Kiel University Sacrificed Freedom of the Press

Patrik Baab has won outright. The ruling of the Schleswig-Holstein Administrative Court in his favor is now legally binding.

So now it’s official: Patrik Baab did nothing, with his trip to eastern Ukraine, that would justify ending his teaching position at Kiel University. The ruling of the Schleswig-Holstein Administrative Court of April 25 of this year is now legally binding. This is because Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU) has allowed the deadline for appealing to the Higher Administrative Court to expire.

After a lot of chest-beating, in the end, CAU did not dare come out of hiding. Its decision to kick journalist Baab out may have been a kowtow to the political situation and especially to the foreign policy course of the German government—but this decision was never legally tenable.

Freedom of the Press Before Political Pandering

The reasoning of the Schleswig-Holstein Administrative Court explicitly emphasized “the freedom of science according to Article 5 (3) sentence 1, GG (Grundgesetz—German Basic Law) and the freedom of the press according to Article 5 (1) sentence 2, var. 1 GG, which the plaintiff [i.e., Baab] is entitled to invoke. The scope of protection of the freedom of the press guarantees,” the court explained in detail, “in its subjective-legal dimension, the rights of freedom against the state for persons and organizations active in the field of the press; in addition, in its objective-legal meaning, it guarantees the institution of the independence of the press.”

Freedom of the press, it goes on to say, “includes, with respect to printed matter, all conduct that serves to obtain, prepare and disseminate opinions and facts for the public… Holders of freedom of the press are also entitled to a subjective right of defense against indirect infringements.” The court expressly emphasized that Baab’s trip to eastern Ukraine at the time of the referenda also falls under this protection, as he was researching for a book and acting as a journalist.

This argumentation is nothing less than a strengthening of the freedom of the press in Germany. It has an impact on other journalists and publicists in the country who see themselves exposed to the reach of politics and academia. The ruling also says that freedom of the press is more important than the anticipatory obedience of various educational institutions that think they have to throw themselves at the mercy of ideologizing politics. Therefore, we are also dealing here with a rejection of ingratiation.

Kiel University as a War Party

Patrik Baab was a journalism lecturer in Kiel. There he taught research, critical questioning—in short: He showed what freedom of the press can achieve—and this at a university that has now received more or less official confirmation that it has not only failed to appreciate that very freedom of the press, but has torpedoed it. A fatal report card for the teaching institution. Can we hope that journalists trained there will have grasped, in the course of their studies, what the qualities of freedom of the press actually mean?

The administrative file on this incident, which is now available, is peppered with one-dimensional classifications of the Baab trip. The university protagonists quoted in it made themselves a war party in the matter. In effect, there is no mention of investigative openness as a value in itself—nor is there a brief interjection that journalists (should) go where it hurts.

But that’s exactly what Baab has done. Basically, he has shown his students—in exemplary fashion—what journalistic work means: not being satisfied with what other professional colleagues have already written, remaining suspicious, displaying skepticism and getting a picture of the scene for yourself. His employers, Kiel University, however, have now emphatically demonstrated that these values are not necessarily required at all—journalists who apply them tend to appear to be a nuisance, and they’d rather be shown the door.

Now What?

The aforementioned administrative file mentions several names of professors who were in lively exchange when Baab’s trip became known via t-online—a news portal, known for its campaigns against intellectuals critical of the German government, and belonging to an advertising group that receives a large part of its orders from exactly this government. Again and again, the accusation was made that Baab had the wrong attitude—and therefore he must be unsuitable as a lecturer. The fact that he did not get on with the job, i.e., with a completely strict condemnation of Russia, thus led to the charge that he also refrained from factual analysis. This is a reproach throughout. Yet Baab has condemned the Russian invasion several times—his condemnation, however, also does not paralyze his journalistic ethos.

After the court decision, which the CAU did not even object to, apparently knowing that it had overreached considerably, the question now arises: Who will take responsibility for this democratic and constitutional failure? Who will justify the fact that funds allocated by the public were wasted for such an act of political pandering?

For example, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at Kiel University, Christian Martin, who was heavily involved in Baab’s dismissal and who teaches comparative governance and politics? Shouldn’t one expect more sensitivity to publicity from a teacher in this subject, i.e., a sense of how journalism is done and where not to get in its way? After all, this case is no trifle; here, a university has proven that it is willing to sacrifice freedom of the press just to puff itself up as being politically correct. The danger of teaching attitude rather than expertise does not seem so small—especially when people like Baab are thrown out the door.

Roberto J. De Lapuente is a journalist who writes from Germany. He is the author of Rechts gewinnt, weil Links versagt [The Right Wins because the Left Fails]. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Overton Magazin.

Featured: The Seal of Kiel University, with the motto: “Pax optima rerum” (“Peace is the best thing”).

Scholarship Inferno—A Dantesque Meditation on Scholars in the Managerial Age

These thoughts were first delivered as an oration, the Third Stuart Saunders Memorial Lecture, given at the Auditorium of the Neuroscience Institute of the University of Cape Town, on May 22, 2023. This written version is considerably different.

“Lasciate ogni Speranza voi ch’ entrate,” said a placard outside the senior common room. A doctoral student must have posted it, in propitiation of a desired but improbable job given the “financial constraints,” I thought. I sat down and let my mind wander and wonder. What did that future jurist, or perhaps lawyer, mean? Why this gesture, this interpellation, this sorrow even? A moral claim, in any event. An occasion to reflect on scholarship?

In an age of universities and academics “ratings,” of Nespresso conferences offering quick and easy 15-minute presentations, and the vulgar business of journals held, in firm accountants’ hands, by international publishing groups, “sovereign” funds in disguise, in short a Hell university managers (and Presidents or Vice-Chancellors), refuse to consider, I took the grad student’s caveat literally, and I stepped forward, as it were, walking behind Dante, and Virgil.

This is no stroll up to the illuminating Ideas of the Table of Cebes, but a slow progress into the phantoms that inhabit scholarship’s morality. Mine is a tropological reading of Dante’s Inferno applied to the negative ethics of scholarship. It is not exhaustive. It is a rhetorical exercise in the very best sense of the word, clearing stuff that encumbers reason and argument—let us remember how at the very beginning of Rhetoric Aristotle calls for getting rid of rubbish, and opening a straight path. In this case, Iet us try and clear the rubbish indeed that stands in the way, the hodos, of a scholar’s progress.

Let us follow Dante.


In the first circle, Dante meets, in particular, ancient philosophers, Greek thinkers, such as Plato and Aristotle.

Why are scholars of ancient Greece, the source of all scholarly knowledge at the time, from physics to medicine, morals to logic? Why are they in Hell, and why at its most benign level? Reason is that they have perceived the truth of what it is to be a human being, be it in metaphysics or in physics, in ethics or in formal and informal reasoning. But they lacked a true concept of it.

Their scholarly endeavours lacked something fundamental. What French thought-libertines, such as La Mothe le Vayer called, with a bold oxymoron, “la Sagesse des Païens.” Wise, sage, indeed, but lacking a knowledge of divine truth, despite the aletheia-Revelation. Those words “wise, sage” were a trope for “knowing,” and to deny them the status of “doctors of the faith” which, undoubtedly, had they contemplated the Word made Flesh, and acceded to “knowledge” they would have earned (such was the tale which spared the French sceptics a dire fate).

However, ancient philosophy itself made a clear distinction between “knowing” and “knowledge,” aistheta kai noeta, to put it differently: “percepts” and “concepts.”

The wise ancients perceived a connection between human understanding and the human condition, but they lacked a concept of that relationship between what a human being can achieve, in a scholar’s case intellectually, and the purpose of the universe within which scholarly enterprise fits, which for Dante was its placement within a superior divine order. In this case, ancient scholars had a percept of the ultimate goal of scholarship, they did not have a true concept of it, that is of the truth of Nature. We know that the position of science regarding a divine scheme of Nature still rages on today.

A tropological, and moral, translation with regard to a scholar’s enterprise ensues: to be clever as a scientist or perceptive as a philosopher, to be intelligent and enterprising as a scholar, that is to follow the ways and uses of a given scholarly community, its properly named ethos, yet without a firm concept of truth, is advantageous, but fraudulent.

Often scholars stay there, and quite happily. They go through the moves, but remain at the level of percepts—cleverly constructed, persuasively presented as concepts, forcefully argued, but percepts, aistheta, none the less.

For instance, the so-called “robust” debates on climate change, the nasty controversies about the warring situation in Eastern Europe, and the opposing arguments about Covid, rest, among scholars (I am not talking here about the public), on a constant game between percepts and concepts, opinions presented by scholars as veracity, and established facts or arguments logically valid as well as exact.

When scholars behave like the public who is naturally swimming in the amniotic liquid of percepts, they fail being scholars.

I have tried that notion on some of my brighter graduates. They see the point, but they do not see what to do about it, and with it—as scholars. They often prefer to fall back on percepts. Many are “wise,” smart, perceptive, and that suffices to sustain an academic or professionally “learned” career. Scholars they are not.


In the second circle of Hell, Dante meets those who lead lives driven by passionate love. Love, human love, is supposed to be what people, especially in the Western mindset, are made to believe as being a superior feeling. Some cultures do without it and are none for the worse. Roland Barthes, a critic unorderly decried today, wrote A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments to debunk the narrative of human love—as just a narrative. By contrast, he had read Loyola closely, when the Jesuit saint’s Spiritual Exercises were a terra incognita to secular critics (but oddly he gets no credit for it). He had a clear idea that “love,” dispassionate, is a travail of the mind, an active arming of the mind, as the word exercitium says, and Barthes knew his Latin (and his Greek).

But how does “love” relate to scholarship?

Again, tropology: scholars are not supposed to fall in love with ideas, theirs or others’. They are not supposed to be in love with what they think. They must maintain a distance. Getting infatuated with a topic, a research theme, an author, an idea, is dangerous. One gets ensnared by the self-loving turns of a narrative about one’s own mind. Some of us get caught in the loving knots of libido sciendi.

Why? It has to do with fetishism.

There is often a fetishist approach to a scholar’s endeavours, just like love is in essence fetishist.

Now, what is a fetish? A fetish is a strategy of replacement. In it most serious form, someone who is deeply mentally disturbed will hallucinate that an object, any object, is reality; reality meaning the subject of desire—“love.” An object replaces a subject.

Benign example: Buying an expensive perfume or getting into debt for an expensive car are fetishist acts: you replace the lifestyle you cannot afford with a fetish of that lifestyle. You fulfil your desire, and hallucinate that which you cannot have (worse, is denied to you, and in full display—cruelly, hence feeding the narrative of endless dis-satisfaction).

In intellectual matters the desire, the passionate love for fetishes is a very strong “drive,” especially among younger scholars. “Drive” is correct, but placed here in-between inverted commas, because those who use it all the time are evidently ignorant of its true meaning: it is the Trieb of psychoanalysis—Eros and Thanatos at work. It coheres.

It is indeed a natural bend, exacerbated by the demands for “teamwork,” “collaborative research,” and the like. But it leads to repetitive research. One cannot let go and move on. One has found one’s object of desire, and one wants to stay with it. You can call it silo thinking if you wish. In reality, it is a fetish. Roland Barthes, him again, warned his students: do not fetishize your dissertation into a book.

That sort of fetishist behaviour is often encouraged by funding agencies and managers: many, not all, want to see how a scholar has a trajectory, follows a path, undertakes a “journey” even as some say, having read that book by Coelho, and, nail in the coffin of noeta: a track record. Funding outfits often look at deviations from the course as proof of a lack of focus. Of course, they would, since they think along managerial lines—and their own fetish.

What is their fetish?

The magic bullet of Management: POLC, plan, organize, lead, control. With it the panacea of “lean management,” where things have “got to” move fast and in one direction, and “produce” “deliverables.” Ideas do not “move fast.” When you hear “productive” about a scholar, hear the alarm bell ring. It is a red flag for managerial fetish. Thanatos, that fundamental Trieb, reigns.

That sort of intrusion in the life of scholars produces a poorer intellectual life indeed. Which does not mean a poorer academic life. Both lives need not coincide. It is an error to envision that colleges and universities are places for scholarship. They may be places of scholarship, where some scholars can follow their path. But they are not places for scholars. That is no longer their teleology, their final cause. Universities may be the efficient cause of scholarship, but it mostly is no more that—“efficient” is a concept naturally adopted by the managerial university.


The third circle is about gluttons. That is, figuratively, about those who instead of being satisfied with meeting basic, bodily, needs, always want more.

In other words, their body has replaced their life. They are not human beings but recipients for other bodies, meat, vegetables, fruits, drinks. They eat animal and vegetal life in order to augment their own bodily life. I often wondered if the disgust strong-minded vegans feel toward meat-eaters, does not come from the carnivorous image of bodies eating bodies.

What about scholars? When I read verses from Canto VI, and I look for a tropological meaning, I am reminded of the expression: body text. And then I think of bloated footnotes in research papers, or one word followed by a bracketed string of So-and-So, page such-and-such, sometimes running for an entire line.

A gluttony of so-called references. Swelling the body of an article with others’ scholarship without, usually, any sort of pointed, coherent explanation between this word, hopefully concept, referenced and that kebab of data on a skewer. One feeds on anything that comes close and within grasp.

Others’ ideas and “body of work” do not exist to merely being gorged on, and regurgitated, often half-digested.

It is an illness most perceptible in the social sciences, in their strained effort to pass for “sciences,” less in the pure humanities whose scholars still see themselves members of a club, the Republic of Letters; but scientific papers are far from exempt from a rhetoric of agglutination and precedence to tick the boxes of credits parsed down to the least intelligent lab gesture by X (fifth “author”).

There is also little value in demanding from students, in their apprentice-ship of scholarship, to chew on so-called literature reviews and methodology parading. What is the actual value of filling up two compulsory chapters of a dissertation with those pre-emptive strikes? Or inane preliminaries, in academic articles, reciting a litany of saints of a particular faith as a preamble to get on with the job? Yes, we know what Agamben said about emergency; spare us triteness, show us what you do with it. What I want to see at work, in the body of an analysis, is how sources are activated in the course of a dissertation, or a paper, how a methodology is put into action.

To refer to them is not a scholarly gesture.

To infer from them, is a scholarly gesture.


In Hell 4 Dante casts the misers and the spend-all.

First, why are they stuck together in Hell 4? Because, possibly, they are a living hell to one another, as in a Balzac’s novel.

Figuratively both are the two sides of the same delusion: either they indulge in material goods by accumulating them, in order not to share them. Or they indulge in throwing away everything without any regard to the value of each item, which is a way of not sharing, as sharing has to be discriminate in order to fit the purpose of generosity.

A tropological reading sheds yet another light on the threats to scholarship.

How does a scholar hoard? What is a miser-scholar, if I can coin that word?

A hoarder scholar indulges in never deviating from his, her primary hoarding, be it a doctoral dissertation or a book. Everything always goes back to it. Niches can be comfortable, but if you are alone in it, what is the value of being so specialized? You stay in your dog-pen (“niche”), chewing on your bone.

By contrast, the reverse indulgence is forever turning yourself into an open house, having an open table, laying out whatever you have developed in terms of ideas, percepts often, to everyone. Large conferences, select colloquia, new associations that spring up all the time—made worse since the virus emergency—workshops on this and that, training about x, y z, compounded now by the invasive remote attendance, are all perfect avenues for academic spendthrifts.

I have seen intelligent colleagues, smart and astute, erudite even, cast to the winds whatever they have achieved, just for the sake of being present at, being heard at, publishing in. Relentlessly.

Clearly, spending or hoarding has to do with value—whether you hoard or you give away by largesse, you do so because you believe (percept…) it is valuable.

To go one step further: in scholarship there is worth, and there is value.

A scholar may have great worth, and lesser value.

The difference between the two is the following: worth is intrinsic. It resides within the field and discipline in which the scholar creates ideas. Value is extrinsic. It is assigned from outside the field and discipline.

Worth? I remember a colleague who never wrote a single monograph. He/she wrote short notices in small journals independent from the publishing industry. She/he never thought it necessary to share beyond a small circle of like-minded scholars, nor to assemble notes in a book, not even in that ersatz of the academic economy: the edited volume. That colleague placed no value in doing it, but knew her/his worth. So did friends.

Value? Clearly the prevailing ideology recoils at the worthy scholar. The industrialisation of academia discourages such scholarship. But scholars must have value for their institution as the vast majority of them usually belong to academia. Value is then assigned by outside processes—you know what they are: deans’ reports, funding agencies fantasies, internationally accredited “goals,” “visions” so-and-so, fabricated by overarching institutions. These are neither bad nor good; they are processes that reflect a current state of affairs in a managerial society. It is a fact. However, bending to extraneous facts uncritically is not what a scholar does.

Time lo leave Hell 4.


Secure in their frail skiff, Dante and Virgil now float on a stream of slime, and overboard they look at a slurry and at… the Dissatisfied.

A river of slime is a powerful image for those who see time and life pass them by, flow by irremediably, irretrievably, and fall into a deep dissatisfaction as they would do into sludge.

Being dissatisfied, especially when you are employed by a university, is quite common.

Among academics, dissatisfaction ranges from annoyance, to despondency, from hatred to self-hatred, from disdainful retreat to bilious withdrawal. In the classical theory of emotions, all these “passions” fall under one umbrella: anger.

It is one the strangest features of scholarly life in academia: a tendency to be fiercely angry, which befits sanguine characters, or to be bitterly morose, which befits more reserved ones. Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, which contains the first fully-fledged systematic theory of emotions and how they impact social life and are turned into public arguments, anger is the key emotion: anger surges forth when a feeling, a knowing (a percept) or a knowledge (a concept) of injustice, takes over.

For classical thought, anger is the driving force of politics, from subdued dissatisfaction to open rebellion, but it is always caused by a belief that an injustice has been done. The dissatisfied usually believe they have been treated unfairly. Academics do, as a rule.

The paradox is that, being intellectuals, scholars have all the means at their disposal to reflect on and analyze their own dissatisfaction. That is, to move beyond opinion to fact and argument. After all they spend their lives weighing hypotheses, testing results, refining conclusions. Their lives are immersed not in a slurry of bad ideas, but bathed in the clear waters of reason.


And yet a scholar, mildly or strongly dissatisfied, will channel one’s sense of injustice and dissatisfaction rarely along lines of reason, but along lines of opinion, mostly ideological lines.

Often a dissatisfied scholar will turn a personal grievance into an intellectual battle, will rally forces as must be necessary to show that it is not a personal grievance at root, but a case valid for a group.

Dissatisfaction and anger do produce results, in terms of power; it is doubtful they produce scholarship. It can pass for it. It rarely is.

Ideology is alienation as Marxist philosophy teaches us. An ideological scholar is alienated, on top of being angry.

Conversely a scholar who inflicts onto oneself the self-injury of withdrawing from confrontation, and turns anger inwards, becomes melancholiac. In the Renaissance it was deemed that melancholy was the right composure for a scholar. A scholar was supposed to brood over matters of the mind. Hence needs to retreat from too much intercourse, too much company, too many distractions. It is a pleasant melancholy; it is not dark, but the soft penumbra under the foliage of a grove-like retreat.

The irony of that fantasy could not be lost on Dante who wrote his masterpieces while being thrown out of his city, hounded, condemned to death and threatened to be burnt at the stake. He, a scholar, did not write in anger or melancholy—but in the quietening of fear.

He retreated.

Retreat is an idea which during a good millennium was central to the intellectual enterprise, and no longer is: it was called skhole. In the classical world, and that of Dante’s, a scholar lives in, and lives, skhole. The word “scholar” echoes it but it is a pale ectoplasm of the original concept. In the classical world skhole meant leisure, otium in Latin. The Augustinian tradition would call it, for its own ends of course, vita contemplativa. The application differs, but the concept is the same: skhole.

Leisure to what end? To provide a scholar with time and quiet to think without the pressures of negotium, life outside, social engagement, and working.

“School,” the word, copies skhole the idea, and indeed schools should provide the quiet time necessary to learn, without negotium interference. Children who attend school also should think about enslaved children who work in factories: they work, they don’t go to school.

Indeed skhole, peace and quiet to read and think, has always entertained a complex relationship with work. Real work. Backbreaking work.

It is interesting that in the 1950s a French socialist, Joffre Dumazedier, invented a new sociological notion which revived, in contraposition to working, the antique practice of skhole, with a new twist: “society of leisure.”

More than an idea it was an intellectual activism at the service of those who, actually, work: training and methods were set up and implemented to give workers “leisure,” time and space, that is skhole, in order to cultivate their minds, to learn how to argue and analyse; that is: how to reflect knowingly (noeta) on why being exploited made them so angry, or dissatisfied, and thus turn instinctive “knowing” (about the workers’ conditions) into an actual knowledge. The “society of leisure” was a form of scholarship. Leisure society was the humanist response to class struggle. A new skhole, to sum.

No longer today. Today “leisure” is quite the opposite: it is fabricated with consumer goods, in order to prevent workers from having time to think about their conditions, and make them hallucinate fetishes of the Good Life through more consumption. They are not afforded skhole but merchandise to be distracted from their condition, and from thinking, and to allow their masters to extract more work out of them.

Thus, when a scholar, who belongs to an institution, is dissatisfied, the first question to ask is: are you angry because you are a worker? Are you a worker? How do you define work? How do you retreat into leisure?


Dante and Virgil are now standing at the gates of the City of Hell.

In bolgia 6 are relegated heretics, religious dissenters, and partisans, political fanatics.

I am setting aside the religious aspect, but I retain Dante’s figurative intent: what to make of a scholar who holds partisan views within the scholarly enterprise? Not outside of it, as an individual engaged in society—many are not bothered, and often are not cleverer than the average citizen when it comes to politics—but what of those who, inside scholarly endeavours, activate partisanship as a part of, or even a drive for, their scholarship?

In intellectual intercourse scholars encounter, inside and outside academia, other intellectuals who are entirely devoted to defend a cause. That cause can be anything, but its function, when activated, is to override everything else.

Scholarship is then an expanding of personal prejudices, of firmly held percepts. Scholarship is put at the service of a set of opinions, a set of feelings, a set of values: it becomes secondary to reason. It is domesticated to serve a potent master that often suffers no contradiction.

Yet it is a choice. Or “heresy”: “heresy” is a not specifically religious, it means choice.

In matters of belief, it refers to an intellectual choice. Theologians called a heresy a “sententia humana,” a human statement—departing from the logos of the Scriptures. Today, outside the Christian frame, we could call a heresy a “personal choice.”

Scholars who allow themselves to push forward their “choice” of opinions, about politics mostly, over truth, have chosen a set of beliefs, percepts, as guidance for their erudite work. They have chosen to cast their scholarship into the mould, the chosen mould, of a knowing, not a knowledge.

They become partisans within their own fields of intellectual enquiry.

Some fields of enquiry are more fertile than others in allowing partisan choice to take over rational enquiry. Scholarship then often takes the public, publicized, claimed form of dissenting, in order to push forward the choice that drives it, and helps pass partisan opinion for reasoned scholarship. Grandstanding ensues. Intellectual “heresy” and partisanship are presented as more dignified, more important, more ethical, more useful to society than the prevalent scholarship. They claim the moral high ground. Some scholars build careers on their sententia humana—a personal choice driven like a nail into scholarship, and driving it.

However, those who really are in danger are young scholars.

For young scholars to declare upfront, “I believe that… I am passionate about” gives them an emotional drive, of course. But is it a scholarly approach?

When my MA or PhD students embark on a dissertation, and I have supervised for 40 years now, I always warn them: never begin your analysis by knowing what you want to prove. Do not have a conclusive opinion on the matter. Let the evidence lead you to what is the rightful, truthful conclusion. Never discard what goes against what you believe.

You may not like it, as it may not fit your belief, but then you have three choices.

First, you can review all the evidence and then lay it out in such a way that it will give you the result you wish, in line with your belief. You will side-line all that disproves your belief. What you will then perform is not scholarship, but an act of advocacy. It requires agility to do so.

As for me, I will be observing how smartly you do it, and possibly I will evaluate you on that skill, regardless of the veracity of the outcome. Nobel laureate in physics, Richard Feynman, famously called it “cargo cult science,” when he indicted funder-satisfying research. Long before Latour, he had, as a scientist, uncovered the inherent “rhetoric” of industrial, politically driven research: an exercise in advocacy, and in epideixis (orating on the “virtues” of an extraneous factor, be it political or industrial).

Or, second, you may not engage in that sort of selective work, and do a proper scholarly work. Confronted with an outcome that goes against your belief, you will ask yourself a moral question. That question will not be about the truth of the protocols you followed, since you have decided not to engage in cargo cult science, nor in epideixis (playing up to what funders want, in fawning obedience).

No, the question will be a moral question you will have to ask yourself: why was my initial belief so wrong? Yes, I was wrong but why did I believe in it? It takes courage to admit error in perceptions of reality, especially social, political. That is what a true scholar does.

But, third, if you lack that ethical courage—which can also be a professional safety mechanism in a hostile environment—then you have a third choice, a choice of pure partisanship: you retreat from rational scholarship back into belief, and say, well, yes, that is the correct outcome, but I don’t like it. It does not suit me. Very few have the perversity to do that in full awareness of the fact they are doing it. But it happens. And it is a violence against reason.

In short, in Circle 6, inside the City of Hell, Dante allows us to reflect on intellectual violence.

Which leads Dante to confront other forms of violence—against human nature.


Hell 7 is, indeed, the dwelling of the truly violent ones. Of perpetrators of violence against human nature, immersed in a river of boiling blood. Their crimes are not what we would today, in democratic societies, call violent crimes, such as rape. These crimes against nature are quite unique. And loaded with tropological meaning with regard to scholarship.

Dante speaks of the fraudsters, the corrupt, the suicides, the blasphemers and—the bankers.

Let us look at the apex of crimes laid out by Dante, leaving aside the fraudsters: suicide, blasphemy, lending money at profit.

What is the logic behind that sequence, not immediately obvious to our flat, linear way of reasoning? Tropologically, it tells a different story. Dante’s argument is about violence against human nature, and it is connected to the idea of giving.

Suicide? Today suicide has become a societal issue: bullied teenagers, workers harassed by managers, and also terminal patients, euthanasia.

Whatever the euphemism: to kill oneself or let oneself being killed is suicide.

In Dante’s time, suicide was an eminent crime, and for two reasons: first it is murder; second it is murder of the gift of life. In the Christian tradition, suicide is not laudable and honourable, and legal, as it was in ancient Greece and Roman stoicism, or still today in Shinto, but it is the violent, criminal refusal of the gift of life. This unique gift does not belong to the human individual, but to God alone.

Now, how does a scholar commit scholarly suicide? Or, to rephrase it, how does a scholar reject the gift of scholarship? It is a tough one, I admit, to read tropologically. Let us set it aside for now. But let us store the idea of gift.

Blasphemy? All major religions, of the Book or not, have some interdict against insulting the divine. That is, nature itself. The human shall not insult what is above human condition. The creature shall not insult the Creator. Still today in many societies that are, or close to being, theocratic, insulting God is a crime punished by death.

The reason why, in the religions of the Book, blasphemy is a violent crime issues from the fact God cannot retort in words: God cannot speak back; the one who utters a blasphemy arrogates language. Saint Augustine called it “operatio per linguam” (De Moribus manicheorum II, 10, 19).

That is why, already in Leviticus (24.16), the law, human law, responds in lieu of the divinity, by imposing legal sanctions. It is for human law to punish that crime against nature, blasphemy, as God is nature itself.

You will find the same network of ideas regarding “save the planet,” whereby daring to query “nature” as portrayed by “climate change-apologists,” is cast as a blasphemy against Nature—Nature that cannot speak back, hence needs human surrogates and legal rejoinders.

Where is the gift? In a religious vision of nature, God has given humanity the gift of speech, unique among living creatures, a gift now turned against the giver, God. A gift defiled.

Usury, money-lending at interest? Against nature?

That complex argument occupied scholars for some six centuries in Europe, in the distant wake of Roman jurisprudence on mutuum (loan), mediated by Christian theological interpretations, and may be boldly summed up as follows: the lender of money uses money as a measure to decide on interest rates, hence commits a moral fault. What is moral is charity. Natural justice wants you to give, not to lend at profit. Lending money at interest or expecting a refund is immoral. Charity is immeasurable.

Let us keep in stock the idea of a moral fault; that is a crime of violence against natural law, here charity—and again the idea of giving.

To sum we have, reading Hell 7, three crimes against Nature; all three bound to the idea of the gift. How does it relate to scholarship?

Suicide? For a scholar, suicide is not to realize that scholarly activity is bound by and to the “nature” in which a scholar lives, as we say without thinking seriously about what it implies: a natural environment.

If you are a scholar at a university, the university is your natural environment. It does not mean you agree, in private, with its diktats and arbitrary fancies; it means that you have fully understood what that “nature” requires of you.

Some institutions used to, some still do, require adherence to a set of explicit values, faith or ideologically based. That is their nature, and like in Dante’s world, the scholar who does not comply is perceived as committing a grave injustice, a moral fault, of violence against the nature for the university, refusing the gift of belonging to it.

The situation is perverse when the nature of the institution is not declared contractually: often, universities speak of their “values,” of their “vision,” of their “goals,” yet without having themselves (and their communication office) a clear idea of what it entails and what these words mean. In fact, they are creating a nature against which scholars can be held accountable for blasphemy, and may be led to commit, figuratively, suicide.

But what about usury, the third crime against nature? To recall the argument that it is the opposite of giving: Scholarship is in essence charitable. It is a gift. Some academics are scholars, many are not. And that is fine. It is part of the division of labour that makes up an academic workforce. But the gift of scholarship is generosity: sharing without expecting a return, a profit; and conversely accepting gracefully to be given knowledge.

There are two factors at play here: freedom and value.

Concerning a scholar’s freedom, a true scholar must retain the right to choose with whom scholarship should be shared, and thus be able to share it freely, and not under duress of “protocols” and what not. In order to make sharing it a real gift, an act of free choice. Giving under rules of obligation, thus for non-scholarly reasons, is not giving. It is not caritas. It is an economic transaction to satisfy “stake holders.”

Current college ideology is to push for Open Source, and indiscriminate sharing of research “products.” I suggest that it is not such a good scholarly practice. Scholarship requires to be selective. A scholar’s freedom is not to share everything with all and sundry, or with “partners” imposed by outside protocols; that is a false freedom. It is a usurpation.

A scholar’s freedom, that is to exercise one own’s freedom as a scholar, is to decide who is worthy of being given the fruits of scholarship. The Republic of Letters of pre-modern Europe was not a network of free loaders: it was a consciously aware and careful exchange of ideas. The current, and often fraudulent “peer-review” nonsense is a mendacious copy of the true peerage of scholars of the defunct respublica literaria.

This inane, and innate now, percept of “sharing” scholarship is perilous.

At a banal level, we know how the Internet can translate complex scholarly arguments into political propaganda, concepts into percepts, veracity into partisan opinions. My mentor in rhetoric, Marc Fumaroli, used to say, scholarship rests on “des têtes d’épingle” (on pinheads), meaning: it is hard to share ideas with those who do not wish to understand minute nuances, which make “all the difference,” and prefer to believe in brushstroke “knowing.” Popularized knowledge cannot care about decisive, often imperceptible, nuances, the media hardly, the Web2.0, that agglutinative mess, never.

That alone should guard us against placing scholarly knowledge within the reach of anyone and everyone.

At a deeper level, the Open Source managerial ideology, as it is one, is based on a fallacy regarding the rewards of scholarship for the natural environment in which a scholar operates.

Here is how: universities expect returns from sharing all scholarship. When I say “expect,” I do not imply any explicit strategy but, as all ideologies, it is an internalized mindset hardly ever brought out into full light. That expectation is based on the capitalist notion of value.

Or rather, surplus value.

Scholars create surplus value, that is wealth in excess of the work they perform, and the costs attached to it. Some colleges use the “cost of employment” method of calculation in order to avoid measuring value. This is why academic institutions that retain a faint sense that academia is somewhat different from the service industry, have developed a system of rewards, in cash, in privileges or in titulature. It is made to supplement salaries, materially or symbolically, out of a sense, perhaps moral, perhaps amoral, in any case practical, that surplus value should be recognized, without being admitted fully.

As we all know, workers have no control on surplus value, no more than scholars have control of the surplus value they create. What remains surprising is how meekly scholars, and academics, accept that the surplus value they create has, in reality, next to no value to them. In that respect alone academic scholars are workers.

And here, on this controversial note, we shall leave Dante and Virgil when they enter the fantastic and fiery world of Hell 8, with its 10 pits, and finally reach the frozen lake of Hell 9: there they will contemplate Evil Incarnate chewing the brains of three ultimate human evils, three traitors. This will demand another ten pages.

Some References

Irène Rosier-Catach. Le blasphème—Perspectives historiques, théoriques, comparatistes. Annuaire de l’École pratique des hautes études, section des sciences religieuses (2018-2019), 127, 2020, pp. 535-550.

Cargo cult science:
Richard P., Feynman. Surely you’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! New York: W. W. Norton, 1985.

Charity and self-love:
Jean-Robert Armogathe, “Conférences,” in Annuaire de l’École pratique des hautes études, section des sciences religieuses (2005-2006), 114, 2005, pp. 333-339.

Epideixis (of scholars):
Philippe-Joseph Salazar, “Nobel Rhetoric, Or Petrarch’s Pendulum,” Philosophy & Rhetoric, 42(4), 2009, pp. 373-400.

Marie-Dominique Chenu, “Orthodoxie et hérésie. Le point de vue du théologien,” in Annales. Économies, sociétés, civilisations, 18(1), 1963, pp. 75-80.

Antonio Calcagno, “Hannah Arendt and Augustine of Hippo : On the Pleasure of and Desire for Evil,” in Laval théologique et philosophique, 66(2), 2010, pp. 371-385.

Republic of Letters:
Marc Fumaroli. La République des Lettres. Paris: Gallimard, 2015.

Science as percepts:
Gustavo Bueno. ¿Qué es la ciencia? La respuesta de la teoría del cierre categorial. Oviedo: Pentalfa, 1995.

Skhole and work:
Elisabeth-Charlotte Welskopf, “Loisir et esclavage dans la Grèce antique,” in Actes du colloque 1973 sur l’esclavage, Actes du Groupe de Recherches sur l’Esclavage depuis l’Antiquité (1976), 4, pp. 159-178.

Society of leisure:
Joffre Dumazedier. “The Masses, Culture and Leisure.” Diogenes 11 (44), 1963, pp. 33-42.

John T. Jr Noonan. The Scholastic Analysis of Usury, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957.

Vita contemplativa:
Christian Trottmann. “Vita activa, vita contemplativa : enjeux pour le Moyen Âge,” in Mélanges de l’École française de Rome. Moyen-Age, 117, n°1, 2005, pp. 7-25.

Wisdom of the Ancients:
François de La Mothe Le Vayer. De la patrie et des étrangers et autres petits traités sceptiques (first modern edition). Paris: Desjonquères, 2003.

French philosopher and essayist Philippe-Joseph Salazar writes on rhetoric as philosophy of power. Laureate of the Prix Bristol des Lumières in 2015 for his book on jihad (translated as, Words are Weapons. Inside ISIS’s Rhetoric of Terror, Yale UP). In 2022, the international community of rhetoricians honoured him with a Festschrift, The Incomprehensible: The Critical Rhetoric of Philippe-Joseph Salazar. He holds a Distinguished Professorship in Rhetoric and Humane Letters in the Law Faculty of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Featured: Chart of Hell, by Sandro Botticelli; painted ca. 1480-1490.

Students Are Standing Up

A lost generation? Are today’s 20-year-olds all without a backbone? Journalist Patrik Baab disagrees. Students supported him in his legal dispute with Kiel’s Christian-Albrechts University. This did not go down well: an open letter was not allowed to be sent via the university distribution list. But the students didn’t give up up. A positive experience. The CAU had terminated Baab’s teaching contract because of his research in the Donbass. On April 25, the Schleswig-Holstein Administrative Court ruled that the termination was illegal. The ruling is not yet legally binding.

Nimble hands dipped brushes into pots of paint. On a banner, lying on the ground, they wrote out red letters. Faces could not be seen. But the slogan was soon visible: “Solidarity with Patrik Baab.” A few more hands hung the banner on the bicycle bridge over Olshausenstrasse at Kiel University. After the night-and-fog action, it remained there for days. In mid-February, students took their protest against censorship and restrictions on freedom of the press to the streets—and to the Internet: a video of the action went viral. The reason: After research in the Donbass and a press campaign, my teaching assignment for practical journalism was cancelled. As an eledged election observer, I would have legitimized Putin’s “sham referendums” and thus the “Russian war of aggression.” No one bothered to check if this was actually true or not. It was just more jumping on the bandwagon—for clicks and advertising revenue. The fact that the majority of people in the Donbass actually think of being pro-Russian does not fit in with the West’s propaganda.

(See, “The Donbas Rift,” by Serhiy Kudelia, and Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, pp. 156ff).

On Good Friday 2023, my friend Friedhelm, his daughter Luise and I wanted to have a nightcap in the Kiel pub, Palenke, around 10:30 PM. The waiter came up to me: “Mr. Baab, you are a conspiracy theorist. You won’t get any beer here. Leave the pub immediately!”

Appalled, we left. Luise commented, “This is how I imagine 1933!” Reason enough to wash down our horror elsewhere. Conspiracy theorist; lateral thinker; Covid denier; right-wing extremist; Putin legitimizer; anti-Semite: These are the denunciation labels of the ecolibertarian and national reactionary bourgeoisie. They serve to enforce propaganda, to exclude dissidence, to divide the population, to destroy the existence of the target, to force anticipatory obedience by generating fear. Behind it all is one goal—to secure the rule of the power elites. But these campaigns are orchestrated by their academic and journalistic satraps. The waiter at the Palenke is named Moritz, studies at Kiel University and works at the campus radio station.

It is precisely against this “Cancel Culture” that students at CAU are now standing up. They are not alone: At Prof. Ulrike Guérot’s “conciliation hearing” before the labor court on April 28, about 100 students demonstrated against her dismissal by the University of Bonn; Prof. Michael Meyen, who is being dragged through the mud by the Süddeutsche Zeitung in particular, also finds support among many students and staff at the University of Munich. It is still a minority that is fighting against the anti-democratic rallying movement of media like T-Online, universities and state-supported denunciation platforms like Zentrum Liberale Moderne, Amadeu Antonio Stiftung or the Mobile Counselling Team against Right-Wing Extremism in Hamburg. But every day there are more of them. Because they know: These witch hunts are not about arguments, but about power. It is about using anti-democratic means to enforce the dominance of discourse. At Kiel University, too, the democratic culture of debate has collapsed—an alarm signal for universities, had it not been for the fact that the lecture halls have long since been colonized by a morally armored extremism of the ecolibertarian center.

But soon the witch hunters could become the hunted. Because now there is the working group “Dialogue on Fundamental Rights and Health Protection” at CAU. Founded in February 2022, it officially has ten active members. One of them is Julian Hett: “Unofficially, we are a lot more, because graduates remain loyal to the group. The community is much larger, maybe a hundred young people in Kiel alone. Our first topic was Corona – and what state organs took out during that time. The Covid measures at Kiel University were also completely disproportionate.” It didn’t stop at Covid. The Covid measures were only one step in the continuing attempt to impose authoritarian structures. Kiel University is part of an unfortunate tradition: Hooray-patriotism in lecture halls in 1914; academic Freikorps during the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch in 1920; “Sturm-Uni” of the Nazis from 1933; secret service involvement of professors during the Cold War and afterwards.

(“Sturm-Uni,” or “Sturm-Universität,” literally a “Stormtrooper university,” is a term from the Nazi-era, which simply means a university entirely aligned with, commited to and thus promoting state ideology—Ed.).

The students of the Arbeitskreis Grundrechteschutz (Working Group for the Protection of Fundamental Rights) know this, and they know what it’s all about. That is why they are organizing a solidarity event for me. On April 11, my lawyer Dr. Volker Arndt and I spoke in front of more than 100 people. In the home of the Kronshagen sports club, there was enthusiastic applause and more than three hours of critical debate about media, propaganda and the Ukraine war. Reason-led discussion against cancel culture and irrationalism, entirely in the spirit of the Enlightenment, as Immanuel Kant wished: “The critical path alone is still open.” For this, the Working Group booked a room, distributed flyers, put stickers on lamp-posts, and uploaded a recording on the web. Anyone who has ever done something like this knows that all this is no small feat.

Student protest. Kiel University.

The commitment of the Kiel students reminds me of my own beginnings—in the alternative newspaper movement at the end of the 1970s. With the founding of the Provinzblatt Homburg (Homburg is a small city in the southwest of Germany) , we wanted to take a stand against the machinations of the local construction lords and the one-sided reporting of the monopolist Saarbrücker Zeitung. The success remained modest—but nevertheless a circulation of 800 copies. At the meeting of alternative newspapers in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1977, those who later promoted the founding of the Taz (Die Tageszeitung) came together. They met again at the peace demonstration in Bonn’s Hofgarten in 1981. Six years later, they were joined by participants in the Olof Palme Peace March in the GDR. The central demand: a nuclear-free zone in Central Europe and a press oriented toward the interests of the people—demands that are still highly topical today.

The Provinzblatt Homburg has long since ceased to exist. But back then we were able to learn to stand when the wind was blowing against us. I have remained true to my ideas from back then: The power elites must face criticism; research is an oppositional concept. I offered a seminar on this at the CAU; something obviously stuck with some of the participants. The Taz is quite different: The paper has degenerated into a mouthpiece for the ecoliberal elites. Thus, Esther Geisslinger also joined in the campaign against me and called me a “Putin propagandist.” For more than 20 years I have been critically examining Putin’s Russia. These films are online. But Ms. Geisslinger apparently can’t even manage to use a search engine or listen in a courtroom. My lawyer forced the Taz to publish a counterstatement. The lying press—the students in Kiel are also mobilizing against this.

Journalist Thomas Moser did a reality check and wrote: “The treatment of NDR reporter Patrik Baab by universities and the media shows how deeply divided Germany is and how ruthless it is when militarized nationalism spreads.” Like the students from the Working Group, he speaks of an attack on the freedom of the press. He says, “This is a culture war. It has to be fought out now. It’s about preserving democracy. That’s why we need a new 1968, a new extra-parliamentary opposition.” But the mood among fellow students is divided. In Kiel, the campus radio and the student newspaper, Der Albrecht, are more on the identity politics trip. There, the right attitude apparently counts more than a researched reality check. Sociologist Oskar Negt had this to say about such attitudes: “Opportunism is the real mental disease of intellectuals.” A disease that is also widespread at Kiel University.

“A whole generation is missing,” I hear the peace movements of yesteryear, those who have long since turned gray, lament. But who educated this generation to conform? Who pushed through the Abitur after eight years? Who pushed for the restructuring of university courses? Who purged the content of critical questions and introduced multiple-choice exams in social studies? It was us—today’s 60-year-olds. Gustav Heinemann, the third German president, once said: “Those who point at others with their index finger are pointing at themselves with three fingers of their hand.” But is an entire generation really missing?

No. The oral court proceedings show the opposite. In front of the Administrative Court in Schleswig on April 25, flags and banners: “Free journalism deserves support.” A signpost at the CAU in Kiel—”Pluralism of opinion”—deleted. Twenty-five supporters in the hall, half students of Kiel University. “We rarely have that at the administrative court,” says the chairman of the chamber, Dr. Malte Sievers, “but here fundamental rights are also weighed against each other.” Meanwhile, in an editorial office I know, the internal word is, “We ignore that!” The entire misery of the self-proclaimed quality media is bundled in these three words. The press, which had already disgraced itself in tendentiously covering the demonstration by Sarah Wagenknecht, of the party “Die Linke,” and the publicist of the feminist magazine, Emma, Alice Schwarzer, for peace talks to stop the war in Ukraine, on February 25 in Berlin, continues to disgrace itself. The students from the Working Group are therefore also concerned with counter-publicity—against the manipulative of the established public spheres. This is reminiscent of the “Stop Springer” campaign in 1968 (a campaign against the Murdoch-like German media tycoon Axel Cäsar Springer and his press empire).. So, a touch of APO after all?

For that to happen, the few would first have to become the many. The ground is prepared for this: The sanctions against Russia and the accompanying inflation are impoverishing large parts of the population. Gradually, even many younger people are realizing that Germany could be drawn into a war in which there is much to lose but nothing to gain. The propaganda of the bellicose elites becomes all the more vehement. It is a “drastic reminder,” says Noam Chomsky, “that the arena of rational discourse collapses precisely where there should be hope that it will be defended.” That is, in academic circles.

Whether Kiel University has the strength to put its reputation as a “storm-trooper university” behind it this time—I have not yet formed a final judgment on that. But it is a signal that the students are taking the protest to the streets. Because—as in 1976 when the so-called anti-terror laws were introduced—it is about defending the republic—against an academic-media-political complex that wants to drive the country into a post-democratic elite-rule and new wars. The weapons of counter-Enlightenment are far from being blunted—not even at universities. That is why the Working Group for the Protection of Fundamental Rights is planning further actions. The fight goes on. For me, the support of “my” students is important. Thank you for that!

Academic Self-Alignment

The Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU) allows war apologists to teach under its roof, but excludes war correspondents—this is a tradition on the Kiel Fjord.

Universities were once intended as places for the free exchange of different ways of thinking—in the spirit of scientific truthfulness. Today, professors and lecturers are more like ministering spirits used by power when it is looking for someone who can express its narratives more intelligently. At present, war propaganda in particular is seeking academic consecration—and getting it. A particularly repulsive example is provided by a university in Kiel, which had already attracted attention earlier in history by shouting hurrahs when it was a matter of talking the country to get it ready for war.

The word “escalation phobia” is new. If you type it into Google and date the search before February 11, 2023, you will find: nothing. The creator of this unattractive term is Joachim Krause, professor at the Institute for Security Policy at Christian Albrechts University (CAU) in Kiel. This word monstrosity first appeared in an article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine (the FAZ). Escalation phobia, he wrote, is apparently a German disease. In other words, it’s a pity that the Germans don’t go into battle with a hurrah, as they did back in 1914—impressively portrayed, by the way, in the Oscar-winning hit film All Quiet on the Western Front.

The same commentators who provide a forum for an apologist of escalation are now rejoicing over the award for the anti-war film from German production. Germany really is a richly schizophrenic country. Also teaching at CAU, until recently, was Patrik Baab. That is, until he did something audacious—he wanted to check on location whether there might also be all quiet on the Eastern front. He went on a research trip as a journalist and came back an outlaw: You can read more about his case here. If only he had poured a little oil on the fire in the FAZ. Then he would still be a lecturer in Kiel, high up in the north, where people have always been lenient with those who pander to the authorities.

From Imperial War Haven to Obedience of Authority

If you want to trace the history of Germany in the 20th century, you might as well pick up a chronicle of the CAU—preferably one that was not written on behalf of the university. There, the entire German history is depicted, with its vile and boorish affects. The university, founded by Duke Christian Albrecht of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf in 1665, found itself at the beginning of the century in the immediate vicinity of what was later called the primordial catastrophe of the 20th century: This refers to the First World War. But one facet that led into it was due to the German escalation policy of those years, specifically the Fleet Act.

In particular, Rear Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz excelled as a hawk in the years leading up to the turn of the century. His goal: to rearm the German fleet so that the German Reich could advance into the circle of world powers and explicitly compete with the British fleet. The Reich was—to use Bismarck’s phrase—a “saturated state;” but for some, that was not saturation enough. Until two years ago, Kiel’s naval base was also called Tirpitzhafen. But even before Tirpitz’s “offensive,” naval facilities had settled around the Kiel Fjord—for Kiel became an imperial port of war as early as 1871. For this reason, all kinds of shipyards were built there, and the maritime armaments industry in particular shaped the city and its people.

When the First World War began, many professors at Kiel University shouted hurrah and indoctrinated the young men with patriotic romanticism. Once again, a reference to the Oscar-winning film already mentioned above, such a scene of student and professorial exuberance was staged quite well by director Edward Berger. The scene is not set in Kiel, of course, for at that time universities were much the same in their national fervor throughout the Reich.

After the war, more precisely in 1920 during the Kapp Putsch, Kiel University set up an anti-democratic, monarchist and militaristic student company that engaged in firefights with the protection police and workers’ militia.

In his work, Der halbe Weg: Zwischenbilanz einer Epoche [Halfway There: An Interim Review of an Epoch], author Axel Eggebrecht reports on the events of that time: officers entered the university undisturbed and made it clear that “a new government had formed in Berlin”—the professors looked on. The authorities, they had learned in the city of the imperial war port, were always right—no matter who was in charge, no matter who was in charge of the armaments being manufactured on their doorstep.

The CAU and the CIA

We will gallantly skip the era of National Socialism, since of course the CAU was also aligned in thought and conviction. Universities throughout the Reich were not conspicuous in those years for their spirit of resistance; from the beginning of the movement, students belonged to those sociological groups that showed particular closeness to the soon-to-be and subsequently new rulers. In general, it is fair to say at this point that this history up to that point was not an exclusive unique selling point of the CAU: The proximity to the armaments industry and the soldiery may explain some things, but it happened in this or a similar way in many places in Germany.

Things become interesting with the post-war order, i.e., with the Cold War. The University of Kiel, unlike many universities in the young Federal Republic, was not a place of resistance, criticism of capitalism and fascism: there was a “secret service agent” in the ranks of the professorate. Author Katia H. Backhaus, in her study, “Zwei Professoren, zwei Ansätze. Die Kieler Politikwissenschaft auf dem Weg zum Pluralismus (1971 — 1998)” [“Two Professors, Two Approaches. Kiel Political Science on the Way to Pluralism (1971 – 1998),” found that the CAU faculty worked closely with German and also American intelligence services in the 1980s.

Professor Werner Kaltefleiter in particular has been proven to have been an unofficial collaborator of the BND and the CIA—with the latter he had apparently come into contact during his time at Harvard. According to Katia Backhaus, the BND also wanted to recruit students from Kiel in the 1970s. Kaltefleiter himself was a Cold Warrior who sought maximum confrontation with the Soviet Union.

He is also the founder of the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK)—it was “annexed as an institute of the Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel in 1983 by decision of the Schleswig-Holstein parliament.” But at that time there was fierce opposition in the form of the student council. As early as 1981, it stated: “We declare the most determined fight against all efforts to establish a cadre school for cold warriors at Kiel University.” The Institute itself, on the other hand, declares itself today to be an objective institution: “As an independent and non-profit institution, the ISPK is not beholden to any political party, other institutions or interest groups.”

War of Aggression is the Best Defense?

One must strongly doubt this neutrality sold as objectivity. Most recently, the ISPK, as already written, attracted unpleasant attention, more precisely its current director Joachim Krause. The man was at odds with the Germans, with the supposedly restrained federal government as well as with the people: Germany acutely suffers from “Escalation phobia”—as discussed above.

Twenty years ago, Professor Krause apparently also suffered from escalation phobia: To the agitated voices within German society, which accused the United States under the leadership of President George W. Bush of an attack in violation of international law and which demanded that the Republican President should be brought to the International Criminal Court, he replied in a highly de-escalating manner: All these accusations, which were made against Washington at that time, were grotesque—at least that is how one can interpret his work on this.

Krause’s analysis of this from 2003 can be read here. In the concluding remarks, it is stated “that U.S. policy toward Iraq (including the threat of regime change by force) is extraordinarily consistent with the international order of collective security and is also necessary.” And further, “The primary motive of U.S. policy is to put in its place a state that challenges the current international order like no other…” Iraq as the greatest global threat? Krause followed the scattered statements of various U.S. hawks, who already spoke unabashedly in the run-up to a possible invasion of Iraq that weapons of mass destruction were stored there. Later, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented falsified evidence to the UN Security Council.

Krause, of course, never had to justify his moral approval of a war of aggression based on lies. To this day, he has remained director of the ISPK, courted by the media as an important voice. Does the attitude of the ISPK in general testify to neutrality? Krause, at any rate, is on NATO lines; the history of his institute is a history of the Cold War: When someone from such a coterie speaks of “escalation phobia,” one should be careful—especially a university that is currently pretending to be washed in the purest of moral waters, as it would like us to believe in the case of Patrik Baab. Can a moral educational institution, as CAU wants to be, finance such a security professor such as Krause?

Process of Self-Alignment

Noam Chomsky wrote at one point that perhaps the greatest worry is that “the arena of rational discourse collapses precisely where there should be hope that it will be defended.” In this case, we have located such a place: a university, a place where—at least in theory—discourse should not only be nobly approved but, in a sense, should be natural and normal. The CAU may have always been a place that was not predestined for discourse: with the beginning of that sad German century that began with the founding of the Reich and that may not yet be over—take a look at foreign policy here—the CAU indulged in an unhealthy proximity to power, armaments and the military, so that openness to discourse was a difficult undertaking.

Historian Kurt Sontheimer wrote in “Antidemokratisches Denken in der Weimarer Republik” (1962) [“Antidemocratic Thought in the Weimar Republic”]:

“The political opinions and attacks of a group of publicists and intellectuals would not mean much for the political state of mind of a nation, if they remained confined only to small circles of malcontents and intellectual know-it-alls. A brief look at the political reality of the Weimar Republic, however, immediately shows that anti-democratic thinking was not a matter for esotericists. It served to ideologize numerous political groups and also parties that quite consciously worked to overcome liberal democracy.”

Comparisons to Weimar are often drawn these days, for completely different reasons, and often in order to declare the AfD a revenant of the NSDAP, which is now grinding away at democracy. But the basic features of liberal democracy are not being shredded by the AfD today. It is—to use Sontheimer’s phrase—the “publicists and intellectuals” who are ideologizing.

Another historian, Karl Dietrich Bracher, noted in his work, Die deutsche Diktatur (1969) [The German Dictatorship] that the self-alignment ranged from “constitutional lawyers to national economists, from historians to Germanists, from philosophers to natural scientists, from publicists to poets, musicians, visual artists.”

Bracher attributes this, among other things, to the “missionary idea of the Reich.” Something that can at least be guessed at today when a German foreign minister classifies the world as a field of activity for her moral vanities—and this to the applause of journalism and intellectuals, not least those who have been up to mischief at Kiel University for many decades now.

Roberto J. De Lapuente is a journalist who writes from Germany. He is the author of Rechts gewinnt, weil Links versagt [The Right Wins because the Left Fails]. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Rubikon.

Featured: The Fountains, by Hubert Robert; painted in 1787.

Retaking American Universities with Inspiration from Asia

Once or twice a year, I make the long journey to East Asia in order to reinvigorate my optimism about humanity in general and the possibilities for the United States in particular. Visiting partner universities in South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, and interacting with students and faculty from this ambitious region is like stepping back into what I imagine post-war America was like. The universities are hubs for innovation and social leadership that are making life markedly better for the average person.

Not a day goes by when my local colleagues are not in the field helping political, economic, and social actors do better. Whether its cybersecurity, heritage management, youth leadership, digital infrastructure, or urban planning, I find myself stepping into a world apart from the resentful and risk-averse America that I leave behind. I once travelled here while my home university’s “diversity” bureaucracy was investigating me for a litany of made-up complaints that students had concocted to get me fired for being a conservative. Somehow, even that great evil melted into nothingness once I was alongside my serious colleagues in Asia. “Who cares what’s happening in the U.S.?” I recall thinking. “At least there’s one part of the world where the promise of the university is still on vivid display.”

I take universities to be a good litmus test of the health and values of a society. When well-managed, they both produce and reflect the best, when ill-managed, the worst. That is why groups like the National Association of Scholars (NAS), the conservative research and advocacy group of which I am a board member, have come into the spotlight recently. The values of a country are preserved, restored, and redeemed at the university. So its health is of more than nugatory significance. The destructive capture of the university by radicals that was dismissed as mere campus follies in the 1970s is today lodged firmly in our social, political, and economic institutions. Universities in America today not just export but also reinforce everything that is wrong with our republic. Rebuilding universities is the key to rebuilding public intellectual life, and with it American values.

My annual pilgrimage to Asia tells me that the pessimistic “burn it all down” sentiment filled with enmity, doom, and despair underestimates the possibilities of positive change in America. In particular, I see anew in the countries of East Asia (Northeast and Southeast Asia from Japan to Indonesia) how the three fundamental forces that made the West and its universities great – the free market, science and technology, and Western culture – can overcome the ideological cancer that has driven us to rancor and entitlement. These forces, which the NAS embraces in its stated mission to “foster intellectual freedom, search for the truth, and promote virtuous citizenship”, show where the work is to be done and how the future may be brighter than we think. I still find myself surprised by joy at the possibility that the American university and the broader public sphere can be rebuilt with inspiration from Asia.

I lived in Asia for over a decade and have been there often since. I do not exoticize or romanticize the region. Its problems are a mirror image of ours: a prevalence of rote and repetition in learning, a tendency to idolize science such that methods overtake substance, and a persistent authoritarian streak that makes universities dangerously vulnerable to bad decisions. But in the main, I see Asia overcoming its weaknesses and building on its strengths far more than we in the West. “Stand to your work and be wise – certain of sword and pen,” Kipling wrote, rallying England to the challenge of Asia. “Who are neither children nor Gods, but men in a world of men.”

Freedom and Markets

Capitalism is the necessary institution of human flourishing, and don’t let any screaming Swedish teenager or muddled Argentinian pontiff tell you otherwise. Not just economic flourishing, mind you. That one is obvious. Political, social, and even environmental flourishing depend on free markets as well. We can debate how to keep the market aligned with the public good. But nothing can ever replace it as an engine of human betterment.

When Marxists began populating the academy in the 1960s, it was thought to be merely a widening of the intellectual circle. After all, neo-classicists, libertarians, conservatives, socialists, and social welfarists already existed on campus. Adding Marxists to the mix was expected to improve the contention. But by the 2000s, the radical march through the institutions had left on campus only the Marxists, including a new brand of post-Marxists obsessed with the cultural means of production. They claimed that their triumph reflected the progress of history. Capitalism was in its death throes (“late capitalism” was the term of abuse) as was European culture (disparaged as “neo-colonialism”) and universities needed to prepare for a future based on New Socialist Man. Amazingly, the collapse of socialist regimes in Europe had little effect on the campus mindset because the radicals told themselves that this collapse was a result of American Cold War hostility rather than popular preferences.

Communist regimes in China and Vietnam knew better. They survived by embracing markets without political freedom. Socialist parties continued to wreak havoc in Latin America, where socialist norms remain resilient and are remaking the American republic as a result of uncontrolled immigration. Africa remained fundamentally uninstitutionalized and thus an evergreen model for socialist utopias. It is no coincidence that market freedoms coincided with the rise of top universities in China, and now Vietnam, while traditional top universities in the West declined.

This complacent story meant that in the 1990s, rather than waking up to the dawning reality of global competition, the Western academy went into a tailspin. It invented new attacks on the market using jargon about “neo-liberalism” and “racialized inequality.” The spillover effects on society were catastrophic.

Markets are a way of organizing societies as much as economies. They put a moral value on self-control, planning, prudence, hard work, thrift, and responsibility. The attack on markets was an attack on these “bourgeois values”, as my colleague at the University of Pennsylvania, Amy Wax, famously called them. The abandonment of these values by wide swathes of American society was a direct consequence of the Marxist capture of the university.

What are the grounds for hope? Like China and Vietnam before us, societies that flirt with a state takeover of national life, whether through expropriation, regulation, or taxation, quickly learn the costs. When President Trump declared in his 2019 State of the Union that “America will never be a socialist country” it was a winning appeal. His Council of Economic advisors in 2018 had issued a report on “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism” that pointed to rising socialist sentiments on the left. A “socialist program for the U.S.,” it noted, “would make shortages, or otherwise degrade quality, of whatever product or service is put under a public monopoly. The pace of innovation would slow, and living standards generally would be lower.”

The report worried about potential socialized medicine or confiscatory personal and corporate taxes. But socialism had already come to the university. The innovation and ambition that characterized American colleges and universities in the post-war era was destroyed by entitled faculty unions, radical bureaucrats, and the use of federal subsidies to socialize campus management.

The problem was not the absence of “intellectual freedom” as many of my colleagues on the right insist. The lesson of the Cold War was that intellectual freedom was inseparable from market freedom. The claim that we just needed to inject some conservatives and classical liberals into campus like artificial insemination was a myth. Rather, it was the growing capture of institutions of higher education by federally-funded radicals that was the problem.

The lack of intellectual freedom and pluralism is today endogenous to the American university. The Marxist socialization of higher education – not just the funding but the use of the funding to impose all manner of federal and state regulations as well as ideological mandates – is the problem. Any freedom injected into this setting will be punished and expelled, like the hapless peasants who tried to keep kitchen gardens in Mao’s China. That’s why “cancel culture” is wholly unsurprising, and frankly irrelevant.

Intellectual freedom and pluralism will be restored only once the fetters of Marxist control are removed. Then, we will get a rebalancing of perspectives on campus. If universities cannot be radically marketized, then much of their research should be pulled out of them and into standalone institutions. This would allow universities to divide their units into standalone profit centers not dependent on the cross-subsidization of gender studies and sociology departments. Deadweight costs emanating from DEI bureaucracies and mandates would be saved. New schools and colleges offering job-relevant skills and services to society would proliferate, while liberal arts colleges would thrive only if they actually taught the liberal arts.

My host institution in Thailand, the College of Local Administration at Khon Kaen University, is a standalone profit center that has to pay rent on its land and overhead costs to the university. As a result, it is a dynamo of teaching and public outreach, and its enrollment is surging. It cannot afford ideological follies. The only “inequality” of concern in Asia is an inequality of opportunities for individuals to be absolutely better off than their parents. With broad economic growth and value-adding educational systems, this concern is close to non-existent.

I have seen the future, and it is neo-liberal. It is also rife with inequalities of the best sorts. And I see an eventual awakening from state planning in American public life that will usher in this change. In this American future, students will again be the masters of their souls, not the slaves of campus ideologues. They will be directed to their own behavior and contributions, not to “grand narratives” about victimization and powerlessness fed to them by socialist planners. They will take initiative, add value, see opportunities, and make positive changes. That’s what I see at Asian universities, and that’s the first way that the socialist pandemic will be defeated in the American public sphere.

Science and Truth

The creation of markets was not the only key event in the rise of the West. The other was more breathtaking because it had no antecedents in folk cultures or primitive societies. This was the discovery of a conception of disembodied, impersonal, and non-contingent truths that an individual could discover, and then follow. Science was a formalization of this shift. It took place in Medieval Europe with the discovery of the individual as freed from social determinism, governed only by the immutable laws and love of a transcendent God. The belief that humans resemble God by virtue of being conscious of themselves and able to understand and know things about the world around them remains the irrevocable religious foundation on which all modern science is based.

So widespread did the basic tenets of science become – measurable concepts, disprovable theories, logical justification, openness to new evidence, etc. – that even the study of human societies was made scientific. The “social sciences” achieved its greatest breakthroughs from roughly the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. While academic philosophers today with no knowledge of the actual practices and evidence of the social sciences dismiss the possibility of relatively dependable laws of society, much of our contemporary world is based on such laws. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to combat inflation because we know a thing or two about how humans respond to borrowing costs. When you file your underpaid taxes this year, the IRS will suggest planning better for next year because we know a thing or two about human psychology. I could go on.

Despite the obvious fruits of the scientific method for both natural and social understanding, the academy experienced another dysphoria beginning in the 1970s, and another march through the institutions by the confused. The pilgrims this time were not the Marxists advocating communal planning of society and the socialist road in order to overcome the oppression of “the system.” These radicals had after all insisted that they were following “scientific socialism.” The parvenus were more nearly in direct opposition to them, insisting that all knowledge claims were mere individual beliefs, hopelessly subjective. In place of campus as a place of liberation, we got campus as a place of irony. These postmodernists of various stripes saw their mission as rescuing students from the paradigms and grand narratives that had been created by the rich, the powerful, and (latterly) the white.

The cracks that allowed this fungus to infect the tree of knowledge had been made by the scientists themselves. The British philosopher Walter Gallie wrote a seminal article in 1956 on how social concepts like “democracy” changed their meaning over time because of their “appraisive” nature. But he rejected that view that there was no logic in human affairs. To fall into a “new obscurantism” was to lurch from the mistake of Marxist universalism to that of postmodern relativism, he warned. “Since the Enlightenment a number of brilliant thinkers seem positively to have exulted in emphasizing the irrational elements in our thinking,” he noted.

Another scientist working on the social aspects of the search for truth, American philosopher Thomas Kuhn, warned in his monumental 1962 book on progress and setbacks in science that his work should not be used to advance a lazy slide into relativism. If anything, he argued, the social sciences made more progress than the sciences because “there are always competing schools, each of which constantly questions the very foundations of the others.”

Too late. Postmodernists seized on Gallie and Kuhn to argue that all knowledge is relative and political. The diligent work of scientists and social scientists ended up producing a cadre of smug and cynical professors whose march through the institutions slightly displaced the Marxists who had marched before them. The “deep concord” of faith and reason, as the national treasure Alvin Platinga, a Notre Dame philosopher called it, was pushed aside by the “superficial concord” of a new belief in atheistic naturalism and a human reason now untethered from any claims to transcendent validity.

Truth was now tumbling along the shifting sands of social justice. Scientific claims were disparaged by the Marxists if they did not comport with social justice, and by the postmodernists if they took a dislike to the skin pigmentation or genitalia of the claim-maker. This did not start in the gender, queer, black, native, and Chicano departments. These intellectual wastelands were an effect not a cause. Rather, it started in the core liberal arts departments: sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and history. Now it is mainstream and weather-proofed against the cold winds of rational debate.

Post-truth academics could now be only two flavors: atheist Marxists fighting for the lumpen proletariat; or cynical doges of “diversity” fighting for epistemologically victimized. The flagship research university in my home state of Oregon has for the past two years forced all incoming undergraduates to read a counter-Enlightenment manifesto named Braiding Sweetgrass. In it, a SUNY botanist who claims native ancestry, Robin Kimmerer, tells students to learn to talk to plants and that “Western” science has obliterated brilliant native insights. The Dave Barry codicil requires constant refrain: “I’m not making this up.”

The attack on science necessitated an attack on free speech, or to be more particular, speech that questioned the nostrums of Marxist social justice, intersectionality, postmodern flightiness, or the evils of the West. This was dressed up as “inclusiveness” and “diversity” and, lately, “anti-racism”, but it all meant the same thing: Don’t subject our post-truth agenda to your contest of ideas.

The COVID pandemic provided a stark reminder of the costs. Cut off from social pressures of the sort that Kuhn applauded, the scientific establishment proved a menace to society as great as the Marxist regimes of the past. But an equal and opposite menace came from the postmodern conspiracy theorists and quacks for whom all scientific claims were a narrative intended to attain power. A delicious irony was the fact that the political left, forced to choose, opted for Marx over Foucault, the all-powerful centralizing state imposing the dictatorship of the vaccinariat on the people. It was the political right, especially the libertarian right, that embraced the worst of Foucault. All public policies were intended to “discipline and punish”, and the public health system was no better than a lunatic asylum. The American campus is what laid the groundwork for both.

Over in Asia, meanwhile, universities have been running on high-octane science with tremendous results. Neither cynical about science nor insisting that it serve social justice, they have allowed it to play its apt role. When I explain to my colleagues in Asia what has been going on in the United States, they stare blank-faced, mouths hanging. Then a nervous laugh. And again: “Who cares? It makes it easier for us to emerge on top.”

And Godspeed them. Those of us who travel in the region for business, research, or government know how fabulously committed our colleagues in Asia are to evidence-based advance. In a word, to science, broadly understood as the quest to discover and live by the truths of His dominion.

To be sure, there are militant feminists and obscurantists in Asia too, mostly trained in the West and going on about queering this and decolonizing that. They are oddballs in Asian academic departments, looked upon with pity and never likely to have any influence on society.

Can it change? My hope lies in the fact that America is the place where faith has not yet been defeated despite the best efforts of European intellectuals. It enrages the American academy how American society stubbornly refuses to conform to European norms that encourage fatherless births, a lack of marriage, the obliteration of religious belief, and sheep like dependence on state-run medicine, education, and media. Because of these twin impulses — the market-led free society and the pervasive refusal to give up on the idea of transcendent Truth — American remains the last best hope in the West as a gathering place for scientific excellence.

A few centers of excellence have even escaped from the treason of the intellectuals, showing that the left has failed to snuff out the light of science and truth. Caltech, for instance, remains a miracle of excellence and meritocracy, especially given its location. Its ranking has never fallen. There are efforts in many Republican-controlled states to remove research funding from universities that impose Marxist or postmodern ideologies on students and faculty, especially via DEI mandates. Rebel bases like Bluefield State University in West Virginia and its self-described “campus maverick” president Robin Capehart keep appearing. More will come.

Like the belief in truths that survived the Communist propaganda in Soviet and Maoist days, the curiosity, humility, and long game of the truth-seeking mind cannot be destroyed. We’d better get a move on. Asian research on all things – science, business, social science, technology, engineering, medicine, etc. – is moving ahead faster than we know.

Virtue and the West

The first line of the old Thai constitution used to read: “Let there be virtue.” The current version repeats the phrase in eight different places, always referring to the teachings of Lord Buddha. Asia today is the only region of the world where ritualized acts of virtue grounded in dominant cultures continue to be a part of everyday living. This in turn permeates into strong social norms of conduct. Ritualized notions of respect, kindness, and accountability permeate campus. Students do not send emails of the sort I receive every day that begin “Hey Bruce”. Professors do not show up in the classroom in jeans and t-shirts and then tell the students about their failed marriages. Religion and the majority culture are integrated seamlessly into campus life from Hokkaido to Bali.

That word “integration” has taken on new urgency as Western countries have begun to disintegrate under the anti-cultural forces of Marxism (“Culture is false consciousness.”) and postmodernism (“Culture is oppressive.”). This disintegrating turn has been fueled by an influx of migrants from outside the West whose cultures are distinctive enough and persistent enough to represent enduring poles of non-majority culture that are slowly erasing, both statistically and conceptually, what the ghoulish like to call “white culture.”

The strategy of political parties of the left is to bide time and run out the demographic clock. European peoples are not having babies, and non-Europeans ones are migrating en masse. They just want safety and “the system” as it is and will put up with a little herding by plantation managers since it is still infinitely better than what they left behind. Pick off a few segments of white culture, especially college-educated women with no children, and you have an enduring coalition indifferent or hostile to the values of the West.

The result is that public rituals on campus, and increasingly beyond, are no longer centered on dominant Western culture, but are instead attacks on it. Land acknowledgements, pronoun declarations, architectural removals and renamings, BIPOC-only events, hostile “whiteness” studies, and “decolonizing” movements have turned culture into anti-culture.

Under those circumstances, how can it be possible to advance the third NAS principle, namely the promotion of “virtuous citizenship?” How, in other words, can universities and broader cultural institutions define and promote a concept of citizenship grounded in a shared conception of virtue when the virtues at stake, which have drawn billions of migrants to the West, are now the target of systemic erasure?

This is perhaps the knottiest challenge of the three because it is where conservatives must beg leave of their classical liberal, libertarian, and otherwise free-thinking colleagues. Like new migrants, these brethren often take the cultural basis of a free society for granted. They want all the West’s rule of law, stable politics, wide freedoms, flourishing market economy, and social trust without any of its cultural foundations. Indeed, new migrants are often more keenly aware of the precious cultural heritage of the West than these unsociable anchorites, whether leftist eco-warriors or rightist militiamen.

The virtue generated through culture comes of a humility of checking one’s egotistical impulses, impulses now given high voltage by digital technologies. The NAS may applaud the work of fellow-travelling iconoclasts who make fun of the Woke academy. But atheism, hyper individualism, and ego are often their bywords. The American republic, and the public square that animates it, can never be retaken by individuals obsessed with their Tik Tok views.

The source of the virtues of the West is its culture and traditions. This means the inherited practices, habits, and systems that have worked well. With apologies to Monty Python, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords — like strange men lying in the Pennsylvania State House distributing two senate seats per state — is precisely the basis for a system of government. But preserving that system requires constant reverence for and delight in the uniquely Western culture that produced it.

So who or what is the “Lord Buddha” to which we must bend the knee in silent reverence? In a word, the Western canon: the precious ethical, literary, artistic, philosophical, theological, historical, and architectural accretion that layered Greek, Jewish, Roman, Catholic, Protestant, and finally Enlightenment cultures one on top of the other. Each country then bit off a particular morsel – for the United States it came ashore in 1620 with the powerful idealism of the New England Puritans – on which to craft its national virtue.

Calling this “white culture” is shorthand at best. Whatever the later associations of the West with the more fair-skinned and small-featured peoples of northern Europe, the origins lie in the Near East and Mediterranean. The bride of the Song of Songs is “black but comely” due to long days in the vineyard sun. And, not to be mistaken for an insult, the bridegroom sings to her: “Your nose, the Tower of Lebanon.”

More important, it is the uniquely universal accessibility of Western culture that makes it so powerful. Black Americans may opt out of American society into delusions of African grandeur and brilliance. Native Americans may likewise dwell in dreams of some lost cultural paradise wiped out by the white man. The South Asian radicals rapidly rising into power on the left may equally style themselves as bearers of some Hindoo moral mandala needed to save the West. But two things bear repeating. One is that although the left can pick off some key demographics of the white population, the right will have much more potential picking off key demographics of the non-white population. After all, the right’s message is not based on fear and condescension. It is based on colorblind Western universalism. Some of the most passionate and articulate voices in support of American greatness and Western values are no longer white (a return to historical form, so to speak). Let me sing the praises of the “black but comely” Carol Swain, senior fellow for constitutional studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Allow me to compliment Conservative British prime minister Rishi Sunak, his nose “the Tower of Lebanon.” Dare I further invoke the Song of Songs in adoration of the freedom-loving essayist and activist Wenyuan Wu, her hair “black as a raven”?

Second, white groups are remarkably resilient. WASPs are not going away and have no intention of giving up their uniquely important role in the preservation of American freedoms. Nor, for that matter, are white Catholics, European Jews, Appalachian crooners, Minnesota Nordics, Wyoming cowboys, Pennsylvania Germans, and red-headed Scots-Irish. In the face of an elite culture emanating from Hollywood and Madison Avenue that has sought an erasure of white culture, it just keeps going. Try to black-wash the Lord of the Rings, a parable of medieval Europe, or the novels of Jane Austen and you will fall on your face.

The “virtuous citizenship” practiced in Asia through everyday ritualized reminders and ongoing education in dominant cultures is a model for Western countries, and the United States in particular. Begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. Decorate your public spaces with images of Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington. Teach Magna Carta and the Puritan sermons. Read widely from Homer to Hamilton. Do all that and along the way, take time to notice and delight in the variety of peoples from many cultural backgrounds who stand on the frontlines whistling “The Battle of the Kegs.”

We thus might amend slightly the NAS slogan—“For reasoned scholarship in a free society”—to make it less eloquent but more precise: “For reasoned scholarship in a free and Western society.” A simple formula that packs a punch. Swords and pens, gentlemen. Stand to your work and be wise.

A native of Calgary and a graduate of Trinity College, Oxford and Princeton, Bruce Gilley is professor of political science at Portland State University. His latest books are In Defense of German Colonialism and The Last Imperialist. Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense Of The British Empire.

Featured: Gallery of Views of Modern Rome, by Giovanni Paolo Panini; painted in 1759.

The Catholic Challenge to Progressivism

Thomas Michaud’s book, After Justice: Catholic Challenges to Progressive Culture, Politics, Economics and Education, is an attempt to address the decline of Western Civilization. Michaud believes that this decline has occurred incrementally, and he is intent on identifying the reasons for it. Convinced that ideas have consequences, Michaud records how competing ideologies have upset the West’s moral compass. The most conspicuous of these ideologies is Progressivism. For the author Progressivism is something of an umbrella term covering several left-leaning visions of individual and communal life.

Since this volume is a kind of polemic, one might expect it to have a bellicose tone, followed by a mournful quality. But to the contrary, Michaud’s book is curiously bright and hopeful, despite its critical aims. Michaud’s polemic is buoyed by its enthusiastic reliance on Catholic social teaching and Catholic wisdom in general. Michaud is confident that the long historical arc of Catholic wisdom provides the resources to teach how the decline of the West can be arrested.

Michaud discovers in the Catholic tradition the principles of a rich theological and philosophical personalism. On this earth God’s glory is most manifest in a human life fully lived. In personalism the wonder of the mysterious depths of human person as an embodied soul, endowed with intellect and will, is the metaphysical foundation for explaining human nature and civilized life. Accordingly, personalism, comprehensively understood, is the remedy for what ails culture. This book is basically a reminder that Western Civilization is at its heart Christendom, a vision of society built on Jesus Christ as the standard of humanity. Personalism applies its principles on cultural, economic, and political life, since the triad of culture, economics, and government constitutes society and its development. Michaud’s volume shows that Western Culture now is in distress because it has forgotten the person as the proper foundation of this triad.

Upon summarizing the book’s structure, an Introduction and Seven Sections of essays, one can see how Michaud in his own way prosecutes this triad. The Introduction provides autobiographical details which illuminate key elements of Michaud’s own pilgrimage as an educator, philosopher, and Christian intellectual. Next follows the book’s seven broad sections, each containing a “Section Introduction,” which is exceedingly helpful. The Sections cover a wide variety of subject matter. Section I: Lectures and Editorials treats issues ranging from electoral politics to sports. Section II Marcelian Perspectives speaks to the influence of Gabriel Marcel on Michaud’s philosophical work. Marcel’s influence is evident one way or another throughout the entire volume. Section III: Leadership Formation summarizes reflections on the nature of leadership, a subject on which Michaud has lectured extensively, appreciating that principles of leadership disclose how organizations, including civilization itself, can succeed. Section IV: Environmentalism and Realism, a discussion Michaud takes up because of the many ideological assumptions implicit in the environmentalist movement. While environmentalists profess to be green, they also tend to be red since they hope to commandeer big government to advance their various agendas. Section V: Critiques of Progressive Politics, Pluralism, Political Economy and Revolution is a set of essays wherein Michaud speculates about the reasons for social decline. Out of the plurality of essays in this section, Michaud recommends five of them for special consideration: “The Problematic Politics of Postmodern Pluralism,” “Diversity within the United States’ Culture and Politics.” “Democracy Needs Religion” “Blasts from the Preclassical Past: Why Contemporary Economics Education Should Listen to Preclassical Thought,” and “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution.”

The first two of these five essays express Michaud’s conviction that tolerance and justice have been altered by Progressive culture to insinuate a social philosophy akin to Marxism, especially in the form of identity politics. These essays also suggest Michaud’s agreement with John Adams that America will thrive so long as her citizens remain a moral and religious people. As a group, these five essays consider how Left-Wing ideology depersonalizes society, the effects of which are evident in the past few generations. Michaud salutes the influence of Alexis de Tocqueville and Michael Novak for their implicit personalism, especially evident in the way they worry about the erosion of morality and the dignity of the person in economics. The fifth essay reminds us that Progressivism is not just a movement aiming at reform but seeks transformation of Western Culture.

Section VI: Progressivism’s Challenges to Education and Millennials’ Happiness relates how questions of social organization impact individual happiness. The book closes with a fascinating Short Story which narrates an event from Michaud’s autobiographical record.

The persistent theme percolating throughout Michaud’s book is that political correctness is a toxin. Political correctness is not just an annoyance caused by ideological busy bodies. It is an assault on truth by the manipulation of language. By means of that manipulation, people become confused and social standards become transformed, which causes confusion as people habituated in traditional language are bemused by its change. Political correctness in its extreme is Orwellian, represented by Winston Smith conceding in 1984 that indeed 2 + 2 = 5. By control of language, authorities can control thought. This outcome is now evident in the way universities equivocate on truth and turn education into indoctrination.

A keen insight is Michaud’s observation that in recent times, champions of political correctness have refined two social tools to serve their purpose of transforming Western society. These tools are (1) a modified, ideological adaptation of tolerance and (2) an alteration of fairness in the form of social justice.

Tolerance and social justice are subtle devices since they exploit the hope that people will assume that tolerance and social justice today mean what they have meant for centuries. Who would oppose openness and fairness, which principles tolerance and justice imply? However, tolerance today and social justice are a new kind of pluralism and fairness and are effectively equivocations on the ancient meanings of those terms. The politically correct are clever, which is demonstrated by using terms which have appeal because people think they signify what they have traditionally meant. But by the sleight of hand of Leftist ideologues, the meanings of justice and tolerance have changed.

Justice classically means relating to people in a way that they deserve. But social justice is different. It interprets desert not in terms of merit but in terms of identity politics. Consider that political correctness adds an adjectival qualifier which alters meaning. When the word “social” modifies justice, a different meaning is attached to fairness. Traditionally, justice is an individual’s habit or virtue of being respectful of others, who deserve respect. Social justice, on the other hand, is a kind of identity politics, in which one divides people into groups and stereotypes them. Once the groups are stereotyped, the effort is made, often by means of government, to favor some groups and disfavor others. The virtue of justice classically understood implies impartiality and equality of standards in the application of fairness. But this is not how social justice applies today. Instead, social justice suspects traditional ideas about impartiality associated with meritocracy or earned desert. Social justice comfortably accepts partiality and inequality of application, which the politically correct call “equity,” a principle inspired by the aim of restorative justice, the remedy of past wrongs perpetrated by some groups against others.

Aware of these points, Michaud regards social justice as a Marxist trope. By using politically correct language, social justice insinuates that justice is about groups, not individuals. Because human beings are social animals, as Aristotle long ago observed, there has always been sociability implicit in the idea of justice. But the status and significance of the individual was nonetheless at the heart of the classical meaning of justice because it involved individual judgment and habit formation. Social justice, however, is a Marxist tool to eliminate the individual and reduce justice to a matter of group identities and relations. For example, when a teacher discovers that a student is cheating in class, he or she ought not judge that the student is an individual wrongdoer. That would imply that he has autonomy and moral agency. Such judgment is simplistic and does not consider how we are shaped by social forces. No, it is not the cheater’s fault. It is society’s fault, which has somehow made the student a victim. If schools weren’t compromised by an unfair social system, students wouldn’t cheat. Not surprisingly, victimology is common in the exercise of social justice, a point of view that echoes Vladimir Lenin’s conviction that the proletariat cannot commit crimes because of their disadvantage before bourgeoise power. Of course, the radical political implication is that when injustice occurs, social justice warriors cry out for big government intervention to remedy the problem. Hence, social justice becomes an excuse to expand government. As a tool of unbridled political correctness, it can encourage formation of a totalitarian state.

Tolerance is another classical virtue that has been malformed by political correctness. Historically, tolerance was understood as a virtue of justice which impels a person to allow something he disagrees with because, if he were to disallow it, a kind of injustice could follow. In the spirit of traditional tolerance whole peoples with profoundly different beliefs and values have gotten along and have even lived as neighbors. But this vision of tolerance is less popular today, especially when ideological disagreements are the issue. Today, those who profess to be among the most tolerant are often content to seek refuge in tribalistic separateness. Among Progressives, tolerance is a kind of virtue signaling, a way in which a person authenticates himself as an enlightened human being by accepting the directives of politically correct thinking.

Accordingly, Progressives, while preaching tolerance, often appear intolerant. For them, tolerance is not a species of traditional justice but a politically correct instrument to transform society. Of course, one could say that it is a species of social justice. In this way, tolerance conforms to the Leftist agenda to transform the West. Hence, the Progressive’s exercise of intolerance is quite coherent with their own worldview, even though it is out of step with the classical view of tolerance. Conservatives often do not understand this progressive application of tolerance, dismissing the Progressive’s attitudes and practices as inconsistent. But Progressives are consistent according to their own imperative: be intolerant of those who champion traditional tolerance, which is based on corrupt, benighted values. A tolerant person, as Progressives see it, is enlightened, and an enlightened person knows that intolerant people should not be tolerated. Intolerant people are unenlightened, and they are people who do not support or advance the interests of Progressive politics and culture. As a result, they are a social menace. So why should society tolerate them? An intolerant person, on their view, is indeed a regressive person, someone, like a practicing Christian, who tries to maintain traditional values and institutional beliefs that, while they pass as civilized, are, in fact, benighted.

Michaud’s book is a reminder that conservatives could help themselves by better understanding these nuances about tolerance in the Progressive movement. Instead, conservatives tend to complain tirelessly about inconsistency and censorship, failing to grasp and address the deeper motivations in Progressivism. Conservatives must recognize that they are dealing with a collision of worldviews. The Progressive worldview has endured longer than many conservatives realize, having emanated out of the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose ideological heir was Karl Marx.

Conservatives would do well to appreciate how champions of political correctness play them. Michaud appreciates how political correctness has taken over universities. Allan Bloom, in his instructive book, The Closing of the American Mind, explains in detail how the University became a stifling culture against free thought, changing from an institution that sought to instill liberal education, freedom and independence of thought, to a system repressing the exchange of ideas. This happened, Bloom explains, as Leftists indoctrinated students in relativism, claiming there is no truth, and that no idea is more defensible than any other. Bloom explains that this relativism, akin to nihilism, would nullify educators’ efforts to instill moral and intellectual ideals in students. The only virtue, intellectual or moral, that students wanted taught, was openness, a curriculum without judgments. The students would pay a price as this relativism became the cultural norm at the university, an outcome Bloom captured in the subtitle of his book: How Higher Education Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. Without moral judgment there is no nutrition for the soul.

Michaud understands that this is what happened to the universities. But, of course, the strategy of political correctness recognized that this nihilism was just an episode. No culture can exist without judgments and constraints. The politically correct just pretended for a while that the university was a bastion of non-judgmentalism. After removing traditions and curricula on grounds that they were biased, the new politically correct leaders took over most universities and imposed a bureaucracy of bias and censorship of their own, mainly through the formation of programs and committees that might make old-time fascists envious. For example, universities made traditional educators remove speech codes and standards. But they celebrated this removal only until they came to dominate the university and inflict innumerable speech codes, behavioral restrictions, and censorship rules of a sundry kind. The politically correct played the Rope-a-Dope game to perfection. The conservatives on campus, wanting to appear open, accommodating, and non-judgmental (in short, wanting to appear “Progressive-Lite”), fell for the strategy: from radical openness to repression in two generations.

Conservatives would do well to learn to resist political correctness at every turn and not play the game by its rules. This is one of the lessons of Michaud’s instructive book: conservatives must learn to fight back, and with intelligence.

Curtis Hancock is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Rockhurst University, a Jesuit institution in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, where he held the Joseph M. Freeman Chair of Philosophy for twenty years. He has a B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, and a Ph.D. from Loyola University of Chicago. He is former President of the American Maritain Association and co-founder of the Gilson Society. He has published several books, including Recovering a Catholic Philosophy of Elementary Education. He has also published numerous articles and reviews.

Featured: The Liberation of St. Peter, by Antonio de Bellis; painted ca. early 1640s.

Petition: What went Wrong with Higher Education and How to Begin Fixing It

Going back to their origins in the Western European Middles Ages, the humanities were tasked with the articulation, preservation, critique and transmission of the fundamental values of western civilization.

Higher Education was understood as the initiation into that inheritance and as an adventure in self-understanding, an intellectual and moral inheritance of great splendor shared by both teachers and students.

When transmitted to students who possessed the intellectual capacity and maturity to absorb it they would serve as society’s elite leadership. This was the ideal of a liberal education.

Those values continued to underpin the rise of the sciences and markets in the modern world. The evolution of modern American universities came to encompass the humanities, scientific research, and preparation for their practical application. Beneficiaries of that education prospered in their individual careers and contributed to America’s prosperity, its world-wide dominance economically, politically, and culturally.

Like everything else, things started to go wrong in the 1960s. Seemingly challenged by the then USSR, the US government initiated the first federal loan program, the National Defense Student Loan, now the Perkins Loan, in 1958. In 1965, the federal government began guaranteeing student loans provided by banks and non-profit lenders.

The vast and sudden expansion in the 1960s of so-called higher education had serious consequences.

First, the humanities and social sciences, recently followed by the hard (i.e., real) sciences, were captured by the political left leading to the conclusion that the Western inheritance and the U.S. in particular were responsible for all the domestic and international evil in the world.

Second, the federal government was now subsidizing its own executioner! Buoyed by such misguided and self-destructive generosity, institutions of higher education…

  1. raised tuition way beyond what inflation required;
  2. hastily produced several generations of lower-quality-to-incompetent teachers who acquiesced in the now dominant left-leaning ideology;
  3. expanded admissions to include vast numbers of either ineligible (democracies have a difficult time dealing with the fact that there are inherent differences in ability) or under-prepared students;
  4. used the vast expansion to create a bloated bureaucracy (which turned out to be jobs for ideologues who served as “commissars”);
  5. lowered standards both to cover up the inadequate preparation of the students, disguise the laxness of the faculty, and maintain the high levels of funding;
  6. no longer committing themselves to defending western values, these institutions largely stopped teaching the basic texts of western literature and philosophy, making it impossible for students to understand these values;
  7. and engaged in undermining the legitimacy of the US as a nation state by accepting vast sums of money to engage in scientific research on behalf of Communist China!

The consequences are now obvious. First, there is a mismatch between the product and the market (this was already known by the 1980s). When 2% of graduates had a traditional college degree, they enjoyed many economic opportunities and personal prosperity (companies competed to hire someone who was both smart and demonstrated both responsibility and diligence). When 65% have a recent vintage degree that is enough to belie the argument that college graduates automatically earn more. Moreover, when their degrees are a total mismatch to the job market, they will have both no serious job and no way to repay the loans. Yes, we have a student loan crisis! But we have a crisis in higher education’s very raison d’etre.

We need to begin the process or retrieving our heritage, providing meaningful education for all students so that they can experience individual prosperity, and contribute to America’s prosperity and greatness.

Toward that end, we offer the following petition in the hopes that influential people will read it, sign it and that Congress will complete the process of amending its role in higher education!

Please access the petition by clicking here.

Featured image: “Allegory of wisdom,” attributed to Giovanni Domenico Cerrini, 17th century.

The Invisible College

Nick Capaldi and Nadia Nedzel have inaugurated a new organization, Invisible College.

The organization seeks to promote live conversations about important books and topics through Zoom and other media, as well as in person. In addition to its own scheduled “conversations,” it will help others organize their own.

In the following conversation, Nick Capaldi and Marsha Enright discuss the meaning, origins, methodology and purpose of the conversations.

Featured image: Treatises On Natural Science, Philosophy, And Mathematics, ca. 1300.

The University Is A European Christian Institution Par Excellence

The existing consensus among historians is that the “university” was invented in medieval Christian Europe. The first university was Bologna, founded in 1088, followed by Oxford in 1096. By the end of the fourteenth century, in 1400, there were about 34 universities across Europe; and in 1500 there were 66, and none outside (Verger, pp. 57, 62-65). In 1789, the year of the French Revolution, there were about 143 universities in Europe, with only one university outside in Turkey. The original Latin word universitas designated any corporation (from the Latin corpus, corporis a body) intentionally created by a group of individuals, be they guilds by craftsmen, associations by merchants, or municipal communes by town residents—to regulate their own affairs and security, independently of customary law, kinship ties, or religious and state authorities. While corporations were invariably self-organized and not originated by the state, the university was said to exist when it was authorized to act as a single entity (“born out of statute”) by an official document or edict from the Pope or a Bull from the Emperor. Corporations were self-governed in that their members participated in specifying the rules that regulated their activities; power was shared and leaders could be held accountable for their actions.

Gradually the word universitas came to be associated with the term studium generale, which referred to any institution (at the beginning of the thirteenth century) that “attracted students from all parts of Europe, not merely those of a particular country or district” (Rashdall, p. 6), and where at least one of the higher faculties of theology, law, or medicine was taught by a plurality of masters. In the course of the fourteenth century, the term “universitas became a mere synonym for studium generale” with numerous communities of students and teachers in charge of higher learning enjoying the privilege to conduct their own affairs, make their own rules for curriculum, and receive students from across Europe.

It is no accident that only Europe saw the rise of corporate bodies. In the rest of the world, outside Europe, kinship groups were in charge of governing the lives of extended family members, providing security, rules of inheritance and marriage, and choice of occupation. Kinship groups were governed by customary norms, by authoritarian chiefs, or by religious authorities. The situation in medieval Christian Europe was radically different. As Joseph Henrich has carefully documented in The Weirdest People of the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous (2020), the medieval Catholic church sanctioned monogamous marriages against polygamy and concubinage, and it restricted marriages among individuals of the same blood (consanguineous marriages). It also encouraged marriages based on voluntary choice or consent. By the 11th century the nuclear family was predominant in Europe. These changes freed Europeans from kinship ties and norms, leading them to form new voluntary corporations to cooperate economically, solve conflicts, and secure a livelihood with individuals from wider circles of life.

The reconstitution of medieval Europe away from kinship institutions in favor of voluntarily created institutions, such as urban communes, guilds, diocese of bishops, monasteries, and universities, came along with the rise of new systems of law based on universal principles. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, as the Church went about imposing monogamous and nuclear families, Europe underwent a legal revolution that conceded corporate rights for self-government to the Christian church and a variety of associations and groups to make contracts, to enact their own ordinances and statutes, “to own property, to sue and be sued, and to have legal representation before the king’s court” (Huff, 1993). Manors, cities, and merchant associations, among others, enacted whole new systems of law, including manorial law, urban law, canon law, and merchant law.

Such legislative, executive, and juridical powers were not a possibility in Islamic societies where polygamy and cousin marriages remained a powerful means for consolidating the power of kinship groups and where there was no legal separation between the sacred and the secular, no texts and rules to define and limit the jurisdictional powers of the courts, and no legal conception freed from the customary normative world of kinship groups. China never evolved a conception of law that recognized the right of corporate bodies, including cities, capable of composing and promulgating new laws independently of the state or the bonds of kinship.

It is within the context of the Catholic breakdown of kinship groups, the consolidation of nuclear monogamous families, and the legal revolution of the 11th century, that we should apprehend the unique invention of universities in medieval Europe. In conferring legal recognition and liberties to the universities, the kings of France, England, and Spain, and later Portugal, Austria, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary, as well as dukes and princes, expected their universities to provide them with effectively trained lawyers and Roman legal principles to consolidate their expanding powers against the centrifugal forces of the old feudal landed classes.

Similarly, the popes that endowed associations of teachers and students with the title and privileges of a university did so in awareness that the teaching of theology and Roman law, with its natural law principles, was an effective means of making Catholicism a rationally intelligible and unified doctrine to counter the diverse and mutually contradictory beliefs of heterodox religious orders. Both the papacy and the monarchies of Europe sought to recruit educated persons who could serve as staff for their offices. From the 13th century onward, the majority of popes had attended university and were increasingly surrounded by learned cardinals. Likewise the cities recognized the advantage of having a partnership with universities that brought them prestige, and provided them with trained lawyers who could handle difficult legal problems in the conduct of businesses and the articulation of the newly emerging fields of merchant law, contract law, and maritime law. Municipal authorities recognized the corporate right of students and teachers (many of whom were foreigners in need of rights they did not enjoy in the cities) to conduct their own affairs as members of autonomous universities, as well as certain privileges such as exemption from tolls and taxes and the fixing of maximal rents.

It would be a mistake, however, to view the recognition by monarchs and popes of the corporate status of universities as driven solely by their self-interests. The desire for knowledge, and the ethos of common Christian values transcending national boundaries, were very strong in medieval Europe. This was a time of Christian belief in a world rational order created by God that was accessible to human reason and education. This belief cultivated an interest in scholarly research, going back to the establishment of Christian cathedral schools and monastic schools in the early Middle Ages, in which monks dedicated themselves to the preservation and transmission of Greek-Roman high culture.

At the same time, the Christian understanding of man as a creature fallen into sin, and thus as an imperfect being, encouraged the norms of intellectual criticism and collegial cooperation and the norms of “modesty, reverence and self-criticism” as the image of the ideal scholar (Rüegg, p. 33). As Frederick I Barbarossa said in 1155 in his justification for the granting of academic liberties: “it is by learning that the world is illuminated and the lives of subjects are shaped towards obedience to God.”

The medieval ideal was that the university was a universal community of masters and students, open to everyone interested in the higher faculties of knowledge as well as being at the service of the public interest to the benefit of the whole Christian world, without being hampered by national or regional borders. In the thirteenth century, universitas came to mean the totality of the branches of knowledge, the whole community of learners, in classical Latin. University teachers came to acquire the status of a group which transcended local and disciplinary boundaries in possession of a universally accepted corpus of knowledge. The fact that this one institution spread over the entire world, with the bachelor’s degree, the master’s degree, and the doctorate adopted in the most culturally diverse nations of the world, points to its universality.

European civilization originated this universal institution. No other society conferred the privileges of a corporation to institutions of higher learning wherein reason could find a “neutral space” of free inquiry. Medieval Christian Europe was the first civilization to “institutionalize reason” within self-governing universities which offered a curriculum “overwhelmingly oriented toward analytical subjects” (Grant, 2001). The universities tended to have four faculties (arts, theology, law, and medicine), with the most important being the arts faculty, which had the largest numbers of students, and the theology faculty. The program of the arts consisted of the three verbal disciplines of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (the trivium or threefold way to wisdom) and the four mathematical disciplines of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music (the quadrivium). While medieval teachers were prohibited from reaching ultimate truths that were contrary to revealed truth, natural philosophers were free to pursue knowledge about the universe “in a remarkably secular and rationalistic manner with little interference from the Church and its theologians” (Grant, 2001). Indeed, medieval theologians, by applying logical techniques to theological questions, cultivated a religion like none before: a systematized and rationalized Christian faith.

This interpretation of the origins of universities was widely accepted in academia. But the pressures of multiculturalism are leading some academics to argue that Muslims should be given precedent for the origins of universities. They are demanding that the University of al-Qarawiyyin be identified as the “first university”, although this place was designated as a “university” only in 1963, and was originally founded as a mosque in 859 (Esposito, 2003). Other academics are claiming that Al-Azhar University, which was also founded as a mosque in 970-972, should be designated as “the second oldest university in the world”.

They maintain that Islamic centers of learning originated the practice of organizing foreign students into associations, and the idea of universal validity of the qualification for teaching based on the title of the baccalarius. But according to Rüegg, “the term baccalarius could not be an Islamic import of the twelfth century because it was already in use in the ninth century as the Latin designation of a preparatory or auxiliary status in a variety of social careers” (p. 8). Even the Islamicist George Makdisi, despite finding some general affinities between Islamic centers of learning and European universities, has concluded that “the university is a twelfth century product of the West both in its corporate structure and in the privileges it received from Pope and King” (cited in Rüegg, p. 8). Makdisi himself cautions that “in studying an institution which is foreign and remote in point of time, as is the case of the medieval madrasa, one runs the…risk of attributing to it characteristics borrowed from one’s own [Western] institutions…The most unwarranted of these [comparisons] is the one which makes the ‘madrasa’ a ‘university'” (1970). The madrasa was not a high degree-awarding institution, but a “college of Islamic law” lacking corporate status and a rationalistic curriculum, supported by an endowment or charitable trust, that is a waqf, which consisted of a building or plot of land, for Muslim religious or charitable purposes.

It is unfortunate that current university students are unaware of the Christian medieval roots of the institution they will spend a very important part of their lives attending. Offering a lecture on the historical origins of universities to new students would be a far better way to provide them with the spirit of “higher learning” universities were intended to be about, rather than separating students into categories of “privileged” and “oppressed” races.

Ricardo Duchesne has been interviewed in the Postil. He the author of The Uniqueness of Western CivilizationFaustian Man in a Multicultural AgeCanada in Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of Euro-Canadians.

Featured image: a lecture, from Bartholomaeus Anglicus (translated by Jean Corbechon), De proprietatibus rerum (Livre des proprietez des choses), France (Paris?), 1st quarter of the 15th century.

How To Reverse The Widespread, Nonsensical Principles Of Utopianism. Part 3.

To combat the mis-educational and anti-cultural, anarchic influence of Marxism, crucial for its opponents to understand is the nature of common sense (especially real common sense) and where, as utopian socialists, Marxist principles must incline Marxists to begin to:

  1. drive out real common sense from the souls of children and replace it with a fictional narrative devoid of real common sense;
  2. promote humanistic atheism, the notion that humanity is God, and, especially, anti-Semitism;
  3. mistake ethnic races for real genera and species;
  4. and deny the evident existence of real natures with internal principles of organization, powers/faculties/capabilities within things in general and human beings especially.

All these effects are pernicious and are driving the contemporary West and the world toward total madness. Once again, the Enlightenment West is turning the Jew into a cultural scapegoat onto which it inclines chiefly to fix all its cultural and individual problems and blame for all its cultural and individual failings. In addition, by denying the reality of real natures, including human nature, no human faculties can exist in which human habits exist, in which unequal virtues and talents can and do exist. As a result, apart from temperance and courage, the cardinal moral virtues of justice (especially distributive justice based upon individual talent can be recognized to exist) and prudence (upon which, together with the other cardinal virtues sound leadership essentially depend), cannot exist at all, much less flourish.

Beyond this, denying the existence of really-existing organizational wholes (real substances), the principles of conceptual and behavioral contradictions and non-contradictions become incomprehensible. Conceptually, contradictory opposites involve the impossibility of some one substance or parts/properties of a substance having essentially opposite differences. If real substances do not, cannot, exist, neither can the principle of conceptual non-contradiction. Worse, neither can behavioral non-contradictions. The concept of really, or naturally, doable or undoable deed becomes intellectually incomprehensible. And if neither conceptual nor behavioral contradictions are comprehensible, neither are common sense, truth, or language.

In addition, because they lack any common sense ability to recognize the reality of unequal talent and justly reward it as a contribution to a community or society, utopian socialists tend to do several things:

  1. reduce the whole of justice to commutative justice, exchanges of equal value of benefit or damage, such as monetary exchanges of equal or unequal goods and services;
  2. explain inequality of distribution of goods, wealth, not to reward for talent, virtue, but to exploitation, taking advantage, of the weaker (victims) by the stronger (victimizers);
  3. reduce what remains of justice to being tolerant/sincere (good-willed), and injustice to being intolerant/insincere (bad-willed);
  4. claim that all human inequality is based upon social victimization of innocent, sincere (good-willed), tolerant, sinless, just victims, by insincere (bad-willed) unjust, sinful victimizers;
  5. always attempt to remedy the disastrous, impoverishing effects that application of this flawed understanding of justice/injustice has on a community/society by periodically reversing within a community/society the roles of victims and victimizers (at one period making the victims one social group or another [such as, black males, females, religion, this or that religion, black males, white males, and so on] and the victimizers the same groups]) and at another time reversing these victims/victimizers roles.

Setting aside the evident absurdities and cultural evils with which Enlightenment utopian socialism and, especially, Marxism has infected the West, evident to readers by now should be that a Western and global return to sanity related to understanding the nature of truth and language essentially depend upon the ability of Western and world leaders to restore real common sense to national cultures. To do so, these leaders must, as precisely and quickly as possible, understand the nature of common sense considered in general, and especially real common sense.

Happily, through the examples and descriptions of it I have given in this essay, and especially through examples of its contrary opposite, a more or less precise definition of common sense appears easy to give. When we first consider the idea of common sense in relationship to examples of people who are more or less psychologically-healthy adults, it appears to be simply what most of us would call common knowledge, or common understanding.

In English, we have an expression we often give to people who say something evidently true, something everyone knows—“That goes without saying.” By this we mean that what a person just said was so evidently true that no need existed to say it. The term common sense expresses this concept. In it, the word sense is synonymous with the word knowledge, or, more precisely, understanding.

In general, a person with common sense is someone possessed of what Aristotle and St. Thomas had identified as the natural and acquired intellectual habit (habitus) and virtue (virtus: virtual, or intensive quantity [quality]), of understanding. Such a person is someone who, in relation to observational (what Aristotle and St. Thomas had called speculative or theoretical) knowledge immediately understands (induces, intuits) some thing or action to be what it is, or be true; or, in relation to practical and productive knowing, through practical or productive experience at living, immediately induces (intuits), understands, what something is or is not, or that it is right or wrong to choose.

Aristotle and Aquinas had maintained that all human beings are born with natural habitus (qualities they imperfectly have). These include all the natural moral and intellectual qualities, virtues of temperance, courage, justice, prudence, art, philosophy/science, understanding, and even wisdom, and their contrary opposites. While not perfectly so, even young children are somewhat (at least naturally inclined to be) courageous or cowardly, hopeful or fearful, sensitive to pleasure/pain, more-or-less artistic, even prudent, wise, possessed of understanding and common sense. The truth of this claim is evident from the fact that, at times children, are more prudent, wiser, than some adults. In addition, some are precocious: masterful musicians, painters, mathematicians, and so on.

To become perfected in such psychological qualities, however, Aristotle and Aquinas were convinced human beings need repeatedly to apply prudence and wisdom (common sense/understanding in its more perfect form) to their increasingly-perfected understanding to add perfecting qualities (virtues) to their naturally-possessed habits. In its most perfect form, common sense is simply the perfected, naturally-possessed habit of understanding (the virtue of understanding) applied to this or that subject in this or that situation that makes the nature of some subject immediately intelligible!

Following St. Augustine, some contemporary Christians, including Pope Francis, have recently started to refer to this quality of common sense in the form of wisdom/prudence in immediate understanding by use of the term discernment. No need exists for a discerning person, someone with common sense in this form, to reason to the conclusion that this something exists, or about: what it is, whether it is true, false, or fake; or whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, to pursue or avoid. The answers to such questions are immediately evident to this person. And so, too, is the adequate self-knowledge of personal nature and abilities immediately to draw this conclusion.

Consequently, especially in relation to productive and practical matters, healthy, adult human beings commonly identify a person with common sense as being someone possessed of the habit of good decision making, a good judge, either in general, or related to some particular subject. A person with common sense is a person possessed of common knowledge, common understanding: what everyone else who knows a subject understands about this subject in general or particular. The example I gave toward the start of this article related to an engineer who claims to be an engineer mistaking the principles of grammar for those of engineering is a fitting, suitable, one to use to help make intelligible, understandable, to an audience what I am chiefly talking about, the chief intellectual point I want to make, related to the nature of common sense.

As opposed to the person possessed of common sense, the person lacking it, the fool, is devoid of knowledge of what everyone else knows, or should know about some subject. In a way, this person lacks knowledge of some principle of measuring, known truth, that comes to people possessed of the virtue of common sense immediately from observation or from common sense-experience at living.

As a result, the person who lacks common sense is often publicly ridiculed, is the butt of jokes. University professors, people who tend “to live in ivory towers,” especially some logicians (those with little practical experience at living), incline to be such individuals. In college, I had a friend like this to whom I used to refer as an “encyclopedia open to the wrong page.” While he was terrific in some forms of academic work, he tended to have no practical skills, or if he did, not know when and/or how to apply them.
Aristotle actually had a word he used to describe such individuals that came close to, but did not completely capture, the nature of a person lacking common sense: “asinine.” In ancient Greek, this was the person lacking synēsis, someone who had the personal quality of a-synēsis, a species of foolishness (non- synēsis/sense) that caused a person to be a bad imaginer, conceptualizer, judge, estimator, evaluator, especially of what a person should know in this or that situation.

To make intelligible to others more precisely the understanding (which he apparently acquired from Socrates) that wisdom is more or less identical with common sense, in his masterful work in moral psychology, the Nicomachean Ethics, when talking about the nature of prudence and working as a physician of the soul (behavioral psychologist), Aristotle went out of his way to explain that the person possessed of wisdom (of which prudence is a species) combines in his or her nature all the essential elements needed to be an excellent judge.

Recall that in Plato’s dialogues the stone-mason/philosopher Socrates had repeatedly maintained that what, more than anything else, got him into trouble was an ordinary kind of wisdom he possessed, one unlike that of the professional orators and poets of his day. Unlike their wisdom, Socrates claimed that his was the ordinary kind of human wisdom, examples of which, to the chagrin of professional sophists like Thrasymachos, Gorgias, and Callicles, he constantly gave examples in reference to people like cooks, medical doctors, sailors, home builders, shoemakers, and tailors.

Psychologically, Aristotle claimed that this sort of wisdom, which someone like the prudent man Socrates possessed, combines in its nature four different qualities of excellent judging that, when rightly combined with the psychological quality of understanding, give to its possessor a generic, psychological quality of virtuous shrewdness, of which prudence, and apparently wisdom in general (whether practical, productive, or contemplative/speculative/theoretical/metaphysical) are species:

  1. eubulia (excellence in deliberating);
  2. eustochia (being a lucky guesser, somewhat excellent at being able to determine precisely the right thing to do at the saw that moment: a good evaluator/estimator);
  3. synēsis (right judgment about what happens in the majority of cases, what is really doable and not doable); and
  4. gnome (right judgment about what is equitable in this or that situation).

Special difficulty understanding the nature of common sense arises at times from two facts about it:

  1. To some extent, all human being possess some of it, are familiar with it; and
  2. when we talk about it, we generally do so the way we talk about anything real: concretely, in terms of qualitatively unequal relationships to that of which it is said—that is, analogously.

Regarding this first fact, understanding common sense presents a difficulty similar to that which in Book 11 of his Confessions, St. Augustine admitted he had related to the concept of time: When someone does not ask him what it is, he is so familiar with it that he has no trouble knowing what it is; but when someone asks him what it is, he appears not to know. Common sense has a similar nature. When someone does not ask us what it is, we have an implicit knowledge of it as the virtue of understanding applied to this or that subject in this or that situation that makes the nature of some subject immediately intelligible. On the contrary, when someone asks us what is common sense (common synēsis), initially we tend to become tongue-tied, do not know how to reply.

As far as fact 2 is concerned, when we talk about a subject, apply objects of sentences to their subjects to identify them in relation to a subject, we always to so indirectly, according to relational meanings. We never do so directly; and the way logicians and ordinary people, as well as real scientists/philosophers, do this essentially differs. In their everyday, common sense way of talking, philosophers/scientists and ordinary human beings do so by noting qualitative, nuanced (chiefly causal) distinctions, differences in relation that they immediately recognize exist between and among these relational meanings as they say, refer, them to a subject.

For example, in the ordinary course of conversation, two people might note that Mother Theresa was more of a human being (in the sense of being qualitatively more perfect metaphysically and morally [psychologically, in her soul!] than was Joseph Stalin. Such a statement would strike a logician thinking as a logician as nonsensical, likely as an ad hominem attack violating the well-known, common sense logical canon that words, terms, definitions said of subjects must always have one, absolutely-fixed meaning, definition— when put in the technical jargon of a logician, must always be predicated univocally, never predicated equivocally.

For example, if I call Socrates and Plato men, a logician working as a logician naturally inclines to assume I mean that Socrates and Plato are equally men, that whatever the definition of man signifies is equally, not unequally, in one and the other—that Socrates is not more man than is Plato. Both are equally men.

If, on the other hand, a medical doctor says that John is not as healthy as Mary, in some way he is saying that, while John is healthy, the quality, or nature, health is causally related to John as one that exists less in John than it does in Mary, that some cause called health exists more in Mary than it does in John. In addition, if I call bread or exercise healthy, in the first case, generally I mean that, when eaten, bread tends nutritionally to cause, promote retention and increase of bodily health; and in the second case, generally I mean that exercise tends to cause, promote retention and increase of muscular coordination and stamina/strength.

While, to some extent, all human beings tend to have a difficult time understanding the nature of analogy, my experience is that logicians generally have an especially difficult time doing so. Since analogy dominates the language of everyday life, especially productive and practical matters, logicians often have a difficult time understanding the psychological disposition of business people and ordinary people with real, not syllogistic, common sense.

Since logicians tend to think in one fixed way, they also often have a hard time understanding comedy, not understanding jokes. This is especially true of Enlightenment logicians, Marxists in general, and the contemporary Woke crowd of anarchists, who deny the reality of real natures. Since real common sense is chiefly said, referred to subjects analogously, Enlightenment intellectuals in general have a hard time grasping its nature.

Be this as it may, common sense mainly refers to common, evident intellectual understanding or knowledge that some person possesses in general, or related to a specific or individual subject as a natural or supernatural faculty or habit of the human soul. Analogously, people often extend, transfer use of, apply, this term to other human faculties (like will, memory, imagination, hearing, and so on); and even to subjects and circumstances, situations such as time and place in which they do not directly exist, but to which, somehow, they are relationally connected.

For example, adult human beings throughout the world often say that performing this or that action generally, particularly, or individually makes sense or is commonsensical, or is nonsensical, makes no common sense. For instance, someone in the third century B.C. making plans to create a ship to fly to Mars would be planning something that most people today would say makes no common sense for that person; but they might likely agree that it could make common sense for Elon Musk seriously to consider.

St. Thomas Aquinas went so far as to locate moral prudence, and with it all practical and productive prudence partially on the sense level in an internal sense faculty that he analogously identified with the estimative intelligence, instinct, and brute animals. He called his faculty cogitative, or particular, reason. Together with the virtue of intellectual understanding, all the other cardinal and intellectual virtues and moral virtues, the integrated activity of all these faculties and their habits and virtues, plus whatever supernatural grace can add to these, appear to comprise the whole of common sense in its most perfect form: perfect human wisdom.

Crucial to understand today about Marxism, Enlightenment utopian socialism in general, and all the mis-named cultural institutions they have created over the tenure of their existence is that all of these are intentionally (or at least in principle) designed to drive common sense, especially real common sense, out of the human soul, the psychological constitution of individual persons; and to do so at the earliest age and throughout an entire lifetime in every aspect of human life.

A good example of this is mis-educational influence are faculty members and administrators who are miserable human beings living miserable lives. Hating themselves, they tend to hate anyone who is not as miserable as they are. As a result, by intentionally influencing them to adopt the same nonsensical principles they use to direct their choices in life, they intentionally seek to make students as miserable as they are.

Other good examples considered in general of it are contemporary middle-management executives, corporate human resources executives/managers, and college/university administrators, ministers of education, all of whom, having been mis-educated in common sense at Enlightenment mis-educational institutions, tend to think univocally, not analogously; and tend to be sorely lacking in real common sense as I have described it.

While, considered as human beings they might be wonderful, kind people, as administrators, Western colleges and universities and educational institutions that have been influenced by their Enlightenment mindset have pretty much driven out of their administrative psychology any comprehension of prudence, and common sense in general, and justice, especially distributive justice, which (instead of race, sex, political influence, diversity, and so on) is the chief just measure of equitable distribution of rewards for quality of work contribution to an organization).

The net result of the disordered educational psychology inhabiting cultural institutions throughout the contemporary West and world is that pretty much all of these institutions, and especially those of higher education (colleges and universities), have become ships of fools mistakenly thinking of themselves as creating local, national, and global world leaders, while they often tend to do precisely the opposite. Consequently, expecting most contemporary college and university faculty members and administrators to come up with a plan to reverse the current dire cultural situation in the West and globally, including their own, makes no real common sense. Doing so defies their natural and acquired abilities, which, related to such a feat, are largely disabilities, job-application disqualifiers.

For this reason, as colleges and universities increasingly begin to go out of business, collapse, on a global scale, colleagues of mine and I have decided that two institution of higher education)—an introductory Common sense Wisdom Liberal Arts Academy (CWLAA) and an advanced executive leadership Common sense Wisdom Executive Coaching Academy (CWECA) )—which immerse their students from all parts of the Earth in common sense wisdom, must immediately, on a global scale, be created to replace the disordered, mis-educational, intellectual institutions (colleges and universities) that Enlightenment hatred for commons ense has caused to come into being culturally and civilizationally increasingly to wreck the West and the world. Anyone seriously interested in discovering more about this project and perhaps joining, supporting, us in this effort is more than welcome to do so by checking out the nature of CWECA.

Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website.

The featured image shows a detail of a wise virgin, from Friedrich Wilhelm von Schadow’s “Die klugen und torichten Jungfrauen” (The Wise and Foolish Virgins); painted in 1842.