Standards were meant to be upheld by ensuring that teachers were qualified and scholarly – the publish-or-perish mentality was entrenched; but the PhDs and scholarly publications were, and now frequently are, often just rubbish. Higher education offered careers and opportunities for a group of people who had vested interest in dumbing down what needed to be known in order to get ahead – in part, this was because the people that were getting ahead and becoming college professors were not that smart. The youth revolts of the 1960s were also the watershed in which the rapid expansion of a student population of universities went hand in hand with the overthrow of the curriculum. Students dictated what needed to be known, and what needed to be known was what they already knew – capitalism was really bad – and that they knew how to fix it, and they needed to control society at large, from its businesses to its model of the family. In this respect, although now a larger percentage of society, they were identical to the Russian students of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the German students of the 1920s – and just as communism and fascism/National Socialism are unthinkable without the energy, utter commitment, and fanaticism of youth aspiring to rule the(ir) world, the 1960s harnessed the energy of an undereducated but deeply self-assured group of people who were intent on changing the world. Their parents (in the case of the US) in having defeated Nazism, and being the future elite of the most powerful nation in the world, it is not surprising that they saw their concerns – in which having sex and getting stoned took a very high priority – as the world’s concerns. Likewise, they saw their ideas as universal; hence too the books they read as the ones that one needed to know in order to fix the world (being sophisticated meant you read Freud as well as Marx; things got really sophisticated when you tossed in some fancy Parisians who knew even more about how capitalism worked than old Karl did; they had read Nietzsche and Heidegger and lots of others! WOW!!!).
One astute professor in the USA in the 1960s, observing the self-righteousness and know-all-ness of what was going on around him, read his class a speech by Mussolini – not telling them whose speech it was – and they broke out into applause. Even Theodor Adorno, the leading Frankfurt school Marxist, feared that the student movement was fascistic. Certainly, as the Woke do now, and as the Nazi and communist students did, they booed and ridiculed anyone who did not think like them, and assumed the right to dictate what should be read. The Nazis students burnt the books; the generation of sixties students marched for the right to have great books not taught; the Woke take them out of the libraries and ban them from bookstores and from being published.
Although the radical students of the 1960s and 1970s construed themselves as anti-capitalists and anti-imperialist, most would end up working within and making lucrative careers in corporations or state departments. There was, nevertheless, one big difference between them and the Nazi students in post-World War One Germany, viz., their anti-militarism. Their essentialist fixation upon identity did help spawn political movements dedicated to the violent overthrow of society such as the Weathermen, the SLA, the Black Panthers, and (the even more crazed and barely noticed) SCUM, though these were never very successful. But the long-term consequences would be taken up two generations later, where racial identity is absolutist in its defining of who one is and what one must think. One only has to insert the word “Jew” or “black” into any contemporary Woke tirade about whiteness to see that the mind-set is completely fascist.
All of this is to say that the notion raised above that fascism died first, then communism died and we were left with liberal democracy as the most resilient ideology (Fukuyama’s end of history) is completely false. What has occurred is that the ideas which gave birth to liberalism, communism and fascism have been undergoing a dialectical metamorphosis in the minds of the elite who deal in ideational norms for their social, political, and economic empowerment. This class has replaced the first estate of the old regime; for it is the class which provides social direction and orientation. It is the class whose faith is absolute; it is the class whose god is their own ideas. It is the class that knows all. It is the class that rules.
This also means that the modern state in the Western world, is also the direct result of two generations coming out of the youth revolution of the 1960s and it has much in common with the totalitarian regimes of the fascists and Nazis and communists.
And it is evident in what now looks completely innocuous, but is a key indicator of why we are on a precipice, why the world’s once leading democracy no longer stands for freedom – and it is also why some half of the population thinks the last US election was a coup. And the seemingly innocuous indicator is simply what people now expect of the state. To repeat, it is the kind of expectation that commenced with the Jacobins and other political clubs, and in the political representatives, the Girondin and Mountain; was kicked around as an idea by the socialists and revolutionaries in France and Germany; bonded the Russian intellectual youth to overthrow the autocracy and form the communist party; that led the youth of Italy and Germany to believe everything their leader said (the communists would then quickly copy this cult of personality); the kind of expectation that the youth of the sixties had when they wanted to destroy the family, and capitalism, and anything else in their way. The state will save us – it will save the planet by dictates about energy; it will ensure that women have control over reproduction so that eventually they will only reproduce when told or needed; it will specify what we must think and say about race; it will decree who can speak and who cannot; it will ensure we can have our pleasures, if we are well behaved….
Much of this is socialism, but fascism knew one thing the Soviets did not know, but which the Chinese communists now know: The market can orchestrate human energy in ways that the state cannot. The truth of fascism was its corporatism – when I say the truth, I do not mean the desirability of a certain power flow, but the interconnectedness that could only be curbed by a culture that was more resilient, less imbecilic, more conscious of consequences and processes, more aware of the flaws of human nature, and hence more attuned to what is required by education, as well as a less idolatrous and pleasure-centric society.
Corporatism, in other words, is the terrible truth of the logics of capital and the state when driven by a diabolical culture of pride and ambition. Today corporate culture is a culture that fosters a political elite who feast on imbecilic abstractions and their dialectical interplay. Its real nature is not disclosed by the old nomenclature of left and right, for it involves both. While the state and capital are commonly interpreted as opposing forces; the fact is that capital and the state are so intertwined that they cannot be disentangled from each other.
Just consider, for example, the way the entire legal profession benefits off any new state legislation; or the value added to pharmaceutical companies by university research and public grant money; or the interpenetration of government, medical bureaucracy, private companies (the COVID vaccine is just a symptom of the relationship), and obviously the military and arms producers; or how easing restrictions on financial institutions contributed to low interest rates, thereby helping fuel further government spending in such areas as mortgage loan schemes (to which we owe the crash of 2008).
Likewise, the state giveth and the state taketh away; it rewards some industries (green industries today) and closes down others (gas pipelines). Revolving doors exist in all sorts of industries between those working in the highest levels of private enterprise and the government sector. Marx had said the state was the instrument of the ruling class; and on this occasion he was right, though the modern liberal democratic, especially once the franchise had expanded far beyond what Marx had believed possible, had, for a short time, ameliorated the tendency of the concentration of power exclusively in the hands of the society’s elite. It did not last, which is why fifty years ago Western democracies, though not without their problems, allowed for critics who could address the problems of those seeking more welfare, representation of interests or freedom from state persecution.
Today the elites in Western liberal democratic societies dictates not only how interests are represented but how they must speak. They have become totalitarian – and their aim is literally to absorb the entire world into their totalizing narratives. Ironically, while this elite was, partly at least, schooled by poststructuralists in their attack upon the family and capitalism, it was the poststructuralists who originally used the term “totalizing narrative” to criticize what they thought were simply the means for creating social conformity. And while, in the main, the pedagogues of the 1960s and 1970s were generally critical of state institutions, as well as capitalist corporations, their achievement has been to create an elite whose power is consolidated through the marriage of state institutions and capitalist corporations.
Just as the state helps capitalists who support its ideological plans and goals by allowing them to have massive salaries and profits, contracts, etc., corporations repay the favour by ensuring their employers are trained in the ethos required by the social objectives, and punishing/sacking employees who do not get with the program. If this means supporting ideas and narratives which fly in the face of reality e.g., white people being employed to teach others that all whites are racists, but which deliver a more compliant workforce and society who will accept what their educators tell them, so be it. Businesses may be conflicted over losing some customers at the expense of others; but to have the support of the state is not to be taken lightly. Thus, too, advertisers threaten to withdraw support from companies who deviate from the ideological consensus required by state and human resource operatives who also play a key role in deciding who gets employed and how the company presents itself to the public. Politics, ideology and corporation are all caught up in branding.
It is the new corporate fascism. Its beaming faces are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Jeff Bezos, and their stooges – actors and pop stars and the every-day henchmen in the corporatized world which has now eclipsed the public/private distinction and seeped into every social capillary, because the personal really, now, is political. Freedom of thought is increasingly banned from schools and universities because the program has nothing to do with independent minds. What matters, which was just what mattered for the fascists, was that the community will is articulated by its leaders and enforced by its people. Unity must prevail, lest great injustice and catastrophe engulf us all. The enemies not only of the human race, but of the very planet must be stopped.
Everything is political and everything is corporate. This is why we need to have a world full of imbeciles, run by imbeciles.
Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.
The featured image shows, “Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man,” by James Ensor; painted in 1891.