The End Of Christianity: An Interview With Chantal Delsol

Chantal Delsol is a philosopher and writer. A Catholic, conservative-liberal and European federalist, she is one of the most brilliant French intellectuals of our era. A member of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques, she is a professor at the University of Marne-la-Vallée, where she created and directed the Hannah Arendt Institute, specializing in East-West relations. She is the author of some forty works of political philosophy, including Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World, Le principe de subsidiarité (1993), L’identité de l’Europe (ed., 2010), L’âge du renoncement (2011), Populismes : les demeurés de l’histoire (2015) and Le Crépuscule de l’Universel (2020). We interviewed her, with French historian Arnaud Imatz, on the occasion of the publication of her latest book, La fin de la chrétienté (2021).


Arnaud Imatz (A.I.): The question of the future of Christianity and Judeo-Christian civilization has been haunting people for at least two centuries. Hegel, Nietzsche, Heine, to name but a few, announced the “death of God.” Kant wished for a religion that was only “moral.” The secularist Michelet prophesied the decline of Christianity. Durkheim, Renan and so many others, atheists or agnostics, proclaimed the inevitability of dechristianization. Comte advocated a religious positivism. Marx claimed that religion is the opium of the people. Donoso Cortes or Christopher Dawson professed, on the contrary, that a society that has lost its religion sooner or later loses its culture. Péguy observed that we have passed from the Christian age to the modern age. More recently, the theoretician of the New Right, Alain de Benoist, welcomed the return of paganism; Marcel Gauchet predicted the end of the religious organization of the world and Michel Onfray predicted the end of Judeo-Christian civilization. We cab keep multiplying the examples.

In your case, you have published a work with the evocative and resounding title, La fin de la Chrétienté (The End of Christianity), with the Cerf, an old Parisian publishing house, founded by the Dominicans nearly a century ago. As a Catholic philosopher and liberal-conservative, you have revived and nourished the debate remarkably well. Christianity, you explain, has reached the end of its agony. And you immediately specify that you are referring to Christianity as a civilization and not to Christianity as a religion. Why this pessimistic diagnosis at the beginning of the 21st century?

Chantal Delsol (Ch.D.): First of all, to confirm what you say, yes, it is Christianity as a civilization influenced and governed by the morals and laws of Christianity, and not Christianity as a religion. Christianity is not at all, I believe, fading away or dying, but it is its control of societies, its civilization, that is collapsing. I do not believe my diagnosis is pessimistic. My look is dispassionate. I begin by observing the incredible upheaval of morals. These reveal the beliefs and concretize them. From the moment when it is no longer Christian dogmas that decide on morals (divorce, abortion, etc.); from the moment when it is multicolored ethics committees that decide, Christianity has disappeared.

Chantal Delsol.

A.I.: The Catholic Church continues to question the Christian cultural universe, implicitly showing that it is ashamed of Christianity. The declarations of Pope Francis are unequivocal in this respect. Francis even seems to want to be the representative of a post-Christian humanitarian morality, almost without transcendence, in which the afterlife and eternal salvation come to occupy a residual place. How and why has the Church as an institution, and more generally all Christian thought, renounced Christianity?

Ch.D.: You are really asking two very different questions.

First: Pope Francis—I don’t believe that he has renounced transcendence, but he is influenced by the times, which is not uncommon historically for Jesuits, who are always under the seduction of fashions and atmospheres. In 17th century China, they were the ones who bordered on heterodoxy by osmosis with the Chinese wisdoms. In the middle of the 20th century, they were the ones who “went along with communism” and so on. Francis is fascinated by ecological religion and by post-Christian humanitarianism.

The second question—that the Church as an institution and Christian thought have given up on Christianity because there is no other way; because no Western society accepts to live under the morals and laws of Christianity anymore. In the few countries that remain Christian by name, such as Poland, the Church is so radical and rigid that it is losing its last supporters. I can see it before my very eyes, live.

A.I.: In the analysis and description of the evolution of the Church, there are two main currents. For some, since the 14th century or the Revolution of 1789, or even the Syllabus of Pius IX (1864) or Vatican II (1965), the Catholic Church has only adapted; it has tried more or less to act with the times; and this attitude leads it inexorably towards the abyss. For others, on the contrary, the Catholic Church has always fought against modernity; it has been frozen in power with clericalism and has never been resolutely open to the reality of the world. For the latter, the Christian God can be reborn in Europe through individual mysticism, or in a communal form, but only if the Catholic Church accepts to reform itself and to evolve, in particular on sexuality. In your opinion, is the present Church in the process of becoming “unworldly?” Or, under the guise of becoming “unworldly,” is it in the process of becoming more worldly?

Ch.D.: In fact, we observe both these two movements which exist at one and the same time, contradicting each other and giving rise, over the last two centuries, to sometimes severe quarrels between Christians. I believe that there is a real, substantial contradiction between modernity and Catholicism. The latter cannot accept freedom of conscience, nor individualism. It is holistic by its very nature. The latest developments in the pedophilia cases tragically describe the Church’s obligation to obey an age that is repugnant to it: to put the individual before the institution; that is, to become more or less individualistic. Only Protestantism is in tune with modernity. Today the tendencies within the Catholic Church are plural. Some are so worldly that they are Protestant. Others defend the old world to the hilt (I gave a conference the other day with a priest who sees the only solution in a return to the Syllabus). But one thing is certain: most clerics are uneasy, worried, tormented, and have no idea where they are heading.

A.I.: The near-coincidence of the dates of the extinction of the Marxist model and the end of Christianity is striking. Is it only fortuitous or accidental?

Ch.D.: Marxism was a response, in the 19th century, to the collapse of Christianity. It takes a lot of the Christian model and distorts it. It is part of the earthly utopias, present since the French revolution, which replace Salvation by salvation, in immanence and impatience. It did not last, because of its intrinsic madness. When it collapsed in 1989, Christianity simply reached the end of its long process of collapse (two centuries). The two extinctions are not comparable in terms of time and cannot be said to coincide: communism is a regime, Christianity a civilization, which is understood in the very long term.

A.I.: Speaking of the Western churches, my master and friend, the Calvinist historian Pierre Chaunu, drew up, as early as 1975, a damning observation in his book, De l’histoire à la prospective: “The intellectual and spiritual mediocrity of the leaders in place in the Western churches at the beginning of the 1970s is distressing. An important part of the clergy of France constitutes a social, intellectual, moral and spiritual underclass; from the tradition of the Church, this group has often retained only clericalism, intolerance and fanaticism. These men reject a heritage that crushes them because they are intellectually incapable of understanding it and spiritually incapable of living it.” Has the mediocrity of a good part of the clergy and probably even more of the hierarchs of the Church been a major factor in the acceleration of this decay?

Ch.D.: Chaunu is right, here as in many points. It must be very difficult for a Church to give itself a clergy. Today, frequenting many institutions held by the clergy and being active in these institutions, I am struck among our clergy by a kind of immobility and stupor (just as we have seen others), by an incredible authoritarianism, as if they were the only ones who had to rule the land and the sea, and judgmental (governance is everywhere opaque, obscure), and by a sick taste for honors, for positions (I see it directly at the Institute where I have a front row seat [[1] The Institut de France comprises five academies, including the Académie des sciences morales et politiques]). All this is sad.

I believe that it is very difficult to be a cleric today, in the midst of all these contrary winds. As for what is happening in the countries that are still clerical, like Poland where I spend a lot of time, it is frightening: the clerics are from another age, living richly on the goods of the Church, imposing on the faithful moral behaviors that are unimaginable today, brandishing from the top of their authority statements that are closer to witchcraft than to Christianity (“vaccines are made with embryos”). The Church here and elsewhere is in bad health. But was it ever healthy?

A.I.: The crisis of the various Protestant churches seems to be just as dramatic, if not more so, than that of the Catholic Church. Is this proof that the problem goes beyond Catholicism alone and that it is rather a question of the abandonment or collapse [lasting or temporary (?)] of religious belief in the West?

Ch.D.: It depends on which Protestantism you are talking about. Evangelical churches are doing well and spreading all over the world. One has the impression that the religion of our fathers only survives in those branches that have completely adapted to modern times: individualism, retractable personal choice, freedom of movement, adaptability of doctrine to temperaments. Some would say that it is not a religion at all anymore. But that is the way it is. The wind of modernity is stronger than anything else; you adapt to it or you die.

A.I.: If we distinguish between the Church as an institution and the Church as the mystical body of Christ (which presupposes the solidarity or communion of all Christians with the saints), a handful of believers is all that is needed for the Church to survive. But what would the Catholic Church, whose mission of evangelization is its primary duty, be if it closed in on itself?

Ch.D.: Of course, that is the big question! I believe that we are going to go through a very difficult period, a sort of catacomb period. The main thing for us is not to blow out the flame, to keep the pilot light on. But let’s not delude ourselves: it is very difficult to evangelize today, even though none of us want to use force (if we even could). There can be monks of Thibirine! That is evangelization. In the future, there will undoubtedly be better times.

A.I.: You note that the 21st century is religious, but that it is no longer Christian. You add that humanity, being imperfect and mortal, will always give itself religions, wisdoms and morals; that neither civilization nor morality will stop with Christianity. The void left by Christianity will be partly filled by multiple paganisms. But being a pagan also means praying. Because the real ancient pagans prayed, which is not at all the case today. An Italian friend of mine used to say, mocking his compatriots in the 1980s, “First they worshipped the Madonna. Then, when they stopped believing in her, they started worshipping the Duce. And today they worship the bumpers of their cars.” The same people now adore their touch-screen tablets. But of course they don’t pray to their tablets, any more than they pray to Mother Earth or Gaia. Can we really call these postmodern zombies pagans or neo-pagans?

Ch.D.: Yes, I think so. Of course, they are materialists! But at the same time, they reinvest esoteric, pantheistic/ecological beliefs, and all forms of pseudo magic. They are superstitious; they throw themselves on books talking about life after death; they believe in reincarnation. Well, obviously they love their smartphones; but they cling beyond the smartphone to all sorts of crazy credulities. They are humans, you know, despite their materialism! And like all humans, they are aware of evil and death.

A.I.: In La fin de la chrétienté, you do not say anything about the expansion of Islam in Europe and the West. Here again, two points of view clash. On the one hand, there are those who, like the majority of Western journalists, philosophers and politicians, have been repeating ad nauseam for forty years that this is a fantasy, that Islam is plural and diverse, that Western women will not accept to submit to Sharia norms and that human rights are so attractive to Muslims that sooner or later they will adapt. They are betting on a “modernized, reformed, open, contextualized, secularized, democratized Islam,” compatible with the Western model.

But on the other hand, there are those who take Islam seriously, alarmists, essayists and realist historians, who are generally insulted, like Bat Ye’or, Serafin Fanjul, Dario Fernández Morera, Rafael Sánchez Saus, etc., or who are simply ignored, like the Coptic Christian Raymond Ibrahim, author of L’épée et le cimeterre (2021). That they are wrong to point out that there have been “fourteen centuries of war between Islam and the West;” that Islamic teachings are the antithesis of the Western model; that the religious fervor of radical Muslims, today’s Islamists, overlaps exactly with ancestral Islamic dogmas; that Western reactions are age-old self-defense mechanisms; and finally, that current rivalries are a reflection of a very ancient existential struggle. What do you think about this?

Ch.D.: I agree that there is a very old existential struggle, as you say. And in this sense, there will be, for a long time, a will on the part of Islam to annihilate the West; firstly, because the Arab-Muslim countries cannot manage to govern themselves economically or politically (except to be rentiers); and this is humiliating for them; secondly, because the men of this culture are born with an ontological and undeserved superiority, that of being male and of being able to tyrannize women; and this is a power too enviable to be dispensed with so easily. That’s why we’re not done with the attacks and other problems. However, there is indeed a part of Islam that accepts modernity, especially under the leadership of educated women, it must be said (and this is quite understandable). The only question is: in a case of civil war, will moderate Islam join fundamentalist Islam by historical complicity, or will it join the modern West by cultural complicity?

A.I.: The Gospels say: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21 and Mark 12:17), that religion and politics must not be confused. But in the face of Islamic terrorism, the indirect support it receives from the Islamo-leftists and the new challenges of violence and conflict at the infra-state level, I cannot help but think of the words, more than ever relevant, that your teacher Julien Freund addressed to the socialist-pacifist Jean Hyppolite, during his thesis defense: “Listen, Mr. Hyppolite… you think that you are the one who designates the enemy, like all pacifists. As long as we don’t want enemies, we won’t have any, you reason. But it is the enemy who designates you. And if he wants you to be his enemy, you can make the most beautiful protestations of friendship. As long as he wants you to be his enemy, you are. And he will even prevent you from cultivating your garden.” Can Catholics, whose “belief has become marginal,” do without power and force without condemning themselves and their religion to disappear along with Christianity?

Ch.D.: The Marxists, represented at the time by Jean Hyppolite, have disappeared. But the warnings of Julien Freund are still valid in another context! Yes, fundamentalist Islam represents for us an enemy, since it claims to be our enemy—and that is what counts. We are wrong to virtuously avert our eyes by claiming that since we love everyone, we have no enemy.

A.I.: You write, incidentally, that corporate fascism (what the political scientist Paul Gottfried calls “Catholic fascism” in his Fascism: The Career of a Concept), “was the mad hope of preserving Christianity.” But why take up this polemical concept, which only partially captures the reality of Catholic authoritarian regimes (Austria, Portugal, Spain) in twentieth-century Europe? The real fascism, the Italian one, that of Gentile and Mussolini, was part of the Hegelian tradition and the anti-Catholic one of the Risorgimento.

To take only the example of Spain, the history of the origins and development of the Civil War, and later of Francoism, cannot be limited to a simple “reaction” or desire to preserve Catholic Spain. The great intellectual figures of the 1920s and 1930s, the liberals, the founding fathers of the Spanish Republic, Ortega y Gasset, Marañon Perez de Ayala, and even the heterodox Catholic Unamuno, were all in favor of the military uprising of 1936 (after the failure of the socialist-Marxist uprising of 1934) and rallied to the “national camp”. But all were frankly hostile to fascism, agnostic or moderately Catholic.

In the national camp, only the Carlist (monarchist-traditionalist) movement, which was in a very small minority, wished to restore Spanish Catholicism in its entirety; it was anti-modern and as opposed to fascism as to liberalism. All the other parties, whose militants and sympathizers were in the national camp, monarchist-liberals, democrat-liberals of the Confederation of the Right (CEDA), republican-agrarians, radicals and republicans of the right and center, were nourished by agnostics or moderate Catholics who wanted to adapt tradition to modernity. Even the Falange, a marginal party in 1936, most frequently accused of being fascist, advocated a synthesis of tradition and modernity. The only common denominator of these parties was the opposition to the social-Marxist or anarchist revolution and the defense of national unity. The issue was more that of political and social survival than that of the preservation of Christianity.

The Church, persecuted in the Populist Front camp and restored by Francoism, was above all concerned with its independence, as evidenced by its opposition to Franco from the 1960s onwards. So why use the generic, idle term “fascism,” which we know was inherited from the propaganda of the Comintern, and which now serves only to insult and stigmatize the adversary?

Ch.D.: I don’t think that the term “fascism” is idle or a propaganda term. In my book on the political ideas of the 20th century, I preferred the term “fascism-corporatism;” and I had to change publishers because the first one absolutely wanted to include fascism and Nazism in the same chapter. I know that in fascism-corporatism there were many different currents of thought. Nevertheless, one cannot deny the real importance of a will to re-establish Christianity, this time more firmly and assuredly. This is true in Western Europe, especially for Salazarism and also for Franco. I worked a lot in Central Europe on these regimes and there it was even more obvious.

A.I.: The great majority of Catholics today say that power and conquest disgusts them. You say that only interiority counts, that we must accept to be a meager residual flock, mute witnesses, that we must educate by example, and walk towards the promise of the Gospel. But historically, could Christianity have existed and could Christianity, the “universal religion,” have gone beyond the stage of an obscure sect without the persuasive force of the legions of soldiers of Christ? Doesn’t the decline of the Church and the “Amishization” of Catholics risk condemning them to share the fate of marginal sects without influence on the world? What can the Catholic Church be without Christianity?

Ch.D.: If overcoming the dark sect can only be done by force and conquest, I prefer to remain a dark sect. Being a woman and having raised six children, I know that the greatest forces, those of love, are hidden. If someone wants to try to make me believe that the Church is different, that it needs legions to make Christianity a universal religion, then I will answer that I do not want a universal religion. I only believe in legions of angels.


Featured image: “L’église de la Sorbonne en ruine (Church of the Sorbonne in Ruins),” by Hubert Robert, painted ca. 1800.

The Left-Right Hacks Of The Legacy Media

Readers may have seen the heated argument between Laure Adler and Franz Olivier Giesbert on TV. The lady journalist, a peroxide blonde with sausage lips and tightened skin, reproached FOG for having written in his latest book, Histoire intime de la Vème République (Intimate History of the Fifth Republic) that on his way to the Saint-Charles train station via the Cannebière, he could no longer hear French spoken. And then… My God! What drama! Horresco referens! The cries of outrage by the lady journalist rendered Giesbert immobile. FOG, cornered, defended himself for being a white man and for being, on the contrary, cosmopolitan. “You are white and proud of it. There are not enough white people around you,” concluded Mrs. Adler, who then came to the conclusion that her colleague’s remarks were racist, which left him speechless.

Now I’m not one to comment on the skits flashing on cathode-ray screens, but the head-on clash of these two journalists was to me a hilarious episode with a calamitous moral and laughable conclusions, revealing what is wrong in France for both of them: the disconnect of the elites and the consequences of the real world finally made visible.

Being familiar with Christophe Guilluy, I could only think back to his analyses in Fractures françaises (French Fractures), where he notes the irreparable and final separation of the cities where the darling children of globalism live and those who live in the peripheries. The former despise the latter politically and culturally and loathe and reject their electoral options and political opinions. They are the “In” and “bottom up” people; and on the other hand, there are the penniless, the sweaty, the “down.” The first ones are rootless, post-national, from everywhere and nowhere; while the other ones, rooted and religious, represent the moldy, Petainist, reactive, eternally anti-Semitic France. We know how it goes. In this story, very nearly a farce, these two hacks of the left and center-right journalism are retailers who buy from the same wholesaler, the other side of the same coin. Have a look.

Let’s start with Franz Olivier Giesbert, a Marseille native at heart, who feels at home in this cosmopolitan city and who says so loud and clear. To be a cosmopolitan like Paul Morand, to stay at the Ritz and the Danieli in Venice, to travel the length and breadth of Europe, to be a great performer at Savile Row and Times Square, I can understand that. To be a great European like Ernst Jünger, handling French as well as German, conscious of a concert of nations, I am can go along with that—but a cosmopolitanism which is the prerogative of an elite, sure of being heir to its own civilization, like Valéry, Nietzsche, Zweig, Fumaroli.

The current cosmopolitans, thus modern and not inhabited by the old world, make the mistake of applying as a universal principle their own bourgeois life to the whole world, of maintaining that there is no nation, of subscribing to miscegenation and diversity for the people below, while never living within the diversity they cherish, still feeling protected by their areas of residence and having renounced civilization in favor of a living-together, based on human rights, relativism and consumerism.

Giesbert does not understand that the problem lies in the shift from quality to quantity. There is strength in numbers. One goes from a conversation of literates who speak French in Vienna to a suburban RER station in Clichy la Garenne. What is seen as the diplomacy of the spirit now becomes, by its application in general law, a mixing of cultures stupidly qualified as wealth. Living together does not work because people from different countries, coming in too large numbers, poor, concentrated in certain places, no longer seek to assimilate into France, into the French, into French work. Everything has been done to prevent them from doing so.

One must read Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities to see that the American situation is not so far from what FOG is experiencing in Marseille. Diasporas live together, speak their dialect, their language, and end up hating each other. Giesbert is Sherman MacCoy who discovers reality: multiculturalism is cosmopolitanism from below, for the masses and for the poor, which does not produce anything happy. The Lebaneseization of our country is the symptom of an archipelago which, when these islands come together, will, alas, set off fireworks.

Giesbert’s reaction reminds me of Bossuet’s cult phrase “God laughs at men who deplore the consequences while they cherish the causes.” Giesbert, the defender of liberalism, of laissez-faire, supporter of Maastrichtian Europeanism, sometimes Mitterrandian, sometimes Chiracian, sometimes Sarkozist, is caught in the contradictions of his own ideology. No, France is not McDonald’s; people do not come as they are. No, it is not enough to work and respect the laws to make a nation. This is already the vice of liberalism, which prefers belonging to labor capital over and above cultural belonging. The great replacement is a fact, but it needs a genitive, as we say in Latin, to be the great replacement of France from below by the immigration of work that has become that of settlement. In the logic of liberalism, a lawyer does not have to be replaced by a Kosovar or Congolese lawyer, but a plasterer, a sushi delivery man, and yes, a security guard. Perhaps, Mr. Giesbert realizes in his old age what is happening, like the sad sire, Onfray, supporter of Zemmour, like our dear Jean-Marie Rouart, former Freemason turned Catholic, in a successful book, Ce pays des hommes sans Dieu (This Land of Men without God).

It is precisely because Franz-Olivier Giesbert is beginning to understand that Laure Adler, judge and jury, felt obliged to point out his curious, tendentious and dangerous remarks. She is the illustration of what has become of the sixty-eight year-old Left. I can’t help but think of that acidic book by Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, in which he describes Leonard Bernstein, cashmere sweater over his shoulders, raising his fist in the air when he meets a Black Panther activist. This bourgeois Left has taken power through a cultural coup d’état (just as it did in 1789), by taking over the subsidized positions in culture, radio, newspapers, universities, national education, and the European Parliament. Mrs. Adler, fifty years of political and intellectual journalism on France culture, has been the red carpet of all the intellectualism of the last decades, selling us autistic feminism, hysterical anti-racism, blissful Europeanism, the culture of the margins, and deconstruction by those crazy people from Derrida, Althusser and Co.

For Ms. Adler, being offended by the fact that French is no longer spoken in France is racist. What!? Any country that wants to survive can only do so through a people, a land, a language. The self-righteousness of a bourgeoisie so outdated, outraged in front of reality, speaks volumes about the state of the disconnect. Mrs. Adler reproaches Giesbert for being white and for wanting to surround himself with white people. But does she herself really surround herself with people of diversity? In her milieu, is she not surrounded by people of her own class? Like over at Mediapart, where there is not a single French person of foreign origin but only an assembly of granivores. The only blacks or Arabs that Laure Adler sees are her cleaning lady, her Uber delivery man, the guy who checks her Hermès bag at the entrance to BHV or her looks at her Covid passport. The cynicism of ideas has a face. Tolerance, no-frontierism, crazy anti-racism all have accompanied liberalism’s own desire to see Mohamed Charkaoui’s grandson, a plasterer who arrived in 1975, become a parcel deliveryman. A drift of the capitalism of connivance.

Since the revolution eats its children and an abundance of rulers is detrimental, Mrs. Adler understands that it was necessary, at her age, to reinvent herself. One would almost have thought that Mitterrand had come back. But here she is, subscribing to Wokism to stay in the game and to survive on TV, where everything is understood in terms of skin color, oppression and minorities.

On the Left, she adheres to the most ridiculous anti-racism, but she also subscribes to the long speech of the neoliberal candidate Macron in Marseille in 2017, who saw in the Phocaean city Ghanaians, Moroccans, Algerians, Congolese, Italians, Portuguese, Turks, Brazilians and tutti quanti, but not a single French person of foreign origin. The irony is that this Marxist Left, fifty years on, like a Dumas novel, has gone from the Mao scarf to the Rotary Club. It is Goupil that loathes the Yellow Vests, the con Bandit, agent of the Americans in the European Union, old Glucksmann who supported the war in Iraq.

That the media hacks of power tear each other apart is self-evident; that they do so in public can be embarrassing. But it reveals a certainty: fools ever glory in what should shame them—it is the height of foolishness.


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.


Featured image: “The Pig-faced Woman and the Spanish Mule” Caricature by George Cruikshank, published 21 March 1815.

Against the West: Exiting The Liberal-Libertarian Empire

We are so very pleased to provide this translation of the Prologue to the recent book by Jesús Sebastián-Lorente, entitled, Contra Occidente. Salir del imperio liberal-libertario (Against the West: Exiting The Liberal-Libertarian Empire). The Prologue is by Alain de Benoist, the well-known thinker and philosopher of what is known as the New Right.

The subject of the book itself is an intriguing one in that it calls into question the commonly used terms, “the West” and “Europe.” This excerpt comes through the generous courtesy of El Manifesto.


The title of this book, Contra Occidente (Against the West), published by EAS, will undoubtedly surprise some readers, accustomed to thinking that the terms “Europe” and “the West” are more or less synonymous. However, one of this book’s great merits is precisely to demonstrate that these terms, far from being synonyms, refer today to totally opposite realities.

Raymond Abellio observed that “Europe is fixed in space, that is, in geography,” while the West is “mobile.” In fact, “the West” has not stopped traveling and changing direction. Initially, the term referred only to the land of the setting sun (Abendland), as opposed to the land of the rising sun (Morgenland).

From the reign of Diocletian, at the end of the 3rd century AD, the opposition between East and West was reduced to the distinction between the Western Roman Empire (whose capital was Milan, later Ravenna) and the Eastern Roman Empire established in Constantinople. The West and Europe then became permanently and lastingly confused. However, from the 18th century onwards, the adjective “Western” was also used in maritime cartography to refer to the New World, also called the “American system,” as opposed to the “European system” or the “Eastern Hemisphere” (which then included Europe as well as Africa and Asia).

In the interwar period, the West, always assimilated to Europe (e.g., Spengler), was globally opposed to the East, which became, at the same time, an object of fascination (René Guénon) or a counterpoint (Henri Massis). During the Cold War, the West regrouped Western Europe and its Anglo-Saxon allies, England and the United States, to oppose, in this case, the “Eastern bloc” dominated by Soviet Russia. This understanding, which allowed the United States to legitimize its hegemony, survived the fall of the Soviet system, as can be seen in those who always try to mobilize the “Western bloc” against Russia (and also against China).

Today, the West has changed direction once again. Sometimes, it is given a purely economic definition: all developed, modernized, industrialized countries are called “Western,” including Japan and South Korea, as well as Australia, former countries of the East, North America and a part of Latin America. “Ex Oriente lux, ex Occidente luxus,” as the Polish writer Stanislaw Jerzy Lec jocularly put it. The West thus loses all its spatial content to become confused with the notion of modernity. At other times, it is globally opposed to the latest incarnation to date of the furor orientalis in the eyes of Westerners: Islamism. In this vision, an essential fracture opposes the “Judeo-Christian West” to the “Arab-Muslim East.” Since there is no longer a unitary “West,” just as there is no homogeneous “East.” This is a new source of misunderstanding.

But more importantly, above all, the notion of the “West,” as it is understood today, is a geopolitical aberration. Europe belongs to the “land power,” while the United States represents the “sea power.” History, said Carl Schmitt, is first and foremost a history of the struggle between continental powers and maritime powers. Despite all that is repeated in Brussels and Washington, the interests of Europeans and Americans are not convergent, but opposed. As for the notion of the “Christian West,” which for too long has made us forget the universal (and universalist) dimension of the Christian religion, it has lost all meaning since religion has become a private affair and, above all, since the majority of believers are located in the Third World. Europe and the West are, today, totally separated—to the point that defending Europe means, quite often, fighting the West. As it no longer relates to any particular geographical or even cultural area, the word “West” should be abandoned.

Since its conversion to universalism, the West has always considered its specific values as “universal” values, and has since then been legitimized to impose them on the whole world. In the Third World, attempts were first made to make people worship the “true God” (the only one, of course), then to bring “civilization,” “progress,” “democracy,” and, finally, “development” to the Third World. The ideology of human rights does not escape the rule. Although it is historically and geographically perfectly situated, it seeks to reshape the planet in the name of an “abstract man,” a man from everywhere and nowhere. The United States is, naturally, the first champion of this ideology, because, for them, Africans are nothing more than black-skinned Westerners, and Europeans are “Americanizable” populations speaking (provisionally) a foreign language. This explains their disappointments in international politics. The world will only be comprehensible to them when it has been totally Americanized.

It is because of their universalism that Westerners find it so difficult to understand (and admit) otherness. Their deep conviction is that differences between cultures and peoples are transitory, secondary, soluble in folklore, even downright harmful. In other words, they admit the Other only to the extent that they believe they can demonstrate that the Other is “like everyone else;” that is, the Same. The ideal of the society of individuals is a society where all men are interchangeable, substitutable for one another, all equally committed to the compulsive model of happiness through consumption. A certain egalitarianism, which makes equality a synonym for “sameness,” pushes in this same direction. It is another form of racism: in the absence of being able to make those who are different disappear, differences (between peoples and between the sexes) are devalued as illusory or insignificant. Political universalism, the demand for a “right to indifference” and gender ideology converge in this same aspiration to indifferentization, which is, at bottom, nothing more than a “death wish.”


So far, slightly more than 200 books and academic works have been published, in various languages, entirely devoted to the French New Right and to my writings. Their quality is obviously uneven. Favorable or hostile, some are quite serious, or at least scientific in appearance; some are even quite good. However, the truth demands to say that the vast majority are properly miserable.

Reading this infra-literature, one finds that the procedures employed are always the same. The most common method consists of coldly copying what other authors have previously written, without bothering for a moment to investigate whether or not it corresponds to reality. Ten previous books are taken and summarized to make the eleventh. This is how the same factually false information, invented quotations of all kinds, the same amalgamations, the same judgments of intention, travel from one writing to another, as if the indefinitely repeated lies became many truths.

Another common procedure is that of selective reading: the conclusion to be reached is already established beforehand, everything that can serve to prove the thesis is retained, discarding everything that could contradict it. There is also the “anti-historical” or anachronistic method, which does not understand the need to periodize the history of a school of thought that is already more than half a century old: quotations are never dated, which makes it possible to unearth phrases that are forty or fifty years old, while pretending to keep them as contemporary or as representative of what the same author is writing today, as if in half a century his thought had never evolved. In other cases, phrases are cut, mutilated, extracted from their context, or even sent back, not to what this or that author may have said, but to a comment made by a hostile author.

Speculations on the “unsaid” are equally fruitful. Failing to find in an author’s writings what we would like to find there, we try to “decode” his discourse, to “read between the lines.” Rather than being interested in what is actually written, the main concern is to know “from where it is inspired,” in the hope of establishing imaginary connections, fantastic organizational charts that allow us to conclude what the Anglo-Saxons call “guilt by association,” the eternal resource of low-level conspiracy theorists.

In all cases, the underlying idea is that what is written does not correspond to what is really thought, and may even mean the opposite. The idea that an intellectual or theorist would immediately discredit himself by saying something different from what he thinks (in which precisely he differs from the politician) is not even taken into account. The practice of suspicion is widespread. If something is written it is done only for “strategy,” to “make believe that,” to “play into the hands of” this or that. Those who engage in these contortions are, of course, in a better position than anyone else to know what everyone really thinks. And, of course, any denial is taken as confirmation! One can immediately see the policing nature of this way of doing things. The policing of the (supposed) ulterior motives of thought is added to the policing of thought, for whatever one does, one is always guilty. The work of thought is simply ignored.

Another thing that has always struck me is that many foreign authors who have written on the French New Right are obviously incapable of reading French, which at first sight is surprising. At best, they have only been able to have access to a few books published in their language, which is completely insufficient to acquire an overview of the issue. Rather than a major book that has not been translated, they will cite a minor book that has. Otherwise, they are reduced to relying on more or less trusted secondary sources.

Of course, they could try to verify some claims, but apparently that does not seem to suit them. One revealing fact: I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of authors who have written books about my work and who have taken the trouble to contact me, in one way or another, to ask me some questions, to try to clarify some problematic points, etc. The rest obviously had no need, or even any desire, to meet in vivo with the supposed subject of their studies. It is a way of “working” that says a lot about such authors.

This is not how Jesús Sebastián-Lorente works. He works with method, with honesty, with passion. We will see this by reading this book, in which his multiple references to the works of the New Right do not prevent him from expressing personal thought. In general, I agree with everything he writes, with a few exceptions perhaps, but this is just a detail! I am convinced that his book will be a landmark in Spain.


Featured image: “Leaving the Studio,” by William McGregor Paxton, painted in 1912.

On Democracy: A Conversation With Pierre Manent

This month, through the kind courtesy of La Nef magazine, we are so very honored to present this discussion with Pierre Manent, the well-known French political philosopher who of course hardly needs an introduction. Suffice to say that he is the author of very many influential books and articles on the condition and direction of modernity.

Here, Professor Manent speaks with Christophe Geffroy, the editor and publisher of La Nef, on the topic of democracy and Tocqueville, for is was Tocqueville who bets observed democracy and corollary, equality. Tocqueville figures prominently in several of Professor Manent’s books, including, Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy, An Intellectual History of Liberalism, and Democracy Without Nations.


Christophe Geffroy (CG): How can we best summarize Tocqueville’s political analysis of democracy? What definition does he give? What is his contribution, his originality?

Pierre Manent (PM): French political thought in the first half of the 19th century is exceptionally rich. The French Revolution had signified an unprecedented break in the history of Europe. The upheaval suffered, the immense task of reconstruction to be accomplished, all this stirred the hearts and sharpened the minds of all parties. However, it was in the liberal school, taken in the broadest sense, that political reflection was most acute and relevant. Its members accepted the new society as a fact—a fact to be understood and organized politically by founding a representative regime.

Three figures successively dominated the field of political reflection: Benjamin Constant, François Guizot, Alexis de Tocqueville. The first is the most explicit and—I would say—the most naively liberal. He wanted above all to defend, as he says, that “part of human existence which, of necessity, remains individual and independent, and which is by right outside any social competence.” His liberalism is of opposition. Guizot is, in short, the one who opposes. He looks at things from the point of view of the one who governs; he is concerned first of all with the “means of government,” so that the new power, he explains, must know how to discern and draw from the new society.

Pierre Manent. © Benjamin de Diesbach.

And Tocqueville? He perceives, with an acuity that belongs only to him, a new phenomenon that had not escaped his predecessors, but of which he is the first to perceive to what extent it modifies the conditions of human life in all its dimensions. This phenomenon is democracy. An old word, an old notion, an old reality. But now a brand-new reality: Equality, as an idea and as a feeling, and even as a passion, has acquired an unprecedented power over minds and hearts. Once we have understood that this fact is irreversible, we must learn to organize social and political life in such a way as to realize the human vocation in this new social and moral element.

(CG): In what way is Tocqueville a liberal author, who fits into this precise philosophical tradition?

PM: Tocqueville is a liberal. But in his case, the qualifier is not very illuminating. Certainly, he values freedom; he even celebrates it in grandiose terms. Certainly, he accepts the main doctrinal elements of modern liberalism, and first of all what he calls “the just notion of liberty” according to which each man “is born with an equal and imprescriptible right to live independent of his fellow men in all that relates only to himself.” But, at the same time, he vigorously denounces the “individualism” which “draws [each one] unceasingly towards himself alone and threatens to enclose him at last entirely in the solitude of his own heart.”

We can formulate the tension that runs through his thought and his soul in this way: On the one hand, liberalism is just because it places a principle of justice at the basis of the new society, whereas all previous human orders necessarily rested, in one way or another, on force. But on the other hand, it is imperative for him to combat the most serious tendency of a society founded on these principles, which is to divert the members of the society from the concern for the common good and thus to leave the highest faculties of man lying fallow. In terms of the contemporary French debate, one could say that Tocqueville is frankly liberal, but also more republican than liberal.

(CG): Today, Tocqueville is mostly remembered for his book Democracy in America and less for Ancien Regime and the Revolution. What is the contribution of the latter and how can we situate it in relation to the former?

PM: It is a book on the political history of France, very thorough, carefully and admirably written. He prepared and wrote it in the early years of the Second Empire, which was not yet “liberal.” Tocqueville’s outlook is very dark. The coup d’état of Louis-Napoleon, and the regime that was then installed, humiliated Tocqueville and discouraged him. Was France condemned to fail unceasingly at the doors of political freedom? How is it that after a Revolution that brought down the monarchical State, that even made a clean sweep of the society of old orders, and then, this new society found itself to be like the old one, and even more than the old one, under the hand of a State that was still “vertical,” as we would say today?

Tocqueville is very harsh on our Old Regime, but his indictment has little to do with revolutionary diatribes. In some respects, his book is even a “tomb,” in the poetic sense of the word, of the Ancien Régime and its “greatness.” One can read for example: “It will always be regretted that instead of bending this nobility under the empire of laws, [the Revolution] has cut it down and uprooted it. By doing so, it has taken away from the nation a necessary part of its substance and made a wound to liberty that will never heal.” But here is the indictment: “Class division was the crime of the old royalty, and later became its excuse.”

By devitalizing the old institutions that ensured the collaboration of the classes without replacing them with the institutions of political liberty, the monarchy locked everyone into their own condition, thus nourishing the individualism that was the condition of the Revolution and was found, even more virulent, among its major consequences.

CG: For Tocqueville, was the French Revolution part of a movement towards democracy? And what links are there between the revolutionary spirit and the democratic spirit?

PM: This is an essential point. Tocqueville is especially concerned to distinguish the two, which the French are inclined to confuse because of their historical experience: Democracy came for them with the Revolution. This confusion is particularly harmful in France because democrats believe they are obliged to be revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries to be against democracy. Thus, good citizens who should share the same affection for a regime that knows how to combine equality and liberty become irreconcilable political adversaries.

To show that the democratic spirit is essentially distinct from the revolutionary spirit is one of Tocqueville’s principal objects. American democracy provides him with the crucial experience that proves the thesis: The Americans live under an entirely democratic regime—if we except, of course, the institution of slavery in certain southern states—and they know a social and political life that is clearly better regulated than the French. This is because they were “born equal instead of becoming equal.” By a cruel irony that would not, I believe, have surprised Tocqueville too much, the American Democrats of today are inclined to reverse his thesis, and to see in slavery not the anomaly, but the ineradicable root of the American regime.

CG: Why was Tocqueville long forgotten in France, which was not the case in the United States, only to be rediscovered fairly recently and to have become an “indispensable” thinker of any analysis of democracy?

PM: It is undoubtedly because the social and political movement has led the French in the direction from which Tocqueville wished to turn them away. On the one hand, the revolutionary spirit found new motives in the extension of industry, which, in the eyes of socialists, especially Marxists, made a new and more radical revolution inevitable. On the other hand, opposition to democracy became independent of nostalgia for the Old Regime, and found in the new France a powerful resource in the form of nationalism.

One fact strikes me—after 1848, and more and more as we approached the new century, the generous and finely discriminating intelligence that characterized the political thought of the first nineteenth century gave way more and more to a fierce polemic that granted nothing to the adversary. Socialists and nationalists competed, if I may say so, in certainty and implacability. There are always great minds, or at least great talents, but imaginations are narrowed and hearts often shriveled.

Tocqueville returned to the public debate in France, first thanks to Raymond Aron who placed him in the history of social sciences, as one of the great interpreters of modern society alongside Marx, Comte or Weber. Then his star shone at the same time as that of Marx waned—the experience of communist totalitarianism made the idea of the despotic potentialities of equality strikingly relevant.

CG: Our democracies are in crisis, as the record abstention of the last elections confirms. Is Tocqueville a help in understanding this crisis and getting out of it?

PM: The current crisis brings to a climax the tendencies described by Tocqueville. As I said, democracy, as he understands it, is not so much a political regime as a spiritual regime; it is based on an extraordinarily powerful and pervasive affect, namely, the “passion for equality,” combined with the “feeling of similarity.” It is not only proclaimed that all citizens are equal before the law, or that a judge does not take into account the class, the race or the education of the accused when he judges. One wants to remove any mark of inequality or simply of difference in the social body.

The feeling of the similar, the compassion for the “suffering other,” are not only a constitutive part of the feelings of the social man, they form the very atmosphere of the collective life; they give it the tone; they are ordered by the social authority and more and more by the law of politics itself. This social religion certainly has its orthodoxy and its heretics—who would dare contest that men are equal and similar, if not perverse minds, or hearts closed to all humanity?

The consequence of this empire of the similar is that all the differences, natural or acquired, which structure human life—differences of the sexes, of generations, of the contents of life, of the forms of life, of human virtues and vices—all these differences which give human life its form and its meaning, its taste too—well, social religion commands us to refuse to take them into account in our words or our actions, and first of all forbids us to even see them.

Indeed, the real life, ordered by a complex mixture of equality and inequality, of resemblance and difference, is so to speak overlaid by an unreal but obligatory life, where the law commands that we ignore the difference of the sexes, erases the mention of the father, and continuously reforms the language so that this one cannot designate another subject of attribution of what it is to be human in general. They even want to erase the difference between the human species and the animal species. Thus, the democratic religion commands us to live in a humanity without anything human of its own, without form or order, without any other task than to erase any trace of form or order, and finally any trace of meaning.

CG: The pandemic and the often liberticidal measures taken to contain it have shown that our fellow citizens are more attached to their well-being than to their freedom. Is this in line with Tocqueville’s analysis of the nature of democracy?

PM: Compassion is primarily concerned with physical suffering. It is the “pity” of which Rousseau speaks, in which the “animal spectator” identifies with the “suffering animal.” In the absence of a moral education, we limit ourselves to “feeling with” the “sensitive” animal. Together with the progress of medicine, the feeling of the fellow man and compassion have encouraged the construction of these extraordinary “health systems” which are one of the most admirable achievements of modern civilization. Let’s not kid ourselves—we all want to be well cared for!

But the more collective resources and attention are focused on a particular area, the more unbalanced our common life is likely to be. If we only know how to see suffering bodies, and if the only commandment that makes sense to us is to remove or alleviate physical suffering, then we are handing over not only our bodies but our souls to the machinery of prevention and cure. If our societies have become so organized around the concern for health, it is first of all of course that this concern is universally shared, but it is also because other human concerns have withered away. The desire to control everything, which is natural to governments, finds a docile subject among members of society whose imagination and ambition are increasingly narrowed, and who no longer know how to attach themselves to something greater than their “naked lives.”

CG: What role does Tocqueville see for religion in the balance and viability of a democratic society? Does the decline of Christianity in the West threaten democratic vitality?

PM: In a humanity sucked in by the vortex of sameness, transcendent religion, and primarily the Christian religion, introduces difference par excellence. One can think that, at the beginning, it is the desire to bring the transcendent back to us, to domesticate the Most High, that has engaged us in the movement of democratization and homogenization that is reaching its extreme phase today in the West.

If this is the case, the vital prognosis of our civilization is threatened, because how can we revive the concern for transcendence when we are caught in a social and moral movement motivated by the refusal of transcendence? In fact, Christianity itself is today profoundly affected, if not transformed by this rejection. Current Christian preaching tends to be confused with the religion of human likeness. There is a reluctance to take seriously the object of faith. Christianity is deliberately confused with “other religions.”

CG: Do we find in Tocqueville a link between nation and democracy? In other words, for him, can democracy be envisaged anywhere, on any scale and independently of a specific history anchored in a culture and a religion?

PM: Tocqueville’s analyses presuppose the national framework; he speaks of “European nations” or “democratic nations,” but he does not thematize the question of the nation. Tocqueville elaborated his thought before the national question became central to European life. His general approach can, however, enlighten us.

As the progress of democratic equality made European societies more similar, they experienced more keenly their national character, which came to the fore both in their mutual relations and in the relationship of each nation to itself. The internal homogenization was, so to speak, counterbalanced by the ever-increasing value placed on national specificity.

While the different nations were coming closer together in their social form and seemed to be moving towards the same future, each one turned with predilection to its original past. National history became constitutive of the self-consciousness of each to a degree that Europe had never known. The institutions that were directly linked to the national past, the pre-democratic institutions, such as the army or the Church, were able to acquire an unprecedented prestige or role—that of embodying the nation, and possibly providing a point of reference for the rejection of democracy.

Modern democracy has developed within the national framework, and in this sense democracy and national form are closely related. On the other hand, in the nationalist impulse, the nation appears as the synthesis and protector of all those differences that democracy tends to erase, at the risk that these differences serve above all as fuel and pretext for anti-democratic passion.

Today, in North America and in Europe, the democratic movement wants to “do away” with the nation that has nourished and protected it for so long. That is why it is turning with particular aggression against national histories. While an imaginary similarity is imposed on all elements of present life, the past becomes that reserve of differences from which our memory and imagination must be purged.

The nation as it developed in Europe combined the past, the present and the future; it synthesized the three dimensions of time in a way that no political form had been able to do before. Today, the passion for similarity and indistinction between men has reached such a degree of virulence that the present devours both the past and the future: The past because it was so different; the future because it might be very different.


The featured image shows a portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau, painted in 1850.

Long Live the Dead!

The dead, like old coins, are the currency that are out of circulation. Cemeteries, the places where graves enshrine their bones, are the sack of Hades. By the rules of nature inscribed in biology, the dead are replaced by new generations which, one day, will themselves be replaced by a new series, minted by future generations.

This biological rule was applied to the life of human societies by Edmund Burke who, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, defined society as a contract between the dead, the living and the unborn – “a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures.” By saying that the goal of historical writing is to preserve great human deeds from falling into oblivion, the Greek historian Thucydides gave us another insight – memory is the glue with which the past and future are held together. T.S. Eliot was not far from Burke when he wrote:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Hans (Jan) Collaert, Christ and the Robbers, ca. 1570.

To conservatives, the dead are very much alive. Conservatives carry the memory of the dead and their achievements. It is a memory filled with words and ideas of writers, poets, thinkers; with images created by sculptors and painters; and with sounds from composers of music. The words and ideas of the dead are never rendered obsolete or superseded. To the conservative, they resound in the present with the same vitality they had when they were first uttered decades or centuries ago. Homer, Sappho, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Virgil, Dante, and others are as much our contemporaries as they were the contemporaries of those who knew them personally.

Burial sites are a great proof of this; and what they look like is also a reflection of who we were and are. The Pere Lachaise and Montmartre cemeteries in Paris are probably the most famous necropoleis of the Western world. But first and foremost, they are monuments of France’s national history and French greatness. You find there many famous French cultural figures you’ve heard of, or have studied in school. Alfred de Musset, Balzac, Molière, Racine, Abelard and Héloise, several of Napoleon’s marshals, or foreigners, such as Oscar Wilde and Chopin. (On November 1st, lovers of Chopin’s music place a boombox on his grave which plays his compositions.) And, of course, Jim Morrison!

It may sound strange that Italians, who outnumber all Western nations in artistic genius, do not have a cemetery like Pere Lachaise. The reason is of historical – the lack of a central government (which came about only in 19th century with the unification by Garibaldi), and the fact that no single Italian city came to fully dominate others, like Paris did in France – which explains why the bones of famous Italians are scattered all over the country, with several in the Church of Santa Croce and in the cloister in Florence. Dante is in Ravenna. Rafael and the late 17th-century music composer Corelli are in Rome, in the Pantheon with the kings of Italy. Boccaccio is buried in the small Tuscan town of Certaldo. Petrarch lies in the town of Arquà, not far from Padua. Verdi is in Milan; and Garibaldi on the island of Caprera. The dictator Mussolini is in the small town of Predappio, where he was born. Finally, even though the tomb of Julius Caesar does not exist, contemporary Romans lay flowers by his statue in Rome.

Germany, too, consisted of principalities, and the fate of the German dead is like that of the Italians. One would look in vain for a cemetery in Berlin for famous Germans. However, if you are a student of philosophy, you can place a lit candle on the grave of Hegel and his wife, which is right next to Fichte and his wife. Literature students can do the same on Bertolt Brecht’s grave.

Betrand Defehrt, after Andreas Versalius, Anatomical Study – Skeleton. Hand-colored Engraving, ca; 1770.

There are also special cemeteries for kings, such as, the St. Denis Abbey near Paris, or Wawel cathedral in Krakow. Other nations have similar places. And, of course, the Vatican, where the Popes rest.
Yet politics (the existence or non-existence of central government and the dominance of one city over the rest) is not the only factor that has had influence on what, where, and how the dead rest. Walking through cemeteries, we realize how different they are.

The characteristic thing about most American cemeteries is that they look like grass fields with vertical tombstones, between which the maintenance man drives a lawnmower, making it look “good.” Such design goes beyond what we might suspect is a matter of American efficiency that makes maintenance of cemeteries easier. Just like in all aspects of visual arts, there is a significant difference between the Catholic and Protestant mentalities and their respective sense of aesthetics. While simple tombstones reflect Protestant austerity, Neo-Gothic or Classical Greco-Roman styled temples are characteristic of Catholic cemeteries – though Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans (a former French colony), Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, and a few others, mainly in LA and San Francisco, speak the language of Catholic aesthetics in Protestant America.

Here is another detail which one should not bypass. Walking through the cities and towns of Protestant countries, especially in the US, we notice small cemeteries near churches, close to the main streets, something you hardly ever see in Europe, unless you happen to be in the UK. The reason is simple – these churches are or used to be denominational – Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran, Adventist, etc. – and no single cemetery was supposed to belonged to the whole population united by the same confession. The exception to this rule in Catholic countries was the split between the Christian and the Jews who had their own burial places, which since the beginning of the 19th century were situated outside the city limits. As the cities grew and expanded, today they are within the city proper, but still form separate enclaves.

Over a decade ago, my daughter and I flew from Baltimore to Krakow where I was born. We stayed with my friends who happened to live near a cemetery. Each day we would walk through it. What was unusual for us — visitors from the New World — was that there were lots of flowers. It was May and I could not think of any holiday. “Daddy,” my daughter, who was in seventh grade at the time, said, “your people love the dead.”

Rakowicki Cemetery, Krakow, Poland.

“My people” sounded strange, but she was right. We visited several cemeteries in Baltimore as part of her art history education, looking at designs on tombstones, but we did not see any flowers or candles. “My people” love the dead, but it is not just a Polish predilection; and visiting loved ones who passed away is very much alive in other Catholic countries as well. All Saints’ Day is exceptional and most festive. According to historians, the first celebrations of All Saints’ Day took place in the fourth century, around the Feast of the Lemures on May 13th. November 1st, the day we celebrate now, goes back to the seventh century, when Pope Gregory III founded a repository for the relics of all the apostles, martyrs, and saints.

All Saints’ Day is not merely a celebration of the memory of great men and saints. First and foremost, it is a day when we face the dead members of our own families. As we stand by the grave, we experience their painful absence in our lives. The quiet that fills our minds, as we stand there, is their voice that reminds us that we are mortal; that we too, one day, will rest there. We can only hope that we will not be entirely forgotten by our own family; and that at least once a year, someone will visit us to light a candle and lay a chrysanthemum (the flower associated with this day) in memory of us.

Those of us who happen to live in the New World, optimistic and future-oriented, are often oblivious to what cemeteries remind us of – death and the connection to the past. Most cemeteries in big American cities and towns look like they have been deserted for decades. The tombstones stand higgledy-piggledy like scarecrows; the epitaphs badly eroded. It is real-estate, whose inhabitants have no identify. Not many people have visited them for a long time; and over time they have deteriorated. The reason for this is, partly, the mobility of American society; probably unprecedented in world history. In Europe, it is still the case that you die in the same place where you were born; and if you happen to live in a different city, you are close enough to travel to see the family graves.

There is another reason, however. All Saints’ Day, November 1st, like a name day, is part of the Catholic calendar, and because 365 days could not include all the names of the saints, one needed to establish one day to honor them. The practice originated in the Middle Ages, to commemorate the martyrs; and each saint falls on one day of the year. If your name happens to be Patrick, your name day is March 17th. The lavishly celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the US is one of those Catholic imports to Protestant America. However, as the Reformation did away with the cult of the saints, the name day and All Saints’ Day ceased to be celebrated in most Protestant countries as well.

Now that religious differences between Protestant denominations on the one hand and Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox on the other are, at best, a matter of the past, and being Jewish or Christian matters less than ever before, it is not religious zeal that makes cemeteries look different. It is our perception of life and death. In his essay “Modernity on Endless Trial,” Leszek Kolakowski put his finger on the problem in a way characteristic of his style of thinking:

“The taboo regarding respect for the bodies of the dead seems to be a candidate for extinction, and although the technique of transplanting organs has saved many lives and will doubtlessly save many more, I find it difficult not to feel sympathy for people who anticipate with horror a world in which dead bodies will be no more than a store of parts for the living or raw material for various industrial purposes; perhaps respect for the dead and for the living –and for life itself – are inseparable. Various traditional human bonds which make communal life possible, and without which our existence would be regarded only by greed and fear, are not likely to survive without a taboo system, and it is perhaps better to believe in the validity of even apparently silly taboos than to let them vanish.”

An organized mafia of medical oligarchs trading human organs is not difficult to imagine; and we should not exclude the possibility that as the world becomes more and more rational, some will get sacrificed for others. Two films, Coma (1979) with Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, and Extreme Measures (1997), with Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman, explore this issue. The desire to prolong life, even at the expense of the living who have parts necessary for the survival of others, is a way of abolishing life. In such a world, I no longer see you as you, but as a walking store of parts necessary for my own survival.

Rakowicki Cemetery, Krakow, Poland.

But there is another scenario, perhaps even more morbid. Why not to give the poor the opportunity to improve their living conditions for a certain number of years, provided they sell their parts in advance. Such a scenario does not involve coercion or the abduction of people, as the two above-mentioned movies suggest, let alone the existence of a medical mafia. All that is needed is a voluntary act on the part of the seller. The argument that says that it is better to live a shorter life than a longer one in poverty is perfectly rational, and thus would have to be considered perfectly legal. Pacta sunt servanda – it would be difficult to question the validity of such a decision. It could even be called “the Faustus clause,” or “the Faustus New Deal,” with a modern-day Mephistopheles. In such a world, cemeteries will no longer be what they were – a place where we venerate the dead or ponder our place in society and the world – but a vast area filled with incomplete human remains.

All scenarios are possible; but something else should worry us too. The dead can become an object of attacks by those who are alive. Recent cases of desecration of Jewish graves in the US, France and Germany show the irrationality of hatred. The “woke” ideology’s onslaught on the Dead White European Males which led wild crowds to tear down monuments of famous people can make them to go after the graves of the famous dead. History knows many cases of grave desecration, and we should not exclude that something like that can happen. It most likely will.


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


The featured image shows, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs,” likely by Fran Angelico; painted ca. 1420.

Sir Roger Scruton: A Platonic Tribute

Sir Roger Scruton—professor of aesthetics, author, political thinker, composer, theorist of music, ecologist, wine connoisseur, publicist and gadfly at large—passed away on January 12, 2020. As the sad news broke out, a global outpouring of tributes began, testifying to the magnitude of Scruton’s achievement and provoking questions about its meaning. Among the first, Timothy Garton Ash tweeted his sadness for the loss of a “provocative, sometimes outrageous Conservative thinker that a truly liberal society should be glad to have challenging it.”

Sir Roger’s passing is of special significance to my instution Bard College Berlin, which hosted him on two memorable occasions. It is also of personal significance to me. Though I was never a student of his, I had the privilege of knowing Professor Scruton since 1993, when a chance encounter proved to be a turning point in my intellectual path.

The Encounter

I first met Scruton in Krakow, at a conference on national stereotypes. At the time I was a student of psychology at the Jagiellonian University, gearing up to write a master’s thesis on the subject of how and why different nations perceive each other. Poland in those post-Cold War years was in the grip of regime change and a far-reaching cultural transition. Although many aspects of that transition were as contested then as they are now, there seemed to be a broad consensus: in the wake of the Soviet empire’s collapse, rejoining Europe and returning to the West where, as was said, Poland rightfully belonged was the most important political and civilizational objective. And rejoining the West meant embracing liberalism—as a political creed, economic program, and self-critical spirit.

The conference, which took place in Krakow’s newly renovated Theater Academy was imbued with this spirit. Paper after paper denounced cultural stereotypes and brought forward new examples, from the early Disney films to the latest political contests, to evidence and critique of the pervasive presence of prejudice in Western culture. With the message so monotonous, it was difficult to stay attentive.

Then came Roger Scruton. His lecture on Edmund Burke’s defense of prejudice as a distillation of collective experience sought to explain why we should not simply dismiss a phenomenon that might be constitutive of social life. Before rushing to repudiate prejudice, we had better examine its psychological origins and seek to understand its social function. Nor would repudiation help. If stereotypes are indeed necessary, repudiation would do little more than replace old prejudices with new ones.

Roger Scruton speaking at the European College of Liberal Arts, now Bard College Berlin, in 2011 (Photo Credit: Irina Stelea).

Decades later, I still recall the sensation of hearing Scruton’s talk and the shockwaves it sent through the room. Everyone seemed to be sitting on edge, riveted by incomprehension. If the conference was a current that tended in one direction, Scruton swam against it, carried by the sheer force of his eloquent arguments delivered with a generous dose of dry wit.

Did he persuade? No, not even me, thrilled though I was to hear intellectual controversy enter the sleepy conference room, and amazed by his courage to face disapproval. Besides the many points I did not understand (my English was rudimentary back then), I could not grasp how a philosopher could seek to vindicate prejudice, whether in the age of Enlightenment or our own. And this left me with two thinkers—Scruton and Burke—to reckon with. Actually three, for Socrates soon came along to lend an interpretive lens.

After the conference, Professor Scruton and I stayed in touch in the only way practicable back then: by exchanging letters. Two years later, after receiving a stack of philosophy books that I was not in a position to read, I got an invitation to visit him in England while finishing my master’s thesis. Elated, if ill prepared for what to expect, I booked a ticket for a coach that took me across Europe to Calais, then on a ferry to Dover, and onwards to London. From London, Scruton and I continued by train to Kemble—a little town in Wiltshire, where a decrepit-looking car, stocked with books (some, to my surprise, in Arabic) waited to take us on the last stretch to Sunday Hill Farm.

Roger’s home was a stone-walled cottage surrounded by swaths of green. Three or four horses chewed quietly in an enclosure. Sheep like specks of light were scattered in the distance. Little in the picture suggested which century we were in. The cottage itself, though visibly old, was no less discrete. Offering all the modern comforts, its rooms were furnished with objects reclaimed from the ages, each playing its part in a harmonious whole. Here, I sensed, was an alternate universe where time had come to a pause, and past and present gathered to commune and peacefully cohabit. The largest space in the two-story structure was a dusky room with book-lined walls. One of these was all green with small identical-looking volumes that, years later, I would recognize as the Loeb Classical Library. Two pianos balanced the space and sealed its image as a temple of the muses.

As soon as we arrived things fell into a calm, work-focused routine—from the morning tea, to lunch, often prefaced by a horse-ride in the adjacent fields, through the solitary afternoons, to dinner-time when guests showed up and long conversations took place over choice wine and enchanted meals Roger himself cooked. It is at one of those dinners that I first met Sophie, Roger’s wife to be, and also Christina, a high-school student and the oldest daughter of a Rumanian immigrant family that Roger had practically adopted. Though long and hardworking, the days at Sunday Hill Farm did not feel that way. This was because every hour had its special purpose. Roger would take time off writing to attend to a small garden, feed the horses, bake bread, or work on whatever it was he was composing. And my presence seemed to fit seamlessly into this schedule.

A few days into my visit, Roger departed for London, leaving me alone on the farm. Having recently arrived in a country whose ways—driving on the wrong side of the road, for instance—appeared eminently strange to me, I was less than eager to be left on my own. Yet this proved an opportunity to explore the vicinity, venturing to nearby Malmesbury—a small, medieval town which (I would later discover) was the birthplace of Thomas Hobbes and a bloody playground of the wars of religion that had scarred its historic abbey.

Roaming the cottage in Roger’s absence, I was trying to peek into the mindset of this person who would invite a stranger from across the continent and give her trust and welcome. It is only then that I could take a closer look at the small study that hosted Roger’s writing desk and another piano with hand-written scores piled up on it—his first opera. The shelves in the study were occupied mostly with the books—quite a few of them!—Roger had authored on such disparate subjects as music, architecture, politics or modern philosophy. There were also a few novels. At that moment, I came to realize that I was in the presence of something extraordinary, a beautiful vista I had hitherto no experience of: a life dedicated to books and music.

Well, and horses too.

The Gadfly

In Plato’s Apology, Socrates calls himself a gadfly and describes his mission as bearing witness to uncomfortable truths. His community, the polis, he likens to a large horse, strong and well-bred, if a bit dull and sleepy, going mindlessly about its horsey business. To prick the city and his fellow citizens, shake them from their moral slumber, to summon their intellects and awaken their conscience—this, according to Plato’s Socrates, is philosophy’s calling. This calling, however, requires that its votary put himself on the line: not hide behind technical subjects or language only a few understand but enter the fray and speak about the great questions of human life in a manner that is clear and accessible (needless to add, prickly) to the community at large. It also requires the courage to face disagreement and, in Socrates’ case, even death.

Scruton’s life and death were overshadowed by controversies of one kind or another—from his work as the founding editor of the Salisbury Review that, dissenting from the mainstream at home, supported dissidents in Eastern Europe; through his spirited defense of fox-hunting; to the Brexit debates and his involvement in a Tory government commission, whose work he did not live to see in print.

Roger Scruton with Petr Uhl and Vaclav Havel on the occasion of Scruton’s being awarded the Czech Republic Medal of Merit, First Class in 1998.

In the decades that spanned our friendship, and across many embroilments, I came to understand Roger’s philosophical stance and rhetorical gestures as the work of a Socratic gadfly. Understanding, however, was not the same as accepting. And I often questioned the need for these embroilments, resenting them at times, because they seemed to muffle his message and weaken its intellectual and moral authority.

“Why alienate people?” I’d ask. “Why disturb cherished views and call forth public anger? Is this not the lesson Plato drew from Socrates’ death—that philosophy and politics do not truly mesh because the one longs for truth and the other needs lies, more or less noble? Truth, when graspable, is convoluted and complex. Reduced to a plain message, injected into the public space, it becomes lopsided and polemical, an ideology more than wisdom.”

Roger would acknowledge my passionate opinions with a gentle nod. A philosophical modernist, he had made Platonic philosophy, and Socrates as its presumed spokesman, a fertile ground for theoretical disagreement—a disagreement perhaps nowhere more visible than in his recurrent wrestling with the question of love. In practice, however, for Scruton as for Socrates, philosophy to be true to its mission demanded public engagement with all of its existential commitments and costs. The philosopher is not accidentally but essentially a gadfly; all the more so in a society that claims to be open and free. And this, as both understood, was a quest fraught with perilous paradoxes.

In Plato’s account, Socrates was sentenced to death by the people of Athens on a triple charge—of corrupting the youth, not believing in the gods of the city, and making the weaker argument the stronger. If the accusations of corruption and heresy seem clear, the last bit is puzzling. To make the weaker argument the stronger is usually interpreted as insincere sophistry: thanks to rhetorical skills and facility for crafting arguments, the sophist can make any claim prevail, no matter its inherent strength. Like a modern-day debater, he aims at victory not truth, and any argument that wins the jury’s favor has validity enough.

But there is another way to understand the indictment against Socrates that comes to light with the help of Aristotle’s ethics. For Aristotle, virtue is not the opposite to vice, but the mean between two vices. Courage, on that view, is not simply contrary to cowardice. Equally opposed to rashness and timidity, it is a kind of fine-tuning that balances the pull of two extremes. However, if virtue is a mean, it is rarely found in the middle, for each of us has particular tendencies that propel us in one direction more than the other. And so, if one person is prone to temerity while another to fear, in each case courage would look a bit different, and lie closer to one or the other pole.

If we assume that each society or historical moment has its own tendencies and ruling passions that make certain opinions more acceptable than others, to balance these, one would need to champion the weaker view—weaker not in the sense of inherently less valid, but in the sense of less popular. And this because truth, like virtue, is rarely in the extreme; and justice too would require that we weigh all sides of the argument. These sides, Burke famously argued, include not only the living but also the long dead and the yet-to-be-born. In this reading, wherever the culture is going, the philosopher’s mission is to pull the other way, and to side with propositions that, whether forgotten, or not fully realized, tend to be underestimated or ignored—and, in that sense, weaker.

“If I were born in an aristocratic century,” writes Tocqueville, “amid a nation in which the hereditary wealth of some and the irremediable poverty of others held souls as if benumbed in the contemplation of another world, I would want it to be possible for me to stimulate the sentiment of needs … and try to excite the human mind in the pursuit of well-being. Legislators of democracies have other concerns… It is necessary that all those who are interested in the future of democratic societies unite, and that all in concert make continual efforts to spread within these societies the taste for the infinite, the sentiment for the grand, and the love for non-material pleasures.”

To be a gadfly, then, would mean to raise troubling questions, and to point out aspects of social life and our humanity—the need for prejudice, for instance—that risk being overlooked or trampled on by the ideological élan for a particular opinion. It is to caution that not every change is for the better (consider climate); and what may seem like progress today—e.g., moving away from traditional forms of subjection—could yet prove to be an oppression much greater tomorrow (consider totalitarianism). It is to warn that in our hopeful enthusiasm for righting wrongs, by improving one thing we are likely to spoil another; and that, in the great complexity of human affairs, unless fully understood and carefully administered, the cure often proves worse than the disease.

Truth so discerned is bound to offend because it resists our preferences and collective instincts—precisely our prejudice. At the same time, this offense, if earnestly delivered and thoughtfully received, is what propels us toward thinking. It challenges us to consider aspects we may be prone to disregard, and to account for what and why we believe in. Only by listening to those who question our certitudes, Mill argued in On Liberty, can ideology be countered and dead dogma quickened into vital truth. So much so that if liberal society did not have an earnest opponent and conscientious dissenter—its own Socrates—it had better invent him.

Mounting a well-argued opposition to just about every progressive creed—multiculturalism, individualism, atheism, globalism—Scruton was no less a gadfly to the conservatives with whom he otherwise identified. His vision of conservatism, centered on conservation and green politics, was as much a rebuke to Thatcherism as to the Blairite consensus that replaced it. He did not shy away from instructing US Republicans on the good of government. And his vision of the university challenged the anti-establishment zeal of the established professoriat as well as the technocratic Cameron reforms that collapsed the ministry of Education under Business. Whatever his audience, Scruton sought to stir thinking, not applause.

And yet another paradox lurks here. If philosophy’s role is to serve as counterweight for political and intellectuals fads, is the philosopher then necessarily a contrarian – one, whose mission is to dispute whatever most people happen to agree on, so a creature of the crowd after all? A different way to pose the question: is the thinker’s role to play the sceptic and critique popular opinions; or should he also strive to put something fuller and more coherent in their place? If the former, he’d be forever a debunker, always against but never for anything (other than his own importance). And if the latter, is he not in danger, while contesting the dogmas of others, of becoming a dogmatist himself?

Well-aware of these tensions, Scruton deemed them unavoidable. While playfulness and irony, alongside other literary tropes, offered partial solutions, his main recourse was, once again, Socratic—to live his life as an example and seek to practice what he preached. This informed both his decision to leave academia and embrace country life, and the autobiographical turn his books took in the late 1990s. While his chief philosophical purpose was to recover what he called the soul of the world, Scruton recognized that this can only be done in living out his commitments and bearing personal witness to the propositions he put forward. It required that he become, in the original sense of the word, a martyr.

μᾰ́ρτῠς • (mártus) m or f (gen. μᾰ́ρτῠρος) — A.Gr. witness.

Going Home

Among the more puzzling of Plato’s works is a short dialogue called Crito. Set in the eve of Socrates’ execution, it opens as the eponymous Crito, an elderly gentleman of means, comes in the dark before dawn to visit Socrates in prison. He has made all the preparations: bribed the guard, gathered resources, and arranged for a boat to steal his unjustly convicted friend away from his doom.

The conversation that ensues is Socrates’ attempt to reason with his childhood buddy and persuade him (and possibly himself, as well) that submitting to the judgment of the Athenian people is the right course of action; and so that dying as a citizen is preferable to living as an exile. In the course of the conversation, Socrates impersonates the Laws of Athens to deliver arguments that sound patriotic to the point of chauvinism. Invoking his young sons, his plea on behalf of the Laws recalls his own decision, made in advanced age, to become husband and father.

The conversation that ensues is Socrates’ attempt to reason with his childhood friend and persuade him (and possibly himself, as well) that submitting to the judgment of the Athenian people is the right course of action; and so that dying as a citizen is preferable to living as an exile. In the course of the conversation, Socrates impersonates the Laws of Athens to deliver arguments that sound patriotic to the point of chauvinism. Invoking his young sons, his plea on behalf of the Laws recalls his own decision, made in advanced age, to become husband and father.

Sir Roger Scruton’s home in England.

Socrates’ declared allegiance to country and family stands in some tension with the project of philosophy, to which he pledged his life. No respecter of countries or borders, philosophy’s object is to interrogate all human laws and attachments—love itself—in light of a universal standard. Nor does Plato’s Socrates usually come across as a devoted father. More than his biological children, his conversational companions, indeed conversing itself, seem to be the focus of his affection. Is a philosophical life compatible with being a patriotic citizen or responsible paterfamilias, Crito prompts us to ask. How can one be committed to universal truth, or to probing every kind of social convention, and, at the same time, stay true to a particular community and faithfully observe its flawed laws, questionable practices, and harmful judgments, even unto death?

After his talk at that fateful 1993 conference, I came up to Prof. Scruton and we exchanged a few words. “I want you to meet a student of mine” he said and introduced me to Joanna, a Polish woman my age who grew up in the US, where her family was exiled in the aftermath of the 1981 military crackdown on the dissident Solidarity movement. One of Scruton’s best students at Boston University where he taught at the time, Joanna had come along to the conference as a first opportunity to revisit her country of origin. Though at this point she had spent more than half her life in America, the journey to Poland was a homecoming—a charged and meaningful moment that Scruton took as seriously as she did, and which first announced what would become a recurrent theme of our interactions.

Over the decades that followed, Roger did all he could to support my philosophical wanderings; from proofreading my first essays in English and writing letters of recommendation, to patiently enduring my own attempts at playing the gadfly, usually directed at him. Scattered across time and space, and whatever their occasion, our conversations would often end on the same note—the importance of home, and the duties of homecoming, a message that became all the more troubling as my English waxed and my native tongues waned. “You should go home,” he repeated whenever and wherever we met. “Remember to go home.” “What is home?” I’d reply, as it were, Socratically. “Is it a place or a principle, or a figure of speech? Why can’t the world be our home?”

Surely, for Scruton too this had been a question. And he was far from believing that one’s home is, in any simple sense, the place or circumstances of one’s birth. In his own wanderings, he had moved light years away from his lower middle-class origins and his father’s socialist convictions, as he later did from the urban pieties of the academic elite to which he belonged by learning and habits.

Roger deeply loved French culture, and was intellectually at home in Germany. He taught for years in the US where he considered emigrating at some point. He had a soft spot for the countries of Eastern Europe which haunted his novels, and whose decorated hero he had become; and he had a special bond to Lebanon where he first learned Arabic and witnessed civil war as a young man. Like his Englishness, Scruton’s endorsement of rural ways was qualified by profound erudition and cosmopolitan tastes. Nor could any party claim him—or wish to claim him—without reservation. If he had one strong identification, it was with being an outcast and heretic.

And yet, the first law of Scruton’s ethics was the imperative to settle down—espouse an ethos, assume one’s station, and honor one’s roots, despite the estrangement and ironic distance one might feel about the whole thing. Without settling-down, thus acknowledging that one’s view is necessarily a view “from somewhere,” one is a free-floating, ineffectual person and, in an intellectual sense, a dishonest man. At the same time, without the distance and estrangement that thinking stimulates, one’s home would not be a reasoned perspective or self-aware choice, but an unreflective product of accident and custom.

As for Plato’s Socrates, the philosophic quest as Scruton understood it, was not to deconstruct one’s love for family and country, but to give a full account of, and thereby deepen, that love. Indeed, the more difficult it is to define and maintain a notion of home in the modern world, the more important it becomes to insist upon it. This holding on—the capacity and courage to own up to one’s particular commitments, despite or perhaps because of all the reservations one can feel about them—is what truly distinguished the philosopher from the rootless sophist, whose only standing commitment is to unbounded love of power, however obtained.

In Scruton’s diagnosis, most originally delivered as an homage to French viniculture and philosophy, our age is drunk on universalisms demanding that the same principles, analogous practices and mass-produced tastes apply equally everywhere, with no regard to differences of place, history, social conditions, and even species. If universalistic creeds are like strong distillates that—stripped of specificity or local flavor, and detached from communal context—aim for immediate inebriation, Scruton’s proposed remedy was not abstinence or anti-intellectualism, but thoughtful connoisseurship of drinks and ideas.

Such a connoisseurship must begin with the recognition that, if the desire for universality is a heroic aspiration and philosophy’s very raison d’être, it is also a dangerous temptation. While this desire may expand our intellectual horizons, ennoble the arts, and elevate civic sentiments, it cannot be our home. For it demands that, in the name of disembodied abstractions, we abjure the attachment to particular persons or peoples, and repudiate everything we may consider our own—the ways and devotions that distinguish our form of life, and define who we are, individually and collectively.

The weaker argument Scruton made it his life-long mission to uphold was the importance of loving one’s home and protecting the environment, both natural and human, spiritual and physical that sustains it. He shared with many on the left a poignant sense of the destruction wrought by globalized capitalism. Yet he challenged the self-serving mantra of globalized elites that the only effective response is the ever-greater outsourcing of civic agency and decision-making to supranational structures unmoored from any organized community of citizens that can hold them to account.

More soberly, Scruton insisted on the need to revive allegiance to local traditions and to common practices, which alone lend meaning to high-sounding words and abstract ideals. Only by coming together and by drawing on shared modes of thinking and feeling can freedoms be substantiated, the environment protected, and effective solidarities fostered. This insistence went together with a vision of England as a community bound by law and sense of accountability—less a physical location than a spiritual landscape marked by distinctive virtues and sense of beauty. It is to the task of protecting this beauty that his last efforts were dedicated.

“We should recognize,” states the posthumously published report Scruton drafted for the government commission on Building Better, Building Beautiful, “that the pursuit of beauty is an attempt to work with our neighbours, not to impose our views on them. As Kant argued in his great Critique of Judgment, in the judgment of beauty we are ‘suitors for agreement,’ and even if that judgment begins in subjective sentiment, it leads of its own accord to the search for consensus.”

*

My last meeting with Scruton in October 2019 was a lesson in dying, the preparation for which, Plato’s Socrates claimed, was philosophy’s special task. Roger spoke about his mysterious illness and the pains that had become his constant companion—but much more about the gratitude he felt for his life and for those who helped shape it.

“It is clear” he mused serenely, as though considering some abstract matter “that things cannot go on forever. I have said all I had to say, wrote all the books I wanted to write. I’m ready, I suppose.” As if casually, he added: “But life is so sweet…”

He died at home.

Sir Roger Scruton’s home in Virginia, USA (Photo Credit: Christopher Kramer).

Ewa Atanassow is professor at Bard College Berlin. Her area of expertise is the history of social and political thought, especially Tocqueville, as well as questions of nationhood and democratic citizenship. She is the co-editor of Tocqueville and the Frontiers of Democracy, and Liberal Moments: Reading Liberal Texts; and the author of Liberal Dilemmas: Tocqueville on Sovereignty, Nationhood, and Globalization, forthcoming from Princeton University Press.


The featured image shows, “Portrait of Sir Roger Scruton,” by Vernice Satinata; painted in 2020.

Islam And The West… Where Are We Heading?

One of the most serious challenges faced by the West at this time is Islam, both within and without. The West’s secular pundits, who often forget that this is essentially a Christian invention and project (harking at least back to Saint Augustine, an African Berber-speaker of Punic), are only now starting to realise what the Church has known for nearly fifteen hundred years. The Church though, unlike many modern populists, always made a distinction between Islam and Muslims, who could and should be converted.

When it comes to Islam, many in our society are either naive or dishonest. So, for example, recently, while waiting for a train connection from Marseilles, I noticed the memorial plaque for the victims of the Islamic attacks outside the station – “to the victims of the terrorist attacks”, as if “terror” was the underlying ideology, not the instrument. Others speak of religiously motivated terror – although this activity seems largely limited to Islam in a structural sense.

In discussing this challenge, the first thing we need to know is that the modern secular definition of “religion” has many shortcomings. Secondly, we need to cast aside the silly notion that Jews, Christians and Muslims are somehow common spiritual descendants of Abraham, a modern ahistorical anachronism. We must not forget that Christianity is a Faith, and only in Christianity do we find theology stricto sensu: Theology as a prudent and rational exploration of the divine is a Christian peculiarity, and thus also a liberation from fanaticism. This is something different from gathering knowledge about one or more gods, their myths, cults and associated rites – theology is something different from having a profound knowledge of religious things.

“Islamic theology,” on the other hand, is an oxymoron, because Allah’s relationship with his human believers is that of a master to his slaves, one of “obedience” or “submission” which is actually what “Islam” means, and is fundamentally different from Christianity. Thus, the fact that Islam is a biblically inspired monotheism should not be overstated, as this says nothing about its nature.

Another big difference that I will briefly touch upon is that education was always the core business of Christianity, both for laypersons and professionals. In the Islamic world, illiteracy is the norm; this is not a coincidence. A Muslim imam’s qualifications are to merely know the first Surah plus one more, usually a “large” chunk of text, such as Surah 112, and to lead the ritual prayers. When we discuss the possibility of Islamic schooling in the West and the ensuing curriculum problems, we forget that traditional Islamic schooling, unlike in Christendom, was always only for boys, and consisted largely of learning to recite the Qur’an by heart. In the Middle East, until quite recently, bright Muslim children were sent to Christian schools, for good reason.

Most readers probably are aware of the traditional account of the origins of Islam, the revelations to Muhammad in Mecca, his later flight to Medina, the invasion of Syro-Palestine. Modern historical-critical research, such as that carried out by Inârah, shows that this is largely later mythological fiction. Islamic tradition only starts about a century and a half after Muhammad was supposed to have died. At best, Islamic tradition can only tell us what Muslims of the eighth and ninth centuries thought happened in the seventh century.

Where then lies the problem with Islam? Islam on the one hand is based on a heterodox variant of Christianity, teaching Psilanthropism (Christ was a mere human) and Adoptionism (Christ did not die on the Cross, but was replaced). On the other, it continues ancient Near Eastern Imperial religious traditions – such as, the Egyptian sun cult of Aton under Amenophis IV, later Akhenaten, in the 14th century BC, or the cult of Aššur in the Assyrian Empire. Some have also called these traditions “monotheisms;” but one might better view them as atheism, since Akhenaten, who saw himself as Aton’s son, was Aton’s sole mediator – the notion of deity is here a totalitarian abstraction. According to this ancient Egyptian “theology” of the state, the king conquered the world for the god, and the help of the god was requested to increase the conquered world, and thus the reign of the god. Since the king is god, the divine and human spheres merge into one another.

We see something similar in the religion of the Assyrian empire, where the “king” was the vicar of the true king, the divine abstraction of Assyrian might, the king-god Aššur. The same is true in Islam, where the Caliph, an Aramaic loan-word meaning vicar, i.e. “Khalīfat Allāh,” is the vicar of God, in the Egyptian and Assyrian sense.

Since there is no mediation in the Trinity in Islam, Allah, like Aššur and Aton, is all powerful. Allah, although etymologically related to Hebrew ʼělohīm and Syriac alāhā (possibly even a borrowing of the latter form), has much more in common with Aššur, in terms of content: a common etymology does not equate to functional equality. Historically, the caliphs, like the Assyrian kings, were totalitarian rulers who exercised an office in the name of their God. Thus, to the caliph alone does God speak; he alone knows his will, and he alone is entitled to interpret God’s word and volition – the earthly ruler becomes God’s sole mediator; to him alone does God reveal himself; he alone mediates God’s will to the people. Hence, it is not surprising that even moderate Muslims wish for a return of a caliph.

Here we must be clear – the accounts of Islam’s origins which we often hear about, Muhammad in Mecca and Medina, to whom the Qur’an was revealed by the intermediary of the Angel Gabriel, is largely a later fiction, as I have noted. What we have with the Umayyads in the seventh century is an Arabic eschatological movement with Judaeo-Christian roots centred in Jerusalem – Safa, Marwa, Bakka, Arafat, etc. are all found here (only later were these relocated to Mecca), And Muhammad is a borrowed Hebrew Messianic epithet – in Christianity, it is for Christ of the Second Coming (in Judaism for the First Coming). When the eschatological expectation did not transpire as expected, the Umayyads lost credibility. They were overthrown by the Abbasids in the eighth century, the real founders of what we call Islam.

The Abbasids, on the basis of this heterodox Judaic Christianity, created an imperial religion to unite their subjects. As with Assyria, the world was divided into believers (those who submit) and the unbelievers (those who are yet to be conquered). In Islam, even today, we see that the world is divided into Dar al-Islam, the Islamic World and Dar al-Harb, the “House of War” – the area which still must be conquered. Later (fifteenth century) a “third domain” (category) appeared in the Ottoman Empire, intermediate between the first two, the Dar al-‘Ahd or Dar al-Suhl (that is “domain of the pact” or “of the alliance”) to describe the relationship of the Ottoman caliphate and sultanate with its Christian vassals, such as the Georgian kingdoms of the Caucasus or the Romanian principalities, which paid tribute, provided troops and protected Muslims in exchange for peace.

For most of the Sunni world, the West falls into this category for two reasons – first, we are useful idiots, i.e., we sell them weapons (to be used to fight the Shiites), and because Islam is patient – we take in Muslim refugees who have a higher fertility rate. Arab newspapers note openly that Jihad can take different forms – the womb can also be a weapon. Since Ayatollah Khomeini, the shiites have invented a theocracy with global ambitions, but that is another topic.

Here we see that Islam is entirely incompatible with western values and notions of equality. In Christianity, we are saved through Christ and have been set free. In Islam, subjection to a totalitarian abstract notion of the divine is the norm. Prayer is not “free speech” before and with God, but ritualised recitation. The Qur’an is a quite different book than the Bible – a hodgepodge of disparate texts that show a different relationship with the divine than do the Old and New Testaments. But then, again, we must note that the Qur’an actually plays no role in Islam, where doctrine is derived from later tradition, the Sunna. Where Christians follow the example of Christ, Muslims follow that of Muhammad – the results are quite different, as is obvious.

One of the things that continues to surprise us is that after every terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims on behalf of Islam, or with regard to the Islamic state, western apologists note that these are radicals who misunderstood the teachings of Muhammad. This claim is blatantly untrue as any superficial reading of Muhammad’s hagiography (the Sīra) shows. One is reminded of Communist sympathisers during the Cold War – Communism is the best system, but the Soviets got it wrong. Funnily enough, all communist states were, like Islamic ones, similarly unenlightened – here though, we should note that while Communism and Islam are antithetical to what the West stands for, we are discussing ideas and not judging people or their sincere beliefs. In this light, Islam should be viewed as a late offshoot of ancient oriental imperial religions (lacking theologies in the Christian, Western sense), as the many disputes about the place of Islam in Western societies alluded to at the outset, make clear.

To illustrate this point, we quote here paragraph 24 of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam: “All rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration are subject to Islamic Sharia law.” So, which “rights” then actually remain? And there are many “experts” ready to clarify what the “Sharia” (a broad term) has to say about any life situation. The relationship of the fundamental rights entrenched in liberal-democracies with Islam is very problematic. Muslims understand this problem very well, as do the refugee offices of Western countries, where critical voices from the Dār al-Islām seek their salvation – that some leftists, who themselves implicitly or explicitly reject the universality of such fundamental rights because allegedly “Western” or “imperialist,” is not surprising. Here, we should briefly note that the mission to Muslims, especially during the “Golden Age of the Islamic Problem,” beginning around 650 and coming to an end around 1570, was always interconnected with the scientific study of Islam.

Indeed, we can trace the rise of what became Islam largely through Christian churchmen of Late Antiquity. They noted clearly and correctly that this was a “heresy”, i.e., a heterodox form of Christianity rather than a separate religion. While the Middle Eastern clerics were primarily concerned with survival – in Europe, for medieval people, this problem affected all levels of life. Theologically, it was necessary to confront this problem by shedding light on the ignorance about the nature of Islam. But this could only be done by becoming aware of the facts; these in turn required linguistic and literary knowledge. Petrus Venerabilis (Peter the Venerable) was one of the most important people of this time who helped to disentangle the image of Islam. Peter had the Koran translated and then wrote an account of Islamic doctrine himself, the Summa totius haeresis saracenorum, as well as a refutation in the Liber contra sectam sive haeresim saracenorum.

Together with the translations of the Qur’an, these were the first scholarly works on Islam. The Summa in particular was free of the gross errors that had manifested themselves in the centuries before. This new approach contributed much to the emergence of a new image of Islam. The Summa objectified the debate and adopted a more scientific attitude towards Islam. Peter was the first to lay the foundations for a confrontation with Islam. Peter did not want to confront Islam with violence, but with the power of the Word of God.

In this context, his translation of the Qu’ran can be seen as a fundamental work for refuting Islam. The translation thus joins the series of writings that Peter called christianum armarium. By this Peter understood a Christian library to serve as a weapon against these enemies; but certainly not only as a weapon in the offensive sense, but also as a kind of shield which was to protect Christendom. Peter’s main intention with the translation and the Collectio Toletana was to provide European Christians with accurate information about Islam. For Peter, however, the Muslims were enemies only insofar as they rejected Christian salvation. Should the Muslims, however, recognise this, Peter’s enmity would also be settled.

At his weekly general audience in Saint Peter’s Square, on 14 October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI used Peter the Venerable as an example of compassion and understanding, citing Peter’s governance of Cluny, diplomacy, and study of Islam. If the West is to have any future, we need to address Islam as set forth by Benedict, following Peter’s study, prayer and mission.

But then again, unless we in the West return to our Christian roots and reconcile ourselves with Christ – well then Islam will steamroll us. Secular values are but fleeting vanity.


A version of this was delivered as a lecture at the French Riviera Institute, October 15 2021. Translated from the French.


The featured image shows, “The Annunciation,” from the Chronology of Ancient Nations by Al-Biruni, 1307.

The Secret Of Charles Péguy

Dreyfusard, but a friend of Saint Joan of Arc, a socialist, but discovering from experience that socialism is a dangerous and unattainable thing, an anti-militarist who loved the military profession, an anticlerical whose conversation is with the saints who have made France sweet and who found in Our Lady of Chartres the appeasement of his heart.

Charles Péguy, polemicist, poet, mystic, doesn’t fit into any category. But even in the midst of his contradictions, he remains a Frenchman of peasant and working-class descent, of old France. To each of the great crises of the time, he reacted in a very personal way, which may not be our way, but is, as if in parallel, to use an image he loved. Let us try to better understand who Charles Péguy was and to retain, beyond his prejudices and inconsistencies, the best of what he had.

The Gamut Of Influences

Charles Péguy was born in Orléans on January 7, 1873, in the faubourg of Bourgogne. His father, a carpenter, died on November 18 of the same year from an illness he had contracted at the siege of Paris.

The child grew up with a very active mother and a grandmother who was a bit lame. As an only child raised by women, he was the center of attention. The charming child listened to the advice about life that his mother gave him, and he liked working with her a lot. Intelligent, studious, he applied himself to his lessons as well as to his prayers. Such was considered good work, a quality of old France, as of the faubourg of Bourgogne. Péguy would write: “One can say that a child raised in a city like Orléans, between 1873 and 1880 [as he was], has literally touched the old France, the old people, the real people, that he has literally participated in the old France of the people.” These two women were Catholic, and little Charles attended catechism; but the family was not particularly fervent, and worked on Sundays.

In 1880, he entered the Republican elementary school. He was marked forever. He discovered another world: The hierarchy of education, but also republican ideology. He was noticed for his intelligence and his hard work. In 1885, he entered the high school at Orléans with a scholarship.

Thus, in parallel with his religious instruction – catechism and solemn communion – he came into contact with all the classical culture, breathing in this secular atmosphere, impregnated with the ideas of 1789 that were inculcated in him by the men he admired, his teachers, all proselytizers of the socialist ideal.

In 1888, when he was 15 years old, the athletic high school student was on the horizontal bars when he had a fainting spell and fell on his head. It was nothing serious – but from that moment, his character changed; he became whimsical, imperious; he became impulsive, made sudden decisions, was inconsistent in conduct. His whole future life would be marked by hastiness, by a readiness to get angry with people, the cause of which might well be this blow to the head.

That same year, the deeply socialist, irreligious Péguy was born. In 1900, he confessed: “I was in high school when I became a heretic.” He chose the Revolution against the Church, which he considered a superstructure of the bourgeois world. He broke with the faith because the dogma of eternal damnation was intolerable to him and because Christians seemed to accept it with an unseemly resignation. He was not in favor of the class struggle, but he considered that the modern world (which began in 1881) was made up of an opposition between the hypocritical, selfish bourgeoisie and the people.

In 1891, after passing his baccalaureate, he entered the Lycée Lakanal to study for the École normale supérieure. This was the way into the agrégation in philosophy. But he failed the oral exam and was called up for military service a year sooner. This fervent anti-militarist loved the army – the discipline, the order, and the attachment to France; and the military profession appealed to him from the start.

When his year of service ended in 1893, he resumed his studies at Sainte Barbe. There he met the friends he would keep all his life. He exerted a real influence over his fellow students who felt dominated by him and considered him as a leader. Péguy was that very type of militant who fought others to support those on strike, for there was always a strike somewhere and Péguy always needed money. Daniel Halévy tells us: “All he had to do was to hold out his hand and pockets were emptied immediately.”

He was therefore a utopian and apostolic socialist. For him, socialism was the new world, the better future, the liberation of the people. It was the place of dreams, where the idea of solidarity, of an absolutely universal solidarity between men, could develop without limits.

He entered the Ecole normale in November 1894. He worked hard. He learned with wonder the Latin, Greek and French authors who would deeply affect him. He made contact with the professors, the great politicians of the Radical Republic: Lucien Herr, the socialist librarian who had sought this position as the best one for converting the University to socialism; Jean Jaurès, professor of philosophy. He was very close to another student, Marcel Baudouin, who died in 1896. The dead friend would always shadow him throughout his life.

In October 1896, he wrote his first socialist articles. The following year, in 1897, he married the sister of his friend Baudouin, probably out of loyalty. Frenzied Dreyfusards, militant socialists, the Baudouins were the very type of bourgeois who sponsored the revolution. None of the children was baptized. His marriage was therefore civil. In December, he published, at his own expense, after having begged friends, the drama he had just finished, his Joan of Arc, the heroine of Orléans whose life he had resolved from childhood to write, “for the establishment of the universal Socialist Republic!” He sold only one copy!

In January 1898, Zola’s J’accuse in the Aurore re-launched the Dreyfus affair and threw Péguy into the fray, convinced of Dreyfus’ innocence by Lucien Herr. Certainly, Péguy never offered one fact explaining why he favored Freyfus, proof on which he could establish his innocence. Péguy believed that the General Staff and the Justice system had condemned Dreyfus because of anti-Semitism. The country was therefore in a state of mortal sin.

Having failed the agrégation, Péguy abandoned the university. With his wife’s dowry, he bought a small bookshop in the shadow of the Sorbonne, which became the center of Dreyfusian agitation. All the socialist academics, the staff of intellectual Dreyfusism, met there. When the fight at the Sorbonne broke out, Péguy rushed in and fought against the nationalists, taking the lead of the Dreyfus commandos.

But the business-venture did not succeed. Lucien Herr proposed to bail out the business, with the help of Léon Blum. But, in fact, Péguy was ousted. He found himself no longer the owner but the employee of these gentlemen, a manager of a limited company. Péguy, being overly honest with himself, felt a pang of sorrow, seeing himself thus played out financially; but he will never realized that Herr had deceived him even more intellectually by making him believe in Dreyfus’ innocence.

An Honest Socialist

In 1899, a cascade of political and personal events put an end to this candid period of his life. Péguy woke up.

For Péguy the prophet, Dreyfusism was a religion. But when he learned that Dreyfus accepted his pardon, that is to say, recognized himself guilty, it was a terrible shock for him. Péguy lost his illusions and he realized that the Dreyfus party was a party of political jackals, ambitious and calculating.

Then, another shock. Péguy wanted to publish a novel telling the misfortunes of a teacher who ends up committing suicide with his wife. For Péguy, this was the very type of popular misery for which the socialists must fight for, against society. But Blum and the others sent him packing, because the unfortunate protagonist had fallen into misery, not because of the aristos and the army, but because of the republican administration. Péguy saw in this experience the proof that these socialists thought only of making a career and not of relieving the poor.

Finally, there was the affair of the Socialist Congress of December 1899. Péguy came out of it disgusted by the decisions taken, which made the socialist press subservient to the central committee. Guesde, Blum and the others only had in mind the seizure of power and not the defense of the truth. Péguy resisted, Herr called him an anarchist. Péguy lost everything, his job, the publishing house he founded and those he thought were his friends. He had a wife and child and found himself alone, without support or money.

He overcame his misfortune and founded a new publication, his own journal. The first issue of Cahiers de la quinzaine was published on January 5, 1900. It was no longer a question of serving socialism as it had been in the past, but of “telling the truth, nothing but the truth. Telling the stupid truth stupidly, the boring truth boringly, the sad truth sadly: That is what we are going to do… To the good bourgeois and also to the comrades who want to take refuge conveniently in silence. Didn’t we often cut off retreat, saying brutally: He who doesn’t shout the truth, when he knows the truth, makes himself an accomplice of the liars and the forgers.”

Possessing a righteousness which knew nothing of compromise, in 1902, he asked Bernard Lazare for a defense of the congregations persecuted by Combes and Jaurès, and he got it. Shortly afterwards, however, he was reproached by this same Bernard Lazare for his reversal, reminding him who was supporting him financially. Péguy did not think that the Jewish party which sponsored him, which subscribed to the Cahiers, intended him to follow its feelings when they were not necessarily about justice and truth.

1905 represented a turning point in Péguy’s life. It was the Tangier Crisis, where Kaiser Wilhelm II claimed his rights over Morocco to drive out the French, while demanding the dismissal of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs. This awakened Péguy. He saw the war coming. He became aware of the danger. Faced with the threat, seized by the angor patriae, he felt French first. He led his socialist and pacifist readers to patriotic emotions in that admirable issue of Cahiers, Notre patrie (Our Fatherland):

“At the first outbreak, at the first intonation, every man heard, found, felt within himself this profound resonance, as if familiar and known, this voice which was not a voice from without, this voice of buried memory, as if piled up deep within for who knows how long.”

This “voice of buried memory” awakened in the child of the Bourgogne faubourg the feeling of patriotism, and it began its work of spiritual conversion. Christianity gradually penetrated his heart and his thought, because the soil, all the dead, the very soul of France is Christian, steeped in Catholicism.

Following Notre Patrie, he published Les suppliants parallèles (The Parallel Suppliants), an admirable meditation on the seizure of the supplicated by the supplicant. His faith found its platform here.

Péguy understood then that “for the Catholic faith the eternal hell of religion has nothing to do with, and even is the opposite of, the temporal hell of the exploited, the humble, the poor: That it is not made for the damned of the earth but for their exploiters.”

Conversion

It was most certainly in 1906 that Péguy returned to God, receiving the gift of tears and prayer. He then experienced a period of intense blossoming and literary and mystical fruitfulness. And it was in January 1907 that he announced his return to God to Maritain, and in September 1908 to Joseph Lotte, the most faithful of the faithful.

As he wrote in Clio, one of the Cahiers: “He found the being that he was, and he found in that being the being that he really was, a good Frenchman of the ordinary kind, and towards God faithful and a sinner of the common kind.” That is why he did not want anyone to talk about his conversion, for he considered that he had always been a Catholic. “I am not a convert. When one has learned the catechism like me in the parish of Saint-Aignan in Orléans, one does not have to convert. For a while my eyes were turned away from God; they have turned back. That’s all.”

He did not make an official announcement of this conversion (which must be called that). It was gradual, a secret. Péguy’s attitude in fact baffled his Catholic friends, who found his Catholicism bizarre, a Christianity without the Mass and without the sacraments. He said to Maritain, the Mass and the Communion, that is “too strong for me.” But he prayed and with much consolation. Returning to God, he found popular religion and he lived among the saints, who were alive and present.

Family life was not very cheerful. Cahiers, always in the red, was a perpetual ball and chain to be dragged along, and money difficulties troubled home life. The three children, not baptized obviously, being socialist atheists, were Baudouin, all of them, nothing of Péguy, he would confide. He felt a stranger, all by himself. His mother-in-law, cemented in her impiety, lived with them.

Péguy, a convert, lived with his wife from the legal point of view, but from the religious point of view, she was not his wife. He could send her away or present a request to Rome which, as far as he was concerned (since his unbaptized wife refused any such regularization) would be equivalent to a religious marriage. Likewise, he had the duty to ensure the baptism of his children. Since his wife did not want it, he could have baptized them without her knowledge. In his loyalty, because he did not like to force, Péguy did not find any of these solutions practical. The situation was hopeless. He remained a good husband, a good father. As for himself, he had his intimate, catholic, praying soul – but not being able to approach the sacraments.

He fell sick from all this. His household also fell sick.

During these years (1907-1909), he fought against the radical-socialists in the Sorbonne, and he announced the end of our culture. This polemic pushed him, in a new series of Cahiers, to oppose the modern world of un-culture, of jealousy, and to exalt the ancient world, namely, Christian France, and beyond it the success of the Greek world. He understood that our time needs mysticism, and as much a sinner as he was, he felt invested with a mission – that of remaking Christianity through prayer.

In 1909, his Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc (Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc) was published, the first public manifestation of his Catholicism. It was a half success, but which did not improve his material situation.

The Drama Of His Life

It was in marital disagreement and in its inextricable material embarrassments, that Péguy came to know passion. A love appeared which ate his heart for eighteen months.

In 1910, Péguy noticed Blanche Raphaël, the sister of one of his friends, a former Sorbonne classmate, who was very helpful in the Cahiers store. And Péguy fell in love with her. It was a terrible temptation which reached its climax during the summer of 1910. This upright man, so very focused, who exalted justice and fidelity, experienced a crisis of the soul. The struggle exhausted him. He reproached himself for the temptation to divorce as a disloyalty to his wife and children. Le porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu (The Porch of the Mystery of the Second Virtue), laid bare the secret of a father’s torn heart. It tells how “the father’s kiss” is a game for the children, an amusement to which they hardly pay attention. It’s so habitual. They get it like a piece of bread. “But for the father, the father’s kiss, it’s his daily bread. If they only suspected what the kiss was to the father.”

The poor dears.
But it’s none of their business.
They have plenty of time to find out later.
They only find, when their eyes meet the father’s gaze, that he doesn’t seem to have enough fun in life.

This paternal kiss was the sacrament that bound him to his children. It was what kept him from betraying his wife. So, he prayed and he worked. But for eighteen months he could not say the Lord’s Prayer. He confessed on September 27, 1912 to Lotte: “’Thy will be done,’ I could not say that. It’s not a matter of just muttering through it; it’s a matter of really saying what you say. I couldn’t really say, ‘Thy will be done.’” So, he boldly addressed the one who is infinitely pure, because she is infinitely sweet. God is just and strong, the Virgin Mary is tender and merciful. He continued to tell Lotte: “So I prayed to Mary. Prayers to Mary are prayers of reserve. There is not one in the whole liturgy, not one, you hear me, not one that the most miserable sinner cannot really say. In the mechanism of salvation, the Hail Mary is the last resort. With it, one cannot be lost.” He then affirmed: “It is the Blessed Virgin who prevented me from sinning.”

He then took the decision that cost him terribly, that tore his heart, and he sacrificed his happiness to honor, since the true name of this happiness was dereliction and sin. And he saw the young woman marry [to Marcel Bernard], putting one more obstacle to his passion. In September 1911, she had a child, and he felt devastated. He wrote Le Porche, on the virtue of hope, but “it is an anticipation, for when I wrote it, I did not believe in hope.”

One day in June 1912, when he could no longer bear it, he went to Chartres to entrust his aching soul to the Blessed Virgin. It was his first pilgrimage to Chartres, the one he made on foot. Our Lady performed the miracle, won the victory. “Our Lady saved me from despair,” he said. Let us take up this intimate letter to Lotte:

“I cannot explain to you… I have treasures of grace, an inconceivable superabundance of grace… I made a pilgrimage to Chartres. I am a Beauceron. Chartres is my cathedral… I walked 144 km in three days. Ah, my old man, the crusades were easy!… You can see the Chartres bell tower from 17 km out on the plain. From time to time it disappears behind a wave, a line of woods. As soon as I saw it, it was an ecstasy. I didn’t feel anything anymore, neither the fatigue, nor my feet. All my impurities fell away at once… I prayed, old man, as I have never prayed before.”

The prayers written on her return, in thanksgiving and in the enthusiasm of the favors received, which form La tapisserie de Notre-Dame (The Tapestry of Our Lady), allow us to guess the drama of “this old heart which was rebellious” and of “this young child who was too beautiful” and how salvation came because Our Lady of Chartres “is the place in the world where everything becomes easy,”

Here is the place in the world where temptation
Turns itself inside out.
For what tempts here is submission.

In Chartres, conversion is easy, the heart turns away from earthly things because the Blessed Virgin is there, offering her love, with tenderness and maternal solicitude. The second prayer does not ask for happiness: “O Queen, it is enough for us to have kept our honor;” and under her command “a fidelity stronger than death.”

The third prayer, “Of Confidence,” describes the drama, the choice of suffering. It is all the tragic aesthetics of the man put “in the center of misery, placed in the axis of distress.”

The fourth prayer delivers to us an upsetting secret. Péguy recalls his ordeal, and he asks the Holy Virgin to transfer her graces of happiness and prosperity on four young heads. Péguy had only three children, so if he speaks of four, it is because he could not help but think of that young woman’s little daughter, Blanche Bernard, as his own.

The love of the Blessed Virgin turned him away from any other forbidden love and made him find the Holy Hope which is to accept what God wants for us.

With this key, we understand his Présentation de la Beauce à Notre-Dame de Chartres (Presentation of the Beauce to Our Lady of Chartres). Everything is symbolic. Péguy became a child of Mary again and could once more say the Lord’s Prayer, along with the Hail Mary.

After a last pilgrimage to Chartres, in July 1913, he composed a fifth prayer, Of Deference, in which he wrote a definitive resolution: He will only accept in his heart a love that wants to give itself up to the Virgin Mary. These texts reveal to us that in Chartres, Péguy reached the highest mystical peak of his existence after a crisis that shook his whole life, and at the same time the highest peak of his poetic art.

It is admirable how this man overcame this terrible temptation, this torment. In 1910, he overcame it and matured for his great works. What would have become of him, if he had left his wife and children – canon law would have allowed him to do so – and all for a young Jewish woman whose face and intelligence fascinated him? Péguy would have been nothing – whereas he now teaches us that great things can only be built on sacrifice.

After this “secret of Péguy,” he went to work, since “there is plenty of work that advantageously replaces happiness.”

The Great Works

Indeed, these crucifying years became grand period in which his genius blossomed, through the drama of his intimate life, but also intellectual solitude. He was angry with the political framework of socialism because he wanted to remain faithful to the syndicalists. He was angry with his friends for trifles, Maritain, Sorel, Halévy. Péguy was of an atrabilious tendency. There was some Rousseau in him – chagrined susceptibility, continual concern to put himself forward, to talk about himself (his health, his works, his debts), permanent concern for the examination of conscience and public confession, the need to air his quarrels in the street with perfect bad taste – thus notes René Johannet. Moreover, two manias tormented him: That of never misjudging, while being contrary, and that of breaking off from others, while complaining of having been left out! Perhaps this ever-ready quarrelsomeness, these contradictions were caused by the fall he had on his head. His photos show the relentless gaze of a man whose life was a constant failure.

Notre Jeunesse (Our Youth) appeared in July 1910. His friend Halévy had just written about the Dreyfus Affair as an old story in which people had been misled, since, under the cover of the revision of the trial, a cynical gang was engaged in the ransacking of France. In three weeks, Péguy wrote a response to Halévy, Notre Jeunesse. He contrasted the pure Dreyfusists, men of eternal salvation, with their adversaries, men of temporal salvation, not to mention criminal politicians; and he concluded peremptorily: “Everything begins in mysticism and everything ends in politics.”

The irreducible opposition that Péguy instituted between mysticism and politics was first of all the cry of a deceived heart, the outrageous conclusion of his unfortunate involvement in a political movement in which his mysticism, itself noble and generous, had served as a cover for a low maneuver of anti-militarist, anti-French, anti-clerical subversion, and the conquest of Power in opposition to his ideal. In fact, the Dreyfusist mysticism of the pure degenerated into the politics of treason. But there is no intrinsic necessity to this deception, to this detour – politics can therefore still be one of the providential places for the exercise of Christian mysticism, for the establishment of the Kingdom of God. For lack of understanding this, Péguy could not get along with Maurras.

This masterpiece of polemics, in particular against Jaurès, ends with the admission of Dreyfus’ disqualification. He had disappointed everyone.

Halévy, the friend of 15 years, got angry. To reconcile him, Péguy wrote, Victor-Marie, Comte Hugo“I beg your pardon, I will not do it again,” he explained to Halévy. “But I have offended you because I am the people and you are bourgeois!” Then, from the political register he passed to the literary register. In his triple parallel of Hugo, Corneille, and Racine, Péguy showed himself a great critic. This Cahier ends with the praise of his friend Psichari, a magnificent patriotic officer in Mauritania.

Attacked for his faith, Péguy retorted violently in another Cahier, Un nouveau théologien, M. Fernand Laudet, in September 1911. Confronting the career Catholic, the incarnation of conservatism, a “man who would sell his God in order not to be ridiculous,” Péguy rigorously affirmed his faith, the one that was all in the catechism: “Our loyalties are citadels. These crusades which carried off people, which threw continents one on top of each other, have been transferred to us, they have returned to us… The least of us is a soldier. The least of us is literally a crusader.” His Christianity reached its peak with Le porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu (The Porch of the Mystery of the Second Virtue), which appeared in October 1911. In it, we see his entire life of despair transcribed into obscure terms.

Le Mystère des saints innocents (The Mystery of the Holy Innocents) followed in March 1912. The crisis of despair was overcome, even if he still had yet more terrible days to face. He sings of his reconciliation with the Father. He allows us to see, with the eyes of God the Father, so to speak, an immense flotilla of prayers loaded with the sins of the world which attacks God the Father and forces Him to have mercy.

Péguy continued to do everything at once, to produce without respite, while the disaffection continued – the chase after the great prize of literature of the French Academy, but Lavisse and Herr were opposed to it.

In August, his little Pierre was stricken with diphtheria. He went to Chartres, to entrust his child to the Holy Virgin. “My child is saved,” he wrote to Lotte. Touched by this healing, Mrs. Péguy agreed to have the child baptized, but Péguy, caught up in the business of a friend, did not immediately respond to his wife’s request. She reneged; he let the opportunity pass him by.

With La tapisserie de sainte Geneviève (The Tapestry of Saint Genevieve), published in December 1912 and dedicated to the very anticlerical Geneviève Favre, he launched into verse.

Péguy began to be famous. He was fundamentally and publicly Catholic; a nationalist without using the word; a socialist who preached France and armament, ready to go to war against the barbarians. He continued to rage against Jaurès, the pacifist internationalist, who did the dirty work of Germany and demoralized the French. He dreamed of mobilization, “determined to cover himself with glory.”

L’argent (Money) and L’argent suite (Money Continued) came next and illustrated the power of the polemicist. “Louis XVI was good. That is not what one asks of a government. What is required of a government is to be firm.” He was anti-parliamentary, anti-democratic: “The weapons of Satan are the shouting, the vote, the mandate and suffrage.” Such quotations abound: “One must not be for the small. The little ones are the weak. You must love them, the little ones. Serve them, the little ones. Protect them, the little ones. But you must not be for the little ones. Who will protect them, serve them, love them, if not force? You have to be for force. You have to be for the big ones.”

He found a way to unite in France his three passions: The ancient world, the Christian world and revolutionary liberty: “France has two vocations in the world – her vocation of Christianity and her vocation of liberty. France is not only the eldest daughter of the Church; she is undeniably a kind of patroness and witness (and often martyr) of freedom in the world.” (L’argent suite).

L’Argent suite explained that our religion is the religion of the God who became man, of the spirit and of the flesh. Péguy wants Christ to reign on all levels of being, in the spirit and in the flesh. Seized by the shock of the Incarnation, he felt what is complete in our Christianity. There is no Christianity without Catholicism and patriotism. Let us not misunderstand the mysticism that degrades into politics. All his work affirms and demonstrates that there is no true mysticism that does not lead to politics, that does not command a politics; just as conversely there is no spiritual salvation that is not supported and measured and induced by a temporal salvation. This is one of the most striking and important aspects of his message.

In May 1913, he published his Tapisserie de Notre-Dame (Tapestry of Our Lady), the fruit of grace of his pilgrimages to Chartres where he returned in July.

He was 40 years old; he felt old; he sensed death. He knew that he was moving towards the most perfect of achievements, towards two glories united in one, that of the soldier, that of the believer, walking to sacrifice.

On December 28, 1913, Eve was published. It is a Catholic work, where Christ shines in his cosmic monarchy. Péguy was extremely proud of it, with reason. Ten months later, these verses became the very poem of the war. He knew that he was part of this multitude whose sacrifice he sang. But just imagine the fright of the subscribers of Cahiers when they received this monster of 400 pages, containing 1911 quatrains! Especially since in the middle of great, beautiful verses, in the middle of the confidences of Péguy, of envois to the dead soldiers, there are entire pages of metric verbalism and sound.

It was a disaster for Cahiers. The unsubscribing that immediately followed was the greatest joy for the enemies of Péguy. This fiasco was revenge for them for L’argent suite.

There were still more polemics; this time in favor of Bergson. In June 1914, he finished a meditation on history, on the decline, in the Cahier entitled Clio, which was not published until 1917. Here extremely rich ideas abound. Péguy speaks of himself as a man close to death. Since 1905, he saw the war coming. From 1912, he went ahead to lead this war that he so desired.

Péguy: Soldier And Christian

On Saturday, August 1, the mobilization was posted. Before leaving his pregnant wife and children on Sunday, August 2, he talked to her about the future. His wife asked him: “What will I do about this child?” She asks about baptism. “You will think about it,” Péguy replied enigmatically. Then he added, “If I don’t come back, I beg you to go every year on pilgrimage to Chartres.” He passed on to her the resolution he had made for himself.

“I must see my friends,” he said to his wife as he left her to go to Paris. He went to Madame Favre’s house, where he met Blanche Bernard (Blanche Raphaël] who was afraid of the war. To encourage her, he explained the reason for the war, and when he left her, he said: “If I don’t come back, you’ll go to Chartres every year.” And he did not come back.

He saw his friends again because he wanted to be reconciled with them: “The main thing for me,” he said, “is to leave with a pure heart.”

Everything was simple in this new life he was entering. He lived in a “kind of great peace.” He wrote to his wife on August 7, “I didn’t think I loved you intensely. Live in peace as we do here.”

His physical Catholicism, his love of the fatherland led him to danger, to dedication. The man of perpetual anger became a leader, loved by his men; and he took his place in the middle of the procession of poilus, soldiers and generals. During the 33 days of his war, he never ceased to be admirable.

Péguy, this peasant, this philosopher was above all a soldier. He commanded the 19th Company of the 276th Infantry which left for the front. Testimonies are numerous about his energy, his endurance. He seemed tireless, unaffected by the heat; always the first to go to his post, without any concern for danger.

On August 15, he heard the Assumption Mass in the little church in Loupmont – his first Mass.

The General congratulated “the 19th Company of the 276th infantry regiment for its fine attitude and its retreat in perfect order under machine gun fire during the battle of August 30.” In spite of the bad news, Péguy still believed in victory. Johannet wonders: “What was about this little man to make him stronger than fatigue, heat, hunger, discouragement? He had behind him 2000 years of courage, and he put the seal of sacrifice and blood upon it.”

On September 5, near Villeroy, Péguy led his battalion into its first battle, one of the first battles of the victory of the Marne. He shouted, “Forward!” His captain was killed. He continued the assault. Still standing, he yelled, “Fire!” He fell, struck in the forehead, among his soldier people about whom he so well sang: “Soldier people, says God, nothing beats the Frenchman in battle.”

Péguy himself had composed their funeral oration in Eve:

Happy are those who died for this common earth,
But only if it was in a just war.

Let us conclude by preserving the best of Péguy: Here is Péguy, the man full of contradictions, who passed through the most absolute revolutionary atheism and ended up with the purest patriotism and Catholicism. His attachment to France was profound. Now, the soul of France, the wealth of France, is first of all the devotion to the Virgin Mary of which all these cathedrals are the proof. France is the kingdom of Mary.

Our Lady has kept well those whom Péguy entrusted to her, family and country. Mrs. Péguy was baptized along with her children, except Marcel, the eldest. The terrible war was the regenerating ordeal of those who were called the “sacrificed generation.”


Sister Bénédicte de la Sainte Face write and comments on the Catholic faith in France. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Contre-Réforme Catholique au XXIe siècle.


The featured image shows, “Portrait of Charles Péguy,” by Jean-Pierre Laurens; painted in 1908.

The Importance Of Being Monarchical, or How To Temper Democracy

In the mid-1980s, the middle-aged English philosopher, editor of The Salisbury Review, wrote a column in the London Times, in which he noticed that the Austrian throne is empty and pointed to Otto von Habsburg who could fill the void. To some readers, even if they happened to be British subjects, his idea, I suspect, must have appeared facetious. However, Roger Scruton, the author of the column, who was knighted by Prince Charles in 2016, was a serious man. What others thought could be a joke, to Sir Roger was a serious matter. He spent his life defending and giving fresh meaning to what the progressives consider outrageous only because it is old or appears obsolete.

To be sure, the defense of monarchy in an environment in which democracy is thought of as divine, sounds like a sign of madness. Yet nowadays when democracy is performing very poorly and almost every week provides more and more evidence that discredits it, perhaps it is time to rethink our uncritical attitude to it.

On October 9, this year, the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, announced that he would resign, after prosecutors began an investigation into allegations that he used public money to pay off pollsters and journalists for favorable coverage. Eight days earlier, on October 1st, the premier of Australia’s New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, “stepped down over a probe into her secret relationship with a lawmaker who is being investigated for corruption.” And on September 30th, former French President, Nikolas Sarkozy, was sentenced to one year for illegal campaign financing. All three scandals happened within less than two weeks.

This is not all. Remember the arch-popular Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva? In July 2017, he was convicted on corruption charges to 10 years in prison. In 2016, the world learned about the so-called “Panama papers.” It was discovered that over one hundred world leaders had offshore accounts to evade paying taxes.

Among them was Oxford-educated “philosopher king,” Abdullah II, of Jordan, who purchased three Malibu properties with the help of offshore companies for $68 million, in the years after the Arab Spring, when his subjects protested against corruption. But kings are kings and have always been in the habit of ripping-off their subjects – something which partisans of the popular government promised democracy would put an end to. Apparently, one does not have to be a king; enough to be a democratic head of state to do what corrupt kings do. The Panama papers include two British Prime ministers – Tony Blair and David Cameron – the Premier of the Czech Republic, several people associated with the Clinton Foundation, and many more.

The USA – the bedrock of democracy – is not a place to look for honest politicians, either. In fact, the US is infested with dishonest politicians, many of whom rot in prison, put there by their electors. In Baltimore, where I resided for almost 15 years, all three mayors during my residence there had to step down on corruption charges. In 2014, Bob McDonnell, the governor of the neighboring state of Virginia, and his wife, Maureen, were indicted on federal corruption charges; so was the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich (who was sentenced to 14 years in prison), as well as three other governors of the same State.

If you still believe that democracy is a solution to the problem of corrupt government, you’d better read Plato’s Republic or Gorgias, or buy a lantern and, like Diogenes in Athens who tried to find an honest man, look for an honest civil servant who puts the good of those who elected him before self-interest. Many of those who believe democracy to be the best confuse commitment to democracy with commitment to simple human honesty and decency. Unfortunately, when it comes to honesty, democracy does not score higher than other regimes and is likely to continue being the source of frustration to those who put their faith in the people.

The list of corrupted democratic politicians will continue to grow in; and this is not a question of probability but certainty. Democracy, it needs to be stressed, provides more transparency than any other system; it may have eliminated the arbitrary brutal use of physical violence by the politicians, which means that we no longer need to be afraid of living under autocrats like generals Pinochet or Franco and shah Reza Pahlavi, or African political gangsters, like Paul Biya of Cameroon, president since 1982, who exploit and abuse their people. However, as thirst for blood among democratic leaders goes unsatisfied, they instead turn filling their pockets and deceive the naïve public that they serve. That is why the system is not working very well.

An army of naïve political scientists and commentators write books for the believers in popular government on “how to save democracy.” The journalists of the Washington Post lie to the public that “democracy dies in darkness,” while supporting corrupt Left-wing politicians. Social activists, on the other hand, scream louder and louder that the only way to save democracy is to expand it even further. The last suggestion is the surest way to corrupt even more people. Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, but any amount of power will also corrupt – which means that allowing more people to govern will also corrupt a greater number of them. In recent decades democracy started looking like a place where everyone could enrich himself. The careless get caught; others get away; and ordinary people get no share in the big pie.

Thomas Jefferson was an idealist who, as we learn from his letter to J. Langdon, 1810, thought that hereditary monarchs were “all body and no mind,” who can do nothing but mischief. But he was also a realist who knew that the only way to make democracy work is, as he explained it John Adams in a letter of October 28, 1813, to find natural aristocrats to rule over the rest: “The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society… May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government.”

That was two hundred and eight years ago. Today we can say that Jefferson was mistaken. The democratic environment, which tends to grow and destroy non-democratic elements around it, is fundamentally hostile to creating conditions in which aristocratic virtues can grow. Rather, the opposite is the case – under the influence of democracy even royals succumb to the democratic malaise. It happened to Prince Harry who has recently left the confines of Windsor Castle to settle down in democratic America. So far, the news for the lovers of monarchy is not good. Instead of transplanting aristocratic virtues to America, Prince Harry has become a celebrity. He began his life in the New World by whining on Oprah Winfrey’s show how miserable it is to be a royal and how nasty other royals can be. If you are emotional, you can even feel sorry for him – he is presented as a man who suffered greatly under the heavy yoke of the aristocratic code.

We should not be surprised, however, why democracy suffers from malaise. The political consequence of the decline of aristocratic order was described by the English poet and literary critic, Matthew Arnold. In his essay “On Democracy” (1879), Arnold saw what Jefferson (most likely because his dislike for hereditary aristocracy deprived him of objectivity) missed. He points out that there where aristocracy does not exist, ordinary people are deprived of the ideal that can ennoble them. Where are the Washingtons, Hamiltons and Madisons today? Arnold exclaims in his essay, pointing to the fact that American democracy is unable to regrow the greatness which one found in the generation raised when America was part of the British Crown. What grew instead was the power of the State.

Arnold, it seems, was right, which is testified by the language used in democratic countries. “The most powerful man in the world,” and “the most powerful woman in the world” (as Americans refer to the President and the First Lady); or “the most powerful country in the world” – all are part of everyday journalistic vocabulary in America. (Even the presence of the omnipotent Xi Jing Ping at the same dinner table is unable to change this democratic perception).

It would be wrong to think that such expressions mean that Americans are self-obsessed. Rather, they point to what Matthew Arnold predicted must happen. When a country lost its highest class which “dictated the tone for the nation,” the nation tended to augment the power of the State to see it as dignified and great. However, this democratic jive is not peculiar to America. It can be found in France, another country in which democracy, too, took very deep roots. The President of the Republic acts and looks (especially during the swearing in ceremony) like a secular king, anointed by the people. His residence, the Presidential Palace, just like the White House, reminds you of royal residence.

This is not so in Great Britain. 10 Downing Street looks like an unpretentious townhouse which you see all over London or Baltimore; and it was so even at the end of the 19th century when the British ruled over one fourth of the globe. British Prime Ministers behave like “civil servants.” The reason is simple: Prime ministers in a constitutional monarchy have someone above them, which is a reminder that the power of the people has limits. Whatever a Prime Minister may think of his great talents, the existence of the monarch, even if only symbolic, has a tempering effect on the Prime Minister’s ego. That is why we can’t imagine someone like Donald Trump as British Prime Minister. Were it to happen, I suspect that the British would likely choose to live under a real, not symbolic, monarchy.

Monarchies are a common heritage of all those who look for the cultural roots of Europe. The British monarchy is not the only one in Europe. Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Monaco and Norway are monarchies, too (the Bulgarian king Simeon lives in Spain). But the British monarchy is the most visible and its well-being should matter to everyone. It is the most powerful symbol of the old order which is obsolete only to those who put faith in a system that is far from being ideal. For this defective system to work for the common good we need to be very vigilant. The proclivity for corruption of the managers of this system is (or should be) all too obvious and given the fact how often these managers of democracy are charged with financial impropriety, one may wonder whether any constitutional monarch would survive if he was so often implicated in corruption scandals.

However, what should worry us more than financial scandals are the totalitarian tendencies which democracies developed in the last several decades. Monarchy is a place where a nation finds the continuity of its tradition while totalitarian regimes erase all traces of the past. Democracies today are in the process of doing just that. Changes in the language so that it mirrors an egalitarian worldview, destruction of monuments, changes in educational curricula, forcing us to accept the idea that sex is a matter of choice are the most visible signs of the break with tradition. However, why that is the case should not surprise us. The past and human relationships tell us that reality is hierarchical. Hierarchy is what the progressive egalitarians are against. The past stands in their way to claim absolute power.

There is only one other institution which is like monarchy: it is the Papacy in which the Catholics, regardless of their nationality, find the continuity of their tradition. In one respect, the Papacy is an even more powerful symbol than monarchy – it is older than any single dynasty, and it includes our Greek and Roman heritage, while the monarchy is national. To be sure, not all popes were saints. Only a few of them lived a life which would lead anyone to heaven. But saintliness of life applies to individuals, while tradition is group behavior. When it is based on high ideals, tradition translates into noble behavior of a group, which we call a nation. The function of tradition is to provide us with signs that lead us in this life. Without clear signs on how to behave, nations are lost. They become demoralized and are in danger of indulging in monstrous behavior.

The monarchy will last as long as the royals behave like royals. This is what they owe us — ordinary people. We do not need royals who act like celebrities; we need the aristocracy to ennoble us, take us to a higher level. Once royals act like the commons, the monarchy will vanish; and when that happens, the future will likely, once again, belong to nationalist democracies turned totalitarian. As 20th century experience teaches us, democracies tend to collapse in times of crises and generate hard-core dictatorships, outside of which there is no source of values except ideology.

Mr. Trump acted like those mad kings described by Thomas Jefferson in his letter. But the problem with Jefferson’s argument against monarchy, which is the only one he formulated, is that one can always dethrone a mad ruler and replace him with a sane one. However, it is impossible to dethrone a population seized by egalitarian madness, enticed by populist demagogues who speak like Mussolini or Hitler. Seeing Greta Thunberg on the throne of Sweden would be something truly terrifying. We can only hope that the Swedish king, Carl Gustaf, will continue to rule with dignity, as he has done for many decades, and that monarchies will survive to save us from mad populists and democratic egalitarians.


Zbigniew Janowski is the author of several books on 17th century philosophy, as well as, Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America and is the editor of John Stuart Mill’s writings.


The featured image shows, “The Coronation of Queen Victoria in Westminster Abbey 28 June 1838,” by Sir George Hayter; painted in 1838.

Leadership As Service: A Conversation With Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

It is a great honor and delight to bring to our readers this wide-ranging conversation with Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, the well-known scholar, diplomat and business strategist. He is the author of many books, including, Practical Wisdom in Management, Spiritual Enterprise: Doing Virtuous Business, Common-Sense Business: Principles for Profitable Leadership, The Plot to Destroy Trump, Trump’s World, Davos, Aspen, & Yale: My Life Behind the Elite Curtain as a Global Sherpa. Dr. Malloch is interviewed by Nicholas Capaldi.


Nicholas Capaldi (NC): You once described yourself as a “recovering academic.” What did you mean by that?

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch (TRM): I meant, like a proverbial addict or drunk, I keep going back on the bottle no matter how I much I try to rid myself of the disease. Academic haughtier is like that. Having attained a Piled Higher and Deeper very early (nothing against earned degrees, per se), I was lured into believing in intellectual superiority and that the measure of a man’s value was the length of his erudite footnotes. My dissertation had forty pages of such. Know-it-all academics are too often pompous, arrogant, and full of themselves almost to a person. I know first-hand. Those who try to put on a humble façade are perhaps the worst of the lot.

NC: What helped you to recover?

TRM: Who said I had recovered? The plight is terminal. I have lapses. Like chronic cancer it is always with you. The best antidote is a dose of reality and repeated failure. For God’s sake, please keep academics out of real politics at all costs. As we know Marxists in particular, claimed over 100 million lives in the last century plus, and they have apparently not learned their lesson, quite yet. Such a great theory, we are told again and again, if only it could be tried. Well, it like all theories have generally been tried – and found wanting.

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch.

NC: What is Academics Anonymous?

TRM: Academics surely need a 12-step process to get off their benighted sauce. But alas there is no such cause or organization. It might be better if we either had more anonymous academics in the first place or just produced fewer of them. I no longer even believe everyone should attend college – a heresy, I know. I have written recently and convinced a US Senator to tax all foundations and universities and take that cache (roughly $8 billion a year) and sink it into a fund to apprentice young people – to learn useable trades.

NC: You have been involved in the world of business in several different ways: investment, strategy, executive education, have authored books on business and ethics, and have been director of international conferences/summits on topics, such as, entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance, etc. What have you learned from all of this?

Far more than I did sitting in a classroom. That is true even for the classes I myself taught. Book knowledge is fine; but only goes so far. To quote Augustine: “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

Learning is a life-long process or journey and the minute it stops, you die. Terminal degrees are in fact terminal and breed a conceit and attitude that proves deadly to both the mind and the soul. Biting the fruit of the tree of knowledge lost us Eden. All things begin and cohere in and by the grace of the Creator and we should not forget this truth.

NC: Among your many hats, you have been a diplomat. How has this impacted your life?

TRM: Foggy Bottom, aka the State Department, The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the United Nations (Geneva) have given me real world experience and taken me to about 150 countries; some have merged, and others split. Much of it was negative power or lessons in the futility of nation-building. It certainly schooled me in the dangers of the administrative state and what has now come to be known as the “deep state.” My anti-globalism came as a direct result of my life in such places as described in grainy detail in my memoir, Davos, Aspen, and Yale. The statists and globalists fear me because I have been on the inside and know all their games and tricks.

NC: I understand you are persona non grata in the EU. Why is that?

TRM: That is, above all and beyond all the accolades, distinguished lectures, and honorary degrees I have received, my finest hour. I was made PNG by a vote of the European Parliament. Reason being, I was to be Trump’s ambassador to that august and feckless body – the very undemocratic European Union. It was a way of pissing on him while defaming me. You likely know I was on TV regularly in that period, backing Brexit and criticizing the EU. I said confidently on the BBC’s top evening show, “I had in an earlier diplomatic assignment been part of the team that brought down the Soviet Union and maybe there is another Union that needs a little taming.” I quickly became their nemesis and the papers famously called me, “The most feared man in Europe.” They said I was “malevolent.” My reply – they lacked a theory of good and evil, so how would they know?

NC: You have written on President Trump, and I believe you served him in several capacities. Given all the controversy about Trump, what do you make of his presidency?

TRM: Like all human affairs it was a mixed ordeal. My books praise him and his policies and give him high marks for attempting to “drain the swamp” and revive American Greatness. But he was not perfect by any means and made many bad personnel decisions. As an American Caesar he was a kind of Geo Deus as we called him, but he did not share well or distribute credit. As I said in my original endorsement in Forbes magazine, comparing him to Teddy Roosevelt and his economic nationalism of the last century, his twin faults were lack of humility and hubris. They could cost him dearly. Conservatives too can fall on these and other related vices.

NC: Was the 2020 US election fraudulent?

The best way perhaps to answer this question is to utilize the P.D. Woodhouse literary method of simile. Is Nirmal Dass Catholic? Is Nicholas Capaldi a masterful logician? Is Ted Malloch a WASP?

You get my drift. Not only was the election “fraudulent” in a thousand ways as demonstrated in detail by the journalist, Mollie Hemingway, in her definitive new book, Rigged, but the result has produced an illegitimate President, as I said in print and on air in November of 2020. Since then, unlike the mythical figure, Midas, everything Biden has touched has turned to stone. It is as if we are reaping the reward of our collectivist big lie. Our only hope is to restore electoral integrity.

NC: What is the future on conservatism?

TRM: With the fall of the institutions, including the all-important mediating structures, changing demography, and the dearth of spiritual backbone, I would have to say – less than auspicious. Perhaps, the worse things get, the more a remnant will rise to see again America’s exceptional role, the need for faith and the utter rootlessness and anomie of our current demise. There are a few signs of such renewal. My books are I believe, in retrospect, a commentary on the cycle of necessary virtue. Faithfully build wealth and prosperity – realize spiritual capital – save and invest using thrift as a guide – be generous – avoid the lure of always tempting vices – lead as an act of service – and renew the culture.

NC: What do you think is the future of the Republican Party? The next election? Indeed, of America?

TRM: Political parties historically come and go, and the present Republicans are mostly a sad bunch, with the RINO GOP establishment hardly distinguishable from their adversaries. The neo-cons are the cause of our ludicrous interventionism and failures abroad, and the paleos are stuck in the past and dying off at any rate. I think a more vibrant form of national conservatism with strong spiritual acumen and practice is the only and best route forward. We should win the US 2022 by-elections and retake the House and Senate, but we need all new leadership, not the same old drones and has-beens, to succeed. 2024 is far off and could be a replay; or instead witness the emergence of a new wave of younger, smarter patriotic conservative leaders. We know who they are and now need to place them in places where they can shine.

NC: Which writers have most influenced your thinking? Who are your mentors?

TRM: I grew up reading, at my father’s knee, the great books and the holy Bible. They are my legacy and formed my entire worldview. They are not replaceable and certainly not by tertiary and second-hand thinkers. I was fortunate in my education to have had many great teachers and mentors who shaped me and much of my thinking, for which I accept all the blame. At the pinnacle that included the brilliant neo-Calvinist, and himself the best student of the Dutch juridical scholar, Herman Dooyeweerd. That Burkean/Smithian tradition and systematic philosophy remains very much a part of who I am, what I believe, and how I think. They call it Anti-Revolutionary.

NC: Your friends know you to be a deeply religious person. What has been the role of faith in your life?

As Bill Buckley often reminded us, based on Voegelin, if he was honest, “You can’t immanentize the eschaton.” Too often, particularly in political life and its many ideologies, people have tried to bring heaven to earth. Since it can’t be done – a massive price has been paid; damage done in the name of some or other false idol.

My Scottish family coat of arms has as its inscription the Latin – “Ego in hoc natus sum, et ad hoc veni ut veritatem attesti.” I am and have been since birth a devout follower of the one Lord, our Jesus, the Christ, and follow the Westminster confession. I know my eternal resting place, which is most reassuring for my time and activity on this terrestrial ball.


The featured image shows, “Cincinnatus recevant les ambassadeurs de Rome [Cincinnatus receiving the ambassadors of Rome],” by Alexandre Cabanel; painted in 1843.