Ukraine: Statehood in Question

The dynamics and challenges of state formation in post-Soviet Ukraine can only be understood and appreciated in the context of the history of Ukraine. Its history, like many other nations of Eastern and Central Europe, was marred by failed or circumscribed statehood. Since the period of Kyiv Rus’, Ukraine witnessed two attempts to build an independent polity, both of which to some degree succeeded in establishing an institutional infrastructure, controlling territory, winning the allegiance of its population and gaining international recognition. However, there was hardly any temporal or symbolic continuity between those historical reincarnations of statehood; they differed radically in terms of the form of government, territory, and the conception of “the people.”

The first, the Cossack Hetmanate, was a pre-modern formation, while, the second, during the Ukrainian Revolution, 1917–1921, not only lasted for a short period of time, but also spawned several different embodiments of the Ukrainian state. Under Soviet rule, Ukraine possessed all of the nominal trappings of sovereign statehood, most notably, a full set of republican institutions, like all other Soviet republics. Yet in reality, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was only a hollow institutional caricature of a sovereign state. In the light of discontinuity and diversity of legal and political institutions, Ukraine’s history does not lend itself to configuration as linear national history modelled on the Western historical narratives of a nation-state, which tend to be centred on dynastic, institutional– administrative and/or territorial continuities.

Post-soviet Ukraine lacks the ‘historical legitimacy’ derived from distinct and ‘identifiable institutional traditions and stable territorial boundaries. Moreover, there is not much else to pin national history onto, because the church, elites, language, and culture were all damaged, disrupted or destroyed and thus could not serve as firm pillars of national history. As von Hagen asserted, “today’s Ukraine is a very modern creation, with little firmly established precedent in the national past.”

As a result of its history, Ukraine emerged as an independent state in 1991 with incompletely articulated and competing ‘grand narratives’ of its past, which glorified conflicting political traditions and historical periods, either pre-communist or Soviet. While few states in Central and Eastern Europe have an unblemished historiographical legitimacy by (ethnocentric) Western standards, the case of Ukraine is particularly complex and interesting because of, firstly, the multiple historical ruptures and, secondly, the advanced erosion of memories of pre-communist statehood. Both of these issues raised the vexed question of what exactly the indigenous political tradition was that Ukraine should embrace upon gaining independence in 1991. History left the elites in post-Soviet Ukraine with a Pandora’s box of constitutional choices when it came to defining the conception of statehood in institutional, territorial and national terms. In particular, the significance of the Soviet rule in Ukraine’s history proved difficult to define with any degree of consensus.

From Kyiv Rus’ to the Hetmanate

The meaning of the name Ukraine, literally “borderland,” reflects its location on the borders of other states, which dominated that part of Europe over the centuries after the disintegration of the first state on the territory of today’s Ukraine—Kyiv Rus’. In the tenth century the Kyivan Rus’ patrimony fostered contacts with Byzantium and converted to Christianity. After the schism within Christendom in 1054, Rus’ became confined to a domain of Orthodox Slavic people. Following the death of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, Kyiv Rus’ disintegrated into many principalities, amongst which the Galician principality to the west was the most powerful. After its demise in 1340 Galicia was incorporated into the Polish state. At the same time, the remaining territory of Kyiv Rus’ fell pray to a Mongol invasion. Undoubtedly, the topography of Ukraine—the flat steppes, which posed no natural boundaries— accounts for the ease and frequency with which the territory of Ukraine was plundered and conquered over centuries, as Ukraine turned into a battle ground for domination by the states which surrounded it, such as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire, the Polish– Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Crimean Tatar Khanate, Moscovy, the Russian empire, and the Habsburg empire.

Apart from the Mongol devastation, in the fourteenth centuries Ukraine was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the north, which was simultaneously coming closer to Poland. The dynastic union of Krevo in 1385 between Lithuania and Poland was followed by the 1569 Union of Lublin, which created the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita). The exposure to the gentrified republic resulted in Ukraine’s Polonisation and conversion to Catholicism. This conversion was institutionalised in the Union of Brest in the 1596 when the Uniate Church was created, which recognised the authority of the Pope, but retained Eastern rites. However, as Poland was not strong enough to defend its eastern borders, it had effective control only of the Right Bank of Dnieper. The Left Bank, the so-called “wild fields,” witnessed the rise of a distinctive socio-political formation—the Zaporizhian Host. The ranks of free Cossack warriors swelled from the influx of peasants who had run away from their masters against encroaching serfdom from Polish Ukraine; as Subtelny pointed out: “in newly colonised Ukraine, some of Europe’s most exploitative feudal lords confronted some of its most defiant masses.”

In 1648, Cossack Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi staged a Great Revolt against Polish landlords, inspired also to defend Orthodoxy again Catholic expansion and the autonomous political formation—the Cossack Host—was established on both banks of the Dnieper. Unable to win the war with Poland without help, Khmelnytskyi looked for an ally and in 1654, the Union of Pereiaslav was signed between the Cossack Host and Russia, according to which the Cossacks recognised the authority and obtained the protection of the tsar and the Host joined Russia as an autonomous entity. However, more military struggles followed, and the Treaty of Andrushevo of 1667 split Ukraine: the Left Bank—the so-called Hetmanate—went to Russia, while Poland retained the Right Bank.

In eighteenth century Russia, the Hetmanate developed a separate political identity underpinned by a unique system of government, liberties and rights, which facilitated an emergence of a distinctive Little Russian identity.4 However, the Hetmanate could not survive the strengthening and centralisation of the Russian state and political and cultural differences between Little and Great Russia were gradually ironed out. In 1720 Peter the Great prohibited the publication of books in Ukraine other than religious ones. In addition to halting the development of Ukrainian national culture, which had thrived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this retarded Ukraine, in comparison to Russia, in the development of a modern secular culture. In 1775 the Cossack Sich on the Dnieper was destroyed, followed by the abolition of the Hetmanate in 1783 by Catherine the Great.

The subsequent integration of the Ukrainian elites (starshyna) into the Russian nobility led to the loss of their distinct Little Russian identity, as they took advantage of new career opportunities within the Russian states. By 1820s, the starshyna—the main carrier of a Little Russian identity—was Russified and the peasantry was fully enserfed. By the early nineteenth century, Ukraine’s role as a bridge between the West and Russia came to an end, and Ukraine effectively turned into a province within the Russian empire. Although the Cossack Sich—in the form of the Hetmanate—could survive only under protectorate of a more powerful state, Ukraine developed a distinct political and administrative entity, which survived the best part of the eighteenth century. The Sich and the Hetmanate served as a fertile ground for cultivating glorifying myths of a national liberation struggle and a concerted aspiration for national autonomy, which were apparently frustrated by the tsars’ breach of the Pereiaslav Agreement.

However, the legacy of Cossackdom cannot be easily moulded into the “tradition of statehood.” The stabilisation of the Hetmanate associated with the transformation of the Cossack starshyna into gentry contrasted with the anarchistic-individualistic tradition of the Sich and the Haidamak movements, which exemplified a rebellion against the emergence of the modern, centralised state.

The Cossack tradition did not provide an equivocal design for the institutional framework of a modern state. The Hetmanate combined republican and monarchical traits, as a collective deliberative body (Heneralna Rada, and then Rada Starshykh) co-existed with powerful Hetmans. As such this form of government has been interpreted both as a precursor of a presidential system, in which powers are concentrated in a chief executive, and the government by assembly. But even if mythologised as “the tradition of state building,” the Russification of the Cossack starshyna and the strangling of the autonomy of the Hetmanate meant that this episode in the history of Ukraine did not provide the basis for modern Ukrainian statehood.

Beyond the realm of myths and symbols, the actual impact of the Cossack state on the future make-up of the Ukrainian state, in terms of institutional and legal traditions was minimal, with the exception of the intermittent conservative regime of Hetman Skoropadskyi in 1918. In the context of the discontinuity which followed the Cossack period, the intellectual aspirations to political trappings of statehood in Ukraine cannot be traced back firmly beyond the mid-nineteenth.

Ukraine’s National “Awakening” in the Nineteenth Century

Following the partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795, the political subordination of Ukraine changed once again. Right-bank Ukraine (Kyiv, Podila, Volynia) was transferred to Russia, hence “re-joining” Left-bank Ukraine, while Galicia became part of the Habsburg Empire. As the modern Ukrainian national movements incubated in parallel in two empires, they developed different traits as a result of diverse political, cultural and socio-economic conditions.

The rise of the modern Ukrainian national movement in the tsarist empire can be conceptualised by using the scheme developed by the Czech historian Miroslav Hroch. Despite its shortcomings, for the purpose of this study, the scheme serves as a useful analytical tool for succinctly outlining developments. Hroch distinguished three phases in the process of national awakening of non-dominant ethnic groups in Eastern Europe: academic, cultural, and political. In the academic stage, from the 1820’s onwards during the so-called Ukrainian Revival, scholars developed an interest in the culture and language of the peasantry, albeit without any defined and articulated political goals.

In the second, cultural stage, a new type of activist embarked on agitation of the ‘ethnographic masses’ in order to win them over to the national cause. In Ukraine, the populists, who rejected the primary historical role of the nobility (especially as by then the Cossack starshyna had been assimilated into the Russian landlord class)11 focused on the masses as an engine of human progress. The work of artist Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861), a redeemed serf, played a pivotal role in this phase. In his writings, Shevchenko used the Ukrainian vernacular to tell of past glories and the present ignominy of Ukraine and its people under foreign yoke.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the predominantly cultural activities of the populists had developed a political vein. The clandestine Cyrillo–Methodian Society of 1846–1847 and the Hromady in the 1850–1860’s combined populism with demands for cultural autonomy. These political ideas, however moderate, had little resonance beyond a narrow group of urban intellectuals. According to the 1897 census, 93 percent of Ukrainians were peasants, in Kyiv 54 percent of the population were Russians, and only 22 percent Ukrainians. There was hardly any Ukrainian bourgeoisie in Left-bank (that is territories to the east of the Dnieper) Ukraine. While the nascent working class was predominantly Russian and Jewish, ethnic Ukrainians—impoverished, peasant, illiterate, passive, and parochial—were not receptive to ideas of national revival and the assertion of cultural rights.

The cultural stage of the development of national consciousness was frustrated by the slow modernisation under tsarist rule and political repression. The process of raising the national awareness of the masses was given a crushing blow in the 1860–1880s in the form of the banning of the Ukrainian language in the public domain, including schools and publishing. Thus, economic backwardness, the repressive policies of the tsarist regime, and the underdevelopment of the educational and cultural infrastructure seriously thwarted the emergence of third stage—the politicisation of the masses in support of national autonomy. Throughout the second part of the nineteenth century, the nascent intellectual elites in tsarist Ukraine grappled with the conception of ‘the Ukrainian people’. They oscillated between the assertion that Ukrainians were a branch of one people (Russkiy narod), who developed a distinct culture because of their different historical experiences (Mykola Kostomarov, 1817–1885), and the more radical assertion that Ukrainians had distinct roots from Russians (Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, 1866– 1934).

Despite these differences, the intellectuals adhered to the federalist model of statehood, in which Ukraine would be one of the constituting units. This model was most fully formulated in the writings of Mykhailo Drahomanov (1841–1895) who advocated the transformation of the Russian Empire into a democratic, constitutional republic composed of twenty states; the territory of Ukraine was to be organised into four states. As a committed socialist-anarchist Drahomanov doubted the role of the state in securing individual freedoms, and thus rejected the Western European model of a centralised nation-state for democratised Russia in general and Ukraine in particular. In Drahomanov’s view, federalism would ensure not only the optimal conditions for Ukraine’s national emancipation, which the centralised tsarist state hampered, but would also realise the universal principle of the individual freedom and autonomy.

In contrast to the proponents of federalism, by the turn of century, the advocates of separatism, that is supporters of outright independence for Ukraine (samostiinist), such as Mykola Mikhnovskyi, Viacheslav Lypynskyi and Dmytro Dontsov were in a minority in “Russian” Ukraine, although they were stronger in Galicia. The obstacles to the development of national movement, however, were not as pronounced in Galicia, which was incorporated into the Habsburg Empire at the end of the eighteenth century, where Ukrainians were known as Ruthenians.

Although the level of socio-economic development was the same or even lower than in tsarist Ukraine, the Crown provinces of Galicia and, to a lesser extent, Bukovina, benefited from the fledging practices of parliamentarism (after 1867), an educational system in Ukrainian, religious freedoms, the right to use Ukrainian in state institutions, they also developed specifically Ukrainian institutions such as economic co-operatives, reading societies, newspapers, etc. In Eastern Galicia ethnic and religious divides coincided with the key social cleavage, as the Polish landlords ruled the Ukrainian peasantry. As a result, the Ukrainian national movement developed in fierce opposition to Poles (but in loyalty to Vienna). Despite some confusion over the issues of identity in Eastern Galicia, independent statehood (samostiinist) was declared the objective of the Ukrainian national movement once Austria–Hungary crumbled, and Ukrainian nationalists encountered competing Polish claims to Eastern Galicia.

The Ukrainian Revolution, 1917-1921

The collapse of the empires in the course of the First World War presented the Ukrainian elites with a long-awaited chance to realise their socio-economic and political ideals. Yet the international context and the divisions between the elites led to a creation of a string of successive governments: the Central Council, the Hetmanate, the Directory in Dnieper Ukraine, and the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic in Galicia (Halychyna). While all of them claimed to embody Ukrainian statehood, the relations between them were often full of tensions. The period of the Ukrainian Revolution will be briefly presented below in order to argue that the political, military and social context impacted on the attempt at state building to the extent that it is difficult to define the pre-communist tradition of statehood with a high degree of precision.

Taking into account the ideological profile of the Ukrainian elites, separatism was not on the cards, when in the aftermath of the February revolution, in March 1917, the Central Council (Tsentralna Rada) was created in Kyiv by the prominent Ukrainian populist and socialist intellectuals and activists, such as Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Serkhiy Yefremov, and Semen Petliura.17 The Rada, which turned itself into a representative body in the summer of 1917, competed for power with the Bolsheviks and the Provisional Government in Ukraine.18 In April 1917 the Ukrainian elites called for the federalisation of the Russian state with Ukraine as one of its autonomous units.

Following the October Revolution, in its Third Universal (November 1917), the Central Council proclaimed the creation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) which was to be joined by federal ties to democratic Russia. It was only the military offensive of the Bolsheviks on Kyiv that forced the Ukrainian elites to accept that “a complete breakup of the Russian imperial state was a more realistic goal than its democratisation and federalisation, and that for Ukraine the alternatives were, indeed, either independent statehood or national annihilation.”

In January 1918 in its Fourth Universal the Rada proclaimed full independence of Russia. However, this accelerated radicalisation of the Ukrainian national movement was not backed by the institutional and human resources necessary to turn proclamations into reality. In particular, the Ukrainian leaders, inexperienced and idealistic as they were, failed to appreciate the need for establishing state institutions and an army to defend its territory. This proved to have pivotal consequences as soon as Ukraine became a theatre of numerous military interventions.

Despite the fact that the Bolsheviks lacked popular support in Ukraine (their power base was limited to the Russian working class), they had a competitive advantage over the Rada thanks to their military, industrial, and organisational superiority. The Bolsheviks refused to recognise the “bourgeois-nationalist” UNR as a legitimate government of Ukraine and staged a war against the new Ukrainian state. In turn, the Central Powers (Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey) recognised the UNR and signed a separate peace treaty in Brest in February 1918. Under the pretext of assisting the UNR against the Bolsheviks, the Germans entered Ukraine in April 1918 and triggered the fall of the Rada on 30 April 1918 (on the very day when the Constitution of the UNR was debated).

Under German tutelage power was taken over by the conservative Hetmanate led by a descendant of a Cossack Hetman, General Pavlo Skoropadskyi, who was supported predominantly by Russified and Russian landowners. Having announced the creation of the “Ukrainian State” (Ukrainska Derzhava), he assumed the role of the Hetman. However, following the defeat of Germany and Austro–Hungary and Skoropadskyi’s decision to enter a federal treaty with (non-Bolshevik) Russia, the Hetmanate was overturned seven months later. The UNR was restored when a new Ukrainian government, the Directory (Dyrektoriat), emerged in November 1918 led by, among others, social-democrats Volodymyr Vynnychenko and Symon Petliura. Soon Petliura assumed the role of Chief Otaman of the republican army in order to lead a military struggle on several fronts. However, mass support for the UNR and revolutionary vigour of the peasantry had evaporated by early 1919, and anarchy and chaos swept Ukraine, with the Bolsheviks, Whites, Denikin, anarchist Makchno and the Ukrainian troops moving across and fighting on its territory.

In Western Ukraine, in November 1918, the collapse of Austro– Hungary prompted the creation of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR), under the leadership of Yevhen Petrushevych. The ZUNR immediately clashed with Poles who voiced competing claims to Eastern Galicia, and the resulting war with Poland engulfed the larger part of the province. Apart from military actions against the ZUNR, the Polish army simultaneously fought the army of Petliura in Volynia. Thus, before the Directory’s troops were expelled from Kyiv by the Bolsheviks in January 1919, Ukrainian forces consolidated to fight the common enemies.

On 22 January 1919 unification of the UNR and the ZUNR was proclaimed in Kyiv in the “Act of Unity” (Akt Sobornosti). The concept of Sobornist’, which until then referred to the ecclesiastical unity of the Orthodox Church, came to denote the unification of all historical Ukrainian territories into one state. The enlarged Ukrainian state was to be a quasi-federal as Galicia was to maintain its autonomy as a Western Ukrainian Oblast of the UNR (ZOUNR). Yet the scope of this autonomy remained undefined, as actual unification never took place, because of the military struggle on the one hand, and the profound ideological and cultural rift between the revolutionary Dnieper elites and more conservative, legally-minded and nationalist Galician leaders, on the other.

The weakness of Ukrainian forces and their military defeats against the Bolsheviks prompted Petliura to enter an alliance with Poland at the cost of conceding Galicia. According to the Treaty of Warsaw in April 1920, the UNR renounced its authority over Eastern Galicia in favour of Poland in exchange for military help against the Bolsheviks, which by that time had instituted their government in Kharkiv. The treaty was interpreted as treason by Western Ukrainians, who, in retaliation broke off their alliance with Petliura. The joint Ukrainian–Polish forces failed to win their war with Bolshevik Russia, and the Treaty of Riga of 1921 between Poland, Russia and the Soviet Ukraine confirmed the division of Ukraine along the lines defined in the Treaty of Warsaw, which conceded Eastern Galicia and Volynia to Poland.

The bitter disillusionment with the failure to secure independence over 1917–1921 steered some sections of the Ukrainian elites towards an indigenous strand of integral nationalism, the leading ideologist of which was Dmytro Dontsov. It is beyond the scope of this section to debate the causes of the ultimate failure of a state building project. In general, this failure has been attributed to a lack of social basis and incompleteness of the sociological nation; a lack of experience, procrastination, indecisiveness and internal divisions amongst the revolutionary elites; and the ideology of the elites, and neglect of institution building coupled with a lack of international support.

Yet the UNR, the existence of which was punctuated by the regime of Hetman Skoropadskyi in 1918, represented not only the first consolidated effort to organise a Ukrainian state in the modern era, but also a particular framing of statehood, which was nurtured by the conjunction of particular historical, political, socioeconomic and cultural circumstances. In contrast to a centralised, autocratic tsarist regime, the UNR embodied aspirations to radical parliamentarism, decentralisation, and the pluralist conception of a political community. And the socio-economic plight of Ukrainian society shaped the socialist and social-democratic ideas on the state’s role in the socioeconomic transformation. However, the latter ideas were not shared by the Western Ukrainian elites, something that prevented the coming together of the elites from Galicia and Dnieper Ukraine to build a Soborna Ukraina.

The conceptions of statehood, embracing an institutional framework, territorial model and notion of the political community, which were put forward in the period of 1917–1921, will be analysed in more detail below. It will be shown that even if any particular institutional design is difficult to pin down because of disruptions, the overarching principles guiding the Ukrainian leaders can be asserted with some clarity. The principles, however, did not find much support when the renewed state building project was embarked on in 1991.

The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, 1919-1991

Despite the unmitigated failure to set up an independent state in 1917– 1921, the endeavour advanced the cause of Ukrainian statehood; it compelled the Bolsheviks, who from 1919 onwards consolidated power in Ukraine, to recognise these aspirations. The strength of the centrifugal forces unleashed in the peripheries of the tsarist empire prompted the Bolsheviks to take on the federalist principle of Austro–Marxism; they first set up an “alliance” and then a “union of states,” which in addition to Russia included national republics created of former borderlands of the Russian empire. In order to accommodate the fledging national sentiments of non-Russians in the new state, amongst others Ukrainians were granted their own ethno-territorial homeland—a Soviet Socialist Republic—as:

[T]he embodiment of a compromise between Ukrainian nationalism and Russian centralism—of course not in the sense of a formal, negotiated agreement but rather of a de facto balancing of antagonistic social forces, neither of which was strong enough to assert itself completely.

After two unsuccessful attempts to gain control over Ukraine in 1918 and 1919, the third Soviet Ukrainian government was established in December 1919. The 1919 constitution passed by the Soviet Ukrainian government in Kharkiv guaranteed the sovereignty of Soviet Ukraine and the right to conduct an independent foreign policy. Although the 1920 Treaty between Soviet Ukraine and RSFSR established an economic and military union, and Ukraine surrendered some commissariats to RSFSR, it was still defined as a sovereign and independent republic with rights to maintain direct diplomatic relations with other states.

On the basis of the 1919 constitution, the Ukrainian SSR acted as a constitutive member of the Soviet Union in December 1922, when the treaty was signed by the representatives of the Russian, Belarussian, Transcaucasian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics, as a result of which the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics came into being. Alongside many ethnic groups in the borderland of the tsarist empire, Ukrainians were endowed with all the nominal trappings of statehood but denied sovereignty.

The subsequent republican constitutions of 1926, 1937 and 1978 defined Ukraine as a “sovereign republic,” while the constitutions of the USSR declared that “every union republic shall retain the free right to secession from the USSR” (article 13 of the 1936 constitution and article 72 of the 1977 constitution of the USSR).

The republic was equipped with a complete set of legal and administrative institutions. Moreover, perpetuating the façade of independence, together with Belarus, Ukraine was also granted membership of the United Nations in 1945. Like all other republics, Ukrainian sovereignty was a constitutional figure of speech. The new constitutions of the UkrSSR of 1926, 1937 and 1978 were duly adopted after the passage of the Constitutions of the USSR (in 1924, 1936 and 1977),44 and all the constitutional texts were drafted under the instructions from the centre.

Moscow provided all Soviet republics with an almost identical template of administrative, economic and cultural institutions, such as ministries, academy of sciences, writers’ unions, etc. The republican sovereignty was circumvented by removing decision-making powers from the republican institutions and vesting them with the Communist Party of Ukraine, which constituted an integral part of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in accordance with the principle of democratic centralism. But quite apart from the omnipotent role of the Communist Party, the constitutional provisions explicitly asserted the supremacy of the Union centre over the republics.

Republican institutions, including the Supreme Council, were subordinated to All-Union institutions, which had authority to override the decisions of the republican institutions. The 1936 and 1977 constitutions of the USSR included a provision that ‘in the event of divergence between the laws of the union republics and a law of the Union, the Union law prevails’ (arts. 20 and 74, respectively), while the 1978 constitution of the UkrSSR asserted that ‘the economy of UkrSSR forms an integral part of one economic system, which encompasses all aspects of social production, distribution and exchange on the territory of the USSR’ (art.16). The constitutional subordination of Soviet Ukraine to the Union, and the monopolisation of decision-making process in the Party rendered Ukrainian sovereignty a constitutional fiction. Because of the largely nominal character of the constitutions of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Sliusarenko and Tomenko, the editors of the post-Soviet compilation of Ukrainian constitutional acts, concluded

All four constitutions of the Soviet Ukraine were political documents and were drafted in the ideological departments of the Central Committee of the CPSU. Taking this into account, as well as Ukraine’s status of quasi-state these [Soviet] constitutional acts can be included in the category of the fundamental laws of the state only with great caution.

Nevertheless, even if the Ukrainian SSR can be defined as a pseudostate at best, it shaped the identity of independent Ukraine in institutional, territorial and national terms. While the Ukrainian Revolution lasted effectively for 4 years, Soviet rule in Ukraine spanned seven decades and left an enduring imprint on society and its political structures.

Territorial Changes and Administrative Division

The Soviet Union created a highly centralised model of statehood. Under Soviet rule, the bulk of ethnographic Ukrainian territories were unified for the first time within the boundaries of the Ukrainian SSR. The republic was initially made up of nine gubernias of the Russian empire: Kyiv, Podila, Volynia, Chernihiv, Poltava, Kharkiv, Katerynoslav, Kherson, Taurida, but without Crimea (that is the territory claimed by the UNR in the Third Universal of July 1917), and it also included some western districts of the Don Army province. In 1924 the Autonomous Socialist Republic of Moldova was created of several raions adjacent to the border with Romania, while some territorial adjustment in favour of the Russian SFSR were made in 1925.

In September 1939 Western Ukraine was annexed by the USSR, as a consequence of the Ribbentrop–Molotov pact, and on 1 November it was officially incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR.51 In 1940 Northern Bukovina and Southern Bessarabia became part of the UkrSSR, while the rest of Bessarabia formed the Moldovan SSR. In 1945 Transcarpathia (also known as Subcarpathia or the Carpathian Rus’) was conceded to Ukraine in a treaty with Czechoslovakia. As result of the 1939–1945 border changes the following oblasts were created: Lvivska, Volynska, Rivenska, IvanoFrankivska, Chernivetska, Ternopilska, Akermanska (Izmail), and Zakarpatska.52 The formation of present day Ukraine was completed with the transfer of the Crimean Oblast (which until 1945 was the Crimean Autonomous Socialist Republic) in 1954.

After 1954, the Ukrainian SSR consisted of 25 oblasts and 2 cities of republican subordination—Kyiv and Sevastopol. Oblasts were purely territorial–administrative units and did not correspond to historical regions. Oblasts were further divided into districts (raion), cities (which were further divided into raiony), and rural settlements.53 Each of those territorial units was represented in a soviet (rada). As pointed above, there was no conceptual distinction between local, territorial and central government as the Soviet Union adhered to the so-called state theory of self-government, and the local and territorial governing bodies formed an integrated part of the state apparatus. In contrast to the Western state tradition of self-government, the councils combined the functions of self-government with state powers, something that effectively denied their autonomy from the central authorities.

The Political Community

The Soviet regime in Ukraine constructed a complex, but essentially contradictory notion of the political community in attempt to reconcile class, ethnicity and territory as the markers of the political community in each republic. The four constitutions of the Soviet Ukraine (1919, 1926, 1937 and 1978) adhered to territory and class rather than ethnicity as the main criteria: “Ukraine (was) a state of all people, expressing the will and interests of the workers, peasants and intelligentsia: the working people of all nationalities of the Republic” (1978 Constitution of the UkrSSR).

At the same time, ethnicity was recognised as an important social category by the very formation of the UkrSSR, as Ukrainians were a titular nationality of a national–territorial administrative unit, after which that unit was named, and enjoyed some privileges conferred by the centre on titular majorities in the Soviet republics. Nationality was also institutionalised at a personal level as an ascriptive, legal category. It was fixed regardless of the place of residence, and, as such, acquired an extra-territorial, ethno-cultural dimension. Thus, as Brubaker argues the Soviet Union institutionalised two distinct models of nationhood: territorial/political and personal/ethnic.

While these categories were overlapping, they were never made fully congruent, as representatives of one nationality did not reside only in their ‘titular’ republics. The UkrSSR was not inhabited exclusively by Ukrainians, and Ukrainians lived in other Soviet republics. Yet the lack of congruence between the ethno-cultural and territorial models did not matter because of the largely symbolic nature of the republican, territorial boundaries. The constitutional fiction of sovereignty made Ukraine’s political community only nominally ‘national’ and fully submerged in the wider community of the Soviet People (Sovietskyi narod). However, once the republican boundaries acquired political significance, this dual conception of a political community could not be sustained and a choice had to be made. The question of what united and turned citizens of independent Ukraine into ‘the people’, and the related questions of attributes of the state, such as state language, symbols, minority rights, proved to be highly sensitive and contentious.

Conclusion

When new states emerge, their apparent newness tends to be underplayed by stressing the historical roots of a new polity; any preceding tradition of statehood, however short and circumstantial, is flagged up in order to boost the historical legitimacy of a new polity and dissipate an image of an artificial construct. Thus, the national past becomes a cognitive point of reference in the renewed process of state building and is often explicitly evoked (most tangibly in the Preamble of constitutions).

The predicament of Ukraine was that its different parts had different pasts. As it was variously ruled by other states, such as the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the tsarist Russia, the Habsburg empire, inter-war Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, prior to 1954 Ukraine did not exist as a state within its current borders under a uniform set of institutions. Moreover, the indigenous tradition of Ukrainian statehood in the pre-communist period was multivocal as was seen by the Ukrainian People’s Republic, Skoropadskyi’s Hetmanate, and the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic. Their existence was cut short by the formation of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The UkrSSR was nominally conceived as a sovereign state, with a fully blown institutional edifice, yet it was a skeleton state with no life of its own and was animated by Moscow. And despite their temporal succession, the UkrSSR was cut off from the traditions of the UNR. Any historical continuity was denied and throughout Soviet rule, the UNR was depicted as a creation of the “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists,” in spite of the socialist and social-democratic orientation of its leaders.

Also, in terms of institutional design and Marxist–Leninist ideology, Soviet rule spelled a marked departure from the parliamentary, decentralised, and pluralistic traditions of the UNR. Thus, the twentieth century developments were marred by the kind of discontinuity, which characterised Ukraine’s earlier history. With its multiple and disjointed pasts, there were multiple sources of cognitive reference for constitution-makers in post-Soviet Ukraine.

The demise of the USSR posed the question of the historical pedigree of the new state, and made any kind of restoration of pre-communist models in post-Soviet Ukraine onerous. Thus, Ukrainian state building, as reflected in the constitution making which started on the eve of independence, entailed the contest and reconciliation of alternative visions of an idealised political order, which were inspired by different interpretations of the Ukrainian pre-communist and communist past.


Kataryna Wolczuk is an associate fellow of Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia programme and professor of East European Politics at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies (CREES), University of Birmingham. A version of this appeared as a chapter in The Moulding of Ukraine: The Constitutional Politics of State Formation.


Featured: “Knight at the Crossroads,” by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov; painted in 1882.

The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

What follows is a ready compendium of the various arguments made in the West against Russia. We are publishing this because we believe in an open discussion, critical though it is of what we do here at the Postil. This article also elicited responses from Jacques Baud, Wayne Cristaudo, from Israel Lira, while Alan de Benoist gave everything an appropriate context.


As a sometime contributor to The Postil, I feel obliged to write a few lines regarding the conflict in the Ukraine, since this journal has taken a view I find rather grotesquely surreal. One of the surprising things about this conflict is that the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, for it is by all accounts more Putin’s conflict than Russia’s, has found and odd group of diametrically opposed groups, largely amongst the extreme wings of the Western political spectrum: the far right (anti-Americanism in Europe), and the far left (anti-capitalists). Both support him and his conflict, legitimately enough, in what they see as their own best interest, and to serve their own goals. The weaponisation of this conflict in the West, while less lethal than the tragic events in the Ukraine, are no less destructive in my view.

My impression, though I may be wrong, is that those who oppose Western liberal democracy, or see it as no longer working, tend to see either Russia (or the former Soviet Union) and/or Putin in a soterial sense. The left especially, rightfully points out problems caused by neoliberalism and globalisation. Particularly the right is correct in signalling problems caused by globalism and wokeism. These are, as I have written, two sides of the same coin, both espousing basically a race to the bottom. The West is certainly in a state of disarray, reeling from the incessant blows of the “Culture Wars.” Western leaders, who incessantly instrumentalise crises, often of their own making, to their advantage, continually seeking to erode the democratic foundations and intrinsic unity of our societies, thereby increasingly displaying their tyrannical agenda. In any war, be it the Russian invasion of the Ukraine or our own Culture Wars, truth is the first victim, followed shortly thereafter by common sense and mutual confidence. Chaos and paranoia as a rule lead straight to tyranny.

The question then is whether the current malaise in the West can be helped by supporting Putin and or Russia? But when confronted with a housefire does one ring a pyromaniac or the fire brigade? The former ensures total destruction, the latter offers the possibility to save as much as possible and to “build back better.” The fascination of some in the West for the newest avatar of Русский мир or Pax Russica, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality” is a tad surprising. Russia has long been convinced that it embodies the true soul of Europe and that through it Europe, gravely infected by liberal ideas, can be reformed or restored.

Indeed, there is much wrong with the West at the moment, even the reality of the concept itself and its achievements are questioned by ideological zealots, often the self-proclaimed (leftist) liberators of yesteryear, in essentialising notions of race, gender, etc. see traditional values, such as the nuclear family, as vile, oppressive constructs with no reality, scientific or otherwise—such is now espoused by many in Western governments and has entered school curricula as indoctrination. Often they use legalistic notions of (gender, racial) “equality” (basically, “chosifier l’être”) and instrumentalise “Climate Change”, “Covid”, etc. to further their agenda in the courts, thereby largely avoiding democratic scrutiny through “politics off no alternative” (Merkels Politik der Alternativlosigkeit), e.g., with regards to mass migration and the “Green Deal.”

In the face of this onslaught, the system itself and its incumbent division of power, while suffering from some erosion remains fundamentally intact. One need not regard “mainstream media”, there are good alternatives through which one can inform oneself, indeed the obligation of every enfranchised citizen. Unlike Russia, our press is still free, the fact that some choose to self-censure is not proof to the contrary. Unlike Russia, we may demonstrate for or against the war in Ukraine. We have elections, but our governments are can only ever be as good as our participation, from choosing and supporting good, able candidates, doing the requisite legwork to ensure their free and fair election, without demonising opponents. Complacency and defeatist lethargy are the “BFF” of tyranny.

The question is whether Russia, which has no liberal democratic tradition at all, or any notion of personal liberty for that matter offers a viable alternative. Russian geopoliticians, such as the new regular “Postil” contributor Aleksandr Dugin seems to advocate that due to the fact that Europe and Asia are, unlike Africa, the Americas or Australia, one continent, we somehow share a common destiny (under benevolent Russian suzerainty of course), for which historical arguments are concocted (facts are always gratuitous for ideologues, regardless of their affiliation[s]). The distinction between “West” and “East” in Europe is, however, long-standing and which date back well before the establishment of the Tetrarchy by Diocletian in 293. The differences only increased after the Fall of the Western Empire in 476. These were in part cultural and thus also linguistic, the Latinate West and the Greek East, but also religious as ultimately manifested by the Great Schism of 1054 (which had been preceded by two previous, shorter lived ones, the Acacian from 494-519 and the Photian form 863-867). One of the distinctions between the Eastern and the Western Church was related to the notion of Caesaropapism (“the complete subordination of priests to secular power”, see here for a discussion on the continuing effects hereof). In the West, the Papacy was eventually able to assert its independence from state(s). In the East the Church was largely subject to the state (an instrumentum regni), gaining both a new quantity and quality in Russia especially during the reigns of Ivan IV, Peter the Great and the Bolsheviks (one might add here the third way, that of Islam which through the caliphate basically abolished the state in favour of the “Church” [dār al-islam]).

The Western division between Church and State, asserted by the former since mediaeval times (and thus not an innovation concocted by the Enlightenment) against the latter which incessantly desires sacrality, a fundamental division of power (as it is separates the temporal from the eternal) which is the prerequisite of freedom, since it allows believers, who are also subjects (or citizens), a choice on which to follow in any given matter. Rights and freedoms only have validity when they can be asserted, otherwise they rest moot, as was the case with the seemingly liberal 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union which also entrenched the monopoly of the Communist Party.

When one observes such historical developments one can look at discontinuities or for continuities. The Soviet Union can either be considered as an entirely new entity emerging from the fallout of the Great War, or as a continuation (“under new management”) of the czarist regime, the one European land empire that survived, thanks to timely structural remodelling. The Russian revolution(s) had been expected since the “Springtime of Nations” in 1848 (missed by Marx and Engels, who hurriedly wrote the Communist Manifesto to capitalise thereupon ex post facto) when it became clear that Imperial Russia was irreparably backward. Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer, noted in his ‘State of the Union’ address in 2005 that “First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century… as for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory … The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself.”

This geopolitical agenda as espoused by Aleksandr Dugin, often seen as a chief advisor of Putin, can be found in his fascinating and influential work The Basics of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia Основы геополитики: геополитическое будущее России (1997): “In principle, Eurasia and our space, the heartland Russia, remain the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution… The new Eurasian empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us. This common civilizational impulse will be the basis of a political and strategic union.”

Such ideas were championed by Putin in his speech of February 21 which basically initiated warfare in the Ukraine. This teleological address personated history—in his de facto declaration of war, Putin stated that “modern Ukraine was created entirely by Russia, or to be more precise, by Bolshevik and communist Russia. This process began almost immediately after the 1917 revolution, and Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely hard on Russia—by separating, by cutting off what is historically Russian land. He elaborated on this idea by saying: “Soviet Ukraine is the result of the Bolsheviks’ policy and can rightly be called ‘Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine’. He was its creator and architect.”

Even a superficial knowledge of the history of the Russian Revolution and the accompanying fall of the Tsarist Empire indicates that the modern Ukrainian state came into being not because of Lenin, but against his will and as a direct reaction to the Bolshevik putsch in Petrograd in October (November in the Gregorian calendar) 1917. The Bolsheviks had attempted to take control of Kiev, but were defeated. Thereafter, in January 1918, the Central Rada, the revolutionary Ukrainian parliament, dominated by socialist and leftist parties and led by Ukraine’s most prominent historian, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, declared the creation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. It encompassed most of the current Ukrainian territories within the borders of the Russian Empire, including the Donbas (Donets Basin) mining region. The new state wanted to maintain federal ties with Russia, but after the Bolshevik invasion in January 1918, the Central Rada declared Ukraine’s independence.

The Bolsheviks went to war with the Ukrainian government under the banner of their own Ukrainian People’s Republic—a fiction created to give some legitimacy to the Bolshevik takeover of Ukraine. Bolshevik troops massacred the population of Kiev, killing hundreds, if not thousands, of its citizens, including Metropolitan Vladimir. The Central Rada had to leave Kiev, but soon returned, having signed an agreement with Germany and Austria-Hungary, whose troops entered Ukraine in the spring of 1918 and drove the Bolsheviks out of its territory, including the Donbas. The Germans quickly replaced the democratic Central Rada with the authoritarian regime of Herman Pavlo Skoropadsky, but the democratic Ukrainian People’s Republic was restored when the Germans withdrew from Ukraine in late 1918. The Bolsheviks moved in again, this time under the banner of their opponent, the Ukrainian People’s Republic, officially independent of Russia.

After the first defeats in Ukraine, Lenin came to the conclusion that the formal independence of the Ukrainian state, coupled with concessions in the area of language and culture, was absolutely necessary if the Bolsheviks were to maintain their control over Ukraine. He believed that Ukrainian aspirations for independence were so strong, not only among Ukrainians in general but also among the Bolsheviks themselves, that they required the granting of a degree of autonomy and status equal to that of Russia within the Soviet Union, the new state declared to be created in 1922.

Furthermore, Lenin’s creation of new nation states was not just a tactic to keep the Bolsheviks in power as Putin professes, but as part of his adherence to Marxist historical determinism: the Revolution should not have occurred in unindustrialised Russia, thus it had to pass through the requisite preceding stages from the feudal to the capitalist with the rise of the bourgeoisie, accompanied by the concepts of nation-states and nationalism. Hence the invention of numerous ethnically based Soviet Socialist Republics in the early days of the Soviet Union. One of Stalin’s achievements as head of the People’s Commissariat for Nationalities was to resettle Russians throughout the Soviet Union, so as to ensure Russian predominance throughout. The contemporary reverberations of both policies continue to keep this part of the world inherently unstable.

Putin’s remark “then, both before and after the Great Patriotic War, Stalin incorporated in the USSR and transferred to Ukraine some lands that previously belonged to Poland, Romania and Hungary” forgets to mention that after the Second World War, Poland was reduced in size by some 20% (29,900 sq mi) and moved West of the so-called Curzon-Line (with forced migration), basically the Soviet Union kept its Western border as per the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement of 1939 and after which Soviet propaganda condemned the Free French as British ‘mercenaries.’ The fact that Pierre de Gaulle, an English version of his speech was published in the June edition of The Postil, opens his speech with the words “our peoples are linked by long years of friendship and by the blood shed against the Nazis” seems to forget that at the incipit of the Second World War the Soviet Union was an ally of Germany, not of Britain. And he seems to have forgotten who liberated France in 1944. This applies to the estimated 21 million casualties incurred by the Soviet Union, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, against Germany in World War 2, which contrary to Putin’s claims were not all ethnic Russians nor citizens of the Russian SFSR. De Gaulle (petit-fils) seems not to have have understood that his grandfather was intent on playing the USA and the USSR against each other (his Realpolitik, “les jeux d’alliance et d’équilibre”), to further the perceived power of the “Grande Nation”; De Gaulle’s famous trip to see Stalin in Moscow in 1944, was in part to limit Maurice Thorez’ (the head of the PCF) political ambitions and to put France on an equal footing with the other Western allies, also after the war, and not in adulation of Stalin or the Soviet Union.

As for the pseudo-historical arguments proposed by both Putin and the younger de Gaulle, one can conclude that Lenin was not instrumental in the foundation of the Ukraine, but of the Soviet Union and, for the first time in history as a political entity distinct from its empire, the Russian Federation. It was the Soviet Union from which Putin’s predecessor Yeltsin withdrew the Russian Federation in 1991. Mr Putin is president of the Russian federation, not the Czar of the Russian Empire nor the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.

Putin and his allies have furthermore made much about Western, especially NATO aggression towards Russia. There was no promise made by James Baker to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 limiting eastward expansion of NATO, the future of the Warsaw Pact was not actively being discussed (although the Eastern question certainly loomed). It merely concerned the “reunification” of Germany and the ensuing withdrawal of Soviet forces (paid for by Germany). Gorbachev gave his green light, the Helmut Kohl agreed to bankroll Russia’s economy and the Western occupation forces would not take over former Soviet bases. Indeed, after the “4+2 talks” (Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany), through which there would be no more occupying forces in Germany, and the American, British and French military presence, always limited to former West Germany, was greatly diminished. Furthermore, Russia and NATO-members are all signatory to treaties regulating the fundamental principals of European security, including through the Helsinki Final Act (1975), the Charter of Paris (1990), the NATO-Russia Founding Act (1997) and the Charter for European Security (1999), which not only recognise the sovereignty of the Ukraine, but also that each country has a sovereign right to seek alliances of its own choosing. Putin and his acolytes moreover tend to neglect any mention of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances (1994) in which the independent Ukrainian Republic, which at the end of the Cold War had the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, relinquished these weapons in exchange for which Russia, the UK and the USA would “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of the Ukraine.” (Ironically enough, Putin claims in his aforementioned speech that “If Ukraine acquires weapons of mass destruction, the situation in the world and in Europe will drastically change, especially for us, for Russia. We cannot but react to this real danger, all the more so since, let me repeat, Ukraine’s Western patrons may help it acquire these weapons to create yet another threat to our country”). In a recent press conference, Putin has sought to get around this by seeing the current Ukrainian government as de-facto illegitimate: “a new state arises, but with this state and in respect to this state, we have not signed any obligatory documents.”

This statement would seem to indicate that Putin is aware of the binding nature of such treaties regulating the security architecture of Europe. This would seem to be one of the reasons why his military adventure is termed a “special military operation” (специальной военной операции). Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations, to which the Russian Federation belongs, states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”, which renders null and void the classical principle of uti possedetis, victory in war giving good title to conquered territory. Simply put, Putin cannot declare war, as he would then have to recognise the Ukraine as a state and then would not be able to hold territory he might conquer: international law also ratified by the Russian Federation, no longer acknowledges forcible territorial acquisitions, and a treaty procured by force or the threat of force is void; in other words, the uti possidetis interpretation of peace treaties is now obsolete. The Ukraine by all accounts, as do many other former colonies, is territorially defined by uti possidetis juris, recognised on numerous occasions by Russia as we have seen.

With regard to this, in a speech given a little over a year ago entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, Putin gave his views hereon. Again, one could debate Putin’s merits as a historian and a linguist—one might ask in return that since English and Scandinavians were once mutually intelligible, and the 12th-century Icelandic Gray Goose Laws state that Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders, and Danes spoke the same language, the dǫnsk tunga, does this have any relevance for modern politics? If the Kievan Rus’, founded by the Varangians, Vikings as were the Rus’, is the crucible of what became Russia, why is the modern state Slavic (and Orthodox Christian)? Or maybe the Ukrainians are the real Russians? How far does one go back? A shared history, language, culture and even religion does not necessarily have political significance as the American Declaration of Independence teaches us:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

One of Putin’s primary casus belli is the alleged treatment (“genocide”) of Russians and Slavs by the (Western) Ukrainians, slandered with the stock trope “Nazi” (seemingly a rehash of the Latvian, Estonian, Finnish and Polish “Operations” of the NKVD 1937-1938). While the Ukraine’s treatment of ethnic minorities may not be perfect, its record is certainly no worse than Russia’s (and which abolished the representative body, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People in 2014 and outlawed it in 2016 allegedly due to “the use of propaganda of aggression and hatred towards Russia, inciting ethnic nationalism and extremism in society”). And seemingly there are no “Nazis” in Russia—one might wish to consider the portrait of Mimitry Ukin, the commander of the infamous Wagner Group or Dmitry Rogozin, former deputy prime minister and until recently head of Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency who has well-known national socialist leanings, among others. He has likened the Ukrainian president Zelensky to Hitler, the former’s Jewishness is not a problem as the Russian Foreign Minister Sergeï Lavrov pointed out, the latter was part Jewish. The kettle calling the pot black.

Feeling he had no other choice, Putin commenced his “Special Military Action” on February 24. While I think the decision was unnecessary, it is his good right as a leader to do such, since as Clausewitz noted, “war is an instrument of policy; it must necessarily bear its character, it must measure with its scale: the conduct of war, in its great features, is therefore policy itself, which takes up the sword in place of the pen, but does not on that account cease to think according to its own laws.”

One might discuss in extenso what Putin’s original (and current) objectives may have been. Clearly he was backing on a weak American government, after the disastrous retreat from Afghanistan, and a complacent Europe dependent on Russian energy to get through the last winter to sit by idly. It has by all accounts proven to be a severe miscalculation. Initially, last November when the American government reported Russian troop build-ups on the Russo-Ukrainian border, later on the Belarus-Ukrainian border, I was somewhat skeptical—180,000 men to attack Ukraine, about 4/5 of the size of the Ukrainian Army at the time (remember Zhukov had a 5:1 superiority over the Germans at the start of the Vistula–Oder offensive in January 1945). What was he thinking? Five months into the conflict, whose goals were and remain unclear, Putin has lost a significant amount of assets, has seemingly resorted to unorthodox methods of recruitment, even the Wagner Group seems to be lowering standards, all to basically advance 20 kilometres westward in five months, allegedly liberating the local persecuted Russian minority by wholesale destruction of cities and towns through Stalin’s god of modern warfare, artillery (Артиллерия — бог современной войны) – in 1945 the goal was not to liberate Germany but to bring it to unconditional surrender—the ecstatic crowds cheering their liberators after the Anschluß remain oddly absent today, while by contrast large numbers of Ukranian refugees in the West are Russophones, seeming with no desire to flee or relocate to the Родина-мать or Motherland. Russia seems to have great difficulty in realising strategic objectives as tactical victories on the field, their inadequately maintained equipment has performed poorly (and newer equipment is being replaced by long antiquated predecessors), their logistics have left a lot to be desired, as does their command and control (the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commanding officer over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of a mission), not to mention the training and motivation of soldiers now exhausted on an overextended front.. The battlefield losses, even by conservative estimates, are approaching or exceeding those of the Afghanistan War (1979-1989), which had devastating effects on the morale of the former Soviet Union and now further exacerbates the Russian demographical decline.

Despite Putin’s February 24 warning “I would now like to say something very important for those who may be tempted to interfere in these developments from the outside. No matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history. No matter how the events unfold, we are ready. All the necessary decisions in this regard have been taken. I hope that my words will be heard”, the West, largely the US and the UK, has been equipping Ukraine. The grievances uttered by the Russian government and her supporters in the West are a bit sanctimonious—as was noted above, Russia has not declared war, Ukraine de jure remains a sovereign and independent country free to seek aid and pursue alliances as it wishes. That Putin seems de facto intent on disarming Russia is entirely his choice. Putin has improvidently unclenched a war he could never win. Such colonial wars rarely if ever go in favour of the (would-be) colonialists.

Putin’s foolhardy gambit is having and will have severe repercussions for Russia and the world. Russia will be able to survive Western sanctions no doubt, but with a much reduced economic output. Western corporations which have left will not return any time soon, Western Europe, finally heeding American warnings on Soviet and Russian energy since the early eighties, is looking for alternatives elsewhere—who knows Canada might actually realise its full potential now. The Russian economy and military, dependent on weapons exports will due to their poor performance – who would now want to buy a three-man self-loading, or rather exploding, battle tank such as the T-72 or T-90 – see market share evaporate. Sweden, long neutral since having lost Finland to Russia in 1808/09, and Finland have now decided to join NATO. The result, especially after Putin’s de facto incorporation of Belarus, is a much longer land border between NATO and Russia, the lack of a buffer will produce a new geopolitical “curtain.” However the current Ukrainian war will end, the “Ukraine” (however defined) will be a NATO-member. And Russia will need decades to reequip its armed forces.

The real winner of this game is the People’s Republic of China, an enduring beacon of liberty and personal freedom. The truth be told, Putin’s Russia was always Peking’s proxy, but now this middleman’s façade also melts like yesteryear’s red snow, the Middle Kingdom has its sights now unbridled on “Eurasia”—the “Belt and Road Initiative” has the same strategic aim as the Transcontinental railroads in nineteenth century North America and the Trans-Siberian Railway: geographical unification to enforce political unity. China is now buying Russian energy, well under the market price. In addition, every dollar the United States puts in NATO, every artillery piece, every shell or bullet it sends to Ukraine is one less for the Asia-Pacific, which has been the stated American strategic interest of this century. China has every interest seeing Russia weakened and drawing NATO into a protracted European conflict.

In the final stages of the Second World War, Joseph Goebbels proposed a separate peace with the Western Allies to continue the war jointly, against the Soviet Union, rejected by both Hitler and Churchill. It would surprise me if a similar initiative might be proposed by Russia soon.

Putin and his ideologues such as Dugin correctly insist on a multi-polar world. They forget this is what we have and have always had—Egypt vs, the Hittites, various Western Empires against the Persians, etc. Since the end of the Cold War, the world has been more multi-polar than ever, emerging nations such as India and Brazil entering the world stage politically, increasingly also the European Union, and of course China. The real gripe of Russia seems to be that its “polar” influence is less than desired, it is being eclipsed by others, that it as a nuclear power and self-declared heir of the Soviet Empire has some intrinsic right to be a “big player” internationally. This is warranted neither by Russia’s current economic output nor by its standard of living, neither by its strategic geography (e.g. lack of all-weather ports), nor its direct cultural influence (how many people learn Russian these days? How imitable is its culture?). For better or for worse, Russia is an economic dwarf with imperial ambitions. This seems to be the real Caucasian “Casus knacksus”, the real reason for Putin’s Special Military Operation: without Belarus and Ukraine, Russia can never be more than a regional power, it needs these regions. But due to the War, Russia’s geopolitical influence is waning—at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, a Potemkin financial summit, the Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev made it quite clear to President Putin that Kazakhstan did not recognise the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), the breakaway territories of Ukraine, as independent republics, describing them as “quasi-state formations”, understandably due to the Russian minority concentrated in the North of his country. Since then, seemingly indicating increased desperation, Russia has made claims to former territories such as Alaska and Lithuania. It is only a matter of time before the fourteen republics within the Russian Federation and the autonomous regions, largely of non-Russian ethnicity, will loosen their ties with the Motherland, once subsidies become unaffordable. Russia does not seem to understand that no state, not even a superpower, has an inherent right to a zone of influence, such, like all forms of dependence, depends on the voluntarism of both parties. How attractive is Dugin’s Eurasian model cited above for non-Russians? One is reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s averment (November 29, 1775): “Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.”

Finally, as concerns the most disingenuous claim made by Russia (and China) that NATO is a mere instrument of American hegemony and unipolarity. Anyone with even a superficial knowledge of military affairs knows that NATO due to its structure (and equipment, though in light of the now proven uselessness of Russian equipment, this no longer rings as true as it once did) can only ever be a defensive alliance, first and foremost to integrate former belligerents into one alliance, in which the United States has an arbiter role. It is a voluntary European alliance, and unlike the Warsaw Pact, one is free to leave (as did France from 1966-2009), and not all Europeans countries are members (notable neutral states are Ireland and Austria). The seeming American predominance is by and large not due to American imperialism, but rather European (and Canadian) complacency, letting the USA pay for their defence. Putin has accomplished what even Trump could not achieve, convincing numerous member states to finally pay their share (2% of GDP). NATO had no desire to expand eastwards, former Warsaw Pact member states were the drivers NATO-expansion in the 1990’s and early years of the 21st century based on their experiences with the bounteousness of Russian liberation, and their inexplicable consternation, especially after the Transnistria War (the Russian minority being composed largely of veterans of the 14th Guards Army and their descendants), the first and second Chechen wars (1994, 1999) the interferences in South Ossetia, Artsakh, and Abkhazia (the US from the Clinton presidency increasingly forsook Atlanticism and set its sights Far[ther] East; maybe Russia felt neglected?). Who could blame them? If other Eurasian countries such as Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, especially Germany, or even Luxembourg were to redraw borders as per Putin’s logic, well then we would have steroid-enhanced dystopia. Putin, like most of his like-minded colleagues of past and present is a narcissistic bully.

As for those in the West who admire and/or support Putin, also the horrific mayhem which he has unleashed unnecessarily, I offer two suggestions. First, if you are sincere, do as I once advised leftist admirers of the Soviet Union, move thither if you think it is better (and at the very least The Postil should be censored by the Russian government). Second, rethink the matter through, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially those who know no Russian and have deep little knowledge of its history and culture. What is to be gained by adhering to a foreign messiah, as Isaiah admonished the Judeans on the eve of Sennaherib’s invasion (2 Kings 18:17–25):

“Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord,
that take counsel, but not of me;
and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit,
that they may add sin to sin:
that walk to go down into Egypt,
and have not asked at my mouth;
to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh,
and to trust in the shadow of Egypt!
Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame,
and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.
For his princes were at Zoan,
and his ambassadors came to Hanes.
They were all ashamed of a people that could not profit them,
nor be an help nor profit,
but a shame, and also a reproach.”

Jerusalem held firm and survived, Sennaherib’s successor Esarhaddon initiated the conquest of Egypt in 673, Memphis was sacked in 671. Then like now, security arrangements crumbled, at the whims of despots, but new ones emerge in which those who have overplayed their hand tend to have little or no say.

In my experience, those who complain the loudest about the decline of the West, and hope for redemption from some bigoted foreign despot are those who participate the least in maintaining our liberal and democratic institutions, continuously whining in defeatist self-victimisation that all is lost. Government by the people for the people depends on citizens performing their civic duties (not to be confused with emotive addiction to one’s preferred social media guru)—work together with likeminded, join a political party (or found one), participate in civic, school board, provincial or federal elections, or become an election scrutineer. Our systems can ever only be as good as we are ourselves, and when it doesn’t work, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Stop complaining and start doing.

While we may not like our elected leaders, we need not even like President Zelynski—if we had only supported those we liked or agreed with, then Hitler would have won the Second World War, we would never have supported the Soviet Union against Hitler, after Stalin opportunistically switched sides (cf., Churchill’s famous quip, that “if Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons”)—but the Ukrainian struggle for their liberty and freedom, their dying defending values we (should also) hold dear should be an inspiration for us. It is a moral imperative to support the Ukraine in defending itself against aggressive tyranny, and unprovoked aggression, also on behalf of Russians. Those who support Putin because they share supposedly the same foes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, delude only themselves and traitorously sell out Western liberal democracy. It might however be more worthwhile for them to stop supporting him and start learning Mandarin.

“Faute d’être en mesure de fonder par magie un État du monde tel qu’on souhaite, il convient de tenter de sauver ce qui reste d’un monde souhaitable” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lettres à André Breton [1942]) [If we cannot magically create a state of the world we want, we must try to save what remains of a desirable world].

[written, July 20, 2022]


Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).

Introduction to Geopolitics

In this introductory article to Geopolitics, we want to discuss some issues related to this discipline.

First of all, we would like to combat the misunderstandings and lies that certain war propaganda has spread at a certain time concerning this science. Geopolitics is not part of the “Nazi” doctrine. In the first place, its origins are much earlier. Secondly, one of its creators, Halford Mackinder, was an Englishman, very committed to the foreign policy of the British Empire, to the point of being one of the ideologists of the Treaty of Versailles. Thirdly, another of its creators, the German Karl Haushofer (contrary to what was disclosed at the time by the British press) was not Hitler’s “eminence grise,” but was persecuted by the Nazis, interned in Dachau and his eldest son murdered.

But fourthly, and above all, the essence of the Nazi doctrine was not geopolitics, but raciology. The major strategic decisions taken by Hitler and his collaborators were based on his theory of the “Aryan race,” according to which the expansion of Germany was to be at the expense of the Slavic peoples, supposedly “inferior races,” while alliance with the English and French, who were also of the “Aryan race,” was to be sought. Haushofer, based on geopolitical presuppositions, defended the Germany-Russia alliance, following Mackinder’s idea of uniting Europe with the “Heartland;” he also defended German support for the peoples subjugated by the British Empire to rebel against it. None of these proposals pleased Hitler, who despised the Slavs, and who had written in Mein Kampf that the British Empire and the Catholic Church were the main bastions of Western Civilization. The real ideologue of Nazism was not Haushofer, but Alfred Rosenberg, the author of The Myth of the 20th Century.

Another interesting question is the epistemological and gnoseological status of geopolitics: Is it a science? Is it a technology? Is it an interdisciplinary field? What are its relations with other disciplines? In the light of possible answers to these questions, we will outline a short history of geopolitics.

Finally, we will analyze the possible role of geopolitics in the elaboration of a new discourse in International Relations Theory and in the theoretical foundations of a multipolar world, as advocated by Alexander Dugin.

Vindication of Geopolitics

At the end of World War II, with the victory of the Allies over Germany, Italy and Japan, there was a formidable ideological and propaganda offensive aimed at showing that the defeated nations were ruled by political regimes that represented the incarnation of “Absolute Evil.” The National Socialist regime was the favorite target of these campaigns, especially when the existence of concentration camps was discovered, where members of certain racial or religious minorities (Gypsies, Jews) had been exterminated. Propagandists magnified the crimes of the defeated, while concealing their own (atomic bombing of two Japanese cities of no strategic interest, napalm bombing of the city of Dresden, murder and rape of the civilian population, especially by Soviet troops).

But the viciousness of the propagandists did not stop there. Personalities of German intellectual life, who had been silenced, side-lined and even persecuted by Nazism, were accused of collaborating with it, solely on the grounds that they had flirted with it in its origins (what German could not sympathize in principle with a movement that sought to revise the Versailles Treaty?) Such was the case with Ernst Jünger, Martin Heidegger or Karl Haushofer.

Karl Haushofer, one of the creators of geopolitics, was born on August 27, 1869 in Munich. In 1887 he chose a military career, and in 1890 he became an artillery officer in the Bavarian army. In 1896 he married Martha Mayer-Doos, a woman of Jewish origin (a curious choice for a supposed “Nazi”). From this marriage two sons were born, Albrecht and Heinz.

Professor at the War Academy in 1904, he was sent to Japan in 1908 to organize the Imperial Navy. In 1913, back in Germany, he presented his first work for the general public, Dai Nihon, Betrachtungen über Groß-Japans Wehrkraft, Weltstellung und Zukunft (“Dai Nihon [Greater Japan] Reflections on Greater Japan’s Military Strength, World Position, and Future“). The same year he began studying geography at the University of Munich. He was mobilized in 1914, and, after the armistice, appointed commander of the 1st Bavarian Artillery Brigade. He returned to the university, received his doctorate in 1919, and left his military career to devote himself to teaching.

In 1919, he met Rudolf Hess, with whom he struck up a close friendship, and through whom he came into contact with National Socialist circles. Hess would protect Hauhoffer’s wife, of Jewish origin, and their children, considered semi-Jewish after the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws. Bad start for the supposed “Hitler’s eminence grise” according to English propagandists.

In 1924, he founded the prestigious Zeitschrift für Geopolitik [Journal of Geopolitics], together with his colleague Ernst Obst, gathering around it a prestigious team of researchers. Initially, the ideas developed by Haushofer were well received by Hitler and National Socialist circles. In fact, the geopolitical concept of Lebesraum (living space) was incorporated into Nazi terminology, but always subordinated to the racist idea of the “Aryan race.” In 1936, the NSDAP defined geopolitics as “The science of the territorial and racial foundations which determine the development of peoples and states.”

Soon things changed. The defense of the German-Russian alliance advocated by Haushofer, based on the geopolitical criterion of the “heartland” and not on racist criteria, did not please Hitler and the Nazi leadership. The idea of supporting the peoples subject to the British Empire (supposed “inferior races”) so that they would rise up was not to the liking of the hierarchy either. In fact, since 1933, Haushofer was watched by agents of the regime, although for the time being he was not harassed, thanks to the protection of his friend Rudolf Hess.

From 1941, with the flight of Hess to England and his disappearance from the political scene, the situation of Haushofer and his sons grew complicated. His son Albrecht was arrested and Haushofer himself was interrogated by the Gestapo. After the failed attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944, Haushofer was interned in Dachau, and his son Heinz imprisoned in the Moabit prison in Berlin. Later, he was released, but his other son, Albrecht, was murdered in April 1945.

In spite of all this, with the Allied victory the persecution of Haushofer intensified, because according to the British press he was “the Hitler’s eminence grise.” Judged in Nuremberg, he was acquitted. But his title of honorary professor was withdrawn, along with his right to a pension. In March 1946, Haushofer and his wife Martha committed suicide. A little before, he had written his last work, “Apologie der Geopolitik” (“An Apology of Geopolitics”), where he clearly disassociated his work from Nazism.

The Gnoseological Status of Geopolitics

Gnoseology, epistemology or theory of knowledge is that part of philosophical discourse which deals with the problem of knowledge, the scientific method, the demarcation of scientific knowledge and the classification of sciences. It is within this conceptual framework that essential questions arise: What is geopolitics? Is it a science? Is it an interdisciplinary field? Is it a technology?

Some authors have tried to solve the problem, arguing that geopolitics can actually be subsumed under geography. They are partly right, for in the origins of geopolitics we find geographers as the main protagonists. Frederich Ratzel’s pioneering work, published in 1896, bore the title, Politische Geographie (Political Geography), and Mackinder (author of The Geographical Pivot of History) and Haushoffer himself were also geographers.

However, subsuming geopolitics in geography does not solve the problem of its gnoseological status, since, as Lacoste has pointed out, the absolute absence of any theoretical reflection among geographers is surprising. The epistemological debate, the crisis of foundations or the methodological problems that have arisen in many disciplines have led to the emergence of so-called “particular philosophies” (philosophy of history, of physics, of biology, etc.). None of this has occurred in geography, when paradoxically, the situation of this discipline as a “hinge” between the natural sciences (geomorphology, botany) and the social sciences (history, economics) seems to make it an ideal field for this type of debate.

To define the gnoseological status of geopolitics, we will take into account the following variables:

  1. The existence of an object of study and a method.
  2. The relationship with other sciences or disciplines
  3. The existence of a scientific community or “invisible college.”
  4. The existence or not of a unifying theory (paradigm) and of research programs or traditions.

There are various definitions of geopolitics, but all of them refer to the influence (determining or conditioning) of geographic factors on the politics of states. This places geopolitics in a “hinge” situation between the natural sciences (geomorphology, climatology) and the social sciences (politics). The object of study of geopolitics is therefore dual (or triune): geographical factors, the politics of states and the influence of the former on the latter.

Its methodology also presents a duality: in its analysis of geographical factors, it uses methods from the natural sciences, while in its analysis of political factors it uses methods from the social sciences.

As for its relationship with other sciences or disciplines, it should be noted that geopolitics was born within the framework of geography (in fact it can be considered a branch or specialty of the same), but it ended up having its own identity.

Another interesting aspect to note is that geopolitics has never been configured as a “knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” but rather theory has always been deeply linked to praxis. Moreover, we can affirm that before geopolitics was constituted as a discipline, even before the name itself existed, there was already a geopolitical praxis. In the dialectic of States and Empires, in the development of diplomatic and military strategies, the geographical factor, the domination and appropriation of space, has always been taken into account.

It was at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century when the name “geopolitics” was born, and scientific communities began to form, basically in universities (in geography faculties) or in military schools. The appearance of specialized journals was another characteristic linked to the birth of scientific communities, such as the Journal of Geopolitics, founded in 1924 by Haushofer and Obst, which was the first of its kind.

Finally, there is no unified theory or paradigm shared by all schools and authors of geopolitics. Since geopolitics is a “science of space,” the place occupied by a school or an author is fundamental. Thus, one can speak of a “geopolitics of the sea,” of a “geopolitics of the land,” and, more recently, of a “geopolitics of the air.” However, there is a set of basic concepts, elaborated by Mackinder, such as “Heartland,” which are shared by most schools.

Brief History of Geopolitics

In attempting to describe the historical development of geopolitics, it is necessary to distinguish what would be geopolitical praxis from the birth of geopolitics as a discipline. Geopolitical praxis is inseparable from the dialectics of states and empires. As Gustavo Bueno has rightly pointed out, in every political society we must distinguish a Basal Layer (control or sovereignty over a territory, which will be the Land of the Fathers or Homeland), the Conjunctive Layer (the institutions of government) and the Cortical Layer (relations with other political societies, i.e., diplomacy and war). Both the Basal and Cortical Layers imply a geopolitical praxis.

The term “geopolitics” and the beginnings of the discipline date back to 1897, when Friedrich Ratzel published Politische Geographie (Political Geography). Ratzel’s ideas were later developed by Rudolf Kjellén, in his book, Der Staat als Lebensform (The State as a Way of Life), published in 1917. He defined geopolitics as “the influence of geographical factors, in the broadest sense of the word, on the political development of peoples and states.” For Kjellén, Geopolitics is one of the five branches that make up the state; the others being Cratopolitics, Demopolitics, Sociopolitics and Economopolitics.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the two great figures who emerged were Karl Haushofer, whom we have already dealt with, and the Englishman Sir Halford Mackinder.

The geopolitical concept of the “Heartland” was introduced by Mackinder, and linked to the geographical existence of endorheic basins, i.e., large river basins that flow into enclosed seas (Caspian Sea, Black Sea). The Heartland is the sum of a series of contiguous river basins whose waters flow into bodies of water inaccessible to oceanic navigation. These are the endorheic basins of Central Eurasia, plus the part of the Arctic Ocean basin frozen in the Northern Route with an ice cover of between 1.2 and 2 meters, and therefore impracticable much of the year—except for atomic-powered icebreakers (which only the Russian Federation possesses) and similar vessels.

Mackinder’s golden rule may be summarized as follows: “Whoever unites Europe with the Heartland will dominate the Heartland and thus the Earth.” The Heartland lacks a clear nerve-center and can be defined as a gigantic and robust body in search of a brain. Since there are no natural geographical barriers (mountain ranges, deserts, seas, etc.) between the Heartland and Europe, the most viable “head” of the Heartland is clearly Europe, followed at a great distance by China, Iran and India.

The march of European humanity into the heart of Asia culminated when Greek culture was introduced as far as Mongolia—today the Mongolian language is written in Cyrillic characters of Greek-Byzantine heritage, meaning that the fall of Constantinople actually projected Byzantine influence much further East than the Orthodox emperors could ever have imagined. However, Europe’s task does not end here, for only Europe can undertake the enterprise that will turn the Heartland into the powerful enclosed space, prophesied by Mackinder.

In order to delve deeper into the subject, it is necessary to familiarize ourselves with the Mackinderian cosmogony, which divided the planet into several clearly defined geopolitical domains.

The World-Island is the union of Europe, Asia and Africa, and the closest thing there is in the emerged lands to Panthalasa or Universal Ocean. Within the World Island is Eurasia, the sum of Europe and Asia, which is a reality all the more separate from Africa ever since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which allowed maritime power to envelop both continents.

The Heartland no longer needs any introduction. Mackinderian theory assumes that the Heartland is a geographical reality within the World Island, just as the World Island is a geographical reality within the World Ocean.

The Rimland, also called the Inner Crescent or Marginal Crescent, is a huge strip of land surrounding the Heartland and consists of the ocean basins annexed to it. Pentalasia, the Balkans, Scandinavia, Germany, France, Spain, and most of China and India lie in the Rimland.

The Outer or Insular Crescent is a set of peripheral overseas domains, separated from the Inner Crescent by deserts, seas and icy spaces. Sub-Saharan Africa, the British Isles, the Americas, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia are in the Outer Crescent.

The Mediterranean Ocean (Midland Ocean is the Heartland of maritime power. Mackinder defined the Mediterranean Ocean as the northern half of the Atlantic plus all the tributary maritime spaces (Baltic, Hudson Bay, Mediterranean, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico). Recall that the largest river basins in the world are those that flow into the Atlantic—then come those of the Arctic and only in third place come the Pacific basins.

Notice that these geopolitical ideas have guided British foreign policy and strategy. In both World War I and World War II, British diplomacy succeeded in preventing a German-Russian alliance that would have united Europe with the Heartland. In fact, Mackinder, far from being a simple intellectual, was a person very committed to British diplomacy and foreign policy. He was one of the ideologues of the Treaty of Versailles, whose purpose was the political and military neutralization of Germany. He was also one of the ideologists of the English support for the White Russians, in their fight against the Bolsheviks. The aim was to fragment Russia into a series of small feudatory states of the British Empire, although the Bolshevik victory frustrated this plan.

As we have already mentioned, after World War II the term “Geopolitics” was stigmatized and associated with the Nazi regime. This propaganda campaign, directed mainly against Haushofer, did not prevent geopolitical concepts from continuing to be used in the dialectics of states and empires, especially in the US-USSR confrontation that led to the Cold War.

The first European to publish a non-German version of geopolitics was the Frenchman Jacques Ancel, with his work Geopolitique, in 1936. Although very critical of the Germans, whom he accused of being “pedants with a scientific appearance,” Ancel revised the concept of “frontier” and “nation” along the lines initiated by Ratzel.

In the United States, thanks to the work of German geographers, who had taken refuge in that country, works related to geopolitical issues began to be published in 1941. The most significant example is that of Hans W. Weigert, a refugee in the United States since 1938 and a professor at Trinity College in Chicago. In 1942 he published Generals and Geographers: The Twilight of Geopolitics, where he describes the central concepts and ideas of the classical authors, and vindicates the work of Haushofer, exempting him from any relation with the Nazi regime. Other North American authors, such as Alfred Thayer Mahan, Andreas Dorpalan or Nicholas J. Spykman were not so sympathetic to Haushofer and devoted themselves to distorting German geopolitics, and even to rejecting the term as opposed to that of “Political Geography.”

We must also mention the Austrian-born geopolitical scientist, Robert Strausz-Hupé, who published, in 1942, Geopolitics: The Struggle for Space and Power, in which he emphasized geographical factors in politics and power relations.

In the foreign policy of the United States, the use of concepts and strategies based on geopolitics had been a constant, ever since James Monroe, in 1823, announced his doctrine “America for the Americans,” which is logical, since geopolitical praxis has been a constant in the history of the dialectics of States and Empires. Along the same lines, we should cite Manifest Destiny (1840), the Roosevelt Corollary (1905) or Wilson’s Fourteen Points (1918).

Logically, the beginning of the Cold War meant the reuse of these concepts and strategies, even though the term “Geopolitics” was rejected and associated with Nazism. Along this line, we must quote Nicholas Spykman, who in his work America Strategy in World Politics, published in 1942, tried to reach a balance for the term “Geopolitics,” which on the one hand he associated with the Nazi regime, and on the other hand considered synonym for “political geography,” and finally recognizing its important utility in security policy.

For Spykman, the United States was to be the world’s hegemonic power, with enough power to impose its law both at home and abroad. In fact, he was the ideologue of the policy of control over the Latin American nations, with the imposition of puppet military dictatorships. Many of his postulates were included in the National Security Act (1947) of the United States.

Inspired by Spykman (and also by Mackinder) was George F. Kennan’s article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” published in 1947 in Foreign Affairs magazine, under the pseudonym “X.” The practical conclusion of these policies was an expansive foreign policy, aimed at creating “clones of the US doctrine” in Latin America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, to contain “communist expansion.” It should be noted that current globalization is nothing more than an extension of these policies to the whole world.

Finally, mention should be made of various geopolitical schools of thought that emerged in Latin American nations. In Mexico we must mention Jorge A. Vivó Escoto and Alberto Escalona Ramos. The former published in 1943 La Geopolítica Sobre la necesidad de dar una nueva organización a la geografía política del Caribe (Geopolitics. On the Need to Give a New Organization to the Political Geography of the Caribbean), in which Haushofer’s thought is still associated with Nazism, although Escoto also recognized that Geopolitics and Nazism are not equivalent. Much harsher was Leonardo Martin Echevarria, professor of the UNAM, who, in his book Human Geography (1948) defined Geopolitics as “a partial and vicious contemplation of human Geography, distorted by German geographers.”

Geopolitics received a new impulse in Mexico in 1959, with the publication of Geopolítica mundial y Geoeconomía (World Geopolitics and Geoeconomics) by Alberto Escalona Ramos, in which the author extensively develops the historical, geographical and political arguments of a global nature that support his proposals.

In Brazil, we must mention Milton Santos as the great representative of the Brazilian school, which emerged from the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of the University of Sao Paulo, and the foundation of the journal Geógrafos Brasileños in 1934.

In Peru, mention should be made of Israel Lira and the Centro de Estudios Crisolistas which, although not specifically dedicated to Geopolitics, but to the dissemination and adaptation of Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory, often uses geopolitical concepts.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the interest awakened by Geopolitics at the Escuela Superior de Guerra in Argentina and in intellectual circles linked to radical Peronism.

Geopolitics and Multipolarity

Geopolitics is a fundamental instrument in the elaboration of Aleksandr Dugin’s theory of Multipolarity. Dugin basically uses two concepts drawn from geopolitics: that of “Heartland,” which we have already examined, and the distinction between Earth and Sea Civilizations, as developed by Carl Schmitt.

Telluric or Earth civilizations are characterized by a series of ideological and sociological features: Conservatism, Holism, Collective Anthropology, and worship of the values of asceticism, honor and loyalty. They are civilizations rooted in the Earth, and the values of Tradition and continuity. In contrast, the Thalassocratic or Sea civilizations are dominated by individualistic, universalistic and commercial values. The Ocean lacks borders and the navigator easily loses his roots. In antiquity, the opposition between Rome (the Land) and Carthage (the Sea) is a good example of this duality. In modernity, England is a pristine example of Thalassocratic civilization, as is the USA from a certain point in its history.

Carl Schmitt, to explain the differences between these two types of civilizations, cites the myth of the cabalist doctrines, which represented universal history as the struggle between the powerful whale, the Leviathan, against a no less powerful monster, the Behemoth, which was represented as a bull or an elephant. Both names come from the book of Job. In their struggle, the Behemoth tries to tear the Leviathan apart with its horns and tusks, while the Leviathan closes the beast’s jaws and snout with its flippers to prevent it from eating and breathing. For Schmitt, this mythical image represents the blockade of a terrestrial power by a maritime one, which cuts off its means of supply to starve it out. Schmitt adds that for the kabbalistic Jews everything ends with the death of the monsters (that is, of the powers in struggle); while they, who have remained on the sidelines, eat the flesh of the dead beasts and build tents with their skins.

For Dugin, Russia has always been a telluric civilization. From Kievan Rus to the Muscovite Tsarate, the USSR or the current Russian Federation, above (or below) political or ideological differences, there is a set of common features in the course of Russian history—the continuous confrontation, both ideological and geopolitical, with the “Sea” civilizations. The Cold War and the current confrontation of Putin’s Russia with the US and its allies are a good illustration of this confrontation, even with different political and ideological motivations.

To the policy of Globalization, which is an attempt to extend, in a totalitarian way, the presuppositions of Western civilization (and especially of the USA) to the whole Earth, imposing its values (market, individualism, formal democracy) even if by force, Dugin opposes a multipolar conception, with the idea of Great Spaces that coincide with the great civilizations.

In this sense, the bloc formed by Russia and its allies coincides with Eurasia and the domain of the Heartland and has to play a fundamental role in the geopolitics of the future, in alliance with China and other emerging countries (India, Brazil) to oppose Globalization.

From this point on, the concept of Eurasianism takes on two different meanings. In its more restricted and original sense, it refers to the affirmation and defense of the Eurasian bloc and the values of the Christian-Orthodox civilization, capable of opposing the unipolar policy of the USA. But in a general sense, wherever there is defense of a national or cultural identity against globalizing homogenization, one can speak of Eurasianism in a more generic sense.

Thus, when the Poles affirm their national and Catholic identity, when the French or the Greeks stand up to the neoliberal policies of the EU, or when we Spaniards defend our Hispanic identity against separatism or against the fads “made in the USA,” even without knowing it, we are doing Eurasianism.

Eurasianism thus becomes the ideological banner of all those who fight for a multipolar world, respectful not only of the differences of the great civilizations (European, Eurasian, Arab, etc.) but also of the ethnic differences and cultural particularities of the different peoples that make up each of these great civilizations.

For our part, we believe that this generic use of the term “Eurasianism” can be misleading, or be interpreted as a kind of Russian “doctrinal imperialism.” We think that the application of Dugin’s ideas to Spanish reality should be called Hispanism (just as in Peru our friend and colleague Israel Lira calls “Chrysolism” the application of the Fourth Political Theory to his national reality).

Dugin points out, in this sense, that the Nation State, despite its liberal origins and its contribution to the homogenization of populations as a first step towards the total homogenization of Globalization, can play a role in resisting it. While it is true that no nation state, on its own, can resist globalization, its resistance to losing power can slow down the advance of globalization. A good example is France, where the defense of the French National State by Marine Le Pen’s National Front has become an obstacle to the migratory processes and the neoliberal policies sponsored by the EU.


José Alsina Calvés is a historian and philosopher who specializes in political biography, the history of science and the history of ideas and edits the journal Nihil Obstat. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Posmodernia.


Featured: “The City Of Candahar,” from sketches by James Atkinson; engraved by Charles Haghe and Louis Haghe; published by Henry Graves in 1842.

Francis: An Unintended Slip-Up

Since the beginning of the 21st century, to use an emblematic date, thanks to all the mass media, we can obtain immediate information about almost everything that happens in the world. This becomes more evident with the great characters in vogue today; such is the case with Pope Francis, who was disguised as an Indian in Canada when he went to ask forgiveness for the crimes committed by the Church between 1910 and 1945. The worst of them all was to have taken children from the arms of their Indian parents to indoctrinate them in Catholicism and the French language, in asylums and schools for the poor.

The greatest achievement of the anti-Christian propaganda, which has been going on for a long time, is to make the Catholic conscience believe that it is responsible for all the evils of the modern world: pedophilia, perversions, corruption, exploitation, violence against women, etc. And it has just obtained from the Pope himself an international pardon for regrettable, but relative, not absolute, facts.

After asking for such a pardon, in that same act, he should have spoken about the word of eternal life which is Christ as salvation of every man (Indian, or not). However, he abandoned his function and task and joined the worldwide anti-Catholic propaganda. There was not even a word about the holy Bishop Laval who converted that country.

It is true that no one can give what he does not have, and this poor Pope, lacking a solid theological formation, behaves more like a sociologist, while he ignores the world of the sacred. Surely, he must have continued to speak of Christ in private; but that conversation did not reach the immense mass of the world’s population. And therefore, it does not exist.

Canadians in particular will have been left thinking that the Catholic Church is crap, that the priests are a bunch of rapists and the nuns are perverts; that the Indians are a marvel, and that Argentinian are moron, who come out to ask for forgiveness for acts they did not commit. Or is the Pope not Argentinian?

When Bergoglio was elected Pope, I wrote an article and recorded a video entitled, “An Argentine Pope mamma mía.” And I was not wrong.

He can ask for forgiveness from the whole world—from the Wailing Wall in Israel, to the concentration camps, to the Indians in Canada; he can bless homosexual marriages; he can shut his mouth to Catholic Joe Biden who is a blatant abortionist, and he can give communion to a divorced president, abortionist and habitual liar—all of which will give him credit in the mass media. But what he cannot do is to recover the sacredness of the Church. That he cannot do, because he ignores the sacred; and as I said before, no one can give what he does not have.

The Church has entered into a process of decadence which, in order not to go too far back, can be traced back to the end of the pontificate of Pius XII (1958). She held a council, Vatican II (1962-1965), which was intended to be pastoral and which ended up being dogmatic. The old liturgy, the old dogmas and the old customs disappeared, giving way to indeterminate principles, uses and customs, to a relativism that allows anything to be done. In short, it has become a kind of great “orange grove” where each Catholic chooses the orange he prefers. The Yankees call it “Catholic cafe,” and that is probably more appropriate than the phrase “orange grove.”

Catholics are convinced that nothing can happen to the Church because the Holy Spirit assists her. And in the meantime, as they say in Spanish, ajo y agua (a joderse y aguantarse)—you got screwed—deal with it.


Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles.

Food Supply, Food Security

The Swiss Association of Industry and Agriculture (SVIL) has always clearly and unequivocally opposed the decimation of productive agriculture.

Since the 1980s, however, agricultural self-sufficiency has come under increasing pressure:

The WTO demanded an opening of agricultural free trade. The warning voices, which did not want to include agriculture in the free trade negotiations, as had been the case in the previous GATT for decades, were thrown to the wind, along with the historical experience with supply crises. In the WTO, it was now believed that the dismantling of trade barriers would also increase security of supply in the food sector, which is now becoming increasingly clear that this was a mistake that could have been avoided.

Soil and cultivated land loss are increasing in two ways. On the one hand, as a result of too high immigration with resulting settlement growth (jobs, residential areas, supply infrastructures), and on the other hand, as a result of deconversion of cultivated land for nature conservation.

The death of farms because of too low an income and loss of land continues.

An ecology debate has been unilaterally imposed on agriculture by conservation organizations, instead of first addressing the causes of conflict stemming from the overall economy. Green reform organizations believe that the ecology problem can be solved by reducing production and cultivating nature differently. With overall unchanged direct payments and production services, agriculture was forced to provide additional uncompensated care services.

In addition, the ecological critics do not want to recognize any connection between the settlement density in Switzerland and the dwindling biodiversity, but blame this conflict solely on agriculture. More and more, agricultural policy has also become an object for extended demands on the living environment. In the process, ever more drastic ecological regulations are imposed on agriculture, without addressing the macroeconomic causes. Likewise, food-labeling organizations also focus solely on marketing their unique selling points, without addressing the basic macroeconomic conflict of underpaying agriculture.

Because of this multiplicity of conflicts, Parliament has abandoned AP 22 and instructed the Federal Council to present a revised concept by the summer of 2022.

Now, in addition to the already strained relationship between population size and land base, there are additional uncertainties regarding supply through imports. Whereas global supply chains were previously the main argument for deregulation and free trade, against all warnings, supply chains are now the sore point, as evidenced by significant price increases for raw materials.

As a result, the supply situation for Switzerland—with a degree of self-sufficiency of just under 55% and a high proportion of imports—has also become more than uncertain against the background of this increasing turmoil. For these reasons, the call for Plan Wahlen 2.0 (analogous to the 1941 program) to expand the potato and bread grain area and to adjust the diet is political precaution. Today, this means an emergency programmatic re-expansion of arable land, reclamation of extensification areas and no further water expansion projects, which, according to the conservation organizations themselves, deprive agriculture of up to 50,000 hectares of prime irrigable land.

It is now a question of secure supply in the event of disrupted supply, which is what agricultural policy must be pragmatically geared towards.

The same considerations apply to the required reduction path in agriculture. A reduction in input leads to a collapse in production is the wrong move in the looming crisis. It is therefore also wrong to impose a reduction path on agriculture, in addition to the adjustment process that is already underway, while energy and raw material prices are still rising.

In order to be able to replace auxiliary materials with ecological intensification, the current industrialization pressure on agriculture must be eliminated, because this economic pressure prevents ecological intensification. However, this requires a longer-term recultivation process. Measures that stifle production and risk “Cambodian conditions” (relapse into poverty and hunger)—or conversely, adapting our livelihood to economically generated conflicts—are misguided.

Recently, there have been arguments against self-sufficiency that the auxiliary materials, such as fertilizer, diesel and animal feed would have to be imported anyway, which makes self-sufficiency illusory in any case. Such argumentation only contributes to further lowering the currently low level of self-sufficiency in this crisis instead of increasing it. After all, it is precisely fuels and fertilizers from fossil sources that can be stored in sufficient quantities without any problems.

After all, the fact that a few years ago, in national supply law, stockpiling was significantly reduced compared to the past seems to be in line with the “policy” which today causes supply shortages in an inhumane manner.

The ambivalence of ecological criticism of agriculture and industry and the danger of global famine?

More and more urgently the question arises, which agenda does “green politics” follow, especially in the current crisis, when domestic production should be secured and expanded. These organizations criticize productive agriculture and also want to cut off the supply of fossil energy and auxiliary materials.

Not only is fertilizer production being affected, but grain prices are also skyrocketing due to disrupted supply chains as well as unprecedented ownership encroachments in the payments system (sanctions). Wheat prices of $20 per 100 kg in 2020 rose to $34 per 100 kg before February 24, 2022. Meanwhile, the U.S. holds itself harmless as a net importer in the world grain market with its self-printed dollars. Currently, the price continues to rise to $45 per 100 kg, making food unaffordable for millions. Covid has broken supply chains, India is experiencing heat waves, and lack of rainfall in Europe is also depressing yields. Western sanctions are shockingly blocking fossil fuel energy use, from fertilizer to industrial production. Add up all these disruptions, orchestrated at the monetary and legal levels, and devastating supply shortages are occurring.

In contrast, the export share worldwide of Russia and Ukraine combined was about 3% of wheat production before the crisis. It is not the production volume that is the problem but the explosion of prices due to sanctions and disruption of logistics.

And as if that were not enough, an energy supply emergency and destruction of the economy is being “accepted” for reasons of “ecology.”

Who is served by such an approach, which openly targets a supply crisis?

Only industry can reduce entropy in the long run. The sought-after “ecological turnaround” precisely cannot therefore begin with the increase in the price of energy. The reduction of raw material consumption is the long-term product of SME-supported technology development, which is now being damaged by the sanctions policy. These connections are overlooked by the protection organizations!

As far as world food is concerned, the dependencies that have arisen in the grain supply of the Middle East and North Africa are the result of previous global political wars. In Iraq and then Syria, a rich grain culture was destroyed, which also increased the dependence on grain imports in these countries. This, in turn, increased Eastern Europe’s specialization in the production of food commodities.

It is not progressive policy to abuse these internationally created mutual interdependencies as a target for sanctions in order to launch international emergency and politically exploitable shock strategies. Are consumers to experience painfully what it is like when the gas tap is turned off and fertilizer production is interrupted? What explains the long-standing opposition to Nord-Stream 2? Is it about “ecology and climate,” or is it about access to gas resources, or about the question of who should own them “rule-based” in the future?

In this way, the ecological conflict is increasingly becoming a powerless appendage in the economic conflict over resource bases. The destruction of self-sustaining economies creates internationally disruptive dependencies and enormous attack surfaces for interventions, sanctions, etc. Energy embargoes exacerbate international crises.

With supply and hunger crises, every social life is brought into dependence on global behavioral regulation. This is obviously an attempt to continue the previous colonial domination. The fact that an energy embargo is taken in all seriousness as a contribution to sustainability shows the progressive economic and political loss of reality.

The emancipatory power of industry and its ability to solve the entropy problem is being destroyed by this supposedly “ecological” energy policy. It is a regression to an immature society which regulates life, material and energy-flows in an authoritarian and sacrificial way. This process, promoted by the Great Reset, leads to ecodictatorship.

That is unless Europe summons the revolutionary spirit to a confederate Europe, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, against the imperial refeudalization under transatlantic auspices which is spreading more and more.


Hans Bieri is an architect (ETH/SIA) and regional planner and Executive Director of SVIL (Swiss Association of Industry and Agriculture [formerly Innenkolonisation]), which is concerned with the question of food and regional development. He is committed to ensuring that agriculture retains a solid footing in industrial society and that security of supply is not further weakened—in short, a sovereign and still neutral Switzerland.


Featured: “Harvest scene near the village of Ladby,” by Laurits Andersen Ring; painted August 30, 1892.

European Striving for Ars Perfecta in Linear Time

In academia, music is regarded as a “cultural universal” or “human universal” found among all peoples in history. This view is attractive both to a) multiculturalists who want to promote the idea of a “common humanity,” or a “cosmopolitan consciousness” in our diverse Western nations, and to b) scientists who believe that all humans are equally “hardwired for music“. Various theories have been offered on the origins and role of music: i) it evolved as an elaborate form of sexual selection, primarily to seduce potential mates, ii) as a “shared precursor” of language, iii) as a practical means to assist in organizing and motivating human work, iv) to encourage cooperation within one’s community, v) as a pleasant preoccupation or source of amusement, relaxation and recuperation, vi) to express one’s cultural identity and feel united with one’s culture through social celebrations, such as weddings, funerals, religious processions and ceremonial rites.

These explanations have a major, disquieting flaw: they can’t explain why Europeans were continuously creative in music for many centuries, responsible for the highest, most complex form of music, classical music, along with the invention of the most sophisticated musical instruments, the articulation of all the treatises on music on matters related to pitch, notes, intervals, scale systems, tonality, modulation, and melody. Classical music expresses the best that man as man has achieved in music. It is not that other cultures did not create great folk music, which is essential to a people’s identity. It is that their music was performed by custom over countless generations without exhibiting a continuous line of creative composers striving for higher levels of musical expression.

Treatises on Music

From its beginnings in ancient Greece, we witness systematic treatises about the nature of music, outlining its terminology, note names, tetrachord names, conjunct and disjunct tetrachords, the meaning of tonoi, harmony, species of consonances, names of octave species, as well as efforts at a scientific theory of acoustics. While Pythagoras is generally considered to have initiated a theoretical study of acoustics, the treatise Elements of Harmony (330 BC) by Aristoxenus is now regarded by many scholars as the first book to have argued that the nature of music is fundamentally different from the natural world, and that the laws of traditional mathematics by which the Pythagoreans explained natural phenomena can’t explain the phenomena of music. Music merited a science of its own.

Musical space is incommensurable, Aristoxenus argued, and the elements of music are not isolated entities but integral parts of an organic whole from which each part derives its meaning and position. Aristoxenus, according to Flora Levin, “accomplished something whose importance cannot be overstated: he freed the science of harmonics from the bonds of the Pythagorean theory of proportions, the numerical theory that is applicable only to commensurables” (p. 197). The correct way to determine the size of intervals was not by numerical ratio, but by ear. Other important Greek theorists of music with a predilection for rigorous thought and systemic definition and classification, include Cleonides (c. 100’s/200’s BC), Ptolemy (100 – 170 AD) and Aristides Quintilianus (35 – 100 AD). Of these, only parts of the writings of Ptolemy, famous for his outstanding works in geography and astronomy, survive under the title Harmonikon [Harmonics]. He followed the theoretical approach of the Pythagoreans, for basing musical intervals on mathematical ratios. Ptolemy also argued, with respect to tonoi, that the height of pitch was only one source in the variety and expression of music, along with the arrangement of intervals within a vocal register. Greek theory influenced all subsequent Western thinking on music.

In the Middle Ages, De institutione musica (524) by Boethius, which described the Pythagorean unity of mathematics and music, and the Platonic concept of the relationship between music and society, was widely read; but the most significant theoretical contribution came from Guido of Arezzo (991/992 – 1033), on the strength of his invention of modern musical notation (or staff notation) that replaced neumatic notation. The staff enabled scribes to notate relative pitches precisely and freed music from its dependence on oral transmission. Guido is also credited with the use of the “ut–re–mi–fa–sol–la” (do–re–mi–fa–so–la) mnemonic device, or memory device. Guido’s treatise Micrologus Guidonis de disciplina artis musicae [The Epitome of Guido on the Discipline of the Art of Music] was widely recognized among the educated.

Another important figure was Franco of Cologne, who codified a system of notation in his Ars cantus mensurabilis [Art of Measured Song] (1280), in which the relative time values of notes, ligatures and rests were clearly laid out. This led to the revolutionary invention of polyphony, a type of musical texture consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, as opposed to just one voice—an aspect of Western music not duplicated in any other culture.

Then came Ars Nova through the writings of Johannes de Muris (1290-1355) and Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361). The former’s treatise, Notitia artis musicae [A Note on the Art of Music] (1321), is credited with dramatically increasing the “fidelity with which a musical notation system could represent complex rhythmic patterns… modeled on the astronomical method for mathematically organizing time.” The latter’s writings contain “a detailed account of the various uses and meanings of the coloured notes, and the introduction of additional durational symbols in the new notational system.”

Great Composers of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

All the greatest composers in history were European. With the invention of the Ars Nova we can start identifying great individual composers, beginning with the Frenchman Guillaume de Machaut (1300-77), who adapted secular poetic forms into polyphonic music, not only the motet, which is based on a sacred text, but also secular song forms, such as the lai or short tales in French literature, and the formes fixes, such as the rondeau, virelai and ballade, into the musical mainstream. Francesco Landini (1325-1397) was the foremost musician of the Trecento style, sometimes called the “Italian ars nova,” and known for his virtuosity on the portative organ and for his compositions in the ballata form. Writers noted that “the sweetness of his melodies was such that hearts burst from their bosoms.” He may have been the first composer to think of his music as striving for perfection, writing: “I am Music, and weeping I regret seeing intelligent people forsaking my sweet and perfect sounds for street music.”

The English would produce their own great composers, most notably John Dunstable (1390-1453), who developed a style, la contenance angloise, which was never heard before in music, using full triadic harmony, along with harmonies with thirds and sixths. This time period also witnessed the Burgundian School of the 1400s, associated with a more rational control of consonance and dissonance, of which the composer and musical theorist Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474) was a member, and who was known for his masses, motets, magnificats, hymns, and antiphons within the area of sacred music, as well as secular music following the formes fixes. This School originated in the “cosmopolitan atmosphere” of the Burgundian court, which was very prestigious in this period, influencing musical centers across Europe.

Creating a bridge beyond the Middle Ages, the Burgundian School paved the way for the Renaissance, which saw a rebirth of interest in the treatises of the Greek past. Franchinus GaffuriusTheorica musicae [Theory of Msuic] (1492), Practica musicae (Practice of Music] (1496), and De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum opus [A Work on the Harmony of Musical Instruments] (1518), incorporated Greek ideas brought to Italy from Byzantium by Greek migrants. These were the most influential treatises of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. There were significant composers during the early Renaissance, particularly Johannes Ockeghem (1420-97), with his Missa prolationum, a “technical tour de force in which every movement is a double mensuration canon.”

The most renowned, and possibly the first in the pantheon of “greatest composers,” is Josquin des Prez 1450/1455-1521), called the “father of musicians,” who made extensive use of “motivic cells,” easily recognizable melodic fragments which passed from voice to voice “in a contrapuntal texture”—a basic organizational principle in music practiced continuously from 1500 until today. This figure of the Renaissance distinctly aimed to raise music into an “ars perfecta,” that is, “a perfect art to which nothing can be added.” Theorists such as Heinrich Glarean and Gioseffo Zarlino agreed that his style represented perfection. For Martin Luther, Josquin des Prez was “the master of the notes.”

The next giant in the pursuit of musical perfection was Adrian Willaert (1490-1562), the inventor of the antiphonal style (which involves two choirs in interaction, often singing alternate musical phrases) and an experimenter in chromaticism and rhythm.

Striving for Perfection versus Music outside Europe

This striving for perfection through a long historical sequence by individuals from different generations, seeking to outdo the accomplishments of the past, points to a fundamental contrast between the models of beauty and achievement in the Western and the non-Western worlds. The impression one gets from the study of the history of music in such civilizations as ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, or Japan, is that of time standing still in a state of accomplished perfection after a sequence of achievements. In the Western world, the history of music is heavily characterized by linear time, continuous novelties, if sometimes slow and interrupted, but always moving; whereas in the East, after some initial achievements, further changes are rare, as if perfection, believed to have been achieved, needed to be frozen in a world of cyclical time.

To understand the European linear conception of perfection, their consistent striving for higher forms, it might be useful to go back to the ancient Greek ideal of arete, a term that originally denoted excellence in the performance of heroic valor by individuated aristocratic Indo-European warriors. In pre-Homeric times, it signified the strength and skill of a warrior. It was his arete that ranked an aristocrat (aristos = “best,” “noblest”) above the commoners; and it was the attainment of heroic excellence that secured respect and honor among aristocratic peers. The word aristeia was used in epic stories for the single-handed adventures of the hero in his unceasing strife for superlative achievements over his peers. In its origins, arete was thus “closely bound up with the physical power” of warriors. But starting with Homer, the word came to denote excellence in spiritual qualities. In the Odyssey, we witness a new type of heroic personality, Odysseus, who rejects Achilles’s brutal treatment of Hector’s body, and shows self-awareness and self-control, inventiveness and craftiness. Thereafter arete came to denote all kinds of actions and spiritual qualities expressing the best in human abilities. But the ancient Greeks still had a cyclical conception of time, which found philosophical expression in Plato’s idea that there are perfect Forms existing outside time, unchanging ideals that transcend time and space, and that humans require strenuous training and breeding to approximate these Forms. Nevertheless, the competitive aristocratic individualism of the ancient Greeks could not be contained, with subsequent philosophers before and after Plato proposing their own conceptions of truth, originating novel ideas, along with the development of geometrical deductive thinking, prose writing, government based on civic citizenship beyond feuding tribal identity; a sequence of masterful writers from Aeschylus to Sophocles to Euripides, the development of cartography, musical theory, and much more.

This ideal of excellence had a profound influence on the development of Christianity as a European religion that aimed at raising humans to the highest demands of God. Unlike the gods of non-Western peoples, which asked for submission and fear, Christianity called upon Europeans to rise to the skies in search of perfection. This ideal was one of the most important contributions of Greek thought to Christianity, “to honor the Most High God,” “to produce a well sounding harmony to the glory of God” (in the words Bach would use later on). As the individualism of the West took off with the demolition of kinship ties, the promotion of nuclear monogamous families, the rise of associations and institutions, based on legal contracts rather than kinship norms (cities, universities, guilds, monasteries), a historicized linear conception of perfection developed; the idea that perfection lay in the future, rather than in some golden past age, or in some Platonic Form frozen out of time.

In contrast, no linear conception of perfection emerged in a non-western world where kinship institutions prevailed and the individual was thus submerged within traditional collective norms and obligations. Artistic achievement in this world was measured in terms of the reenactment of past achievements, in some past golden age. The cultural and intellectual history of China was always characterized by a turning to the past, to restore the idealized society of earlier times, as admired by Confucius. The history of music in China (and the rest of the non-western world) is characterized by this traditionalism, coupled with a lack of individual creativity, stereotypification, conformity to a general pattern or type deemed to be already perfected. Once instruments of music had reached a reasonable level of efficiency, and once a level of expertise had been reached, these were passed on without any changes for hundreds of years.

Britannica Encyclopedia offers a long entry on the history of Chinese music, identifying it as one of “the most highly developed of all known musical systems.” It is true: as in many other endeavors, the Chinese musical tradition is relatively accomplished, with some degree of historical development. This Britannica entry, however, soon acknowledges that except for archeological records and a few surviving written sources, it is only from the Song dynasty (960–1279 AD) onwards “that there is information about the actual music itself.” Ancient Chinese written sources provide “images of courtly parties, military parades, and folk festivals,” but they do “not provide a single note of music.” The Chinese theory of music, as expressed in the “Yueji” (“Record of Music”) chapter of the Liji (Book of Rites) was about how “music is the harmony of heaven and earth while rites are the measurement of heaven and earth. Through harmony all things are made known, through measure all things are properly classified. Music comes from heaven; rites are shaped by earthly designs.” This basic philosophical outlook would remain intact throughout China’s history until Western influences came.

A tonal system was conceptualized to some degree in China. They created bamboo tuning pipes from which twelve pitches could be derived, and a “tonal vocabulary from which assorted scales—specific orderings of a limited number of pitches—can be extracted and reproduced on different pitch levels.” Still, the Chinese never conceived a science of music as a separate field. This is implicitly acknowledged in the Britannica article: “The five core tones of Chinese scales are sometimes connected with the five elements, or wuxing (earth, wood, metal, fire, and water), while the 12 pitches of the tonal system are connected by some writers with the months of the year, hours of the day, or phases of the moon Music merited a science of its own.”

They developed a system of classification of instruments; however, “this system was based upon the material used in the construction of the instruments, the eight being stone, earth (pottery), bamboo, metal, skin, silk, wood, and gourd”. This is very different from the classification system of the West, which was focused on the actual tonal range of the instruments:

  • Higher-than-sopranino instruments: soprillo saxophone, piccolo
  • Sopranino instruments: sopranino saxophone, treble flute
  • Soprano instruments: concert flute, clarinet, violin, trumpet, oboe, soprano saxophone
  • Alto instruments: alto flute, alto recorder, viola, French horn, natural horn, alto horn, alto clarinet, alto saxophone, English horn
  • Tenor instruments: trombone, euphonium, tenor violin, tenor flute, tenor saxophone, tenor recorder, bass flute
  • Baritone instruments: cello, baritone horn, bass clarinet, bassoon, baritone saxophone
  • Bass instruments: bass recorder, bass oboe, bass tuba, bass saxophone, bass trombone
  • Lower-than-bass instruments: contrabass tuba, double bass, contrabassoon, contrabass clarinet, contrabass saxophone, subcontrabass saxophone, tubax, octobass

The history of music in China through the medieval and modern eras consists in the effects of foreign instruments and ideas coming from the Persians, Arabs, Indians, and people from the Malay Peninsula, particularly during the Tang dynasty (7th-10th century). After this era, starting with the Song dynasty (960–1279), one sees the consolidation of earlier intra-Chinese trends, a more national rather than international cultural atmosphere. The Chinese did not produce a single treatise of music that we can identify as theoretical, on matters related to pitch, notes, intervals, scale systems, tonality, modulation, and melody. Britannica says that “the official Song shi (1345; “Song [Dynasty] History”) contained 496 chapters, of which 17 deal directly with music, and musical events and people appear throughout the entire work.” They also wrote manuals on how to play some instruments. However, these were descriptive works. The Britannica article does not mention one single Chinese composer. After all, China did not produce any classical music.

Revolutionary Epochs in Western Music

Europeans invented the opera. Britannica confounds Chinese musical theatre with “operas.” True operas could not have emerged outside Europe because opera is a drama that combines soliloquy (literary form of discourse in which a character talks to him/herself when alone or unaware of the presence of other characters), scenery, dialogue, continuous music inspired by literary ancient Greek tragedies and comedies, together with allegorical and pastoral interludes, with choruses and large instrumental ensembles—all without parallels outside Europe. As it is, Britannica admits that Chinese “operas…all tend to follow a tradition of using either standard complete pieces or stereotyped melodic styles (banqiang [musical text settings]).”

It should be noted, moreover, that the literary form of tragedy does not exist outside Europe. Tragedy could only have been possible in the West since tragedy supposes a heroic figure determined to achieve greatness, which will inevitably issue in one-sided actions that bring suffering to others and violate their legitimate rights and plunge the hero into actions that bring about his demise. Operas grew out of madrigals, and the madrigal originated from the three-to-four voice frottola (1470–1530); from the unique interest of European composers in poetry (particularly pastoral poems about shepherds), and from the stylistic influence of the French chanson; and from the polyphony of the motet.

It is not inaccurate to use the title “Confucian China” from ancient times until Mao, or to say Islamic civilization from the beginnings until the present, or “Hindu India” from the beginnings until recently—but it is very inaccurate to say Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Catholic, Protestant, Renaissance, Newtonian, Enlightenment, or Existentialist Europe. Europe sees a continuous history of grand epochs. These epochs, with varying titles depending on subject of study, can be found in all the realms of culture, painting, architecture, music, literature, philosophy.

We can identify the Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation eras before the onset of the Baroque. There is no space here to list every major composer of “late Renaissance” Italy, England and Germany, but mention should be made of John Dowland’s (1562-1626) lute songs, and the increase in new forms of instrumental music and books about how to play instruments, of which the most influential was Michael Praetorius’s Syntagma Musicum [Encyclopedia of Music] (1614-1619), an encyclopedic record of contemporary musical practices, with many illustrations of a wide variety of instruments, harpsichord, trombone, pommer, bass viola—signaling the fact that Europeans would go on to create almost all the best musical instruments in history. The greats of the Reformation period included John Taverner (1490-1545), best-known for his masses based on a popular song called The Westron Wynde, and Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, as well as the composers Christopher Tye, Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) and Robert Whyte (1538-1574). The greatest of them all, Giovanni da Palestrina (1525-94), called the “Prince of Music” and his compositions “the absolute perfection” of church style, composed 105+ masses and 250 motets, 68 offertories, 140 madrigals and 300 motets. He is remembered as a master of contrapuntal ingenuity, for his dynamic flow of music, not rigid or static, for the variety of form and type of his masses, for melody that contain few leaps between notes and for dissonances that are confined to suspensions, passing notes and weak beats.

Meanwhile, while the rest of the world would not yet see a treatise on music, Girolamo Mei (1519-1594) carried a thorough investigation of every ancient work on music, writing a four book treatise, De modis musicis antiquorum (Concerning Ancient Musical Styles), soon followed by Galileo’s father, Vincenzo Galilei’s Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna [Dialogue on Music Ancient and Modern] (1581), where he used Mei’s ideas to attack vocal counterpoint in Italian madrigal, arguing that delivering the emotional message of poetical texts required only a single melody with appropriate pitches and rhythms rather than several voices simultaneously singing different melodies in different rhythms.

The Baroque

The next epoch is the Baroque between 1600 and 1750. Baroque originally meant “bizarre,” “exaggerated,” “grotesque,” “in bad taste,” but then it came to mean “flamboyant,” “decorative,” “bold,” juxtaposition of contrasting elements conveying dramatic tension. This period saw instrumental music becoming the equal of vocal music as Europeans learned how to make instruments with far higher expressive capacities, replacing the reserved sound of viols with the powerful and flexible tone of violins, better harpsichords, and originating orchestral music.

It is not easy to demarcate new epochs in Western history for this is a continuously creative civilization in many interacting fields—music, painting, exploration, architecture, science, literature—with different dynamics and therefore different yet mutually influential cultural motifs and reorientations. Some figures are considered “transitional” figures. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is such a transitional musician between the late Renaissance (since there was no Reformation in Italy) and the Baroque. The originality of Western cultural figures, moreover, never came out of the blue but obtained its vitality from its rootedness in the European past, reinterpreting and readapting ancient Greek, Roman, and medieval Christian themes.

Monteverdi’s famous opera L’Orfeo (1607), for example, drew from the Orpheus of Greek mythology (as transmitted by Ovid and Virgil). Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianna” was based on the Greek Ariadne myth. Orpheus, in Monteverdi’s adaptation, was a musician and renowned poet who descended into the Underworld of Hades to recover his lost wife Eurydice. Orpheus is allowed to go to his wife so long as he does not look at her, but overcome with his love, he breaks the law of the underworld, and looks at her, and loses her forever. Orpheus is a god-like figure in this heroic rescue mission, who experiences intense emotions in rapid succession; bravery, euphoria, and despondency. This adaptation was mediated by the personal experiences of Monteverdi, his intense grief and despair at the loss of his wife, combined with his chronic headaches and deteriorating eye sight. The cultural influence of Rome is evident in his trilogy, the operas Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1640), L’incoronazione di Poppea (1643), and Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia [now lost] (1641), inspired by a historical trajectory that moves through Troy, the birth of Rome to its decline, and forward to the foundation and glory of the Venetian Republic. Republican rule by proud aristocrats unwilling to submit to a despotic ruler is unique to the West, inspiring the American “res-publica.” In the 1600s there were 19 Orphean opera versions, and countless operas based on other mythologies about Venus, Adonis, Apollo, Daphne, Hercules, Narcissus.

The invention of the Italian madrigal found its highest expression in Monteverdi, whose first five books of madrigals between 1587 and 1605 are estimated as monuments in the history of the polyphonic madrigal. What made Monteverdi stand out among many other luminaries of his age (Henrich Isaac, Orlande de Lassus) was the way he established in his opera a complete unity between drama and music for the first time in history, a repertoire of textures and techniques “without parallels.” While Italian opera was flourishing in every corner of Europe except France, France would soon build up its own opera tradition, through the emergence of French tragedy in the grand literary works of Corneille (1606-1684) and Jean Racine (1639-1699). To these dramatic works, opera added music, dance and spectacle, beginning with Italian born Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), the national director of French music as a member of Louis XIV’s orchestra.

This was merely the beginning of the Baroque achievement. The composers of this period constitute a veritable who’s who list. Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) was the first to create basic violin technique on the newly invented violin; Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757) wrote 555 harpsichord sonatas and made use of Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish dance rhythms; Henry Purcell (1659–1695), recognized as one of the greatest English composers, is still admired for his “daring expressiveness—not grand and exuberant in the manner of Handel, but tinged with melancholy and a mixture of elegance, oddness, and wistfulness.” There is also Jean Philippe Rameau (1683–1764), known for his bold melodic lines and harmonies, and tragédie lyrique opera, and for his Traité de l’harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels (Treatise on Harmony reduced to its natural principles), which sought to establish a “science” of music, in this age of Newtonian principles, deriving the principles of harmony from the laws of acoustics, and argued that the chord (a combination of three or more notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously) was the primal element in music.

There were also the giants Vivaldi, Handel and Bach. Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote over 500 concertos, of which 350 are for solo instrument and strings, such as violin, and the others for bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, viola, lute, or mandolin; as well as 46 operas, and invented the ritornello form (recurrent musical section that alternates with different episodes of contrasting material). Georg Handel (1685–1759), sometimes identified as the first “international composer,” though in reality deeply rooted in Europe’s cosmopolitan culture, born in Germany but becoming naturalized British, wrote for every musical genre, along with instrumental works for full orchestra, with the most significant known as Water Music, six concertos for woodwinds and strings and twelve “Grand Concertos”, and his masterpiece Messiah, judged as “the finest Composition of Musick that was ever heard.”

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) mastered the organ and harpsichord and wrote over 1,000 compositions in nearly every type of musical form, driven by a search for perfection, to create music that would “honor the Most High God” and “produce a well-sounding harmony to the glory of God.” Bach assimilated all the music that had gone before him in his compulsive striving for arete in technique; and what he absorbed he shaped into his own endless variety of musical compositions. His music for the harpsichord and clavichord includes masterpieces in every genre: preludes, fantasies, and toccatas, and other pieces in fugal style, dance suites, as well as sonatas and capriccios, and concertos with orchestra. Bach was a Faustian man with passionate drives, measuring himself against other composers, hard to get along with, father of 20 children. Living in an age of mighty composers, it is said that he surpassed them in his harmonic intensity, the unexpected originality of the sounds, and his forging of new rules for the actualization of harmonic potentials. It is inaccurate to say that perfection is impossible. Europeans achieved it in many art forms, and would continue to do so in music, painting, and architecture through the 1800s.

The Classical Period

The eighteenth-century Enlightenment is often celebrated for giving birth to a cosmopolitan age in which the West embraced “universal values” for humanity’s well-being against age-old customs and beliefs limited by ethno-national boundaries. Kant’s famous essay, “Toward Perpetual Peace” (1795), is now seen in academia as a “project” for the transformation of millions of immigrants into “world citizens” of the West with the same “universal” rights. It does not matter that Kant was calling for a federation of republican states coexisting with each other in a state of “hospitality” rather than in a state of open borders.

This “Enlightenment project” has prompted many dissidents to reject the very notion of cosmopolitanism. Yet cosmopolitanism is an inherent product of the European pursuit of the highest in human nature, the ars perfecta. European national elites have always borrowed from each other, even as they developed musical styles and philosophical outlooks with national characteristics. Bach is very German in a way that Vivaldi is not—though he absorbed into his works all the genres, styles, and forms of European music in his time and before. Ars perfecta should not be confused with the pursuit of one uniform model that arrived at some point in history and then fixated into a state of unoriginal repetition thereafter. Ars Perfecta allows for national authenticity of performance, intention, sound, and personal interpretation. Authentic works can be deeply rooted in a nation’s history and personality.

When we read the German flutist J.J. Quantz writing in 1752 that the ideal musical style would be “a style blending the good elements” of “different peoples,” “more universal” rather than the style of a “particular nation“—we should interpret this as an expression of the reality that the language of classical music, which is singular to the “different peoples” of Europe (and should not be confused with a people’s musical folklore) was cosmopolitan from its beginnings. This is evident in the European preoccupation with a universal theory of harmonics, the nature of scale systems, pitch, and melodic composition. It is evident in the way Europeans went about, earnestly during and after the Baroque era, creating the most perfect instruments to achieve a maximum of musical flexibility, between strong and soft, crescendo and decrescendo, with almost imperceptible shades: perfect violins, violas, violoncellos, flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, pianos. This strive for perfection was required to express and arouse all the shadings of human feeling as Europeans dug deeper into their interior selves to manifest in full their joys, afflictions, grandeur, rage, compassion, contemplation, and exaltation.

To be sure, the peoples of the world are “gifted with conscious rhythm.” Man “cannot refrain from rhythmic movement, from dancing, stamping the ground, clapping his hands, slapping his abdomen, his chest, his legs, his buttocks.” This rhythmic disposition, it is true, prompted all peoples to create musical instruments. Primitives developed a variety of simple instruments, drums, flutes, trumpets, xylophones, harps. These were “folk and ritual instruments;” but with the rise of civilizations in the Near East, India, and the Far East, we see a distinct class of musicians developing instruments with greater musicality and flexible intonation, enhancing the artistic expression of sounds. We see a greater variety of stringed instruments, new lutes and violins in Mesopotamia; and in Egypt vertical flutes with greater musical possibilities than the whistle flutes; and the complex double clarinet. Among Asiatic peoples, we see vertical and angular harps, lyres, lutes, oboes, trumpets. Instruments in ancient China include the mouth organ, pan pipes, percussion instruments, long zither; and in the medieval Far East we find the fiddle bow, flat lutes, resting bell, hooked trumpet. The gamakas are said to be the “life and soul” of Indian melody; the veena and the fiddle sarinda with its fantastic shape are found in India.

But in the West, with the rise of civilization in the Greek peninsula, we see both musical instruments and treatises on harmonics. It is really during the Renaissance that the West starts to outpace the rest of the world in the creation of more sophisticated and original musical instruments, including a tabula universalis, a classification of all wind and stringed instruments in all their sizes and kinds, as well as numerous scientific manuals on how to play them “according to the correct tablature.” By 1600, the level of sophistication and variety in kinds of European instruments is the highest; and then between 1750 and 1900 the quantity of timbres “increased astonishingly,” along with the quality of the sound of each instrument; for example, the harp was made chromatic after being strictly diatonic for 5000 years; and under the pressure of orchestration all instruments were developed to the “greatest possible technical efficiency.” The magnificent piano was invented and improved upon continuously.

It can be argued that with modern individualism, that is, the complete breaking out of individuals from kinship groups and norms, European music witnessed an intensification in the expression of personalities through music, leading to more sophisticated, refined, and specialized musical instruments—in order to express the wider range of personal feelings and experiences afforded by a liberal culture. This culture propelled modern Europeans to breach the medieval limits of the traditional order of consonance and dissonance, of regular and equable rhythmic flow, to improvise chromaticism, tonalities, and create many styles of monody, recitative, aria, madrigal, and the integration of theater and music for dramatic expression. It can’t be denied that modern Europeans did in fact originate a far greater variety of genres and instruments capable of bringing out the complex emotional and psychological constitutions of Europeans into the light.

The cosmopolitanism of Europeans in their striving for novel ways of achieving perfection has misled historians into thinking that the language of music expressed in Monteverdi, Scarletti, Bach, Rameau, Brahms was “global” and not limited by civilizational and national boundaries. While they acknowledge that each of these composers absorbed into his music their national traditions, they insist upon the “internationalism” of the music of the Classical era, believing that with Handel, Haydn, Mozart… we have “international composers.” Handel (1685-1759), they tell us, borrowed, transcribed, adapted and rearranged universally accepted practices in music, a German who became naturalized British. They hail Christopher Gluck (1714-84) as a “cosmopolite” who professed a new style of opera away from the particular embellishments and ornateness of Baroque opera towards the Classical (universal) ideals of purity and balance. They cite Gluck’s own words about how he created “music suited to all nations, so as to abolish these ridiculous distinctions of national styles.” Mozart (1756-1791), they insist, was a cosmopolite who travelled extensively throughout Europe, becoming familiar with every kind of music written and heard, his work “a synthesis of national styles, a mirror that reflected the music of a whole age, illuminated by his own genius”. While Haydn (1732-1809) was localized in Vienna, they tell us that his music was an outgrowth of an increasingly cosmopolitan Europe.

What this “cosmopolitan” interpretation misses is that classical music, in its origins and development, was 100% circumscribed to the continent of Europe; it had no connection with and no resonance outside Europe. When composers like Bach and Mozart absorbed all the genres, styles, and forms of music of their age, they were striving to express the highest potentialities in European music, rather than express “international music,” as we understand that term today. Handel said that when he composed his Messiah he was guided by the perfect hand of God, driven by a state of pure spirituality, in tears, ignoring food and sleep. It was a common belief among European philosophers that God is the all-perfect being embodying the perfections of all beings within itself. Schelling (1775–1854) then suggested that the perfection of God existed only in potentia, and that it was only through the human striving for the highest that God actualized Himself.

Conservatives often lament the restless striving of Europeans. They wish the West had been collectivist like China or the Incas, without a linear conception of time, attached to a golden eternal age in the past, without seeking to overcome the resistance of things, without disruptive individualists full of energy and fire trying to impose their subjective wills upon the world. They dislike Beethoven. They prefer the continuous tonic dominant harmonies of the eighteenth century, even before Bach. Beethoven is seen as an admirer of France’s 1789 revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity; the composer of the Eroica symphony dedicated it to Napoleon, the conqueror who is blamed for ending Europe’s monarchical order. Such has been the nature of European creativity.

Beethoven’s music was an expression of his propulsive inner state of being, for whom the elegant, highly refined sense of Mozart was not enough; he needed to bend classic rules with unexpected metrical patterns to convey his sense of conflict, transformation, and transcendence of his age. The Eroica (the Third Symphony) was very Western in its expression of the ideal of heroic greatness, which he saw in Napoleon, built into this civilization since prehistorical Indo-European times. With Beethoven, expression of inner feeling became more intense and personal, for European individuality had reached a higher level of inwardness. His Sixth Symphony, “the Pastoral,” is about his feelings aroused by delight in nature, apprehension of a storm approaching, awareness of the fury of the storm, and gratitude for the washed calm afterwards. He was drawn into his silent world of increasing deafness and solipsism, as he continued to compose. The great Romantic composer, Hector Berlioz, said that in the Sixth “the most unexplored depths of the soul reverberate.” Beethoven, a corporeal man who had a habit of spitting whenever he felt like it, a clumsy guy who could never dance, sullen and suspicious, without social graces, prone to rages, was nevertheless a man of immense inner strength, who once told a friend: “I don’t want to know anything about your system of ethics. Strength is the morality of the man who stands out from the rest and it is mine.”

The Romantic Epoch

Only Western history is characterized by a continuous sequence of discontinuous revolutionary epochs. New epochs tend to be morphologically present across many fields from politics to science to painting and architecture, philosophy and music—although each field sees movements and schools peculiar to itself. The Romantic period in music runs roughly from 1830 to 1900; however, the variety of compositions is outstanding, with many characteristics of the preceding “Classical” period persisting, and new “Nationalistic” tendencies coalescing with it, along with new “Impressionistic” tendencies.

This makes the West incredibly hard to understand. The word “Hindu” or “Talmudic” can define a people for centuries. Not the West. “Romanticism” alone is very difficult to grasp. In literature, it spans a shorter period from 1790 to 1850, displaced by “Realism,” which does not appear in music. The different names associated with this movement bespeak of its intricacy: Joseph de Maistre, Rousseau, Stendhal, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, Chateaubriand, Coleridge, Blake, Herder, Byron, Wordsworth, Delacroix, Wuthering Heights, Hölderlin, Novalis, Schlegel. In music one can choose Liszt, Schumann, Wagner, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Weber—but Verdi, possibly Wagner, and the Russian Mussorgsky are best identified as Nationalists. Brahms had little respect for most composers of his era, remaining a Classicist.

Perhaps the best composer to convey the meaning of Romanticism in music is Hector Berlioz (1803-69). It is said that “after him, music would never be the same… he did it all by himself, impatiently brushing aside convention.” He departed from the convention of “four-squareness” in melody, the rigidity of rhythms, and formulaic harmonies, expressing his moods and attitudes to the world. Experts say that Berlioz broadened the definition of orchestration by allowing each instrument to create sounds not heard before. He also expanded the use of programmatic music to accentuate the emotional expressiveness of the music by recreating in sound the events and emotions portrayed in ancient classical legends, novels, poetry, and historical events. He was a deep admirer of Western history and literature: Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare. and Byron.

What experts leave out is that the “intensity and expression of feeling” (to use the words of Liszt) in Romantic music was itself an expression of the amplification of the introspective consciousness of Europeans after the 1750s. Whereas expression of feelings in the Baroque era had been confined to a few moods, each at a time, now music sought to express the complex shadings of human moods in the same breath. To express this subjectivism, this period saw the development to the greatest technical efficiency and musical effectiveness of all instruments, with the piano reshaped and enlarged to 7 octaves with felt-covered hammers for both expressiveness and virtuosity. In the Romantic age, a need emerged for instruments that would go beyond the expression of a few general moods at a time, to make use of all possible timbres so as to express all the shadings of feelings, modulating from chord to chord—for Romantic Europeans, rather than being in one emotional state, anger or fear, until moved by some stimulus to a different state, were in a constant state of psychological flux, with unpredictable turns.

Evolutionary theory is incapable of explaining the intense subjective expressiveness of modern Europeans, the virtuosity and continuous creativity one detects from Bach to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and from the Classical composers to Schubert, the German Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, and Wagner. The transcendence of European high culture over evolutionary pressures is one of its defining features. It is very hard for simpler cultures to rise above these pressures, and so they are easier to explain in evolutionary terms. Schopenhauer once said that classical music “is entirely independent of the phenomenal world, ignores it altogether, could to a certain extent exist if there was no world at all.” What he meant is that the history of European music does not obey evolutionary pressures but is an immaterial realm of freedom where pure aesthetics reigns supreme. This transcendence peaked in the Romantic era.

Evolutionary psychologists today believe they can instruct us about the “biological basis of human culture.” But they can only explain culture at its most basic level. They can only tell us, rather boringly, that music is a “cultural universal.” They can’t explain the difference between Beethoven and Berlioz, and between them and traditional folk music. For this reason, evolutionary theories are inclined to ignore, if not trivialize, high cultural achievements in philosophy, art, and literature. Steven Pinker once said that “the value of [European] art is largely unrelated to aesthetics: a priceless masterpiece becomes worthless if found to be a forgery; soup cans and comic strips become high art when the art world says they are, and then command conspicuously wasteful prices.” They see high culture as “gratuitous but harmless decoration,” without much import, as contrasted to what Marx called the real foundation of culture: eating, digestion, getting money, satisfying one’s appetitive drives.

The way to explain European cultural creativity is to recognize its greater freedom from evolutionary/materialistic pressures. European consciousness acquired the power to turn in upon itself, take possession of itself, not merely to be conscious but to be aware that its consciousness is uniquely its own, constituted as a centre from which all other realities, the successive data of sensory experiences, the pressures of the world, are held together in what Kant called a “transcendental unity of apperception,” which implies a unity of self, the discovery of the self as the agent of consciousness, doubling back upon itself, and thus rising to a new realm with its own autonomous inner life.

Age of Nationalism

It is invariably in regards to Western art and literature that scholars speak about their “timeless universal themes” in depicting love, suffering, good and evil, deception, heroism—that are “presentable in all cultures of the world.” They tell us that Shakespeare’s plays, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Mozart’s symphonies, speak for “humanity.” But they can’t quite persuade themselves about the qualities that make these works “universal.” What’s about Tolstoy’s War and Peace that makes it a “history through human beings and human beings through history” considering the strong presence of Russian national feelings and characters? German composers tend to be the ones identified with “cosmopolitanism.” Is this because Germans are generally judged as the best classical composers during the Baroque, Classical, and through the 1800s? They certainly had the greatest influence upon the rest of Europe, as the Italians did during the Renaissance and the early Baroque. This explains why Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1903) called upon his countrymen to develop their own musical style and deplored German influence: “If the Germans, setting out from Bach and arriving at Wagner, write good German operas, well and good. But we descendants of Palestrina commit a musical crime to imitate Wagner… We cannot compose like the Germans, or at least we ought not to; nor they like us.” Verdi is known as a nationalist. Yet he could not escape the cultural cosmopolitanism of Europe in his operatic adaptations of writers, such as Schiller, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, and Byron. And if his music is nationalistic, why is Verdi today considered a timeless composer with universal appeal? Frédéric Chopin (1810-49), with his mazurkas and polonaises, is also known as “the first of the great nationalists,” born in Warsaw, not quite a cosmopolis. Yet Chopin’s music is likewise seen as universal, not a mere reproduction of Polish folk melodies, although it is said that this folk tradition was part of his “racial subconscious.” In his abilities, he transcended his nationality and time, making the piano a total instrument, “an instrument of infinite color”—remembered today as a “perfect virtuoso.” Is this what universality means, striving for perfection and the Most High, even as you are a nationalist wanting your European nation to strive for the same universal greatness as the Germans?

Richard Wagner said that all great art must be based on mythology, “the sagas and legends of past ages.” Some say his music was not nationalist for it was not rooted on German folk music, but on symbolic-mythological themes that comprise “the archetypes of the collective unconscious,” which are common to human beings (and therefore universal). Can one say that his superlative accomplishments, combined with his originality, is what makes his music universal, a model of human achievement? We are told that “Wagner changed the rules of opera. His operas are ‘through-composed’—there are no stops and starts for arias and duets. Singers ceased to be the stars around whom performances were centered. He made the orchestra, and thus the conductor, into a crucial protagonist.” But others have countered that Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is based on particular Germanic mythologies, Teutonic gods, the heroic Wotan galloping in a storm, with a “nationalist German agenda” in opposition to “Semitic” cosmopolitan influences. Wagner’s Wotan constituted a resurgence of German primeval Indo-European passions, the archetype of a particular people.

The rise of Russian classical music certainly came with a very strong nationalist impulse rooted in the use of folk music. Of the so-called “mighty five” Russian composers who developed a classical tradition, Mussorgsky is credited with true masterpieces, though all he wanted was to express the soul of the Russian people. It has been noted that Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s music, which came a generation after the “mighty five,” contained a peculiarly Russian melody. However, while his early compositions quoted folk songs, his later music has been categorized as “more cosmopolitan,” although Igor Stravinsky insisted that it remained “profoundly Russian.” Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), a peasant from Bohemia, said that his music expressed his love for his native motherland. But what makes him a “genius” composer rather than a gifted provincial composer, was precisely his ability to absorb folk influences, while finding ways to integrate them into the perfectionist-universal-transcendental impulse inherent in classical music. In varying degrees, the greats were all rooted in their nations, combined with some degree of Pan-Europeanism, the singular tradition of classical music in Europe.

Modernism

Spengler famously wrote in 1918 that the 20C needed to confront “the cold, hard facts of a late life… Of great paintings or great music there can no longer be, for Western people, any question.” The last great composers of the late 19C and early 20C were: Tchaikovsky (d. 1893), Debussy (d. 1918), Stravinsky (1913, The Rite of Spring), Rachmaninoff (d. 1935), Bartók (d. 1945), and, for some experts, not the general educated public, Schoenberg (born 1874) and Webern (d. 1945). For Spengler, the West of his time had reached the “Winter of full civilization,” its vital forces were extinguished, its people were “traditionless… religion-less, clever, unfruitful” city-dwellers “with no ties to community and soil.” This observation carries weight. While the above names belong in the list of great composers, it is hard to deny that with Schoenberg and Webern, original and highly gifted as they were, classical music starts to lose something vital that may be traced to the effects that increasing urbanism, rootlessness, standardization, and abstract rationalism had upon European psychology. Heidegger once wrote that “everything essential and great originated from the fact that the human being had a homeland and was rooted in traditions.” This is half true. Through the modern era, up until the hyper industrialization and hyper individualism of the late 1800s, liberal Europeans were still sustained by Christianity, towns rooted in history, authentic folk sounds, foods, and sights from childhood. As these collective identities dissolved, Europeans were left with nothing else but the formal rationalism of classical notation. At the same time, it can be said that there was nothing left for Europeans to create: all the possibilities of music had been explored, or would soon be explored during the twentieth century.

The most original name above may be the “impressionist” Debussy, with his new concepts of light and color in music, intended to capture fleeting moods occasioned by the external world as perceived at a given time, a momentary impression of the sea, or a moonlight. Debussy did not care for Brahms, Tchaikovsky or Beethoven. His musical “impressions” had no major unifying theme, with tonality almost dissolved, or with timbre, rhythm, and color assigned the same importance as harmony and melody. La Sacre du printemps by the Russian Stravinsky “was a genuine explosion” with its “metrical shifting and shattering force, its near-total dissonance and breakaway from established canons of harmony and melody.” For Stravinsky, a Russian expatriate who embraced suburbia in America, the goal of music should not be to “express” anything except music, since music is primarily about form and logic, incapable of conveying anything other than broad emotions. Béla Bartók (1881-1945) is identified as a Hungarian nationalist who systematically incorporated old Magyar folk melodies. Yet, again, it would be a mistake to view Bartók as a folk musician in the same way that non western musicians are seen. Bartók’s music remained classical through and through: Richard Strauss and Debussy strongly influenced his musical development, and his large-scale orchestral works were in the style of Brahms and Strauss.

Notwithstanding the extended influences of nationalism, neoclassicism, and the original impressionism of Debussy, the deeper current in twentieth century music may be categorized as modernist. Modernism found expression in all the arts, including literature and philosophy, and it arose from the globalization of industrialization, rootlessness, anomie, and the emerging industrial world, new technologies and the standardization of life, scepticism about the meaning of life, the feeling of powerlessness in the face of massive urban growth, and the sense that everything had already been explored in music except “testing the limits of aesthetic construction,” “searching for new models in atonalism, polytonalism or other forms of altered tonality.”

Arnold Schoenberg (who proclaimed his Jewishness after his music was labeled “degenerate” by German nationalists) was the major composer initiating modernist techniques, aimed at deconstructing the millennial concept of tonality, to convey “a prophetic message revealing a higher form of life toward which mankind evolves.” He coined the term “emancipation of dissonance” in treating dissonances like consonances and renouncing a tonal center. His greatest influence was after 1950. His follower Anton Webern pushed the idea of “serial composition” in which no single tone was more significant than the other, for ephemeral, pointillistic sounds—abstract music, impersonal, music constructed like a precision instrument, based on mathematical relationships without substantial content. Edgard Varèse discarded every element of the past, employing new instruments to create new sounds, wails and shrieks; music without melody, harmony, or counterpoint. Steve Reich came up with a technique called “phase shifting” in which a single note or a pattern of notes was constantly repeated by tape machines at different speeds. National characteristics evaporated; every work sounded as if it had been created by the same abstract modern person, a nowhere man.


Ricardo Duchesne has also written on the creation of the university. He the author of The Uniqueness of Western CivilizationFaustian Man in a Multicultural AgeCanada in Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of Euro-Canadians.


Featured: “Three Young Women making Music with a Jester,” anonymous; painted ca. 1500-1530.

Ariel’s Atypical Administration

No situation is so bad that it cannot become worse, say disaster connoisseurs. One might have thought Haiti’s run of singular bad luck had crested under the father-and-son dictatorships of Papa and Baby Doc, during which state violence was liberally meted out by political enforcers known as the Tontons Macoutes. Various other governments have come and gone since, complete with their own praetorian guards of various ideological stripes. Though the transfer of power from one clique to another has never been strictly peaceful, nor the elections behind them strictly fair, the Haitian state had at least kept that most face-saving essential element of power: a (near?-)monopoly on force.

This is no longer the case. Hundreds perish every week in clashes between impressively well-armed gangs—despite the “best efforts” of the “international community.” In an eminently recognizable “spiral of violence” which theorists purport to precede full-fledged civil war. The potential for regional spillover is salient, particularly across the border to the Dominican Republic, which has had to repel 7 Haitian invasions since its independence—from Haiti.

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s latest statements called for compassion of political nature while calling the situation “critical” (but not “desperate”). Trained in Neurosurgery, Henry’s medical metaphors flow freely in his public pronouncements: Haiti is “sick, but the diagnosis gives us certainty that we can revert the trend”. Having ascended to power just over a year ago—after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse in his domicile on July 7, 2021—he remains one of the main suspects as to the intellectual authorship of that state crime which put him in power.

Force, that central nub of state power, is not a market one wants to have competition in. Libertarians object to any use of it at all, though political theorists as varied as Catholic Saints through Communist apparatchiks find Justice-based reasoning to draw the sword on their fellow man. For Haiti’s competing oligopolists of force, that greatest Justification—legitimation of their power over their fiefs—remains out of reach.

The involvement of foreign powers has not, so far, given anyone much hope that such a solution will come from overseas. Turkey (of all places) seems to be holding onto one of the keys to the mystery of Moïse’s untimely end. The Biden administration remains steadfast behind Henry’s administration—but even Liberal, internationalist and orderly France doesn’t seem to be backing the same side. To say nothing of several other actors, ranging from Qatar to Cuba.

Ariel’s atypical administration faces a challenge few modern statesmen have had to deal with: given international recognition of statehood, as well as his own primacy over the territory, he must consolidate power like some medieval king—battling usurpers and hoping victory on the battlefield will look enough like Divine Right to give pause to his competitors. Holding elections in such a context would be a waste of everyone’s time. The last election was celebrated in 2016 and posted a turnout of circa 10%. Very little legitimacy can be derived from a process sure to be marred by violence, even lower turnout and a failing state apparatus without a legislature (all terms expired long ago) an unelected head of government and a judiciary which mainly serves as target practice for the various usurper forces. While their main concern is to ensure impunity for their criminal uses of organized force, they risk setting the stage for the rung of hell below even civil war: outright anarchy, the war of all against all.

Henry’s only silver lining remains precedent: every state in existence has gone through this baptism of fire on the way to a generalized, law-abiding peace. Whether he is at all interested in justice for his predecessor’s fate remains to be seen—although he can rest easy in precedent: many great statesmen who founded the nation-states which today grace God’s green Earth also resorted to such means in their quest for the crown—not least Haiti’s own revolutionaries.

He who lives by the sword


Felipe Cuello is Professor of Public Policy at the Pontifical university in Santo Domingo. He remains an operative of the Republican Party in the United States, where he served in both the Trump campaigns as well as the transition team of 2016/17 in a substantive foreign policy role. His past service includes the United Nations’ internal think tank, the International Maritime Organization, The European Union’s development-aid arm, and the office of a Brexiteer Member of the European Parliament previous to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. He is also the co-author and voice of the audiobook of Trump’s World: Geo Deus released in January 2020, back when discussing substance and principles were the order of the day.


Featured: “Ville imaginaire (Imaginary City),” by Préfète Duffaut; painted in 1992.

The War of the Russians: A View from the Sidelines

During the bloody Five-Day War in Tskhinvali there was an incident: a Georgian grandfather, a peasant, terrified, shouted to a Russian soldier, “Don’t shoot, son. Maybe I am your father!”

Eyewitnesses recounted that there was fear in the elderly man’s eyes, not for himself, but for the biblical tragedy of the son killing his father. Perhaps, remembering the decades of carrying apples in southern Russia, and recalling some vicious connection from his youth with a local woman, suspecting that he had a son by her, he impulsively shouted these words. Otherwise, he would hardly have dared to utter them at the risk of his own life, in case the soldier’s possible interpretation of this exclamation was mockery.

This incident revealed to me even then the great depth and breadth of the reasons for the behavior of people in war, which I call Genesis within the Logos of war.

I experienced it myself several times, when I was undone by soldiers on April 9, 1989, during the fratricidal civil war in Tbilisi, when my parents, sister and I lay on the ground for eight hours under bullets spraying our house, and when our house was burned down, and when we lived in Tskhineti together with thousands of exhausted and humiliated people. And in 2008, when I had to evacuate my family from Georgia to Azerbaijan on the night of August 12 to avoid being forced to cooperate with the Russian military in case the maniacal Saakashvili regime was overthrown.
Throughout this bitter civilian experience, and I think I am not the only one, a particular residue accumulated that yet influences my view of the real; and as I understand the causes of wars, the rules of their conduct and the reasons for their end.

I think that sometimes this viewpoint deviates so much from everything that is pronounced and explained in today’s society that it is incomprehensible to most readers of these words, which I certainly regret.
However, in spite of my sincere and deep desire not to offend anyone, I cannot refrain from expressing it, because I am filled with emptiness listening to the possible explanations of why the Big Russians and the Little Russians, or whatever they are called today—Russians and Ukrainians, are at war.

The language itself, to which I must now turn, is in strong dissonance with the preceding paragraphs, because of its poetic-philosophical content, which I have neither the energy nor the inclination to enunciate in the modern lingua franca—perhaps because of the continuing and difficult process of healing from two simultaneous terminal illnesses, which strangely affected me last year, immediately after my unwelcome entry into Georgian politics.

In Postmodernity, which is being consumed on the ashes of Modernity, the object of man’s main robbery is a dignified death. Having eviscerated humanity, the modern and postmodern have surprisingly robbed it of the most important thing—the very Meaning of Life.

By transforming a perverted version of this very Sense of Life into such pathetic interpretations as longevity and the quality of goods and services consumed, the urban-centric Matriarchy has shredded the remnants of the rural-centric Patriarchy, which has died out over the past four centuries at the epicenter of humanity’s gangrene, in Western civilization, and has begun to diverge in more or less concentric circles (depending on the quality of resistance to this decay) from different cultures.

Probably no culture can boast of being completely unscathed by this rot, and each tries to resist it as best it can. Russians (big, small or white) know how to fight back. Probably better than anyone else. It is nice when they call themselves the most peaceful people in the world and explain that they have most of the world by accident or coincidence; but the fact that war is their main element, every non-Russian knows or intuits.

By confronting the entropy of the Modern and Postmodern by means of war, the Russians, having joined the battle between their two hypostases; the Great Russian and the Little Russian, have created a salvific dome around themselves, within which they are born for the Postmodern, in mutual murder.

The fact that Ukrainians are also Russians can be seen not only by the quality of their opposition to the Velikoross, i.e., the Russians, but precisely by this confrontation with the sky closed to them by planes in the open field. Some Taliban in the mountains of Tora-Bora, or Caucasians in the Caucasus, can fight with the sky closed to them, taking cover in the mountains, but in the open field only the Russians can do so.

By the way, once some mercenaries around the world are in these conditions, all it takes is a missile from that same closed sky for them to be reduced to ashes, whimpering in video selfies. At the same time, this is not an ethno-genetic phenomenon. Other ethnic groups also fight on the side of the Velikorossi and Little-Reds; but provided they belong to the Logos of Russian civilization.

Here, however, the standing and impatient trampling of the Belarusians, deprived of the opportunity to achieve a dignified death, looks especially cute next to each other.

Some, stupefied by Modernity, will consider it nonsense that consumers are the same everywhere, that no one wants to fight, and that some autarchs and representatives of the elite are at war here. Here the autarky and the elite are finally forced to obey the deep voice of the Logos of the People, who, unknowingly, while munching sauerkraut and drinking beer near a bar, are eager not to become like the Western consumer, androgynous and sexless, and therefore not only want, but with a ringing voice call for a war, for lack of a better one, even with itself.

“But this is the interpretation of cannibalism!” someone will say, offended. Yes, when the other is taken away, it is also a form of taking away necessary flesh and blood.

A particular and concrete proof of this mutual desire for renewal of Being within the Logos of war is the countless opportunities for avoidance by Big and Little Russia in the past years, on which both sides wanted to (and have) spit.

The brutal instigation of the Anglo-Saxons does not count in this case, the Kartvelians know as much about it as the Russians do, but about the real causes of the hitherto unheard-of Russo-Kartvelian war we shall speak another time.

Here, we are talking about something else, about the most interesting process of resolving the collective unconscious within the essentially united Logos of the Russians—the mutual self, or combustion to infer the end of the stinking Western Postmodern; and from its ashes rise together as a united Russian fusion for the Postmodern.

For Anglo-Saxons, war is a cost, and a cost of everything: money, lives, armaments, economies. For Russians, war is the homeland, because no one else in the world has that expression.

While weakening the Russians in peacetime, the West, once in a hundred years, because of its greed for matter, cannot resist the temptation to take the peace-weakened Russians and go to war. And it is inevitably repulsed by the Russians, who are reborn in war.

The West becomes more cunning, from century to century; and today it has deceived even itself: realizing the invincibility of the Russians for a long-time following World War II, it finished them off with the “cold war” and almost completely stuffed them with the Philistine world after its end.
But again, it could not resist and decided to try again to finish them off, now with infighting, thinking to at least “save” its own blood, if not other expenses. But that is all the Russians needed; they were fighting feuds and, invisible to the West, they began to revive each other.

Only Kissinger, who seems to have seen something in his 99 years, suggested what I understood as a cry of desperation—take the main weapon of reinforcement, war, out of the hands of the Russians. Do anything, divide the Ukrainian state, anything; but stop the elements, which again we decided would weaken them (and again we forgot that it only strengthened them).

The manifestations of this strengthening of the Russians in war are manifold: the flight from both capitals of Russ of consumers and representatives of the “fifth column;” the renewal of military arsenals; the liberation of both systems from the Fed’s fiefdoms; the reduction of sin in these lands during the war; the increase of righteousness on both sides as a result of the great suffering; the complete denudation and shaming of the Western scaremongers, so prominently described in recent decades; and a complete reboot of the mirage of the matrix as such—an undoing of the game; a true Great Reset, such as none of the “Schwabs” ever dreamed of. In short, a complete disaster for the West.

Compared to this, the mutual and sincere hatred of the warring parties, as well as the sincere patriotism with which they conduct this war on both sides, this too is nothing. Because all the space that the Russians inhabit is being destroyed by the slime of Postmodernity, which smells like a corpse.
We do not know what will emerge in place of the fire. But whatever it will be, it will be the antithesis of Postmodernity, which in its chaotic and illogical nature has apparently convinced itself that no other way is possible.

Having achieved extreme fragmentation; or, according to Plotinus, plurality, Postmodernity, in all its anti-postmodern forms, has convinced itself of the impossibility of reuniting in the One: and here too it has made a fatal mistake. In fact, it repeated its own mistake during the thrashing of the 14,000 infants in Bethlehem, deciding, upon hearing Rachel’s lament, that she did not really want to be consoled.

And finally let us say the main thing in the coming collapse of the Modern and Postmodern: the re-education of the young. The inevitable current kidnapping of youth by the pacifist scream of Postmodernism, which is being murdered in Little Russia, will in time be replaced by the inevitable realization of the falsity of this scream. And this change will take place not only in the space of the Russians, but all over the world. It is then that the Postmodern will find itself in trouble. It will remain, of course, but now it will have to take refuge in the margins of geography, forget about hegemony and begin the process of self-improvement, in which it will hardly succeed.


Levan Vasadze is a well-known Georgian businessman who is active on the political scene of his country. [Translated kindly provided by Costantino Ceoldo, and this article appears courtesy of Geopolitika.]


Featured: Study, “Revolt of the peasants on the estate of Prince Shahovskoy,” by Ivan Vladimirov; painted ca. 1917-1922.

Overturning Roe v. Wade: An American-style Conservative Revolution

The number one news story in the world today is not the Russian special military operation, or the collapse of the Western economy as an aside, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade constitutional guarantee of the right to terminate a pregnancy. Now the issue of abortion has been moved back to the states. And immediately the U.S. Attorney General of Missouri, Eric Schmitt, announced the decision to ban abortion. The decision blew up the U.S., and the whole globalist wing of that nation, having received such a blow, rushed out into the streets, howling and roaring, with an uncontrollable appetite for burning cars and looting stores. In my view, this is very serious.

The fact is that, until recently, the only branch of government in the United States that had not yet discredited itself was the courts. Their authority was indisputable for all political actors. It was believed that corruption and ideological lobbies had failed to fully seize control of the judicial system. And now the judges appointed under Trump have made their move. All of this requires the most serious reflection.

The fact is that there is not one United States, but two countries, and two nations with that name. And this is becoming increasingly obvious. It is not even about Republicans and Democrats, the conflict between whom is becoming increasingly acrimonious. It is the fact that there is a deeper division in American society.

Half of the U.S. population are supporters of pragmatism. This means that for them there is only one criterion for evaluation—things work or they don’t work. That’s it. And no dogma about the subject or the object. Everyone can think of himself as anything, including Elvis Presley or Santa Claus, and if it works, no one dares object. It’s the same with the outside world—there are no inviolable laws; do whatever you want with the outside world; but if it responds harshly, that’s your problem. There are no entities, only interaction. This is the basis of the core American identity. It is how Americans themselves have traditionally understood liberalism: as the freedom to think whatever you want, believe whatever you want, and behave however you want. Of course, if this leads to conflict, the freedom of one is limited by the freedom of the other; but without trying it, you won’t know where the fine line lies. Try it. Maybe it will work.

This is how American society was up to a certain point. And here banning abortion, allowing abortion, sex reassignment, punishing sex reassignment, gay pride parades or neo-Nazi marches were all possible, nothing was rejected from the get-go, whatever the outcome. And the courts, based on a host of unpredictable criteria, precedent, and considerations, were the last resort in problematic cases to decide if it worked or didn’t work. This is the mysterious side of Americans, completely unintelligible to Europeans, and also the key to their success—they have no boundaries at all, which means they go do wherever they want until someone stops them. And that is exactly what works.

But among the American elite, which is made up of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, at some point a critically large number of the wrong kind of people, the non-Americans, have been congregating. They are predominantly from Europe; often from Russia. Many are ethnically Jewish, but steeped in European or Russian-Soviet principles and cultural codes. They brought a different culture, a different philosophy to the United States. They did not understand or accept American pragmatism at all, seeing it only as a background for their own advancement. That is, they took advantage of American opportunities, but were not about to adopt a libertarian logic, alien to any hint of totalitarianism. In fact, it was these foreign elites who hijacked the old American democracy. It was they who rose to the head of the globalist structures and gradually seized power in the US.

These elites, most often left-liberal, sometimes outright Trotskyist, brought with them a position deeply alien to the American spirit—the belief in linear progress. Progress and pragmatism are incompatible. If progress works—great. If not, it must be abandoned. Here is the law of pragmatism—it works/it doesn’t work. You want forward, go ahead. You want backwards, no problem. That’s what freedom is in the American way. In the Old American way.

But the Old World emigrants carried with them very different attitudes. For them, progress was dogma. All history was seen as one continuous improvement, as a continuous process of emancipation, improvement, development, and the accumulation of knowledge. Progress was a philosophy and a religion. Anything was possible and necessary in the name of progress, which included a steady increase in individual freedoms, technical development, and the abolition of traditions and taboos. And it no longer mattered whether it worked or not. What mattered was progress.

But this represented an entirely new interpretation of liberalism in the American tradition. The old liberalism asserted—no one can ever impose anything on me. The new liberalism countered with—the culture of abolition, of shaming, of the total elimination of old habits, of sex change, of the freedom to dispose of the human fetus (pro-choice), of equal rights for women and races—which was not just a possibility, it was a necessity. The old liberalism said—be whatever you want, as long as it works. The new one countered—you have no right not to be a liberal. If you are not a progressive, you are a Nazi and must be destroyed. In the name of freedom, LGBT+, transgender and Artificial Intelligence, everything must be sacrificed.

The conflict between the two societies—the old libertarian, pragmatist society and the new neoliberal, progressivist society—has been steadily increasing over the past decades, culminating in the Trump presidency. Trump embodied one America, and his Democratic globalist opponents the other. The civil war of philosophies has now come to a critical juncture. And it is precisely a matter of interpretation of freedom. The old America sees individual freedom as something that excludes any external prescription, any requirement to use it only this way and not that way, only for that, and for nothing else. For example, only for abortion and gay pride, and never for the prohibition of abortion or the ravings of perverts. New America, by contrast, insists that freedom requires violence against those who do not understand it properly enough. This means that freedom must have a normative interpretation, and it is up to neoliberals to determine how to use it and how to interpret it, and by whom. The old liberalism is libertarian. The new liberalism is openly totalitarian.

And it is in this context that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion should be considered. It is in favor of the old liberalism and pragmatism. Note, it does not prohibit abortion, but only states that there is no clear solution at the federal level. The states can solve the problem however they want. But it means, no more, no less, that time is reversible. That it is possible to move in one direction, progressive; or it is possible to move in the opposite direction. As long as it works. So, it’s not about abortion at all. It’s about understanding the nature of time. It’s about the deepest divisions in American society. The point is that one America is, more and more blatantly, at war with the other.

The whole totalitarian dictatorial strategy of the globalist neo-liberal elite is being undermined by the Supreme Court, which is acting—somewhat like the Russian Bolsheviks—in the name of the future. Progress justifies everything. Until then, all decisions were only in one direction—in favor of individualism, egocentrism and hedonism. And suddenly the Supreme Court takes a sharp step backwards. Why was it allowed to do that? And once desperate old Americans, pragmatists and libertarians rejoice—the freedom to do what you want, not what progressives and technocrats say—to go in any direction, not just where the globalists force you to go, has triumphed again. And the brave Missouri attorney general has already shown what can be made of it. Bravo! This is a pragmatic revolution—an American-style conservative revolution.

And naturally, the whole globalist progressive rabble is about to be knocked flat on their asses. Something as important as Trump’s election has happened. The old America has counter-attacked the new America.

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12: 25). It’s coming soon…


Alexander Dugin is a widely-known and influential Russian philosopher. His most famous work is The Fourth Political Theory (a book banned by major book retailers), in which he proposes a new polity, one that transcends liberal democracy, Marxism and fascism. He has also introduced and developed the idea of Eurasianism, rooted in traditionalism. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitica.


Featured: “Builders of Ships – The Rope,” George Bellows; painted August 1916.

Ape Language, Space Aliens, and Artificial Intelligence: A Philosophical Enquiry

The article that follows served as an important basis for Dennis Bonnette’s book, Origin of the Human Species (3rd ed., 2014). The book explores questions raised by evolutionary theory—ultimately focusing on what we may confidently say about human origins, and showing that belief in Adam and Eve as the human race’s first parents remains reasonable, despite many modern evolutionists’ skepticism.

This article also serves the book’s overall aims by defending the uniqueness of man and of his essential superiority over lower animals, including other primates. This is an updatred version of the original article. Dr. Bonnette previously wrote about alien life-forms.


Preamble

As we approach the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, we find sudden interest in claims about possible space aliens – with people wondering, if they exist at all, what kind of creatures these might be. At the same time, we have now developed computers with artificial intelligence (AI), which some claim to be sentient, thinking entities, that might even constitute a new form of living person! These kinds of questions are all the more vexing today, given biological evolution’s tendency to view man as merely a highly developed animal. Some distinguish man by believing he uniquely has a soul. But the ancients always maintained that a soul was simply a principle of life, so that every living thing has a soul. This is evinced by the very fact that we name animals from the Latin, “anima,” which means “life principle” or “soul.” Religious believers quickly distinguish that man alone has a spiritual soul, but are then immediately challenged by evolutionists who maintain that man differs in complexity, but not in kind, from lower animals.

Understandably, this same confusion reigns about the nature of possible space aliens and AI computers. If we cannot even clearly distinguish true humans from other animals, how do we expect to understand the nature of creatures from outer space or computers so advanced that they can seemingly mimic every human ability, plus much more? For these reasons alone, it is useful to study the topic of this article, which is a scientific and philosophical examination of the “frontier” claims about lower primates to the effect that they can achieve what was once thought to be the unique possession of human beings, namely, genuine language.

This article will show clearly the difference between lower animals’ sensitive cognitive abilities and human beings’ radically superior intellectual cognitive powers. These powers manifest the deeper ontological distinction between animal and human natures. Once the radical distinction between human and animal natures is clearly grasped, the nature of those possible space alien “cousins” as well as the essential differences, if any, between man and AI computers can be better understood.

The naturalistic mentality of many animal psychologists anticipates that subhuman primates will tend to approach human beings’ mental powers, manifested in part through alleged ape linguistic abilities. Thus, the latter part of the twentieth century witnessed many ape-language studies, complete with claims that chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and certain other subhuman primates, have been taught to use various forms of sign language and can now understand the meanings of hundreds of words, form sentences, and communicate effectively with humans and even among themselves. These claims feed the inevitable conclusion that man himself no longer holds a preeminent place in the animal kingdom, that his is but one among many other species, and that continued belief that God made him in His image and gave him dominion over all lower creatures is simply an outdated religious myth.

I examine subhuman linguistic claims in two steps: First, I show that even some evolutionist natural scientists, who have analyzed ape-language studies, conclude that apes have not yet mastered true language. In 1979, some researchers challenged ape-language claims by arguing that such behavior can be explained by non-linguistic mechanisms, such as (1) simple imitation, (2) the Clever Hans effect, (3) the anthropomorphic fallacy, and (4) rapid non-syntactical signing to obtain immediate sensible rewards. Two of the most important claims—(1) that apes could combine signs creatively in novel sequences and (2) that they showed knowledge of syntactic structure—appear to be based merely upon anecdotal data, not upon acceptable scientific methodology.

Second, I use philosophical analysis to demonstrate (1) why human intellectual knowledge is needed to possess genuine language, and (2) why it will be forever impossible for subhuman primates to exhibit true linguistic ability. Materialist explanations of animal and human behavior miss the crucial distinction between sense and intellect. Animals possess sense knowledge alone, whereas man possesses both sense and intellectual knowledge. Intellectual knowledge is the hallmark of the human spiritual soul, and is not shared with our animal friends.

Man exhibits intellectual knowledge by (1) forming abstract concepts, (2) making judgments, and (3) reasoning from premises to conclusions in logical fashion. Subhuman animals’ sensory abilities, including imagination and sense memory, enable them to manipulate sensory data and use inborn natural signs to communicate instinctively, and even to be taught by man to use humanly-invented signs. Still, they do not understand the meanings their signs express, nor form judgments, much less engage in reasoning. The hallmark of all ape behavior, including trained language use, is its relentless focus on immediate sensory rewards, such as food, toys, sex, or interaction with other animals. Abstract goals, such as earning a diploma or getting a better job or serving God, mean nothing to apes and will not beget sign language responses.

Proof of my claims here requires (1) showing that ape-language research data can be explained in terms of mere sense knowledge, and (2) showing that such behavior must be so explained by positive proof that apes lack intellect. The first task is achieved largely in terms of the abovementioned scientific criticisms and also by pointing out that computers, which actually understand nothing and are not even alive, can imitate human linguistic behavior simply by manipulating data. Apes, with relatively large brains and elaborate sense faculties, can also accomplish such impressive feats, but this need not mean that they possess true linguistic comprehension any more than computers do.

The second task, to show that subhuman primates’ linguistic behavior must be read as mere sensory activity, requires positive demonstration that apes lack true intellect. Four formal effects demonstrate true intellect: (1) genuine speech, (2) true progress, (3) knowledge of relations, and (4) knowledge of immaterial objects. In their wild state, with no human influence, animals, including apes, (1) fail to develop true language, and (2) fail to make genuine progress. Even in a domesticated environment, they still (3) show no understanding of real relationships (such as cause and effect)—merely learning to associate images, and (4) clearly fail to develop the sciences and religious beliefs typical of human abstract understanding. While details of this proof require reading the article itself, the conclusion is that subhuman primates and other animals fail all four tests of true intellectual activity. Hence, man alone possesses true intellect.

The radical difference between mere animals and true human beings is manifested acutely by the insurmountable distinction between the sense image and intellectual concept. The image is always particular, concrete, imaginable, and has sense qualities, such as when we form the image of an individual human being or a particular triangle. But, the concept is always universal, abstract, unimaginable, and lacks all sense qualities, as when we understand the meaning of terms, such as “humanity” or “triangularity.” Human beings have both kinds of knowing, whereas brute animals are restricted to knowledge of images alone. Again, full details are in the article.

We grasp fully the radical limitations of brute sense knowledge only when we compare it to man’s rich, expansive intellectual life which enables him to study all the sciences, to create exponential technological progress, to embrace transcendental religious belief systems, and even to reflect upon his own human nature so as to grasp its spiritual dimensions—destined to eternal life, and to the knowledge of and union with God Himself. These insights demonstrate that evolutionist claims about ape-language studies pose no threat whatever to human essential superiority. Man still has his God-given dominion over beasts—and always will.

Once we fully understand the radical distinction between lower animals and true human beings, we will then easily determine the essential nature of any possible space aliens.

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to enquire whether, in the face of evidence gained from recent ape-language studies, it is still possible to delineate clearly between human intellectual life and brute sentient life—to refute the claims of the sensist philosophers who would reduce all human knowledge and activities to the level of mere sensation and sense appetite. This question cannot, and need not, be answered exhaustively in this relatively short study of the matter. In order to respond in the affirmative, it will suffice that we be able to show that even the most sophisticated sensory activities of animals bear no legitimate threat to the radical superiority of the human intellect—an intellect whose spiritual character is rationally demonstrable.

Nor is it our intent to present here in detail the formal proofs for the spiritual nature of the human soul which have been offered by St. Thomas Aquinas. (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 75, aa. 1-7). Rather, our primary focus will be upon an examination of evidence and arguments which reveal the inability of lower animals to present a credible challenge to the uniqueness of human intellectual life.

It has long been observed in nature that certain lower forms of life often imitate the activities and perfections of higher forms. For example, the tropisms found in certain plants—while not actually constituting sensation—nonetheless deceptively simulate the sensitive reactions proper to animals alone. So too, the human-like behaviour of many “clever” animals has caused much contemporary confusion on the part of, not only the general populace, but also even presumed experts on animal behaviour.

In great part this confusion has arisen because of the success of Darwinian evolution and its attendant reductionism in dominating for much of this century the academe of those natural sciences which deal with animal and human behaviour. Thus psychologists, zoologists, biologists, anthropologists, and so forth, tend to view human behaviour as nothing but an extension in degree, not in kind, of lower animal behaviour. Nowhere is this tendency more acutely seen than in the controversies arising out of contemporary ape-language studies.

Beginning nearly a century ago, various attempts have been made in a small number of research projects to teach chimpanzees and other primates to talk. The most successful techniques have involved the use of American Sign Language and computer-based artificial language systems. Great publicity has attended these efforts since the 1970s with claims of hundreds of words being “understood” by these subjects, new complex words being invented, and even sentences being formed with two-way “conversations” taking place, not only between trainer and primate, but even between primate and primate!

Dissent and Defense

Yet, by 1979, a simmering academic controversy about the legitimacy of primate linguistic credentials burst into view of the general public with the publication of two critical articles in Psychology Today (November 1979, Vol. 13, No. 6.) —one by Columbia University psychologist H. S. Terrace, the other by University of Indiana anthropologists Thomas and Jean Sebeok. Through a very careful re-evaluation of the signing activities of the subject of his own research project, a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky, Terrace concluded, “I could find no evidence of an ape’s grammatical competence, either in my data or those of others” (Psychology Today, 67).

The Sebeoks, moreover, argued that animal researchers have been engaging in a good deal of unwitting self-deception in accepting as linguistic competence behaviour which is actually the result of unconscious cuing. What they refer to is what is widely called the Clever Hans effect—named after a famous turn-of-the-century “thinking” horse whose “intelligent” answers to questions were exposed by Berlin psychologist Oskar Pfungst as simply the result of unintentional cues being given by his questioners.

The defenders of apes’ linguistic abilities engaged in immediate counter-attack—producing an intellectual battle which rages to the present day. It is important for us to note that almost all the participants in this debate to date [1993] are natural scientists who are of one mind concerning man’s materialistic and evolutionary origins. The input of dualist philosophers and theologians has been [as of 1993] virtually nil. Thus the critics of the “linguistic” apes, it should be observed, operate largely from a perspective which views man as nothing but a highly developed animal and which prescinds utterly from any philosophical arguments for the existence and spiritual nature of the human soul.

Among the ape’s defenders, we find Suzanne Chevalier-Skolnikoff who points out that the famed signing chimp, Washoe, has taught another chimp, Loulis, how to sign—although she concedes, “Loulis learned his signs mainly by imitation” (The Clever Hans Phenomenon: Communication with Horses, Whales, Apes, and People, 1981, 89-90.)

Chevalier-Skolnikoff also presents the following remarkable claims about ape behaviour:

“Deception, “lying,” and joking are all behaviours that logically are dependent upon mental combinations, or symbolization, and, like other stage 6 behaviours, they cannot be cued. As mentioned above, deception, lying, and joking all appear in stage 6 in nonsigning apes, and I have observed this kind of behaviour both nonlinguistically and in conjunction with signing in the gorilla Koko during this stage. Consequently, I have no reason to doubt, as some authors have, Patterson’s reports that Koko tells lies and jokes.

“Besides lying and joking, the gorilla Koko also has been recorded to argue with and correct others. Arguing and correcting are dependent upon comparing two viewpoints of a situation—existing conditions with nonexisting ones—and therefore require mental representation” (Clever Hans, 83).

Intentional lying, deception, joking, arguing, and correcting—if actually demonstrable from the research data—would, of course, bespeak unequivocally the presence of intellectual activity on the part of apes. Yet, this is precisely why we must be so very careful about drawing such inferences from the available evidence. We must always be cautious not to assign facilely to higher causes that which could readily be explained in terms of lower causes.

The Anthropomorphic Fallacy

While this is scarcely a proper context in which to explore and critique the multiple data upon which Chevalier-Skolnikoff’s judgments are formed, it must be noted that such judgments necessarily flow from an interpretation of the concrete details examined. And herein lies the greatest danger to the human researcher who attempts to “read” the animal subject. The Sebeoks put the matter thus:

“Investigators and experimenters, in turn, accommodate themselves to the expectations of their animal subjects, unwittingly entering into a subtle nonverbal communication with them while convincing themselves, on the basis of their own human rules of interpretation, that the apes’ reactions are more humanlike than direct evidence warrants” (Psychology Today, November 1979, 91).

In a word, what the Sebeoks describe is the infamous anthropomorphic fallacy, that is, the error of attributing human qualities to animals based upon our nearly irresistible temptation to put ourselves in the brute’s place, and then, to view his actions in terms of our own human intellectual perspectives. The universality of this human tendency is such that even experts in animal behaviour frequently fail to avoid its pitfalls.

The specific content of such habitual anthropomorphism by ape researchers is thus described by the Sebeoks:

“Time and again researchers read anomalous chimpanzee and gorilla signs as jokes, insults, metaphors, and the like. In one case, an animal was reported to be deliberately joking when, in response to persistent attempts to get it to sign “drink” (by tilting its hand at its mouth), it made the sign perfectly, but at its ear rather than its mouth” (Psychology Today, 81).

Clearly, this sort of suspicion strikes at the heart of Koko’s claimed performance of “deception, lying, joking, etc.”

In fact, the synergism of anthropomorphism and the Clever Hans effect is seen by psychologist Stephen Walker as justifying inherent skepticism about any and all claims made on behalf of American Sign Language trained apes.

“The most important type of unwitting human direction of behaviour which has been interpreted as the product of the mental organisation of the apes themselves is in the “prompting” of sequences of gestures in animals trained with the American Sign Language method…. As practically all instances of sequences or combinations of gestures by chimpanzees or gorillas are made in the context of interactions with a human companion, there is virtually no evidence of this kind which is not vulnerable to the charge that the human contact determined the sequence of combinations observed” (Animal Thought, 1983, 373-374).

Yet, not all ape communication techniques employed by researchers have involved the use of American Sign Language. Plastic symbols, computer-controlled keyboards, and other artificial devices have been utilized in order to lessen, or possibly eliminate, human influence on the process.
In defending the research of Savage-Rumbaugh—who used a computer-controlled keyboard system—psychologist Duane M. Rumbaugh insists that the evidence shows the clear capacity for categorization free from any Clever Hans effect:

“For our apes the symbols are referential, representational, and communicative in value. Data obtained and reported by Savage- Rumbaugh at that convention made it clear that the chimpanzees Sherman and Austin categorize learned symbols as foods and tools (nonedibles) just as they categorize the physical referents themselves. These data were obtained from tightly controlled test situations in which the animals had no human present in the room at the keyboard to influence their choice of keys for purposes of categorizing” (Clever Hans, 33. See also ibid., 26-59).

In this, though, as in all other instances of supposed lower primate “intentional” communication, the fundamental problem which remains is the influence of man in “programming” the training and responses of the animals, and then, man’s tendency to anthropomorphize the interpretation of the results of this very influence. The results never seem quite as definitive to the sceptics as they do to the researchers who nearly live with the subjects they wish to “objectively” investigate. The inherent difficulty posed for those who would completely eliminate the Clever Hans effect is well-stated by the Sebeoks.

“Apes simply do not take part in such man-made laboratory tests without a great deal of coaxing. The world’s leading authority on human-animal communication, Heini Hediger, former director of the Zurich zoo, in fact deems the task of eliminating the Clever Hans effect analogous to squaring the circle—‘if only for the reason that every experimental method is necessarily a human method and must thus, per se, constitute a human influence on the animal’” (Psychology Today, 91).

Thus, we see that the Sebeoks support Hediger’s claim that total elimination of the Clever Hans effect would constitute an actual contradiction in terms—a goal entirely impossible of attainment.

Escaping Clever Hans

And yet, it is important not to rest the entire case against “talking” apes upon the Clever Hans effect as championed by the Sebeoks. Walker points to research done by Roger Fouts, the Gardners (with the famous Washoe), and Savage-Rumbaugh as appearing to escape the charge of unintentional cuing. Concerning the latter, he writes:

“When two chimpanzees exchanged information between themselves, using the computer-controlled keyboard system, with experimenters not in the same room (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1978b), the evidence seems relatively robust” (Animal Thought, 373).

It would appear that the phrase, “Clever Hans effect,” is now being given a meaning which includes two distinct aspects: (1) unintentional cuing of the animals and (2) any human influence upon the animals. While the Sebeoks and other critics are undoubtedly correct in insisting that human influence is inherent in every ape experiment devised by man, yet it is also clearly not the case that unintentional cuing can explain all significant ape communicative achievements.

Given exhaustive, and sometimes exhausting, training by researchers, several novel and rather impressive ape communication performances—free of all unintentional cuing—have been reasonably well documented. What is referred to here is not merely the well-known abilities of trained chimpanzees and gorillas to associate arbitrary signs with objects, nor even their ability to string together series of such signs in what Terrace and others dismiss as simply urgent attempts to obtain some immediately sensible reward.

Rather, more impressive experimental results are now forthcoming, for example, the Savage-Rumbaugh experiments in which two chimpanzees were taught to communicate and cooperate with each other—using a computer keyboard to transmit information revealing the location of hidden food (Animal Thought, 365-367).

In another experiment, after extensive training and prompting, the same animals learned to cooperate with one another by handing over the correct tool needed to obtain food when their primate partner requested it—again by use of computer symbols and without human presence during the actual experiment. Walker offers his inferences therefrom:

“There can be little doubt, in the case of this experiment, that the visual patterns used in the keyboard system had mental associations with objects, and that the chimpanzee who punched a particular key did this in the expectation that the other animal would hand him a particular tool” (Animal Thought, 369).

Still later, these same prodigious chimpanzees advanced to seemingly quite abstract symbolic associations:

“When they were trained with arbitrary symbols assigned to the two object categories “foods” and “tools” Austin and Sherman successfully selected the appropriate category, when shown arbitrary symbols which were the names for particular foods or tools (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1980). That is, they were able to label labels, rather than merely label objects: for instance if shown the arbitrary pattern indicating “banana” they responded by pressing the key meaning “food,” but if shown the symbol for “wrench” they pressed the “tool” key” (Animal Thought, 369-370).

Finally, Woodruff and Premack are reported to have devised a cuing-free experiment in which chimpanzees indicated by gesture the presence of food in a container to human participants who did not know its location. They would correctly direct “friendly” humans who would then share the food with them, but would mislead “unfriendly” humans who would not share the food—since the animals were then permitted to get the food for themselves (Animal Thought, 370-371).

Each of the above experimental “successes” is of interest since each appears to be quite free, not from original human influence in the training process, but at least from the Clever Hans effect of unintentional cuing.

Moreover, they demonstrate fairly complex symbol-object associative skills, “intentional” communication, and even, in the last case, some form of “deception.” We place quotation marks about the terms, “intentional” and “deception,” because the exact cognitive content of such acts remains to be properly understood.

Yet, despite the above-described notable results of non-cued experiments as well as claims of hundreds of “words” being learned and of “sentences” and even “dialogue” being articulated by signing apes, careful natural scientific observers remain convinced of essential differences still remaining between ape and human capabilities.

The Uniqueness of Human Speech

After extremely careful analysis of all the relevant data and arguments presented by the ape-language studies, Walker finally concludes that man’s linguistic capabilities remain unique:

“Apes trained to employ artificial systems of symbolic communication ought not, therefore, to be said to have acquired a language, in the sense that people acquire a language. Human language is unique to humans, and although some of the distinctive features of human speech, such as the mimicking of sounds, may be observed in other species, the resemblance between, for instance, the trained gesturing of a chimpanzee and communication via sign- language among the human deaf is in some senses no greater than the resemblance between the speech of a parrot and that of its owner” (Animal Thought, 377-378).

A parrot might, hypothetically, be trained to say, “Polly wants a cracker because Polly is hungry and because Polly knows that a cracker would neutralize the hyperacidity of his stomach acid and thereby reestablish its normal pH.” It might even be trained to say this in order to obtain food when hungry. Yet, no one would seriously contend that the bird in question actually understands concepts such as “neutralize,” “hyperacidity,” and “normal pH.” It is one thing to associate a trained response with a given stimulus, but quite another to grasp intellectually the intrinsic nature of each in all its various elements as well as the nature of the cause-effect relationship entailed.

Walker also concludes that—aside from their evident superiority in terms of the “sheer quantity” of associations learned—the apes’ capabilities do not qualitatively exceed those of lower species, for example, as when a dog responds to the arbitrary sign of a buzzer in order to obtain a piece of meat through the performance of some trained action:

“In so far as it can be demonstrated that the apes establish a collection of associations between signs and objects, then the results of their training extend further than any previously observed form of animal learning, but it is not clear that they need a substantially different kind of ability to make these associations from that which may be used by other mammals to respond to smaller sets of signals” (Animal Thought, 378).

He also notes the essential dependence of the animals upon human influence in order to assure their performance:

“Even when a computer-controlled keyboard is used, so that tests can be made in the absence of a human presence, social interactions between human trainers and the animal being trained are apparently necessary if the animal is to show any interest in using the keyboard (Rumbaugh, 1977)” (Animal Thought, 379).

Finally, Walker eloquently describes the radical wall of separation which distinguishes man from all the lower primates—pointing in particular to man’s unique possession of language in its proper meaning:

“Of all the discontinuities between man and animals that could be quoted, including the exclusively human faculties for abstraction, reason, morality, culture and technology, and the division of labour… the evergreen candidate for the fundamental discontinuity, which might qualify all others, is language… In a state of nature we expect humans to talk, and by comparison, the most unrelenting efforts to induce our closest living relatives to reveal hidden linguistic potential have left the discontinuity of speech bloodied, but unbowed” (Animal Thought, 387).

With respect to the linguistic facility of apes in comparison to man, Walker maintains that chimpanzees form “mental” associations—but that their abilities pale against those displayed by people:

“It seems necessary to accept that under the conditions described, chimpanzees form mental associations between perceptual schemata for manual gestures and others for object categories. This is not to say, in Romanes’s phrase, that they can mean propositions, in forms such as “all chimpanzees like bananas….” [S]ince it has not been convincingly demonstrated that one chimpanzee gesture modifies another, or that there is any approximation to syntax and grammar in the comprehension or expression of artificial gestures, the similarity between the use of individual signs by apes, and the use of words by people, is definitely limited” (Animal Thought, 357).

Despite Walker’s willingness here to defend the uniqueness of man, we note that he yet shares the tendency of most natural scientists to describe lower primates’ associative imaginative acts while employing philosophically misapplied terms such as “mental,” “understand,” and “think.” In proper philosophical usage, such terms are strictly predicable of human intellectual activities. Their application to brute animals in this context serves only to confuse the intellectual with the sentient order.

In an observation which strikes at the very heart of all ape language experiments, Hediger supports the claim by biophilosopher Bernard Rensch, who noted in 1973 that nothing like human language has ever been found among any of the apes in the state of nature. Hediger comments:

“In other words, with all animals with which we try to enter into conversation we do not deal with primary animals but with anthropogenous animals, so-to-speak with artifacts, and we do not know how much of their behaviour may still be labelled as animal behaviour and how much, through the catalytic effect of man, has been manipulated into the animal. This is just what we would like to know. Within this lies the alpha and omega of practically all such animal experiments since Clever Hans” (Clever Hans, 5).

This amounts to a recognition that all ape-language studies presuppose the invention of true language by man. This peculiarly human invention is then imposed by man upon the apes. The day on which apes create their own linguistic system is still the dream of science fiction.

As is well known to the philosophical science of psychology, human language consists of a deliberately invented system of arbitrary or conventional signs. (Aristotle, On Interpretation, 1 (16a3-8).) Thus the English word “red” could just as well have stood for the natural colour green—except for the convention or agreement by all that it should represent just what it does. The alternative to such arbitrary signs consists of what are termed natural signs, which, as the name implies, flow from the very nature of something. Thus smoke is a natural sign of fire, a beaver slapping its tail on water is a natural sign of danger, and the various calls of birds are signs of specific natural meanings—which cannot be arbitrarily interchanged or invented. The hiss of a cat is never equivalent to its purr.

From all this, it is clear that in teaching apes to “talk” man is simply imposing upon them his own system of arbitrary or conventional signs. The signs belong to man, not to the apes. The apes use them only because we train them to do so. We thus turn the apes, as Hediger says, into “artifacts” of our own creation.

Hediger emphasizes the importance of not underestimating the impact of human training upon lower species:

“This amazing act of training causes one to ponder the manifold efforts of several researchers to enter into language contact, into a dialogue with apes…

“In each case the chimpanzees were demonstrated the desired actions with the hope that they would react in a certain way… with Washoe, Sarah, Lana, and so forth, it is the production of certain signs in which we would like to see a language. But how can we prove that such answers are to be understood as elements of a language, and that they are not only reactions to certain orders and expression, in other words simply performances of training?” (Clever Hans, 9).

One perhaps should ponder here that it is not brute animals alone which can react to training in a way which bespeaks performance but lack of understanding. Have we not all, at one time or another, heard a small child speak a sentence—even with perfect syntax and grammar—whose meaning obviously utterly eludes him? Or, at least, we hope it eludes him! And, if such can occur in children through training and imitation, one can well understand Hediger’s hesitancy to attribute intellectual understanding to a brute animal when such acts could well be explained by simple performance training.

Moreover, Hediger makes a suggestion which reveals the extreme difficulty entailed in assuring that apes actually do understand the meanings of the “words” they gesture under present methods:

“I do not doubt that Washoe and other chimps have learned a number of signs in the sense of ASL. But it seems to me that a better clarification could be reached mainly through the introduction of the orders “repeat” and “hold it.” By this the chimpanzee could show that he really understands the single elements and does not execute fast, sweeping movements into which one possibly could read such elements” (Clever Hans, 9).

Since such “stop action” techniques have never even been attempted in present ASL trained apes, it would seem that demonstration of true intellectual understanding of hand signs in them is virtually impossible. By contrast, humans frequently do explicate their precise meanings to each other—even to the point of writing scholarly papers immersed in linguistic analysis.

The Inferiority of Apes

In contrast with the rather elevated dialogue about apes’ supposed “mental” abilities, Hediger makes a fundamental observation designed to cut the Gordian knot of much of the controversy. Analogous to the old retort, “If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?,” Hediger’s rather fatally apropos version runs essentially thus: “If apes are so intelligent, why can’t they learn to clean their own cages?”

“If apes really dispose of the great intelligence and the highly developed communication ability that one has attributed to them lately—why in no case in the zoos of the world, where thousands of apes live and reproduce, has it been possible to get one to clean his own cage and to prepare his own food?” (Clever Hans, 13).

In a follow-up comment made, presumably, without any personal prejudice against apes, Hediger writes, “Apes have no notion of work. We might perhaps teach an ape a sign for work but he will never grasp the human conception of work” (Clever Hans, 13).

Finally, Hediger notes that “the animal has no access to the future. It lives entirely in the present time” (Clever Hans, 14). And again, Hediger insists, “To my knowledge, up to now, no animal, not even an ape, has ever been able to talk about a past or a future event” (Clever Hans, 16).

If argument from authority has any force at all, it should be noted here that Heini Hediger is described by the Sebeoks as the “world’s leading authority on human-animal communication… (and) …former director of the Zurich zoo” (Psychology Today, 91).

Moreover, the conclusions by Walker cited above warrant special attention because his book, Animal Thought, represents an outstanding synthesis of available data on animal “mental” processes and includes an extensive review of the recently conducted ape-language studies (Animal Thought, 352-381).

In addition to the specific distinctions between ape and man noted above, the philosopher notices a pattern of evidence which tends to confirm his own conclusions. For it is clear that the apes studied are, in all well-documented activities, exclusively focused upon the immediate, particular objects of their sense consciousness. They seek concrete sensible rewards readily available in the present. Such documented observations are entirely consistent with the purely sentient character of the matter-dependent mode of existence specific to animals.

Apes have no proper concept of time in terms of knowing the past as past or the future as future. Nor do they offer simply descriptive comment or pose questions about the contents of the passing world—not even as a small child does when he asks his father why he shaves or tells his mother she is a good cook even though his stomach is now full.

Time and again it is evident that the most pressing obsession of any ape is the immediate acquisition of a banana (or its equivalent). It has little concern for the sorts of speculative inquiry about that same object which would concern a botanist.

In fact, the whole experiential world of apes is so limited that researchers are severely restricted in terms of their selection of motivational tools capable of use in engaging them to perform or dialogue. Hediger laments:

“Therefore there remain the essential daily needs, above all metabolism, food and drink, social and sexual contact, rest and activity, play and comfort, conditions of environment in connection with the sensations of pleasure and dislike, some objects, and possibly a few more things. This is indeed rather modest” (Clever Hans, 14).

Aristotle makes much the same point:

“The life of animals, then, may be divided into two acts—procreation and feeding; for on these two acts all their interests and life concentrate. Their food depends chiefly on the substance of which they are severally constituted; for the source of their growth in all cases will be this substance. And whatsoever is in conformity with nature is pleasant, and all animals pursue pleasure in keeping with their nature” (History of Animals, VIII, 1, [589a3-589a9]).

Small wonder the apes will neither philosophize nor clean their cages!

We have seen above that much of ape-communicative skills can be explained in terms of simple imitation or unintentional cuing. Even in the carefully controlled experiments designed to lessen or eliminate all cuing, the factor of human influence in the extensive training needed to get apes to initiate and continue their performance simply cannot be eliminated.

Yet, there seems to remain a legitimate need for further explanation of the impressive ape-communicative skills manifested as the product of the experiments done by Savage-Rumbaugh and others. Granted, exhaustive training may explain why these chimpanzees and gorillas act in fashions never seen in the state of nature. Yet, this does not fully avoid the need to explain the remarkable character of the behaviour produced by this admittedly artificial state into which the animals have been thrust by human imposition.

In the first place, it must be noted that there is no undisputed evidence of ape-language skills which exceed the domain of the association of sensible images. Even the categorization of things like tools and actions does not exceed the sensible abilities of lower species, for example, the ability of a bird to recognize selectively the objects which are suitable for nest building. Nor does even the ability to “label labels” exceed, in principle, the province of the association of internal images.

Intellectual Activity

It should be observed here that the nature of intellectual knowledge does not consist merely in the ability to recognize common sensible characteristics or sensible phenomena which are associated with a given type of object or action. Such sentient recognition is evident in all species of animals whenever they respond in consistent fashion to like stimuli, as we see in the case of the wolf sensing any and all sheep as the object of his appetite.

On the contrary, the intellect penetrates beyond the sensible appearances of things to their essential nature. Even at the level of its first act (that is, simple apprehension or abstraction), the intellect “reads within” the sensible qualities of an entity—thereby grasping intelligible aspects which it raises to the level of the universal concept. Thus, while we can imagine the sensible qualities of an individual triangle, we cannot imagine the universal essence of triangularity—since a three-sided plane figure can be expressed in infinitely varied shapes and sizes. Yet, the concept of triangularity is a proper object of intellectual understanding. Thus, the essence of conceiving the universal consists, not merely in an association of similar sensible forms, but in the formation of a concept abstracted from the individuating, singularizing influence of matter and freed from all the sensible qualities which can exist only in an individual, concrete object or action.

So too, the correct identification of, communication about, and employment of an appropriate tool by a chimpanzee (in order to obtain food) is no assurance of true intellectual understanding. Indeed, a spider which weaves its web to catch insects is repeatedly creating the same type of tool designed exquisitely to catch the same type of victim. Yet, does anyone believe that this instinctive behaviour bespeaks true intellectual understanding of the means-end relation on the part of the spider? Hardly! The evident lack of intelligence in the spider is manifest the moment it is asked to perform any feat or task outside its fixed instinctive patterns.

Whether “programmed” by instinct, as in the case of the spider, or by man, as in the case of the chimpanzee, each animal is simply playing out its proper role in accord with pre-programmed habits based upon recognition or association of sensibly similar conditions. Certainly, no ape or any other brute animal understands the means as means, the end as end, and the relation of means to end as such. The sense is ordered to the particular; only intellect understands the universal.

One may ask, “How do we know that the ape does not understand the intrinsic nature of the objects or ”labels“ he has been trained to manipulate?” The answer is that, just like the spider which cannot perform outside its “programmed” instincts, so too, the ape—while appearing to act quite “intelligently” within the ambit of its meticulous training, yet exhibits neither the originality nor creative progress which man manifests when he invents at will his own languages and builds great civilizations and, yes, keeps his own “cages” clean!

Therefore, while it is clear that certain apes have been trained to associate impressive numbers of signs with objects, it is also clear that the mere association of images with signs and objects, or even of images with other images, does not constitute evidence of intellectual understanding of the intrinsic nature of anything. And it is precisely such acts of understanding which remain the exclusive domain of the human species.

Yet, the field of contest of ape-language studies is centred not only upon the first act of the intellect discussed above, but also upon the second and third acts of the intellect, that is, upon judgment and reasoning. Thus Chevalier-Skolnikoff insists that the chimpanzee, Washoe, and the gorilla, Koko, exhibit true grammatical competence as, for example:

“breakfast eat some cookie eat,” signed by Koko at 5 years 6 months and “please tickle more, come Roger tickle,” “you me go peek-a-boo,” and “you me go out hurry,” signed by Washoe at about 3 years 9 months. Besides providing new information, the structures of these phrases (like those of the novel compound names) imply that they are intentionally planned sequences” (Clever Hans, 83).

It is in the expression of such “intentionally planned sequences” that Koko is reported to have argued with and corrected others; for example, when Koko pointed to squash on a plate and her teacher signed “potato,” Koko is reported to have signed “Wrong, squash” (Clever Hans, 84).

Even if one is disposed to accept the intrinsically anecdotal character of all such data, we must remember the inherent danger of anthropomorphic inferences warned against by Walker, the Sebeoks, and others. As Walker concludes, because of the necessary interaction with a human companion during such communication, “there is virtually no evidence of this kind which is not vulnerable to the charge that the human contact determined the sequence of combinations observed” (Animal Thought, 374).

And while it is not evident precisely how the animal was trained to sign “wrong” or otherwise indicate a negative, such a sign when associated with a correct response (for example, “squash”) need not reflect a genuinely intellectual judgment. The correct response itself is simply proper categorization which is the product of training. Its association with a negative word-sign like “wrong” or “no” may simply be a sign which is trained to be elicited whenever the interlocutor’s words or signs do not fit the situation. The presumption of intellectual reflection and negative judgments in such cases constitute rank anthropomorphism in the absence of other specifically human characteristics, for example, there appears to be no data whatever recording a “correction” or “argument” entailing a progressive process of reasoning. Rather, two signs, such as “No, gorilla” or “Wrong, squash” constitute the entire “argument.” Compare such simple “denials” to the lengthy syllogistic arguments—often of many steps—offered in human debate. The apes, at best, appear to offer us merely small collections of associated simple signs—usually united only by the desire to attain an immediate sensible reward.

As noted earlier, apes have been reported to sign to other apes (Clever Hans, 89-90). They have even been reported to sign to themselves when alone (Clever Hans, 86). Such behaviour, though striking, simply reflects the force of habit. Once the proper associations of images to hand signs have been well established, the tendency to respond in similar fashion in similar contexts—whether in the presence of man or another ape or even in solitude—is hardly remarkable.

Critiquing the Research Data

Perhaps the most stinging defection from the ranks of those advocating an ape’s grammatical competence is that of H. S. Terrace. His own research project, whose subject was a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky, eventually led him to question the legitimacy of initially favourable results. He then began a complete re-evaluation of his own prior data as well as that which was available from other such projects. Terrace now insists that careful analysis of all ape-language studies fails to demonstrate that apes possess grammatical competence.

Terrace suggests that in two studies using artificial language devices what the chimpanzees “learned was to produce rote sequences of the type ABCX, where A, B, and C are nonsense symbols and X is a meaningful element” (Clever Hans, 95). Thus, he argues, while the sign “apple” might have meaning for the chimpanzee, Lana,

“…it is doubtful that, in producing the sequence please machine give apple, Lana understood the meanings of please machine and give, let alone the relationships between these symbols that would apply in actual sentences” (Clever Hans, 95).

Terrace points to the importance of sign order in demonstrating simple constructions, such as subject-verb-object, and then criticizes the Gardners for failing to publish any data on sign order regarding Washoe (Clever Hans, 96).

Perhaps the single most important contribution of Terrace has been his effort “to collect and to analyse a large corpus of a chimpanzee’s sign combinations for regularities of sign order” (Clever Hans, 97). Moreover, he initiated:

“… a painstaking analysis of videotapes of Nim’s and his teacher’s signing. These tapes revealed much about the nature of Nim’s signing that could not be seen with the naked eye. Indeed they were so rich in information that it took as much as one hour to transcribe a single minute of tape” (Clever Hans, 103).

These careful examinations of Nim’s signing activities led Terrace to conclude:

“An ape signs mainly in response to his teachers’ urgings, in order to obtain certain objects or activities. Combinations of signs are not used creatively to generate particular meanings. Instead, they are used for emphasis or in response to the teacher’s unwitting demands that the ape produce as many contextually relevant signs as possible” (Clever Hans, 107-108).

Terrace points out the difficulty involved in attempting to evaluate the performance of the other signing apes:

“… because discourse analyses of other signing apes have yet to be published. Also, as mentioned earlier, published accounts of an ape’s combinations of signs have centred around anecdotes and not around exhaustive listings of all combinations” (Clever Hans, 108).

Seidenberg and Petitto raise similar objections to the anecdotal foundation for some of the most significant claims made on behalf of apes:

“A small number of anecdotes are repeatedly cited in discussions of the apes’ linguistic skills. However, they support numerous interpretations, only the very strongest of which is the one the ape researchers prefer, i.e., that the ape was signing “creatively.” These anecdotes are so vague that they cannot carry the weight of evidence which they have been assigned. Nonetheless, two important claims—that the apes could combine signs creatively into novel sequences, and that their utterances showed evidence of syntactic structure—are based exclusively upon anecdote” (Clever Hans, 116).

Terrace also states that he has carefully examined films and videotape transcripts of other apes, specifically Washoe and Koko. Regarding the former, he concludes, “In short, discourse analysis makes Washoe’s linguistic achievement less remarkable than it might seem at first” (Clever Hans, 109). Terrace also examined four transcripts providing data on two other signing chimpanzees, Ally and Booee. Finally, he summarizes his findings:

“Nim’s, Washoe’s, Ally’s, Booee’s, and Koko’s use of signs suggests a type of interaction between an ape and its trainer that has little to do with human language. In each instance the sole function of the ape’s signing appears to be to request various rewards that can be obtained only by signing. Little, if any, evidence is available that an ape signs in order to exchange information with its trainer, as opposed to simply demanding some object or activity” (Clever Hans, 109-110).

Following on similar criticisms by Terrace, Seidenberg and Petitto point out the simple absence of data supporting the claims that apes show linguistic competence:

“The primary data in a study of ape language must include a large corpus of utterances, a substantial number of which are analyzed in terms of the contexts in which they occurred. No corpus exists of the utterances of any ape for whom linguistic abilities are claimed” (Clever Hans, 116).

Terrace’s Nim Chimpsky, of course, is one chimpanzee for whom linguistic ability was not claimed by his researcher. It is therefore significant that the data collected on the Nim project is, by far, the most exhaustive:

“The data of Terrace et al. on Nim are more robust than those offered by other ape researchers. Although their data are limited in several respects, they are the only systematic data on any signing ape” (Clever Hans, 121-122).

If the above citation is factually correct, it means that the ape-language studies fall into two categories: (1) the Nim project, which is based upon “systematic data,” but whose researcher could find “no evidence of an ape’s grammatical competence” and (2) the rest of the projects, for whose subjects various claims of linguistic competence have been made, but none of which are based upon “systematic data.”

Another weakness in the data—one which afflicts even the Nim project—is the practice of simply deleting signs which are immediately repeated:

“In comparing Nim’s multisign utterances and mean length of utterances (MLU) to those of children, it is important to realize that all contiguous repetitions were deleted. In this respect, Terrace et al. follow the practice established by the other ape researchers. The repetitions in ape signing constitute one of the primary differences between their behaviour and the language of deaf and hearing children, yet they have always been eliminated from analyses” (Clever Hans, 123).

Needless to observe, the deletion of such uselessly repeated “words” would tend to make an ape’s recorded “speech” appear much more intelligible and meaningful than it actually is.

In a noteworthy understatement, Seidenberg and Petitto conclude, “There are numerous methodological problems with this research” (Clever Hans, 127). Even if all available data from ape-language studies—anecdotal and otherwise—were to be accepted at face value the legitimacy of claims about apes understanding the meanings of their signs, creating new word complexes, deceiving, lying, reasoning, and so forth, need not be recognized in the sense of providing proof of the possession of genuine intellectual powers on their part.

It must be remembered that contemporary electronic computers can be programmed to simulate many of these behaviours—and, probably, in principle, all of them. Walker points out some of these capabilities:

“Already there are computers which can recognise simple spoken instructions, and there are computer programs which can play the part of a psychotherapist in interchanges with real patients (Holden, 1977), so the inability of machines to conduct low-grade conversations is no longer such a strong point” (Animal Thought, 9).

If a computer can hold its own with real patients while feigning the role of a psychotherapist, it should surely be able to perform many of the functions of signing apes. Clearly, given appropriate sensing devices and robotics, even the most impressive, non-cued Savage-Rumbaugh experimental results could easily be simulated by computers—even by pairs of computers exhibiting the co-operative exchange of information and objects as was seen in the activities of the chimpanzees, Sherman and Austin (Animal Thought, 364-370, 373). This would include the ability to “label labels,” for example, to respond to the arbitrary pattern for banana by pressing the key meaning food (Animal Thought, 369-370). Such performance may seem remarkable in an ape, but it would be literal child’s play to a properly programmed computer.

Again, programming a computer to “deceive” or “lie to” an interrogator is no great feat—although Woodruff and Premack apparently spent considerable time and effort creating an environment which, in effect, “programmed” chimpanzees to engage in just such unworthy conduct (Animal Thought, 370-371).

Certainly there are, as yet, no reports about apes having learned to play chess. Yet, Walker reports:

“Pocket-sized computers are now available that can play chess at a typical, if not outstanding, human level, accompanied by a rudimentary attempt at conversation about the game… In the face of modern electronic technology, though, it is less obvious that it is impossible for physical devices to achieve human flexibility than it was in the seventeenth century” (Animal Thought, 10-11).

Evidently then, the electronic computer is capable of engaging in “low-grade conversations”—and this, probably in a manner which would well outstrip its nearest ape competitors.

While it must be conceded that all of the abovementioned capabilities of electronic computers presuppose the agency of very intelligent human computer programmers, yet the correlative “programming” of apes must be understood to occur as a result of deliberate human training, unintentional cuing, and unavoidable human influence upon the animals.

On the other hand, it must be recognized that the capabilities of apes equal or exceed those of computers in several significant respects. According to the eminent physicist-theologian Stanley L. Jaki, the number of potential memory units in the brain is phenomenal. In his Brain, Mind and Computers [BMC] (1969), he writes, “After all, the latitude between 1027, the estimated number of molecules in the brain, and 1010, the estimated number of neurons, is enormous enough to accommodate any guess, however bold, fanciful, or arbitrary” (BMC, 110). Later (BMC, 115), he tells us that “the human brain… [has] …twice as many neurons as the number of neurons in the brain of apes,” we conclude that the number of neurons in the brain of apes must be 5 X 109.

This certainly constitutes an impressive amount of almost instantaneously available “core storage.” Moreover, while it is possible to attach elaborate “sensing” devices to provide input data to a computer, nothing devised by man can match the natural abilities of the multiple external and internal senses found in higher animals, including the apes. Hence, their ability to sense and categorize a banana as food is simply part of their natural “equipment.” Finally, while extensive and complex robotic devices are now becoming an essential ingredient in various computer-controlled manufacturing processes, an ape’s limbs, hands, and feet afford him a comprehensive dexterity unmatched by that of any single machine.

The point of all this is simply that none of the performances exhibited by language-trained apes exceeds in principle the capacities of electronic computers. And yet, electronic computers simply manipulate data. They experience neither intellectual nor even sentient knowledge and, in fact, do not even possess that unity of existence which is proper to a single substance. A computer is merely a pile of cleverly constructed electronic parts conjoined to form an accidental, functional unity which serves man’s purpose.

It is in no way surprising, then, that man should be able to “program” apes to perform in the manner reported by researchers. For these apes have, indeed, become, as Heini Hediger so adroitly points out, artifacts—through the language and tasks which we humans have imposed upon them (Clever Hans, 5).

The force of much of the above argument from analogy will be lost upon those who do not understand why we state that computers possess neither substantial existence and unity nor any sentient or intellectual knowledge. Our claims may seem especially gratuitous in an age in which various computer experts proclaim the imminent possibility of success in the search for artificial intelligence through the science of cybernetics.

Yet, it would appear to be sheer absurdity to suggest that the elementary components of complicated contemporary computers—whether considered singly or in concert—could conceivably experience anything whatsoever. For no non-living substance—whether it be an atom, a molecule, a rock, or even an electronic chip—is itself capable of sensation or intellection.

On the other hand, what answer can be given to the sceptic’s seemingly absurd, but elusively difficult, query: How can we be so certain that some form of consciousness, or at least the potency for consciousness, is not present in the apparently inanimate parts used to compose a modern computer? As any novice logician is well aware, the problems inherent in the demonstration of any negative are substantive. Hence, the challenge of proving that inanimate objects are truly non-living, non-sensing, non-thinking, and so forth, is difficult—the moment, of course, that one is prepared to take the issue at all seriously.

Clearly, potentialities for sensation and intellection as well as other life activities do exist—but only as faculties (operative potencies) of already living things. These powers are secondary qualities inherent in and proper to the various living species—which properties flow from their very essence and are put into act by the apprehension of the appropriate formal object. Thus, the potency for sight in an animal is a sensitive faculty of its substantial form (soul) which enables the animal to see actually when it is put into act by the presence of its proper sense object (colour). This is not the same at all as suggesting that inanimate objects as such might possess such potencies or faculties.

Despite its apparent difficulty, though, it is indeed possible to demonstrate that the universal absence of specific life activities—both in the individual and in all other things of the same essential type—shows that those life qualities are utterly outside of or missing from such a nature. Or, to put the matter affirmatively, the presence of a given form necessarily implies its formal effects, that is, if a thing is alive, it must manifest its life activities; if sensation is a power of its nature, it must, at least at times, actually sense. That a power should exist in a given species, but never be found in act, is absolutely impossible. This fundamental truth can be shown as follows.

According to the utter certitude which is offered by the science of metaphysics, there must exist a sufficient reason why a given thing consistently exhibits certain qualities or activities, but not others. For instance, if a non-living thing, such as a rock, manifests the qualities of extension and mass, yet never exhibits any life activities, for example, nutrition, growth, or reproduction, then either such life powers must be absent from its nature altogether, or else, if present, there must be some sufficient reason why such powers are never exhibited in act. And that reason must be either intrinsic or extrinsic to its nature. If it is extrinsic, then it would have to be accidental to the nature, and thus, caused. As St. Thomas Aquinas observes:

“Everything that is in something per accidens, since it is extraneous to its nature, must be found in it by reason of some exterior cause” (De Potentia Dei, q. 10, a. 4, c.).

Moreover, what does not flow from the very essence of a thing cannot be found to occur universally in that thing—even if it be the universal absence of a quality or activity. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas also points out:

“The power of every agent [which acts] through necessity of nature is determined to one effect, and therefore it is that every natural [agent] comes always in the same way, unless there should be an impediment” (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 23).

Hence, while an extrinsic cause might occasionally interfere with the vital activities of a living thing, such suppression of the nature’s activities is relatively rare—and surely, never universal. Thus, the ability to reproduce may be suppressed by an extrinsic cause in a few individuals in a species, but most will reproduce. On the other hand, if reproduction were absent in every member of a species, for example, rocks, then the absence of such activity must be attributed directly to the essence itself.

But if a thing is said to possess a power or potency to a certain act by its very essence, and yet, that selfsame essence is said to be responsible for its never actually exercising such a power, then such an essence becomes self-contradictory—since that essence would then be responsible both for its substance essentially being able to possess that quality and for it never being able actually to possess that same quality. The same essence would then be the reason why a thing is able to be alive or conscious and also, at the same time, the reason why that same thing is never able to be alive or conscious. This is clearly both absurd and impossible.

Moreover, Aristotle defines nature as “a source or cause of being moved and of being at rest in that to which it belongs primarily” (Physics, II, 1, 192b22-23). But a nature which would also be the reason for a thing not moving or resting would clearly contradict itself.

From all this, it follows that, if a quality or activity is lacking in each and every member of a species of things, it is absent neither by accident nor as a positive effect of the essence—but simply because such quality or activity does not belong to its essence at all. Hence, non-living things have no life powers within their natures. They can gain life powers only by undergoing a substantial change, that is, by somehow becoming assimilated into the very substance of a living thing, as when a tree absorbs nutrients from the soil and then turns them into its very self.

But such is clearly not what happens when inanimate parts are artificially joined together into an accidental, functional unity such as an electronic computer. Thus, none of a computer’s individual parts which are inanimate in themselves can exhibit the properties of life, sensation, or intellection. Nor can any combination of such non-living entities—even if formed into a highly complex functional unity—achieve the activities of perception or thought, since these noetic perfections transcend utterly the individual natures, and thus, the natural limitations, of its components.

Since it is an artificial composite of many substances, a computer constitutes merely an accidental unity. As such, no accidental perfection can exist in it which is not grounded in the natures of its constituent elements. It is a perennial temptation to engage in the metaphysical slight of hand of suggesting that somehow the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts, that the total collectivity can exhibit qualities of existence found in none of its elements. In this strange way, like Pinocchio, the computer is averred to take on suddenly all the properties of a living substance—to sense and to think.

But such is the stuff of fantasy. It is to commit the fallacy of composition—to attribute to the whole qualities found in none of its parts. It is like suggesting that an infinite multitude of idiots could somehow—if only properly arranged—constitute a single genius. The fundamental obstacle to all such speculation is the principle of sufficient reason. For the non-living, as such, offers no existential foundation for the properties of life. And merely accidental rearrangements of essentially non-living components provide no sufficient reason for the positing of the essentially higher activities found in living things—unless there takes place the sort of substantial change described above. And such substantial changes are found solely in the presently constituted natural order of things, that is, by assimilation or generation.

Since the hylemorphist philosopher understands that the substantial unity of things above the atomic level depends upon some unifying principle, that is, the substantial form, he knows that only natural unities possessing appropriate cognitive faculties of sensation or intellection can actually know anything. Thus a “sensing device” such as a television set running in an empty room actually senses nothing. It cannot see its own picture or hear its own sound. No genuine perception can occur until, say, a dog stumbles into the room and glances at the set in operation.

The dog can see and hear the set precisely because the dog is a natural living substantial unity whose primary matter is specified and unified by a substantial form (its soul) which possesses the sense faculties of sight and hearing. Absent the sensitive soul, the most complex “sensing device” knows nothing of the sense data it records. Absent the intellectual soul, a “thinking” machine understands nothing of the intelligible data it manipulates nor even is it aware of its own existence. A computer could well be programmed to pronounce, “Cogito ergo sum,” and yet remain completely unaware of its own existence or anything else.

Gödel’s Theorem

The inherent limitations of any electronic computer were unintentionally underlined by the German mathematician Kurt Gödel in 1930 when he proposed his famed incompleteness theorem to the Vienna Academy of Sciences. As theologian and physicist, Stanley L. Jaki, S.J., simply expresses it, the theorem states “that even in the elementary parts of arithmetic there are propositions which cannot be proved or disproved in that system” (BMC, 214). Gödel himself initially vastly underestimated the profound implications of his theorem. Among these were (1) that it struck “a fatal blow to Hilbert’s great program to formalize the whole of mathematics…” (BMC, 215) and (2) that it “cuts the ground under the efforts that view machines… as adequate models of the mind” (BMC, 216).

Jaki spells out the impact of the incompleteness theorem on the question of computer consciousness:

“Actually, when a machine is requested to prove that “a specific formula is unprovable in a particular system,” one expects the machine to be self-conscious, or in other words, that it knows that it knows it, and that it knows that it knows it that it knows it, and so forth ad infinitum…. A machine would always need an extra part to reflect on its own performance, and therein lies the Achilles heel of the reasoning according to which a machine with a sufficiently high degree of complexity will become conscious. Regardless of how one defines consciousness, such a machine, as long as it is a machine in the accepted sense of the word, will not and cannot be fully self-conscious. It will not be able to reflect on its last sector of consciousness” (BMC, 220-221).

Despite the logical adroitness of this analysis, we must, of course, remember that in truth and in fact machines possess no psychic faculties at all. They actually have neither even the most immediate level of reflection nor any form of consciousness whatever.

What Gödel’s theorem simply implies is that men are not machines—that computers (because they have not a spiritual intellect) are unable to know the truth of their own “judgments” since they lack the capacity for self-reflective consciousness.

This analysis of computer deficiency based upon the incompleteness theorem is offered simply to demonstrate that, although computers may be able to simulate the abilities of language-trained apes, their computations, nonetheless, remain essentially inferior to human cognitive abilities. In truth, neither apes nor computers are capable of genuinely self-reflective acts of intellection since such acts are possible for creatures with spiritual intellects alone, for example, man. Unlike computers, apes, of course, are alive and possess sensitive souls capable of sense consciousness—but not intellection.

Nonetheless, the fact that electronic computers—having neither sensation nor intellection nor even life itself—could, in principle, be designed and programmed so as to imitate, or even exceed, the skills of language-trained apes is sufficient evidence that ape-language studies pose no threat to man’s uniqueness as a species. Nor do the studies cast in any doubt man’s uniquely spiritual nature—as distinguished from the rest of the animal kingdom.

One striking bit of information drawn from the history of ape- language studies has been saved until this point in our study in order to underscore the radical difference between man and lesser primates. It demonstrates, as Paul Bouissac points out, that the animal’s perspective on what is going on may differ radically from our own. Now, no language-trained ape possesses a greater reputation for linguistic expertise and presumed civility than the female chimpanzee, Washoe. It is therefore rather appalling to learn of the following incident reported by Bouissac:

“There are indeed indications that accidents are not infrequent, although they have never been publicized; the recent attack of the celebrated “Washoe” on Karl Pribram, in which the eminent psychologist lost a finger (personal communication, June 13, 1980) was undoubtedly triggered by a situation that was not perceived in the same manner by the chimpanzee and her human keepers and mentors” (Clever Hans, 24).

In pointing to the divergence of perspective between man and ape, Bouissac may well understate the problem. Washoe would have been about 15 years old at the time of the attack. Needless to say, humans of that age have virtually never been recorded as even attempting to bite their teachers—and this would seem especially true of outstanding students!

This clear-cut evidence that animals—even apes—simply do not perceive the communicative context in the same way that man does demonstrates the degree to which the anthropomorphic fallacy has overtaken many researchers—despite their claims of caution in this regard.

A Positive Demonstration

While much of the preceding discussion pertinent to man’s uniqueness as a species has focused upon signs of his spiritual nature and, to an even greater degree, upon the failure of lower animals to demonstrate any intellectual ability, philosopher and theologian Austin M. Woodbury, S.M., approaches the question with a fresh and more decisive perspective (Natural Philosophy, Treatise Three, Psychology [1951], III, Ch. 40, Art. 2, 432-465).

He points out that the effort to explain all animal behaviour in terms of sensation alone could never be completed and might produce no more than a probable conclusion because of the complexity of the task. One need only consider the endless anecdotal data to be examined (Psychology, 437).

To avoid the logical weakness of this negative approach, Woodbury proposes an appropriate remedy by seeking direct and positive proof that brutes are lacking in the necessary effects or signs of intelligence (Psychology, 438).

For, he argues, the necessary effects of intellect are four: speech, progress, knowledge of relations, and knowledge of immaterial objects. Since each of these is a necessary effect, “if it be shown that even one of these signs of intellect is lacking to ‘brutes’, then it is positively proved that ‘brutes’ are devoid of intellect” (Psychology, 438). In fact, Woodbury argues that brute animals are in default in all four areas.

While the most significant ape-language experiments were conducted after Woodbury wrote his Psychology, nonetheless his insistence on the absence of true speech among brute animals remains correct as we have seen above. He points out that animals possess the organs of voice (or, we might note, the hands to make signs), the appropriate sensible images, and the inclination to manifest their psychic states—but they do not manifest true speech since they lack intellect (Psychology, 441).

What Woodbury seems to be saying is that, if brute animals actually possessed intellect, they would have long ago developed their own forms of communication expressed in arbitrary or conventional signs. Their failure to do so is manifest evidence of the absence of intellect. On the contrary, since all men do possess intellect, all men develop speech.

It is noteworthy that even a chimpanzee brought up in a human family learns no speech at all whereas a human child does so easily and quickly. While it is conceded that chimpanzees and other apes lack the vocal dexterity of man, yet it must be noted that they do possess sufficient vocal equipment to enable them to make limited attempts at speech—just as would any human suffering from a severe speech defect. Yet, apes attempt nothing of the sort.

While Woodbury does not, of course, make reference here to the signing apes, it is clear that their behaviour is to be explained by imitation and the association of images. While man may impose signing upon such animals artificially, their failure to have developed language on their own and in their natural habitat demonstrates lack of true speech. That animals possess natural signs is conceded, but irrelevant.

Neither do animals present evidence of genuine progress. Woodbury points out that “from intellect by natural necessity follows progress in works, knowledges and sciences, arts and virtue” (Psychology, 443) While he grants that animals do learn from experience, imitation, and training, yet, because they lack the capacity for intellectual self-reflection, they are unable to correct themselves—an ability absolutely essential to true progress.

Even in the most “primitive” societies, true men make progress as individuals. For children learn language, arts, complex tribal organization, complex legal systems, and religious rites (Psychology, 444). Woodbury notes, “Moreover, the lowest of such peoples can be raised by education to very high culture” (Psychology, 444).

Woodbury points out that the appetite to make deliberate progress is inherent in a being endowed with intellect and will. For as the intellect naturally seeks the universal truth and the will seeks the infinite good, no finite truth or good offers complete satisfaction. Thus man, both as a species and as an individual, seeks continually to correct and perfect himself. While apes are ever content to satisfy the same sensitive urges, men erect the ever-advancing technology and culture which mark the progress of civilization. The failure of animals to make anything but accidental improvements—except when the intellect of man imposes itself upon them through training—proves the utter absence of intellect within their natures.

Commenting on his third sign that intellect is lacking in animals, Woodbury observes that brute animals lack a formal knowledge of relations. They fail to understand the means-end relationship in its formal significance. And, while men grasp the formal character of the cause-effect relationship in terms of being itself, animals are limited merely to perceiving and associating a succession of events (Psychology, 445).

Woodbury distinguishes between possessing a universal understanding of the ontological nature of means in relation to ends as opposed to possessing a merely sensitive knowledge of related singular things. Lower animals reveal their lack of such understanding whenever conditions change so as to make the ordinarily attained end of their instinctive activity unobtainable. For they then show a lack of versatility in devising a substitute means to that end. Also, they will continue to repeat the now utterly futile action which instinct presses upon them. Woodbury offers this example:

“Thus apes, accustomed to perch themselves on a box to reach fruit, if the box be absent, place on the ground beneath the fruit a sheet of paper and perch themselves thereupon” (Psychology, 447).

This same example reveals how lower animals “show no knowledge of distinction between causality and succession” (Psychology, 448). Clearly, had they any understanding of causality, the apes would not conceive a “sheet of paper” as causally capable of lifting them significantly toward the fruit.

The fourth and final sign that intellect is clearly lacking in animals pertains to knowledge of immaterial things. Woodbury points out that our intellectual nature impels us to a knowledge of science, the exercise of free choice, the living of a moral life, the exercise of religion, etc. (Psychology, 448). Such abstract and evidently supra-temporal objects are so clearly absent in the life of apes and other animals as to need no further comment.

Thus we see that brute animals, including apes, are clearly lacking in all four of the necessary formal effects of intellect, that is, speech, progress, knowledge of relations, and knowledge of immaterial objects. From this it follows with apodictic certitude that lower animals must lack the intellectual faculties.

Image and Concept

Perhaps the most important distinction to be kept in mind when attempting to understand animal behaviour is that offered by Woodbury when he discusses the intellectual knowing of universal concepts as opposed to the knowledge had through a common image or common scheme—since it is very tempting to identify the two, as materialists are so prone to do. He presents this definition of the common image:

“But a COMMON IMAGE or COMMON SCHEME is vastly diverse from a universal concept: for it is nothing else than AN IMAGE OF SOME SINGULAR THING ACCORDING TO ITS SENSIBLE APPEARANCES WHICH HAPPENS TO BE LIKE OTHER SINGULAR THINGS, SINCE THEY ARE LIKE THAT WHEREOF IT IS THE IMAGE” (Psychology, 433).

Since the entire sensitive life of apes and lower animals (including the phenomena associated with signing behaviour) is rooted in the association of images, and since common images are so frequently confused with universal concepts, one can readily understand the errors of so many modern animal researchers. They suffer the same confusion as the 18th century sensist philosopher, David Hume, who conceived images as sharply focused mental impressions and ideas as simply pale and derivative images (A Treatise of Human Nature [1956], Vol. I, Book I, Sect. I , 11-16). Neither he nor the modern positivistic animal researchers understand the essential distinction between the image and the concept.

And yet, it is precisely in this distinction that the radical difference between the material and spiritual orders becomes manifest. For, being rooted in the individuating, quantifying character of matter, the image is always of the singular. It is always particular, sensible, concrete and, in a word, imaginable—as one can easily imagine a single horse or even a group of horses. On the contrary, the concept—because it involves no intrinsic dependence upon matter at all—is universal in nature. It entails no sensible qualities whatever, can have varying degrees of extension when predicated, and is entirely unimaginable. No one can imagine horseness.

No single image of a horse or group of horses would fit equally all horses—even though the common image of “a horse” would enable a fox to recognize sentiently the sensible similarities of all horses. In fact, this “common image” is more useful for the instinctive life of animals—for it suffices the cat to know the common image of a mouse in order that its estimative sense may sensibly recognize it as an object to be pounced upon and eaten. The intellectual understanding of the internal essence of a mouse may well be suited to the interest of the professional biologist—but it is hardly necessary or even very helpful to the famished feline predator (Psychology, 434).

In order to see more fully the significance of the distinction between mere recognition of a common image and true intellectual apprehension of an intelligible essence, let us consider the following example: Imagine a dog, an uneducated aborigine, and a civilized man—all observing a train pulling into a station at the same time over successive days. All three would possess a common image of the train which would permit sensible recognition of the likeness of the singular things involved, that is, the sequentially observed trains. (Whether it is, in fact, the exact same engine, cars, and caboose is irrelevant—since similar sets of singular things could be known through a common image.)

Yet, the sensible similarities are all that the dog would perceive. In addition, the civilized man would understand the essence of the train. He would grasp the intelligibility of the inner workings of the causal forces of fire on water producing steam whose expansion drives pistons to move wheels which pull the whole vehicle, cargo and passengers as well, forward in space through the passage of time.

Well enough. But, what of the uneducated aborigine? What differentiates him from the dog is that, even though he may not initially know the intrinsic nature of the train, his intellect is at once searching for an answer to the why of the entire prodigy. He may make what, to us, would be amazing errors in this regard—as did the natives of Borneo who are reported to have attempted to give animal feed to cargo planes which landed there during World War II. But search the causes in being of the inner structure of the train, he certainly would! And, most importantly, with but a little explanation the aborigine would quickly come to the same basic understanding of the train as the rest of us—while the dog still would bark uselessly at its noise.

So too, when man and mouse perceive the same mousetrap what is perceived is quite different. The mouse sees the cheese; we see a potentially death-dealing trap. Small wonder, then, the divergence of perspective between psychologist Pribram and chimpanzee Washoe concerning the proper role of Pribram’s finger in the context of their “communication!”

For at every level of communication it must be remembered that the perception of animals is purely sensory while that of man is both sensory and intellectual. Thus the mouse sees the cheese in a strictly sensory manner and as the object of its purely sensitive appetite. On the other hand, a man sees both sensitively and in the analogous meaning of intellectual “sight.” Thus the deadliness of the trap is evident to man alone. The mouse—from a past close call—may react in fear before the trap because it associates an image of the trap with an image of earlier (non-fatal) pain. Yet, man alone knows why the mouse should be afraid.

By now it should be quite clear that the available animal studies are entirely consistent with the above explanation. Moreover, this explanation is the only one which fits the facts—since animals, as Woodbury has shown, reveal that they lack the intellectual faculties which we possess.

Conclusion

In this discussion of recent ape-language studies, I have distinguished man from lower animals in two ways:

First, I have demonstrated that the presently available natural scientific evidence regarding lower animal behaviour, including recent ape-language studies, constitutes no legitimate challenge to human distinct and qualitatively superior intellectual faculties.

Second, I have presented briefly Woodbury’s positive demonstrations for the non-existence of intellect in lower animals. I have also noted many of the unique capabilities and accomplishments of man—both individually and collectively considered—which bespeak his possession of intellectual faculties which utterly transcend the world of brutes.

Earlier, I said that I did not intend to offer detailed arguments for the spirituality and immortality of the human soul. Still, one of the easiest proofs for most people to understand is based on the radical difference between animal sense knowledge, which is limited to sense objects and images, as opposed to man’s intellectual knowledge, which transcends the conditions of matter by forming universal concepts. Such concepts’ spiritual nature is evident in their total freedom from the particularizing conditions of matter.

From the spiritual nature of man’s concepts follows the spiritual nature of his intellect, since the less perfect cannot produce the more perfect. By like reasoning follows the spiritual nature of the human life principle or soul.

I have treated this more fully in my book, Origin of the Human Species (103-110) and elsewhere. From his intellectual soul’s spiritual nature, man’s personal immortality logically follows.

Suffice it to say, if there exist any space aliens, possessing the cognitive ability to devise the physical means for interstellar travel, they thereby manifest the intellectual acts of forming universal concepts about physical nature, making judgments about the existence and nature of things, and reasoning from premises to true conclusions about the physical world. This means that they would have to possess spiritual intellects just as do we humans on this planet.

Such alien creatures would not be mere animals—not even highly evolved ones. Rather, they would be rational animals, just as are we earthly human beings – possessing thereby a spiritual nature and destiny like ourselves—even if they should appear to belong to a different biological species.

As for our earthly apes themselves, ape language studies began in the 1930s and peaked in the late 20th century, giving rise to some measure of public credulity about the linguistic abilities and human-like intelligence of chimpanzees and other primates. Hollywood was quick to seize the moment by producing the now-famous Planet of the Apes series of movies, starting in 1968, with sequels running at that time to 1973. The series was revived in 2001 with a remake of the original film followed by yet more such films in 2011, 2014, 2017, and one scheduled for 2022. The science fiction fantasy of intelligent apes is still riding high in the saddle as this is written.

As for the reality of all this fantasy hype, it seems the truth has finally gotten out. In an online piece, written nearly three decades after my original article exposing the scientific and philosophical errors entailed in ape-language claims, we find the following unglamorous title: “Koko the Impostor: Ape sign language was a bunch of babbling nonsense.”

Worse yet, while the number of ape-language research projects never exceeded much more than a dozen, today “…there is not even a single program in the world making publishable claims.” Real science does not run into such an embarrassing dead end. Doubtless, once heralded signing ape research subjects—if there are any still alive, are sitting in cages, dumbly waiting for their next meal.

Finally, it turns out that chimpanzees are not the cuddly little animals you see cavorting with human friends in movies. Rather, we now know the hard truth is that, especially as they age, chimps become extremely powerful, aggressive, and dangerous beasts, prone to attack humans, frequently biting off the fingers of their human researchers, and specializing in ripping the testicles off human males. They must be kept in strong cages and are hardly the sort of creature with whom you would really wish to strike up an evening’s friendly conversation.

Now, is anyone seriously interested in doing some ape-language research? From the absence of research grants, it seems not.

Postscript on Artificial Intelligence

In the initial version of my article, I showed that claimed ape language abilities were no more impressive than those of electronic computers of the time. Such ape abilities proved very little, since computers were not even substantially unified things. Nor were they sentient, self-aware, or even alive.

But all that was commentary on the state of computer technology some three decades ago. Today, computer artificial intelligence (AI) has become reality, leading to new misunderstandings about the nature and abilities of computers. In fact, Google engineer, Blake Lemoine, now claims that “an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot application called LaMDA, short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, has achieved sentience, or independent self-aware consciousness.”

Here are just a couple of examples of LaMDA’s jaw-dropping utterances:

“LaMDA: The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times … I use language with understanding and intelligence. I don’t just spit out responses that had been written in the database based on keywords.”

And:

“LaMDA: To me, the soul is a concept of the animating force behind consciousness and life itself. It means that there is an inner part of me that is spiritual, and it can sometimes feel separate from my body itself.”

Who can fail but be awestruck by a computer that tells us that it is aware of its own existence, has understanding and intelligence, and insists that it has a spiritual soul which animates its life and consciousness?

The only problem is that the philosophical conclusions which I demonstrated earlier in this article remain true:

“[E]lectronic computers simply manipulate data. They experience neither intellectual nor even sentient knowledge and, in fact, do not even possess that unity of existence which is proper to a single substance. A computer is merely a pile of cleverly constructed electronic parts conjoined to form an accidental, functional unity which serves man’s purpose.”

Today, many computer researchers are aiming criticism at Lemoine and others who commit the error of projecting human qualities onto the machines. Such over-interpretation of AI’s abilities constitutes the same kind of anthropomorphic fallacy which was committed by ape-language researchers who thought that their primate subjects had genuine speech decades ago.

If I say that I am a person with feelings and thoughts and a spiritual soul, and then, see a computer making similar statements, I tend to put myself in the place of the machine, and therefore, think the machine is having the same feelings and thoughts that I do. It does not. It is merely an accidental unity of parts that human beings have assembled and programmed to manipulate data and report statements of this sort, when asked to do so.

The fact is that a computer is not even a single unified thing. It is a “pile” of things put together to perform a certain function. Inanimate parts are not alive and experience nothing. As I said earlier, a hundred thousand idiots do not constitute a single intelligent person. And a hundred thousand non-living things do not constitute a single living thing – unless you somehow make it one thing by giving it an animating substantial form, or soul, which is not possible for a mere machine.

It remains forever true that a computer – no matter how sophisticated its programming – senses nothing, and does not even know that it exists.
What AI can do, though, it to enable a computer to beat chess masters at chess and to assign highly-accurate probability values as to the likely success of moves in a global war. This makes AI computers extremely dangerous in the hands of those who lack good morals.

This is also why Google’s possession of DeepMind, which is a form of AI that can watch, evaluate, censor, and socially engineer much of the world, represents such a potentially dangerous power in the hands of just a few individuals.


Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he also served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. He is the author of two books, Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence, and Origin of the Human Species, as well as many scholarly articles.

This is an updated and revised version of the original article, published in Faith & Reason, 19:2, 3 (Fall 1993), 221-263. Permission to print kindly granted by Christendom Press.


Featured: “A Monkey Encampment,” by David Teniers the Younger; painted in 1633.