An Open Letter To the Rector of the Jagiellonian University

To the Rector of the Jagiellonian University:

We, a group of scholars from different countries, have learned that your university and Philosophy Department have seen fit to reprimand Professor Ryszard Legutko for an “Open Letter,” in which he urges your institution to “disband” the office of equal treatment. Since you did not respond to Professor Legutko’s letter, we infer that the Philosophy Department’s position represents your opinion as well. Of more than thirty faculty members, only one stood by Legutko, and one abstained from voting. This forces us to conclude that Professor Legutko was right in calling to your attention the growing ideologization of your university. Uniformity of thinking is not an indication of healthy intellectual life but in today’s academic environment has become a sure sign of the opposite.

Although we do not know all the details of this daring experiment, considering how such offices function in America and elsewhere, Professor Legutko is entirely correct to resist it. Political Correctness, a theme that many of us have addressed in multiple books and articles, is a dangerous totalitarian concept; and it is one that has sowed havoc and disunity in every Western onetime democracy. The result of this venture inflicted on us by public administrators, the media and the educational establishment has been to render our countries less free and more open to ideological manipulation.

Professor Legutko is an eminent scholar in political theory, from whose study on the pitfalls of our religion of democracy we in the Western countries have learned a great deal. His grim warnings about the antiliberal potential of modern democracy (and here we are using ‘liberal’ in its true nineteenth-century sense) are clearly on the mark; and what the good professor is now undergoing at your venerable institution witnesses to the truth of his predictions.

In the name of an elusive goal of total equality, including special rights for designated victims, Western civilization is destroying itself. We were hoping that Poland and other relatively traditional Western countries would be spared this fate that is now overwhelming the United States, the Anglosphere, and parts of Europe. Perhaps we were overly optimistic.

Paul Gottfried,
Editor, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture,
Author of After Liberalism,
Zbigniew Janowski,
Author of Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America

Signatories To The Letter:

Francesco Andriani, President of Ideare (Italy)

Jacek Bartyzel, University of Nicholas Copernicus, UMK (Poland)

Luigi Marco Bassani, University of Milan (Italy)

Clifford Angell Bates, Warsaw University (Poland)

José Carlos Bermejo Barrera, University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain)

Jeremy Black, The University of Exeter (England)

Katarzyna Błachowska, Warsaw University (Poland)

Aleksander Bobko, Uniwersytet Rzeszowski (Poland)

Catharine Savage Brosman, Tulane University (USA)

Chris Buskirk, Editor, American Greatness (USA)

Nicholas Capaldi, Loyola University, New Orleans (USA)

Jonathan C.D. Clark, historian (England)

Lee Congdon, James Madison University (USA)

Wayne Cristaudo, Charles Darwin University (Australia)

Felipe Cuello, Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (Dominican Republic)

Magdalena Danielewiczowa, Warsaw University (Poland)

Nirmal Dass, Editor, The Postil Magazine (Canada)

Zuzanna Dawidowicz, Editor, Arcana (Poland)

Marshall De Rosa, Florida Atlantic University (USA)

Marion Duvauchel, Historian of Religions (France)

Filip Doroszewski, Uniwersytet Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego (Poland)

Ian Dowbiggin, Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
University of Prince Edward Island
(Canada)

Jacob Duggan, student at Towson University, Baltimore (USA)

Serafín Fanjul, Catedrático de la UNAM, Miember, Real Academia de la Historia (Spain)

Richard Fafara, Adler-Aquinas Institute (USA).

Devin Foley, CEO of the Charlemagne Institute (USA)

Bruce Gilley, Portland State University (USA)

Catherine Godfrey-Howell, JCD, St. Augustine’s Press (USA)

David Gordon, Senior Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (USA)

Jean-Louis Harouel, University of Paris II (Panthéon-Assas) (France)

Ann Hartle, Emory University (USA)

Grant Havers, Trinity Western University (Canada)

Domingo González Hernández, University of Murcia, Spain

Jozefa Hrynkiewicz, Warsaw University (Poland)

Arnaud Imatz, Political Scientist and Historian (France)

Elżbieta Janus, UKSW (Poland)

Dariusz Karłowicz, Editor-in-chief, Teologia Polityczna (Poland)

Tomasz Kaźmierowski, Founder of Fundacja Identitas (Poland)

Robert M. P. W. Graham Kerr, Inarah, Institute for Research on Early Islamic History and the Koran, Saarbrücken (Germany)

Roger Kimball, Editor of New Criterion, and director of Encounter Books (USA)

Harrison Koehli, host of MindMatters (USA)

Adam Korytowski, AGH (Poland)

Maria Korytowska, Jagiellonian University (Poland)

Thaddeus Kozinski, Divine Mercy University (USA)

Wojciech Kruszewski, Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski (Poland)

Maria Kunicka, XIII Liceum Aleksandra Fredry (Poland)

Wojciejch Kunicki, Wroclaw University (Poland)

Antoni Libera, writer, author of Madame (Poland)

Donald W. Livingston, Emory University (USA)

Sean McMeekin, Bard College (USA)

Justyna Melonowaska, Maria Grzegorzewska University (Poland)

Andrzej Nowak, Jagiellonian University (Poland)

Piotr Nowak, Bialystok University (Poland)

José Luis Orella, Universidad CEU San Pablo, Madrid (Spain)

Michał Otorowski, Fundacja Augusta hr Cieszkowskiego (Poland)

Ciro Paoletti, Director of Associazione di Studi Storici e Militari (Italy)

Robert Paquette, President, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (USA)

Stanley Payne, Univeristy of Wisconsin-Madison (USA)

Olga Płaszczewska, Jagiellonian University (Poland)

Peter Redpath, CEO, Aquinas School of Leadership and Commonsense Wisdom Academies (USA)

Alexander Riley, Professor of Sociology, Bucknell University (USA)

Robert Reilly, Former Director of The Voice of America, Senior Fellow of the American Foreign Policy Council (USA)

Rusty Reno, Editor-in-Chief, FIRST THINGS

Jan Rokita, Ignatianum (Poland)

Magdalena Saganiak, Humanities Department, UKSW, Warsaw (Poland)

Andrzej Wasko, Jagiellonian University (Poland)

Anna Wasko, Editor, Arcana, and professor at Jagiellonian University (Poland)

Robert Weissberg, University of Illinois—Urbana (USA)

Edward Welsch, Executive Editor, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture (USA)

Bronisław Wildstein, writer (Poland)

Maria Anna Zając, Uniwersytet Śląski (Poland)


Antiquity Under The Guise Of Melancholy

In one of the problems in the Aristotelian corpus (The Book of Problems, XXX, 1), which deals with those related to thought, intelligence and wisdom, its author asks: “why were all men who have excelled in philosophy, politics or poetry or the arts melancholic” (XXX, 1, 10-14), as were many heroes of mythology, such as, Heracles, and “in recent times so have been Empedocles, Plato, Socrates and many other notable men” (XXX, 1, 26-30).

The answer is that there is a direct relationship between melancholy and what we call creativity, as Maria Grazia Ciani has shown. The melancholy of the Aristotelian problem actually encompasses all forms of mental disorder. Aristotle relates it to the loss of control of the passions and assimilates it to drunkenness, and links it to sexual desire and to sleep disturbances in such a way as to give the impression that the common origin of all desires and passions, which later in St. Augustine and later in Sigmund Freud, will receive the name of libido, is the engine that contains the energy which allows for different types of artistic and intellectual creation. Thus, in this brief text we have the origin of the romantic idea of association of genius with madness, analyzed in recent times by the philosopher and psychiatrist Karl Jaspers. Before Aristotle, one of these melancholics, Plato, in his dialogue, The Phaedrus, (244 A) had already stated that “our greatest goods are born thanks to madness” (mania), and there being four kinds of it: the prophetic, whose patron is Apollo, the telestitic or ritual, whose patron is Dionysus, the poetic, whose patrons are the Muses, and the erotic, inspired by Aphrodite and Eros.

Platonic mania is directly related to poetic inspiration, conceived as vision or trance; and therefore, it is also understood as a source of creativity. What happens with Platonic mania and melancholia is that they become metonymies, confusing the part with the whole, because in Hellenic tradition and medicine, mental illness, when conceived under an organic model, a model that coexists with the religious, in which the disease is understood as possession, and the philosophical, in which it is related to the passions and thought, is structured in a more complex morphology.

The Greeks in fact divided the alterations of the passions and thought, madness, into two large groups: delirium with fever, which corresponds to the inflammation of the brain, and delirium without fever, which would be our mental illness. This is structured in two great poles: mania, or agitated madness, with delusions and hallucinations, and sometimes accompanied by violence, and melancholia or sad and apathetic madness, reaching immobility and resemblance to death in catatonia. Next to these two great groups we have senile dementia, epilepsy, and the disease proper of women, hysteria.

Plato and Aristotle reduce all forms of madness to one, because what interests them is analyzing how the imbalance of the passions allows intellectual creation. The melancholic desires to live in solitude, like Heraclitus, the philosopher who wept, as opposed to Democritus, the philosopher laughed, in the Hellenic tradition. This solitude is the condition of his superiority, because it allows him to observe things and people objectively, thanks to the distance and detachment from passions. It is supposed that Heraclitus, like the Nietzschean Zarathustra, went to live in the mountains, became a vegetarian and, after returning to his hometown, died of dropsy, because of the water that accumulated in his body because of his diet. Euripides, the misanthrope of tradition, the first possessor of a library, is supposed to have lived in a cave; and Aristotle himself, who was called “the reader” in the Academy, made writing to be read, not recited or dialogued, the key to his philosophy. The first Christians practiced anachoresis as a way of life and a way of seeking knowledge; and with them was born silent reading, mentioned for the first time in history by St. Augustine in his Confessions, when he recounts his surprise at seeing Ambrose reading silently in Milan.

Solitude and melancholy were considered the indispensable condition for observation; and the artist, the philosopher or the historian thus became neutral observers of the passions and catastrophes of others, as described by Pseudo-Longinus in his treatise, On the Sublime, in which the scene of the spectacle of the shipwreck, seen from the cliff, as the source of the aesthetic feeling of sublime beauty, understood as that which overrides the passions and elevates thought, as opposed to the pleasurable feeling of the beautiful, became a key element in Western thought.

The paradigm of the melancholic spectator, observer of the past, or of the present, was fundamental in Europe from the Renaissance onwards. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a brilliant revival of melancholy. Robert Burton, an Oxonian clergyman, was the author in 1628 of a masterpiece (The Anatomy of Melancholy), that drew upon an exhaustive study of biblical and classical sources on this feeling.

For Burton, who was a neo-Stoic, all disorders of the soul are due to the uncontrolled passions of all kinds; and all of them are nothing more than different forms of melancholy in his monumental and erudite treatise. His study is so complete that all aspects of human life of the present and the past are reflected in it, for what is history but the study of the joys and sorrows, the ambitions, hatreds, loves, thoughts and feelings of human beings? The work of the anatomist of melancholy is to try to describe from a distance the story of all these passions, seen from the dispassion that provides academic isolation and the disenchantment of all passions, typical of the philosopher and historian, which would lead Burton himself to also fall into melancholy.

Burton’s book is situated on a very expansive context. Already in 1586, in England itself, Timothie Bright had devoted another book to the subject. And in France the same had been done by André du Laurens in 1594 and Jourdan Guibelet in 1603.

Melancholy came to know a bright future, in the literature of romanticism; and some sociologists, such as, Wolf Lepenies tried to associate it with the ways of thinking and feeling of the emerging and frustrated German bourgeoisie. For example, those whose role was essential in the birth and consolidation of classical studies, focused on the evocation of a vanished past. However, long before that, melancholy was directly associated with visions of the past.

The Greek author of the Qoheleth, better known as, Ecclesiastes, a treatise attributed to the wisest king, Solomon, developed a whole theory of history, which tried to make sense of the time he lived in, the Hellenistic era, characterized by its endless succession of wars, which would affect the Jewish people very directly.

According to the Qoheleth, history cannot recover the past, definitively lost and impossible to reconstruct:

“Vanity of vanities! Everything is vanity. What profit does anyone gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away and another generation succeeds it, but the earth stands firm forever. The sun rises and the sun sets; then it returns to the place where it rises.
The wind blows southward and then veers to the north, constantly turning as it repeats its course. All the rivers go to the sea, and yet the sea never overflows, for the rivers continue to return to their place of origin. All things are wearisome and very difficult to express. The eyes are not satisfied with seeing and the ears do not have their fill of hearing. What has been will be so again, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Whatever is perceived to be new has already existed in the ages before us. Those people who died in ages past are no longer remembered, and the people yet to be born will not be remembered by those who come after them. I have seen everything that has been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after the wind”
(Ecclesiastes 1).

The impossibility of recovering the past through the evocation of it that historians can do was a substantial part of European thought, which contemplated it until the Renaissance under the rubric of melancholy. Here is just one example from Jorge Manrique, when he says:

Let us leave the Trojans,
For we have not seen their evils
Nor their glories;
Let us leave the Romans,
Though we have heard and read
Of their victories.
Let us not care to know
What of the century past,
And how it went.
Let us come to yesterday,
Which is as well forgotten
as all of that (Coplas, XV).

These verses are especially pertinent because they deal with the classical tradition, never lost in the Middle Ages and again in force from the “Renaissance” of the twelfth century. Greek and Roman history, together with biblical history, is fully alive in Jorge Manrique, as well as in late medieval Spanish literature, as María Rosa Lida de Malkiel pointed out.

If we read one of the first incunabula, the Weltkronik by Hartmann Schedel, published in 1493, which is interesting not only for its text but also its hundreds of illustrations, we can observe how this history of the world that begins with the biblical creation intermingles, following the historiographic tradition of St. Augustine and Orosius, the Jewish, Greek and Roman histories. All its characters are equally present in the text and the engravings, as are the oriental cities and those of the classical world in the miniatures. From all of them, from their lives and sayings, a moral lesson can be drawn, in the style of Valerius Maximus. Here the loop of melancholy has been broken, for the past becomes present, but at the cost of anachronism and imitation of it, as will happen in the European Renaissance, incomprehensible without the birth of the printed book, which will later be key to understanding the role of classical studies.

The printing press was an essential agent of change to make the Renaissance possible, and also the Reformation and the scientific revolution; for without it, the codification and general transmission of knowledge would have been impossible. In the case of Spain, for example, it was precisely the scarcity of printing presses and publishers which, together with the Counter-Reformation, largely explains the weakness of Spanish humanism, as Luis Gil Fernandez has shown in a very detailed study.

The birth of history and philology as sciences is inseparable from the overcoming of anachronism, which fully identifies the past and the present; and from the establishment of what is called estrangement, or the distancing of the present and the past. This process of estrangement makes it possible to create the necessary distance for the development of an objective method, as Anthony Kemp and David Lowenthal have pointed out. However, this distancing must be accompanied by an interest that promotes the study of a distant past and brings with it the birth of a certain process of assimilation.

The scientific study of all aspects of classical culture was institutionalized in Germany, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The importance of German scholarship was such that we can say that, just as classical Greece and Rome were the ideal homeland of many Germans, Germany itself is in a sense the common homeland of all scholars of antiquity.

In order to understand this process, two kinds of factors must be taken into account. External factors, referring to Germany’s own political and social situation and the development of its new university system; and internal factors, which allowed the institutionalization of all this systematic body of knowledge, Wissenschaften, without which it is impossible to access the ancient world.

Germany at the end of the 18th century was a conglomerate of small kingdoms, with the exception of Prussia, and dozens of free cities, known today as “Home Towns,” which the Germans called Heimat. Their population was more than 80% rural, and political domination corresponded to the nobility and the different churches. An average German town had between 3,000 and 5,000 inhabitants, was under the power of a local nobleman or ecclesiastical authority and its municipal life was controlled by guilds and corporations and was clearly restricted, which did not prevent the development of an important culture and a certain publishing industry. Germany’s economic and industrial development was very limited and its industrialization took place late in the 19th century. For this reason, a significant bourgeois class did not emerge that would allow the social and economic advancement of, for example, the intellectual professions.

We may take as an essential and social model the figure of Friedrich Schiller, poet, playwright and historian. Of humble origin, he trained as a military doctor, but became one of the first professors of history in Germany and author of the first great publishing success of the 19th century, his History of the Thirty Years’ War. Schiller and Goethe lived under the protection, and many times the whim, of the nobles and petty princes; and both considered, like many German intellectuals, culture as a way out and an escape route from the situation of social constraint.

Heinrich Heine said that in Napoleonic times, England dominated the sea, France the land and Germany the air, thanks to its cultural creations. Culture was conceived as a way of sublimation and escape from the present, and it was thought that there could be full human freedom, civil, cultural and intellectual, without full political freedom, thus creating what Leonard Krieger called the German idea of freedom, a freedom under the cloak of authority, often times arbitrary.

Such freedom under surveillance and such constraint of a social class, the bourgeoisie, meant that culture was understood as a form of nostalgia for a past in which that freedom had been possible – and that was the role of Greek and Roman culture, evoked as absence in Schiller’s own poems, which we can clearly see in his Die Götter Griechenlandes:

Ja, sie kehrten heim, und alles Schöne,
Alles Hohe nahmen sie mit fort,
Alle Farben, alle Lebenstöne,
Und uns blieb nur das entseelte Wort.
Aus der Zeitflut weggerissen, schweben
Sie gerettet auf des Pindus Höhn,
Was unsterblich im Gesang soll leben,
Muß im Leben untergehn.

(Yes, they returned home, and everything beautiful,
Everything high they took with them,
All colors, all sounds of life,
And all that was left for us was the lifeless word.
Torn away from the tide of time, they float
They are saved on Pindus heights.
What shall live immortal in song,
Must perish in life).

The idealized past of Greece is the poet’s true homeland, as it was for Goethe; the land where the lemon tree blooms. The poet understands the evocation of the past, in which freedom and beauty were lost, as an essential function of poetry and historical narrative. This is also the case in Friedrich Hölderlin’s epistolary novel, Hyperion. In this novel, Hyperion’s letters to Diotima evoke both the loss of freedom, love and happiness, through creation and reading. The Germans created a culture understood as a remembrance of the national past and of a past they identified as their own in Greece and Rome. This explains the importance of the study of all aspects of the past in the development of their national culture. In it, this German idea of conditional freedom was directly linked to the idea of Bildung, or education and shaping of the mind and life of each individual; and fundamental in that Bildung was the creation of the new European university by Wilhelm von Humboldt, at the University of Berlin, under the protection of the King of Prussia.

Wilhelm von Humboldt created the so-called research university, in which a professor had full freedom to teach and research his knowledge and was provided with the means to do so. This professor, be it L. von Ranke, G.W.F. Hegel, K. von Savigny, J. Liebig and so many others, would train not only students but also researchers; and thus, the institutionalization of the Altertumswissenschaft became possible. The new university gave birth to a new social and personal type, the professor, with his specific ideology and ethics analyzed by A.J. Engel.

In Germany, the university and the liberal professions (doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists), were the essential means of social ascent, in a country where the delayed industrialization did not allow until very late the birth of a rich bourgeoisie. The Jews, excluded from the university professions almost until the 20th century, took refuge in them. The German professors were free in their privileged world, isolated from politics by their knowledge; but they always depended on the political power in the public universities; and that is why they were always politically very conservative and could not react to the rise of Nazism, according to Fritz Ringer. Such was the internal framework in which the Altertumswissenschaft was institutionalized. Let us now see what it consists of.

The German word, Wissenschaft, designates any kind of systematic knowledge of a given subject, and is not exactly equivalent to the English term, “science.” There is a Judentumwissenschaft, a set of knowledge necessary to be able to understand and study Jewish culture and history; and for the same reason there is a Religionswissenschaft, which does not consist in reducing religious phenomena to a science, because then the specifics of religious experience would be reduced to nothing. The Altertumwissenschaft is a whole system of knowledge necessary to be able to study what is considered a strongly unitary phenomenon, which is the world of classical antiquity.

Its basis is the knowledge of two languages, Greek and Latin, in all their aspects: morphological, syntactic and semantic, the study of their history and all the metrical, stylistic and rhetorical forms necessary to be able to understand the texts in these two ancient languages. But this study of languages is only a part of it, since it also includes the study of archaeology, epigraphy and numismatics, as well as, of course, classical history and all literary genres: epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy, prose, history, oratory, and philosophy in its various parts, as well as all the sciences developed by the Greeks and Romans. August Boeck pointed this out in 1886; but he also indicated that philology was “the knowledge of what is known.” By this he meant that its aim was to achieve the understanding, or in other words, the updating of the experiences lived in all fields, felt and thought by the men and women of Antiquity.

Naturally, only very few authors managed to master all these fields, although some did, such as Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, who wrote on Greek language, literature, history, philosophy and religion. By doing so, Wilamowitz maintained the idea of the unity of the subject of study, and because he was aware of the hermeneutic character of all these disciplines. A classical philologist turned philosopher, Hans Georg Gadamer, thus developed a theory that gave a perfect account of the work of the philologist, the historian and the philosopher. For Gadamer, these disciplines, called hermeneutics, were structured as follows.

A hermeneutic discipline studies a cultural and historical whole that is defined by the existence of a corpus of texts which is transmitted over time, while being studied and enriched. This body of texts shapes a cultural and personal identity and creates a sense of belonging. Think, for example, of the role of the Old and New Testaments in Christianity, the Talmud in Judaism, and the Koran for Muslims. Each member of that group is recognized as such through tradition. His identity is delimited by that tradition and through its identification with the corpus of its texts. But it is by immersing oneself in it that one constantly recreates one’s identity and renews it, while at the same time keeping alive the tradition to which one belongs. Hermeneutic activity is based on reading, rereading and commenting on texts. In it, to read is to begin to write, and to write is to read again.

This going to the old textual corpus and then returning to the present is what Gadamer called the “hermeneutic circle;” and it is this circle, based on continuous and endless reading, that is the basis of the work of the historian, the philologist and the philosopher, three figures that overlap in the field of Altertumwissenchaft. Without texts, without books and without reading, all these studies become meaningless.

David Hume once said that “reason is and must be the slave of the passions,” to the scandal of moralists and Stoic philosophers. In reality Hume led a rather discreet and stoic life, and so what he meant by that phrase is that the motor of our psychic life is not thought, but feeling – passion. For that reason, it is incomprehensible that the gigantic effort, in all the disciplines necessary to be able to study classical antiquity, could have been developed, if there had not been some deep interest in it.

And, of course, there was deep interest in Germany. Greek and Latin formed the basis of the baccalaureate studied at the Gymnasium, the secondary school for those who would go on to university studies, and which, by the way, was attended by not even 10% of young German adolescents, since the majority who studied did so at the Realschule, where they studied modern languages, and sciences and techniques necessary for the development of commerce and economic or industrial activity.

The prolonged study of Classical languages made it possible to create a whole corps of professors and scholars, who made possible the massive work of study and cataloguing that made it possible in Germany to create the great corpora of inscriptions and texts, and to elaborate the great instruments of consultation, such as, the Real-Enzyklopaedie, a gigantic collective work, indispensable for study, even today; and which was developed over many years, like so many other working methods.

What did the Germans see in Greece and Rome? We might even say, why did they become obsessed with Greece, which exercised a kind of tyranny over German culture and thought? They no longer saw in it a nostalgic past, in which men had been free and happy, as had been the Greece of Schiller and Hölderlin, but a model to be followed in all areas of culture, for Greece had created philosophy, science, art and the best literature, and also provided the models on which European political systems were based.

The Altertumwsissenschaft conceived Antiquity sub specie aeternitatis, as had been the model of Roma aeterna. Ever since Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople, the double idea of translatio and renovatio developed. Rome could remain Rome elsewhere and constantly renew itself. The emperors of Byzantium remained emperors of Rome, and then also the czars of Russia, who called themselves Caesars. And the same thing happened in the West, ever since the coronation of Charlemagne, which meant the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, which survived until the Napoleonic wars, when it was neither sacred, nor an empire, nor Roman, nor Germanic, as Voltaire pointed out, but which was renewed with the Second Reich and then unfortunately with the Third Reich which was supposed to last a thousand years.

Greece and Rome were the timeless model to imitate for the entire German cultured society. If we read the 1878 book by Jakob von Falke, a jewel of German publishing for the quality of its engravings and binding, we can realize that, despite its shortcomings as a historical work, since for its time it does not cite either Droysen’s or Mommsen’s works, it reflects very well the passion of the German bourgeoisie for the Classical world. It is a luxurious book of great size that could adorn a good bourgeois salon, attesting to the admiration for that vanished world.

The paradigm of classical history sub specie aeternitatis began to be criticized in the early nineteenth century by authors such as Tocqueville, and was the subject of fierce ideological battles, as each country tried to identify with the Classical past in its own way, creating antithetical models.

The Germans tended to identify themselves, following the model created by K.O. Müller, more with Sparta than with Athens, since Sparta, a traditional state, with an agrarian base and militaristic organization, was conceived as a kind of simile of Prussia at the beginning of the 19th century: agrarian, disciplined, militaristic and conservative, as Édouard Will pointed out years ago. Similarly, English liberals, such as George Grote, identified Athens with their native England: maritime, commercial, democratic and enlightened.

And in the United States, where the presence of Classical studies was always very limited since the subject was not taught in secondary education, Classical models served on the one hand to justify their peculiar institution, slavery, but on the other hand, they were also a model for the drafting of their republican Constitution, conceived on a more Roman than Greek model. One of its drafters, however, proposed in an amendment that the new official language of the USA should be the Attic dialect, as they could no longer maintain the language of their metropolis.

In France, from the very moment of the Revolution, the Greek and Roman republican models were present, and for this reason numerous histories of Greece and Rome were published. This approach has always been present among French historians of the Classical world, even among those who had political commitments that were later very debatable, as in the case of Jérome Carcopino, in whose work this was always a fundamental component, since he believed that the study of the past could not be dissociated from the present.

After the mark left by the numerous works of Arnaldo Momigliano on the development of the historiography of antiquity and Classical studies in general, the study of the historiography of ancient history is now an academically consolidated field. Luciano Canfora has published numerous books and articles on the subject. In all these works it can be seen how all political ideologies – liberal or conservative, Marxist, Fascist, Nazi, or of any other type have needed to be confirmed through the study of their precedents in antiquity. This need to find a justification in such origins is what has so far kept alive in many cases the interest in the ancient world, and to some extent continues to do so.

However, what is happening nowadays is that these justifications are no longer undertaken by means of documented research work, carried out in accordance with the rules of the historical method, but by means of informative books of a more or less propagandistic nature. This is what is happening in the USA with authors who seek in the Greek past a legacy according to which only a strong military power can be the guarantee of freedom, economic development and democracy, tending to change the Athenian model for the Spartan one, in cases such as that of the ideologist Robert D. Kaplan. Although this new orientation is also present in the case of professional historians of Greek antiquity, such as, Victor Davis Hanson.

The Russian Revolution, the birth of Fascism, Nazism and later the Second World War, and the process of decolonization of the world brought about profound transformations in Western societies that caused the Classical models, conceived under the paradigm of eternity, to enter into crisis. Nevertheless, Classical studies managed, until recently, to maintain their vigor, because the richness of Classical sources, covering all fields (medicine, science, philosophy), and all possible aspects of social and family life, and the expression of the most varied ideas and feelings, provided an excellent testing ground for all kinds of studies. Feminism, of course, drank profusely from ancient sources and also the so-called gender studies or the history of sexuality, a subject vetoed by the authors of the nineteenth century.

The Greek sin par excellence became the object of privileged study in the departments of gender studies. Dozens of books and hundreds of articles have been published, creating a field of work that has been synthesized by James Davidson, a Classical philologist, in a comprehensive and exhaustively documented book that stretches into 634 pages. It is said that you can only study what you love, what you hate, or what you have already dreamed about. In that sense, and if we leave aside the enormous effort involved in the study of Classical languages and philology, less than that of mathematics or physics, however, Classical studies should not be in crisis and be subjected to a certain shared melancholic sensation of seeming to live out its end.

Numerous voices of alarm have been raised. Victor Davis Hanson himself, along with John Heath, has asked the question: “Who killed Homer?” According to them, only the recovery of Classical wisdom as a whole that integrates what in the USA is called “humanities” can allow Classical studies to be saved, lost in a world that values publications only by their number, obsessed by publication for publication’s sake, and in which the monographs of those who know more and more about less and less, and focused on insignificant topics supposedly very technical, have made the reading rate of the Classics decline sharply, in a parallel process to the loss of general knowledge among a good part of the professors.

In Italy, Salvatore Settis has asked himself the same question, as has a historian of Greek philosophy, Giuseppe Cambiano. The idea is repeated. Reading the Classics is fundamental because of the richness of their contents and because we cannot understand our cultural legacy without them. But what would happen if we no longer recognized, or even wanted to recognize our cultural legacy? What if what we reject is the book itself and reading, two essential components without which neither history, philology nor philosophy would make sense? Could it be that the rejection of the world of books is global and therefore that the hermeneutic disciplines have become impossible? Some believe so.

Each society creates its own system of global communication (very different in oral cultures), and among cultures with different degrees of literacy and in the electronic, visual and digital world. Marshall McLuhan had already warned of this in his now classic book, The Gutenberg Galaxy. These communication systems do not absolutely determine linguistic expression, much less thought. But they can do so, if they are used inappropriately.

Information can be processed in different ways and can be measured and quantified. All information is either assimilated or lost; and the process of assimilation takes place over time, since information is a flow. The assimilation capacity in a given time is inversely proportional to the speed of the flow. If speed is the result of dividing space by time:

S= s/t,
then the speed of the information is equal to its quantity divided by time:

S= Qi/t,
being the assimilation the division between the information itself and time. That is:

Ai= Qi/ t2

For this reason, the proliferation of information in the digital media, which of course is a great enrichment and creates very useful tools for consultation and research in the field of Classical studies and ancient history, becomes a toxic tool, if it is not used as a means to an end. The training of a historian or scholar of the humanities can only be based on the study of texts, on their reading, re-reading and analysis, and on the practice of reflective writing. Digital media are just that, media, as are printed dictionaries. A dictionary contains all the words; but in order to write, one must know how to handle language in terms of structured thought. Buying a dictionary is not enough. There are also all the letters on a keyboard; and they can be combined in millions of random ways; but a chimpanzee amanuensis will hardly create a good book.

Computer experts have drawn attention to the birth of a process of transformation of language and thought because of the abusive use of the Internet. Nicholas Carr points out that the Internet system favors parataxis over syntax. The user tends to move from link to link, in parallel processing, and to reintegrate links by superposition, not in a complex and durable structure. This explains the rejection of deep and long-term reading that is already being observed. Two Spanish professors of Greek literature have told me the same anecdote. None of their students had read the Iliad, in Spanish of course. One of them managed to get a Canto read, the other ordered it, but found that it just summaries of the “argument” taken from Wikipedia. This is not an exception, as the rejection of reading among humanities students is becoming the norm in philosophy, history and philology, sometimes supported by some professors.

The rejection of reading, and the idea that everything can be found on the Internet, contributes to the creation of what one computer engineer, Jaron Lanier, has called the “digital herd.” If everyone searches for the same thing, with the same search engine, in the same set of files, they will necessarily find the same thing. Originality thus disappears, because in history and philology it consists of discovering little-known data and establishing relationships between them that had not been found before. This requires continuous, meticulous and patient reading over many years of training and apprenticeship, as well as knowing how to find new modes of written or other forms of expression. The problem is that many teachers are contributing to the destruction of the ability to express oneself through the inappropriate use of PowerPoint.

PowerPoint is a program created for making advertising presentations. It is very useful for this and for processing images of all kinds, but not texts, which are reduced to almost childish outlines. That is why Franck Frommer considers it a program that can make us stupid. The information that is hackneyed, superimposed in a conventional way and expressed in a simplistic way is the opposite of creation and historical research and exposition, so it can be said that the history of antiquity and Classical studies will end up in a serious crisis, if we do not return to the only world that can make them possible, the world of texts, reading, reflection and good writing.

An ancient history sub specie aeternitatis is no longer possible, because the regression of Classical studies in general education makes it impossible for most people to identify with that world and consider it as an eternal model to imitate, in a world that is changing rapidly in economic, political and military areas, and that seems to want to value continuous change, and on its own, in the development of communication technologies, which make them increasingly faster and which offer so much information that is impossible to process.

If there is no global and eternal model, we must return to the world of melancholy. As we have seen, it was a world in which the past, gone forever, appears in a fragmentary way. History sub specie melancholiae can only be the fragmentary reconstruction of that disappeared past, but also the evocation of its absence and the finite expression in a small text of our infinite desire to know and not to fall into oblivion. The Greeks believed that what distinguishes melancholy is the sensation of the loss of sense and perception of the future. There is no future for the melancholic who contemplates with distance the spectacle of his own life. We have seen, following Pseudo-Longinus, how the sublime emerges in the scene of the spectator before the shipwreck. There is no single spectator before the spectacle of the past and the present world; and therefore, as long as several spectators can communicate, there will no longer be room for individual melancholy; and there will be room for the hope of leaving for the future small traces and remains among the ruins of time.


José Carlos Bermejo Barrera is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published numerous books in the fields of mythology and religions of classical antiquity and the philosophy of history. Among these are The Limits of Knowledge and the Limits of Science, Historia y Melancolía, El Gran Virus. Ensayo para una pandemia, and most recently, La política como impostura y las tinieblas de la información. He has published numerous works in academic journals, such as History and Theory; Quaderni di Storia, Dialogues d’Histoire Ancienne, Madrider Mitteilungen. He is a regular contributor to the daily press.


The featured image shows, “Clio, Muse of History,” by Charles Meynier; painted in 1800.

Of Universities And Their Collapse

Briefly, I would like to discuss Allan Bloom’s anticipations, from his excellent essay on the collapse of the university. But first, let me give you an excerpt from it:

Democracy, or the egalitarian regime, must (…) perforce have utility as its primary motive: it is founded on the rule of all, and the vital desires and the fear of death are shared by all – as opposed to the desires for glory and pure knowledge which are rare. This devotion to utility is particularly true of modern democracies, the theory of which was precisely to encourage the self, regarding passions as a sure means to political consensus. Disinterested love of the truth is particularly threatened in democracy… In modern democracies the universities have… attempted to provide a basis for the cultivation of the theoretical life which finds only thin soil elsewhere in the society. The university, to the extent it represented the theoretical life, is more a memory than a reality… One need only look at academic philosophy and the social sciences to see how irrelevant the tradition has become to them. They suppose they have found new methods in the light of which the older teachings appear primitive.

In the 1960s, universities all over the world experienced protests directed against traditional forms of education. The state, accused of authoritarianism and of hindering intellectual freedoms, had completely surrendered the system of higher education. It had, literally, abandoned the University and fled. For some time, the University belonged to no one. Yet, this situation couldn’t last long, because an abandoned object, especially when it presents a significant value, quickly finds a new owner and is taken over. Thus, the University fell into the hands of business and administration, that have provided it with a new purpose: utility.

This hostile take-over of the University by the market was accompanied by a bureaucratization of academic life, its – so to speak – “Americanization;” for the American model assumes that scholars are a bit like children, who don’t know what managing a corporation means, are not aware that teaching is business as good as any other, or even better than others, especially when you consider that everyone has to finish one school or another. In this way, at European universities, where administration used to play a rather marginal role, “America” had been discovered. The University could finally begin to lay down golden eggs. In April 1968, almost 2000 German professors protested against this sort of “Americanization” of the University, as well as against the increasing role of students’ bodies and academicians with lower degrees. With no results. Decisions had been made and the battle for the University was lost. Let’s see, what this change really meant.

The change meant an alteration of a definition of the University, as well as of the institution itself, which aimed at transforming it into a corporation. Anyone, who has difficulty with composing a senseless syllabus, who struggles with filling out an 11th evaluation questionnaire this year, who opposes blackmail by troglodyte students understands this perfectly. An “Americanization” of the contemporary University is about subduing it to the administration and allowing a corporate system to shape academic structures.

Ernst H. Kantorowicz in his brilliant and humorous essay about how pre-Nazi, German universities functioned proved that limiting the University’s freedom, a bureaucratization of even the simplest tasks, such as, grading a student, is just a prelude to totalitarian solutions on a much broader scale. That is why we have to move out from the University, at least for a while, and go beyond the stiff institutional framework. I can do at the University, whatever it expects me to do. I will fill out forms, give reports, apply for grants, write in English and Chinese (No, I won’t write in Chinese!) – but I will go elsewhere to think. I am not offended. I simply accept the rule, according to which I receive my paycheck for different things, than thinking. This is the new deal, which I accept, since it has been forced upon me.

Well, I have been doing this for more than a decade now anyway. With my colleagues I run a foundation, which publishes important, though usually unprofitable books. We organize conferences, give scholarships to young academicians. We move philosophy to the opera-house and into media. We show that thinking is sexy. And you don’t need big money to do that. Big money is necessary in sciences.

The thing is that the humanities, broadly taken, is no science. It is a craft, which allows the building up of national culture. Elements of graph theory, or research on non-linear optics – this is science, and it would be good to combine it somehow with new technologies, because it is here, on the free market, where it can display its efficiency. It is different with culture. It seems too fragile to be able to hold its place in the free market, without the help of the state.

I could suggest here a number of solutions, which would support such aims of the University, for example, freeing the humanities from the obligation of parametrization, which is used to measure progress in natural sciences. Yet, instead, I will formulate a more general postulate: let’s return the University to the state. Let’s make it an element of the system of state institutions responsible for culture and national heritage.


Piotr Nowak is Professor of Philosophy at the Bialystok University in Poland, deputy editor‐in‐chief of the annual Kronos. Philosophical Journal. He is the author most recently of The Ancients and Shakespeare on Time: Some Remarks on the War of Generations. He has published, among others, in Philosophy and Literature. He is also the host of TV shows.


The featured image shows, “Lorenzo Tornabuoni Presented by Grammar to Prudentia and the other Liberal Arts,” by Sandro Botticelli, painted ca. 1483–1486.

The Decline Of Universities: A Recent History

They are little children rioting and barring out the teacher at school. But their childish delight will end; it will cost them dearly” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov).

1. The Destruction of Evergreen College

In September of 2017, biology professor Brett Weinstein, a “progressive” Bernie Sanders and “Occupy Wall Street” supporter, at the very progressive Evergreen College, in very progressive Washington state, along with his similarly progressive wife, professor Heather Heying, were forced to resign from their positions at Evergreen. Professor’s Weinstein’s crime was to write a letter to the faculty at Evergreen objecting to a change in the college’s annual “day of absence” which, in past years, had been a day in which “students of color” absented themselves from the campus “in order to highlight their vital and unappreciated role” on the campus. In 2017, however, “white” students were “invited to leave the campus” for the entire day after “students of color ‘voiced concern over feeling as if they are not welcome on campus, following the 2016 election’.” Since the Evergreen campus had nothing whatsoever to do with the election of Donald Trump it is not clear what the 2016 election has to do with minority students “feeling unwelcome” on the Evergreen campus but that doesn’t matter because actual reasons are no longer required for a “felt” grievance.

Professor Weinstein’s letter objected to barring members of a particular racial group, Caucasians, from the campus because that is not “a call to consciousness” but rather is “a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” His wife’s sin was that she wrote a public letter to the staff and faculty at Evergreen in which she criticized the college’s handling of the situation. She made no racial remarks whatsoever, but was, of course, immediately accused of being a racist.

Professors Weinstein and Heying were foolishly operating under the old rules that one should treat people on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin, as opposed to the new rules that one should treat people on the basis of the color of their skin as opposed to the content of their character. As the New York Times, not exactly a bastion of white supremacy, put it, Professor Weinstein “had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation.” Professor’s Weinstein and Heying, like many of us, had not, apparently, digested the new view that racial segregation is not racism any more, even though it had been the very definition of racism not so long ago (before it was miraculously redefined as the opposite of racism).

Indeed, the current “President” of the United States, Joe Biden, announced that he would pick his Vice-Presidential running mate on the basis of her gender and skin color, not the content of character; and he was, of course, celebrated for this racism by the “news” media. This is a turning point in American history. One now picks someone for a major position, not because he or she is qualified but because they check the boxes of “identity politics.” This is how nations end.

For his unforgiveable sin of objecting to racist segregation at Evergreen, Professor Weinstein was confronted by about 50 students outside his classroom who called him a racist and accused him of supporting white supremacy. Professor Weinstein had, of course, made no assertion of white supremacy whatsoever. However, the criterion of being a white supremacist is no longer that one is a white supremacist. The new criterion is that one disagrees with the leftist cause du jour. The college president, George Bridges, exhibiting the level of courage and commitment to principle that one has come to expect from college “presidents” and administrators these days, ordered the campus police to stand down, whereupon they informed Professor Weinstein that they could no longer guarantee his safety on campus.

As a consequence, Professor Weinstein had to hold his class in a public park (which would, no doubt, raise some thorny insurance issues, but no one was thinking of what would happen if a student were injured off campus because no one was thinking at all). President Bridges, apparently working on a comedy routine, perhaps for Saturday Night Live, called the “protestors” courageous, expressed his “gratitude” to them, and reminded everyone that freedom of speech is of great importance and must be protected – even as he allowed one of his professors and his wife to be run off the campus for exercising their right to freedom of speech. As everyone now knows, at least on our university campuses, “War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.”

The truth, of course, is that the students who drove Prof. Weinstein and Professor Heying off the campus were not “protestors.” A protestor is someone who holds a sign that says that racism is wrong, or perhaps, with a flower in their hair, says, “Make love not war.” These Evergreen “protestors” were thugs employing force and intimidation to get their way. In these kinds of contexts, the word “protestor” is now an Orwellian euphemism employed by college presidents and other overpaid unfunny comedians on late night television to avoid their responsibility to describe campus thugs for what they are.

As all this was going on, photographs and names of Professor Weinstein’s students were circulated online and graffiti, “Fire Brett!” appeared on campus buildings. It is, apparently, not sufficient to destroy the professor’s career because he was not sufficiently obedient. It is now also necessary to endanger his students as well. The New York Times, commendably, quoted a line of Allen Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind: “A few students discovered that pompous teachers who catechized them about academic freedom could, with a little shove, be made into dancing bears.” The students did not turn Professor Weinstein or his wife into dancing bears, but they did bag the college president quite quickly, although, admittedly, that is not the coup it once was because this is now the preordained outcome.

As a result of the student activist attacks on a distinguished faculty member who resisted racial segregation, resulting in both him and his wife being forced off the campus permanently, thereby damaging the quality of education offered to the students at Evergreen, and the President’s incomprehensible praise for the student mob, Evergreen College later had to pay Prof. Weinstein and his wife a $500,000 settlement for failing to protect them from race-based hostility and “threats of physical violence” on campus.

Further, Evergreen is being rewarded by cuts of more than 10 percent from its operating budget for 2018-2019 and raises in student fees because of declining enrollment. It would appear that parents do not wish to send their children to a “college” in which distinguished professors are threatened and forced to resign, and in which even the completely innocent students caught in the middle have their personal details posted online by perpetually aggrieved leftist thugs. Who could have seen that one coming? Not, apparently, the brilliant “president,” faculty, and student “protestors” at Evergreen.

The New York Times article also acknowledges that leftist attacks on conservative speech on university campuses have become quite common. What makes the Evergreen case noteworthy is that it is not just conservatives who are now attacked by leftist mobs but anyone, even a seriously “progressive” professor and his wife, who have had their careers as professors ended for opposing the Left’s narcissistic effort to gain an entirely symbolic token of appreciation of their vital role on campus.

Although the Left has created these ignorant snarling adolescents, believing they will be of use in achieving their political agendas, they are now relearning the hard universal truth that since these thugs will by nature never be satisfied, because their demands are based on whim, not reality, they will inevitably always want more, which, since “more” cannot be given indefinitely into the future, eventually turn on their own. Thus, progressives are now beginning to experience what conservatives have suffered for decades.

For example, immigration activists have recently protested naming a school in Chicago after Obama because he has now been designated an “oppressor.” As one of these activists put it: “If you’re removing the name of Thomas Jefferson, one oppressor, the name of Obama is another oppressor, and our families do not want to see that name.”

2. The Unmitigated Horror Of Permitting A Ben Shapiro On Campus

Another illuminating example of campus intolerance for conservatives is provided by Ben Shapiro’s attempt, sponsored by Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), to give a speech titled, “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” at California State University at Los Angeles. Faced by the prospect of the unmitigated horror of an articulate conservative on campus (although, admittedly, Shapiro is probably smarter than most of the professors at that university, and is, therefore, not actually harmless where left wing dogma is concerned), the President of the University, William Covino, tried to have Shapiro’s event cancelled entirely and replaced by a different kind of event.

After YAF and Shapiro pushed back hard, the school backed down and said that the event could go forward without interference. However, student “protestors” (another mob) formed a human chain to prevent people from entering the event through the front door, thereby interfering with the civil rights of the people who wanted to hear Shapiro. This is not, however, seen as a problem on college campuses because the expression “civil rights” no longer means civil rights. For the uninformed, “civil rights” now means, roughly, “latest leftist preferences.”

Eventually, small groups of two or three people were able to enter the Shapiro event with escorts through the back door. When the “activists” became aware of the back-door entrance, they began to block it as well. Some of those who tried to enter the Shapiro event claimed that they were punched and (not surprisingly) called white supremacists. Recall that the expression “white supremacist” does not mean white supremacist anymore, but, rather, now means person of any race who attends a conservative lecture.

The fire alarm was pulled, a regular strategy employed by “protestors” opposed to conservative speakers on a university campus, perhaps because doing so requires no intelligence whatsoever, making it the perfect tactic for today’s leftist thugs. Students were also harassed when they tried to leave the event. Professor Melina Abdullah, one of the professors fearful of inviting such a terrifying conservative to speak on campus, called Ben Shapiro, a “Neo-Nazi” but latter admitted that since Shapiro is Jewish this is a tad ironic, and, in a minimal fake concession to reason, changed “Neo-Nazi” to “KKK.”

In order to understand Professor Abdullah, one must recall that “Neo Nazi” no longer means Neo-Nazi. It now means: someone who disagrees with the Left’s latest demands. It is also noteworthy that after the event was over, the university held a “Healing Space” to enable the university community to “heal” after Shapiro illuminated them. At this “Healing Space,” President Colvino (perhaps working with President Bridges of Evergreen University for the same comedy routine on Saturday Night Live) states that he would never invite someone like Shapiro to the campus and floated several ideas how the administration might work with student groups to find a way to prevent any similar illumination in the future.

3. Dave Rubin’s Trials At The University Of New Hampshire

Another highly illuminating example of intolerance for conservative speech on university campuses is provided by the exchange between David Rubin, a self-identified gay Jewish former leftist and a self-identified oppressed female student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The video (which, at the time of the writing of this article is present both on youtube.com and on Rubin’s own Facebook page under the title “Dave Rubin handles protestors at UNH”) is well worth watching because it illustrates the critical reasoning abilities, or, more precisely, the lack thereof, of the students on our contemporary university campuses. The reader is strongly encouraged to watch this video for themselves in its entirety at some point.

When Rubin opens the floor to questions, a young woman takes the microphone, but immediately complains that someone is holding the microphone for her. She says, “Free speech but he’s going to hold the microphone.” How can she survive the indignity of a male holding the microphone for her? Rubin remarks that her complaint seems silly because she is coming in “ready to fight” – to which she replies that she’s not ready to fight but that “it’s interesting that he’s holding the microphone.” In fact, it is not the least bit “interesting” that someone is holding the microphone for her and she gives no reason why it is “interesting.”

This is a typical tactic of the Left. They complain about trivialities and insinuate, without providing any evidence whatsoever, that that there is some deep and dark conspiracy behind insignificant events, in this case, the horror of someone being nice to her. If you don’t see it, you must be stupid or you are not “woke” (“woke” being the approximate synonym for the “consciousness raising” of the self-indulgent 1960s drug culture). She then proceeds to accuse Rubin of painting people at UNH of having “a victimhood complex” and adds: “As if I wake up every morning and I think, wow, how can I be a victim?”

In fact, the first thing this young lady did upon reaching the microphone was to demonstrate her “victim complex” in her comments about the microphone. The reason it is “interesting” to her that a man holds the microphone for her is that this can be used to suggest, which, of course, it objectively does not, that the man is assuming that a woman cannot hold their own microphone. It is an indignity as great as a man holding the door open for a woman.

In fact, if one watches the entire tape, one can see that the attendants hold the microphone for males as well (but that is, apparently, not as “interesting” to privileged perpetually aggrieved adolescents). In fact, the attendant is merely being “polite,” and what is actually interesting is that this kind of politeness is no longer recognized or welcome on college campuses. If one doubts that these students at UNH are privileged, the current UNH financial aid page lists the total estimated cost, including tuition, room, books, fees, etc., for state residents for the year 2020-2021 as $34,830, for regional students as $47,220 and for out of state students as $52,920.

Since this privileged young woman implies that she is an oppressed person, and since Dave Rubin is nothing if not polite, he gives her the opportunity to describe her oppression. She replies that she “has no reason to sit and talk about my own oppression because that is, like, only mental energy unless I am going to be paid to talk about my oppression” (at which point, as an alternative to pulling the fire alarm, a group of black females stand up and begin chanting “Hate speech incites violence” over and over again in order to disrupt the exchange and deny some students their civil rights to hear the talk.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to silence the chanters, Rubin offers to pay the woman at the microphone $20 dollars to describe her oppression, at which point, someone in the crowd yells, “It’s worth more than that, asshole,” to which the woman herself replies, “Yeah.”

In fact, Rubin makes a mistake here. He should not have offered to pay this woman to describe her alleged oppression. It sets a bad precedent to start offering to pay people, especially privileged college students, to complain about their lives. Further, if this woman were actually oppressed, she would not need to be paid to take such a golden opportunity to explain to a cruel world how she is oppressed. The fact that she had herself implied that she should be paid to do so, and then, after being offered money to explain how, refuses to do so, shows that she is putting on a show, in particular, a virtue-signaling show, not making a serious point about oppression. The fact that she refuses to give the reasons why she is oppressed suggests that she does not have any (at least, none that would not be greeted with derisive laughter upon being articulated). Indeed, despite the posturing about concern about oppression, the young woman makes clear that she really wants to be given money without have to work for it.

In fact, her entire bearing and attitude and contemptuous remarks to Dave Rubin, who been entirely respectful to her, suggests that the truth is the exact opposite of what she alleges. She actually sees herself as a member of a privileged group whose members are entitled to oppress perfectly decent people for no good reason except that they have different political views from her own, such as they are. The self-identified oppressed woman is actually the oppressor.

It is necessary to say “her views, such as they are,” because the young woman actually failed to articulate a serious “view” during her entire sojourn at the microphone. It used to be that one of the first things one learned upon arriving at a genuine university was that articulating a serious view is not as easy as one thinks it is, but, apparently, no more. For example, at one point, she asks Rubin if he thinks “there is a correlation between hating Jews and wanting to kill them” and informs him that “It’s a yes or no question.” She expresses astonishment when Rubin declines to answer that sort of “question” when, in fact, Rubin was entirely correct not to do so.

In order to answer a “question,” it must be formulated with sufficient precision that it is possible to answer it, and the “question” she asked, such as it is, is not formulated with anything close to the necessary precision to render it answerable, let alone, answered by either a “yes” or a “no.” The point is not difficult. If one does a serious search for scientific studies on the “correlation between hate speech and wanting to kill people,” one will not find any.

There are many quite obvious reasons why one will not find such studies. The first is that in order to set about establishing such a correlation, one would have to define “hate” speech, and the definitions of “hate” speech vary enormously in countries that have such laws. Rubin informs her that in the United States the Supreme Court (Brandenburg vs. Ohio, 1969) ruled that one cannot outlaw inflammatory speech unless it is a direct call to lawless action, a fact which she, apparently never having heard of the first amendment to the constitution, did not seem to know and which she simply dismisses because it is incompatible with her narrative.

One would think this is especially relevant to the issue since the discussion is being held in the United States. Some countries do ban “hate speech,” but she did not specify which definition she is might prefer. To take just a few examples, the definitions of “hate speech” in Iceland, Malta, Sweden and the United Kingdom vary greatly. In Scotland there are specific “hate speech” laws targeting football matches. In Norway, section 135a of the penal code includes speech that “ridicules” someone’s “philosophy of life” as “hate speech.” The horror!

One would think that students who have been inundated with lessons on respect for the differences between different cultures would not need special instruction on how difficult it will be to provide universal definitions of such problematic concepts. However, the problem with the young lady’s question is even more basic than this. She refers to a “correlation” between “hate speech” (undefined) and “wanting to kill Jews.” How would one establish such a correlation?

Perhaps one has some idea how one might go about trying to establish a correlation between people who use certain kinds of very explicit hate speech, like NAZI’s who actually call for killing Jews and the actual killing of Jews, but one has no idea how one would go about establishing a correlation between someone’s “saying hateful things about Jews” and their “wanting” to kill Jews. For, many people say hateful things about various groups all the time but do not actually want to kill them or even hurt them. As difficult as this may be for privileged adolescents to grasp, Red Sox fans who express hate against the evil Yankees do not actually “want” to kill them.

It takes only a moment’s reflection to realize how enormously difficult, except in very special narrowly circumscribed cases, it would be to attempt to establish a correlation between “hate” speech (even if one had an agreed definition of it) and what the people who use such speech actually “want” to do. To put it briefly, “wanting” is a subjective phenomenon, and, therefore, refers to something that is inherently very hard to measure. The young lady’s purported “yes or no” question is not a “yes or no” question after all. It is far too indeterminate, as formulated, to answer at all.

Indeed, that is precisely why such fake questions are so useful on today’s college campuses. Since these are not genuine questions it is impossible to answer them, which means that the sacrificial conservative will not answer it and can, therefore, be accused of not answering (unanswerable) “questions.” Rubin was attempting to have a serious discussion. The young woman who challenged him so haughtily is engaging in a childish virtue signaling exercise that clarifies nothing and helps no one.

In the distant past, in another less privileged and more serious age, one used to go to university to acquire the skills and knowledge to engage in fruitful discussions of such issues. At the present era, apparently, many people go to college to engage in narcissistic self-glorification.

Before leaving the subject of Rubin’s talk, it is useful, briefly, to consider another exchange between Rubin and a different student towards the end of his question session because it too shows much about the sorry state of our college campuses. Another young woman takes the microphone and, after making the same point about wanting to hold the microphone herself, thereby striking another completely meaningless symbolic blow for female empowerment, points out that since “women, people of color and other marginalized identities were not written into history and, therefore, into the foundation of our country… my question is, how do you think that everyone is equal and represented, if this country was founded on the principle of exclusion?”—to which the crowd erupts in a great cheer.

The woman appears to regard herself as having made the definitive point and many in the crowd apparently agree. Since this particular kind of “question” (actually, it is an assertion, specifically an accusation) is routinely raised by privileged adolescents on college campuses, it is worth addressing it directly. Rubin replies with an historical discussion about the founding fathers and their faults.

In fact, there is a much simpler three-word answer to her alleged “question;” namely, that “we have evolved.” However, in order to understand this simple answer, one must be able to understand the distinction, apparently quite elusive on many contemporary college campuses, between “then” and “now.” Once again, the young woman might have raised legitimate issues about exclusion, for there are legitimate issues that might be expressed by people serious enough to articulate them, but her aim was not to raise legitimate issues or clarify anything. It was to show that she is a member in good standing of the in-crowd—that she “cares” (in some impotent symbolic sense).

4. From The “Berkeley Free Speech Movement” To The “Berkeley Censorship Movement”

Consider next the riots that occurred at the University of California at Berkeley when, on February 1 of 2017 at 8 P.M, Milo Yiannopoulos, a British conservative, who identified as “gay” at the time was scheduled to speak (although for the record, Milo has recently announced that he is no longer “gay” and that he is now planning to open a Christian conversion therapy facility in Florida). Despite the proud tradition of supporting free speech at Berkeley, more than 100 Berkeley faculty, prior to his appearance, signed a petition urging the university to cancel the event. A group of about 1,500 people gathered on the steps of Sproul Hall to protest Milo’s talk. The protest was non-violent until another group of about 150 “black bloc” “protestors,” including members of “Antifa” and members of the left-wing group “By Any Means Necessary,” entered the crowd and began setting fires, damaging property, throwing fireworks, attacking members of the crowd, and throwing rocks at the police. The University cancelled the event soon thereafter. After the event was cancelled, the “protestors” (mob) moved downtown where they continued to break windows at businesses and banks. A Syrian Muslim was attacked by a “protestor” with a rod and pepper sprayed by a “protestor” who said “he looked like a NAZI.”

The violent reaction to Milo’s event is especially noteworthy because Berkeley was the home of the “free speech movement” in the 1960’s when many students, mostly on the Left, argued for the right to engage in political speech on campus, in particular, speech in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War. The “free speech movement” eventually won the argument and the political speech, much of it to the left, has spread throughout US universities.

The situation has now changed into its opposite. Whereas Berkeley, and American universities generally, defended freedom of speech as a fundamental right, these same institutions now go to great lengths to shut down conservative political speech. Jeffrey Selingo of the Washington Post contrasts the light security required when conservative Phyllis Schlafly, who opposed the “Equal Rights Amendment,” was invited to speak at his school in his undergraduate days with the fact that the appearance of conservative speakers on college campuses nowadays result “in protests with armed police officers reminiscent of a war zone and with students doing their best to interrupt speakers.”

The home of the free speech movement has now, under the influence of the Left’s conceptions of tolerance and equality, transformed into its precise opposite. Whereas the Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” of old proudly defended the right of all to free speech, the home of the free speech movement now shuts down speech by “conservatives.”

In fact, a variety of philosophers, including Hegel and Marx, have pointed out the curious way in which certain kinds of views and social systems seem inevitably, over time, to transform, dialectically, into their precise opposites – and, in fact, as if to prove them right, the leftist “peace and love” movement of the 1960’s has transformed into the leftist violence and hate movements of the present day.

One need not, however, plumb such deep and difficult philosophical notions as “dialectical logic” to see how this has happened. For the method of this precise reversal is much more mundane. Specifically, the Left has, by employing a variety of techniques, achieved sufficient numerical dominance in the faculties and administration of our colleges and universities that they are able to shut down opposing views. Now that they are in power, they do not extend the same courtesies to the “establishment” that the “establishment” formerly extended to them.

The domination of American colleges by the Left is discussed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a non-profit non-partisan organization dedicated to upholding academic standards and defending the free exchange of ideas. Members include Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, and Republican Lynn Cheney among its founders.

ACTA states that “freedom of speech is threatened on today’s college campuses” largely because of the pervasive influence of Marcusean ideas. Herbert Marcuse, one recalls, is the “father” of the “New Left,” which was founded in order to counter the fact that well-known leftist regimes like those in the Soviet Union and Communist China had an unfortunate tendency to murder many tens of millions of people in order to advance their particular visions of “equality” and “brotherhood.”

The “New Left” was marketed to American audiences as the more humane alternative that retained what is good in leftist ideas but dispensed with the distressing penchant of the “old” Left for killing people who get in their way. However, the “New Left” Marcuseans do “claim the right to silence ideas [that they] consider to be false or reactionary” because the Marcuseans see themselves “in the possession of truth and therefore entitled to impose this truth upon the rest of the academic community and eventually upon society as a whole.”

Since Marcuse sees ordinary people as incapable of making the right choices, he holds that they must be “forced to be free” by an “elite” “educational dictatorship,” an idea which Marcuse says is “easy to ridicule but hard to refute” (One Dimensional Man, Chap. 2). That is, he holds that it is acceptable to use “undemocratic means” to attain leftist goals, which, it must be admitted, is progress of a sort because censoring dissidents is preferable to killing them.

However, Marcuse does not completely eschew the use of violence to achieve the Left’s goals. In the same book, he states that “no third person, least of all the educator and intellectual, has the right to preach” non-violence to the oppressed. Marcuse here conveniently tries to have it both ways. Although he does not himself call for violence to achieve leftist goals, he states that intellectuals have no standing to criticize those who do. ACTA singles out the speech codes at the University of New Hampshire, the scene of the discussion between David Rubin and the oppressed female discussed earlier, and those at Bates College, to illustrate these points about leftist suppression of freedom of speech on college campuses.

5. The “Port Huron Statement

It should be no surprise that the contemporary university has become a vehicle of undemocratic leftist activism. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) explicitly set this out as their aim in their 1962 “Port Huron Statement.” Its author, Tom Hayden, had figured out when he reached the wise old age of 23 how the world should work if he is to judge it to meet his personal standards. The 6 key points of the Port Huron Statement for re-making the university along Hayden’s “New Leftist” lines are listed here:

  1. Any new left in America must be, in large measure, a left with real intellectual skills, committed to deliberativeness, honesty, reflection as working tools. The university permits the political life to be an adjunct to the academic one, and action to be informed by reason.
  2. A new left must be distributed in significant social roles throughout the country. The universities are distributed in such a manner.
  3. A new left must consist of younger people who matured in the postwar world, and partially be directed to the recruitment of younger people. The university is an obvious beginning point.
  4. A new left must include liberals and socialists, the former for their relevance, the latter for their sense of thoroughgoing reforms in the system. The university is a more sensible place than a political party for these two traditions to begin to discuss their differences and look for political synthesis.
  5. A new left must start controversy across the land, if national policies and national apathy are to be reversed. The ideal university is a community of controversy, within itself and in its effects on communities beyond.
  6. A new left must transform modern complexity into issues that can be understood and felt close up by every human being. It must give form to the feelings of helplessness and indifference, so that people may see the political, social, and economic sources of their private troubles, and organize to change society. In a time of supposed prosperity, moral complacency, and political manipulation, a new left cannot rely on only aching stomachs to be the engine force of social reform. The case for change, for alternatives that will involve uncomfortable personal efforts, must be argued as never before. The university is a relevant place for all of these activities.

In each of these 6 points the Port Huron Statement identifies the university as the central place to initiate and disseminate these “New Left” programs. The language is explicitly anti-democratic. The call for political life as an “adjunct” to academic life in the university is not the call for a fair debate between the Left and the Right on university campuses. The aim is solely to advance “New Left” ideas and programs. Further, there is no suggestion that the “New Left” must attempt rationally to persuade people to accept its vision of the proper “distribution” of the “New Left” across universities and the country. On the contrary, the “Declaration” states that this distribution “must” be done.

The “Declaration” then goes on to state, categorically, that “The universities are distributed in such a manner,” not that this distribution might happen if the relevant parties agree. This is the language of religion, not democracy: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” except that in this case it is the will of the “human all too human” “New Left,” not that of an omniscient Deity, that “must” be done.

One might object that the reference to “action informed by reason” and “intellectual skills” in the first point does call for rational persuasion. But the Port Huron Statement only recommended intellect and reason as tools” for “action.” That is, it does not propose that the relevant communities must be rationally persuaded to accept the goals of the “New Left” but only that reason and intellectual skills must be employed by the activists to advance “New Left” causes. One requires smart activists. It does not matter if the people are smart because they are to be led by the all-knowing activists.

One might make numerous comments about the other points in this “Declaration,” but points numbers 5 and 6 are especially worthy of comment. If one ever wondered why American society is constantly being uprooted and torn asunder, why, for example, one cannot go to a baseball or football or basketball game without being lectured about alleged police brutality, why young children must be subjected at school to the “transgender bathroom” issue and other delicate topics about human sexuality that seem more appropriate for a much older age; why religious institutions, especially Christianity (for example, the “Little Sisters of the Poor”) seem to be constantly under attack, why one cannot even talk about the “Boy Scouts” anymore but only about the “Scouts,” why one is constantly being told that historical statues, even statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, must be torn down; why the names of sports teams, like the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, and the names of High Schools, must be changed to reflect “woke” agendas, and so on, Point 5 gives the explanation.

The explanation is that “A new left must start controversy across the land” and “The ideal university is a community of controversy, within itself and in its effects on communities beyond”. There is, once again, no suggestion that the university community itself should be consulted on the question whether it wants to abandon its traditional mission of pursuing a neutral search for the truth and become a tool for starting “controversy” both within itself and “across the land.” There is no mention of any democratic process here. These are certainly not ideas to be put to “the people” for a vote. Although the Left constantly claims to want to “liberate” the people, it actually has only contempt for them (“the basket of deplorable”, “flyover country,” “Donald Trump’s credulous rube 10-toothed base,” etc.).

On the contrary, this is stated as fait accompli: “The ideal university is a community of controversy.” The university community is going to be turned into a community of controversy whether one likes it or not, and whether this interferes with learning organic chemistry, the differential calculus and Shakespeare or not. Further, this controversy will be spread to the “communities beyond” whether they like it or not. These changes will not rise up organically from “the people.” They will be imposed by all-knowing activists pursuing an a priori agenda. As Herbert Marcuse puts it in One Dimensional Man (Chap. 2), since the “slaves [the American people]” have been indoctrinated by the allegedly evil “capitalists,” they must be “forced to be free” (whether they want to or not and as the “New Left,” not themselves, understand freedom).

There is one more statement in Point # 6 that deserves special mention. If one ever wondered where the “victimhood” culture came from, part of the answer is in the statement in point # 6 that “the university must give form to people’s feelings of helplessness and indifference.” The claim here is that the Left can shape these feelings so that they can exploit them to advance their radical agenda. That is, it is no longer merely the aim of the universities to understand whatever actual objective “helplessness and indifference” may exist in society. It is to “give form” to “feelings” of helplessness and indifference,” that is, to convince people that their “private troubles” are really not private! It is to convince people that all of their private troubles are really caused by their political institutions and move people to change them. This comes straight out of Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it.”

The Students for a Democratic Society has been highly successful in enacting these reforms in our universities and in the “community beyond.” One might reply that this is a good thing. For, universities have always produced people who have gone on to change the world for the better, to take just a few examples, Jonas Salk, Barbara Jordan, and John Kennedy. The problem with the Port Huron Statement is that it states, so to speak, a priori, that the universities must be organized to produce people who change the world in one direction, towards the ideals of the “New Left.”

This leftist orientation was not reached by democratic means or by consensus. Although the Left standardly claims to stand for “the people,” they would certainly never think of actually asking them what they believe or want. It will be done SDS’s way. Period. As befitting our Orwellian age that they helped to create, the Students for a Democratic Society would be more accurately named the Students for an Undemocratic Society.

This should not be controversial. In fact, many points could be made here, but only one can be discussed here, namely, SDS’s treatment of women from the beginning. Although Sandra ‘Casey’ Cason (who later married Tom Hayden and became Casey Hayden) first led Tom Hayden to SDS, there was no woman’s plank in the original SDS charter. Indeed, Casey describes how at the beginning she was regarded as “one of the boys.” She also recalls how early SDS meetings were characterized by endless debates driven by young male “intellectuals” posturing and any women who made the mistake of speaking up was treated like a child who had interrupted adults. In 1962 she left Tom Hayden and SDS and returned to her home in Atlanta.

Jonathan Leaf’s A Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties quotes a male delegate’s report how at the 1965 SDS convention women were made to “wait on tables, clean up, get laid. That was their role.” A woman who criticized this chauvinistic attitude from the floor was shouted down with the remark “She just needs a good screw.”

In later years, when a Woman’s Liberation Workshop at SDS managed to get a resolution accepted, the New Left Notes printed the resolution with a caricature of a woman in a “baby doll dress” holding a sign that said, “We want our rights and we want them now.” See, Miriam Schneir’s 1994 article “An SDS Statement on the Liberation of Women” for additional information. In the 1969 convention, women were given just 3 hours to caucus and their call on women to struggle against their own oppression was rejected by the main body. The “Students for a Democratic Society” was never about democracy. It was about power for a certain group of “posturing” radical males who, having just arrived at the vestibule to adulthood and discovered how the universe works, decided that they deserved to dictate to the women and the rest of “the deplorables.”

Since the Left has been willing to achieve its goals by undemocratic means (that is, according to the leftist slogan of the 60’s, “by any means necessary”), they have been massively successful. The degree of their success is illustrated, for example, by the fact that “Obamacare architect” Jonathan Gruber could, while laughing, say, in front of multiple university audiences, without fear of pushback or punishment, and encouraged by the supportive laughter of these audiences, that it was “the stupidity of the American voter” that enabled the Obama-administration to hide the true cost of “Obamacare” from them.

If one is to appreciate the intolerance on contemporary American university campuses, the attacks on conservatives, the assaults on freedom of speech, the glorification of mass murderers and woman abusers like Che Guevera, the contempt for the American people (Hillary’s “basket of deplorable”), and so on, one must understand that the American university has become dominated by the Marcusean ideas enshrined in the Port Huron Statement.

With the conservative opposition banished, our universities have abandoned their traditional mission of producing tolerant good constructive citizens trained to solve problems, and have instead become left wing indoctrination tools that aim is to produce “social justice warriors (SJW’s)” determined to impose their views “by any means necessary,” first on the universities and later on the unsuspecting good-natured country at large.

The claim is not that most students and faculty are conscious card-carrying Marxists or Marcuseans or even card-carrying leftists. There was a Youtube video online for some time of a group of students at Evergreen College during the Weinstein incident who were sitting in the library trying to study but were assaulted by a screaming mob. They had just to sit there and take it until the mob was finished. It is assumed here that many, if not most, of the students and faculty on US universities, even those who are genuine tolerant liberals, wish that all the silliness and intimidation would just to away so that they can get back to learning, science, math, history, and the arts. Unfortunately, Marcusean ideas, enforced by the Left’s anti-democratic intimidation tactics, have become the “default” position, at least in public, of most university students and faculty who feel they have no choice but to kneel to the Leftist script du jour.

6. The Socialism Fantasy

The critique in the previous section does not mean that there are not problems with our heritage and history of the sort that motivate the Left. Of course, there are! But the most basic reason there are problems with our American heritage, even our “founding fathers,” is, as Plato remarked in the Theaetetus (176a), that “Evils … can never be done away with … [and] they must always haunt this region of our mortal nature.” That is, these flaws derive from human nature which is spread evenly thoroughly all the races, genders, political and economic systems and epochs.

The common leftist idea that the advent of socialism or communism will precipitate the development of a new “socialist man” and woman that will magically be free of the flaws present in human beings raised under capitalism is a childish dream more suitable for a 9th grade science fiction club than it is for serious adults. There is no evidence whatsoever that greed, violence and unhealthy competition are a product of capitalism or that these will be eliminated under socialism. The record of poverty, oppression, and mass murder in socialist and communist regimes is in fact far worse than anything one finds under capitalism.

Estimates vary, but that great socialist man of the people, Vladimir Lenin, initiated the “Red Terror” in Russia after the 1917 revolution in which, according to the Cheka Weekly, between 10,000 and 15,000 people were “summarily executed” in a few weeks alone, and that is not all of Lenin’s killings. That great socialist man of the people, Josef Stalin, is estimated to have murdered 20-27 million people for the glorious cause. That great “socialist man of the people,” Nikita Khrushchev, sometimes viewed as a “moderate” Soviet leader, is associated with purges in Ukraine that killed over 400,000 people.

It is difficult to know the number of murders that take place in North Korea because the ruling Kim family will not let anyone in to see the glorious socialist paradise. However, Hwang Jang Yop, the former chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly in North Korea, a position he held for 11 years, defected to the South Korea in 1997 and described the millions of deaths in North Korea due to starvation. In April 2010, the South Korean National Intelligence Service arrested two North Korean agents who had allegedly been sent to assassinate Yop. Asked about the assassination attempt, Yop remarked, “Death is just death. There is no difference from dying of old age or being killed by Kim Jong-il.” After his defection, Yop wife, still in North Korea, died by suicide, and one of Yop’s daughters died under mysteriously by falling off a truck. Yop’s other children, a daughter and a son, as well his grandchildren, are thought to have been sent to labour camps; perhaps to refresh their revolutionary zeal.

That great socialist man of the people, Mao, is estimated to have murdered 80 million people. In December 2005, a Wall Street Journal article estimates that the regime of the great socialist man of the people, Fidel Castro, may have murdered up to 14,000 people. It may explain a lot about our so-called “news media” that Ted Turner, the former owner of CNN whose net worth is estimated at 2.2 billion capitalist dollars, told Bill O’Reilly that there were some things he admired about this mass murdering communist.

In October of 2017 a Washington Post article states that the regime of this great socialist man of the people in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, murdered many thousands of people. A 2019 article in Reuters reports that human rights groups estimate that the great socialist and Marxist “man of the people” Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe killed “as many as 20,000 people… in western Zimbabwe, most of them ethnic Ndebele.” People forget that Jim Jones, who murdered 918 commune members with poisoned Kool-Aid, 304 of them children, described himself as a Marxist and an admirer of Cuba and the Soviet Union and promised a “socialist Eden” on earth to his followers.

Of course, that great “socialist man of the people,” Che Guevara, did not have time to murder as many people as the true greats, Stalin or Mao, but a March 2020 History.com article estimates that 144 people were murdered on Che’s extra-judicial orders in Cuba. Guevara further increased his body count after Castro got fed up with him and kicked him out of Cuba.

Eric Luther, in his 2001 book on Guevara explains that Guevara’s first murder by his own hand was of his “friend,” Eutímio Guerra, a peasant army guide who admitted that he gave information on the rebel’s position to the Cuban government. There was, of course, no trial. There was no time for real justice, so “social justice” had to do. Che put a pistol to Eutímio’s head and blew his friend’s brains out. Jon Lee Anderson in his 1997 book on Guevara describes how this great “socialist man of the people” eventually developed a “remarkable detachment to violence.” One could go on, but at a certain point one must realize that the mass murder in socialist and communist regimes in not an accident but is standard practice.

Despite the excellent socialist marketing campaign in our universities and now in the US congress, socialist leaders are not magically immune to greed, just as they are, astonishingly, not immune to the rest of human nature either. Quite the contrary! It is almost impossible to measure the total wealth of that great “socialist” man of the people, the ruler of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920’s until 1953, Joseph Stalin, because, as a complete dictator, having mingled his wealth with that of the state, he is estimated to have acquired about 5.8 Trillion pounds (about 9 Trillion dollars).

Nikita Khrushchev, who ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1953 to 1964, is estimated to have amassed 50 million dollars while his beloved “workers of the world” were standing for hours in queues to get a head of cabbage. Nicolae Ceausescu who rose through the socialist ranks until he became the communist ruler of Romania from 1974 to 1989 is estimated by Idol Net Worth to have amassed about 5 million dollars while at least a hundred thousand children suffered and died from malnutrition in his orphanages.

Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Fidel Castro at 900,000 dollars while his people were going blind from malnutrition and vitamin deficiency. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of his brother, that great “socialist man of the people,” Raoul Castro, who had not been in power long enough to grab as much as Fidel, at a paltry 100 million dollars. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua as a mere 50 million dollars. In 2018 the New York Times reported that the adult Ortega children have somehow managed to run everything from gasoline distribution to the television stations in Nicaragua. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as a mere 20 million dollars, but, of course, there was not as much in Zimbabwe to steal so his relatively small portfolio is forgivable. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people,” Hugo Chavez, at about 1 billion dollars for his short tenure as president of the country.

For the record, Salon is a strongly “progressive” website that, based on its self-proclaimed superior “capacity for intelligence and rational thinking,” in 2013 praised Hugo Chavez’ socialist “economic miracle” in Venezuela – which was, of course, prior to the more recent Venezuelan socialist economic miracle of people eating their pets and trees in order to survive

Celebrity net worth estimates the net worth of that great socialist-communism “man of the people” Kim Jon Un at 5 billion dollars, with up to 20 palaces scattered around North Korea for his personal use, perhaps to rest as he refines his vision of the socialist utopia, while children in his country, genetically identical with south Korean children, are up to two inches shorter due to malnutrition.

Closer to home in the United States, the revered “socialist” pioneer “man of the people,” Bernie Sanders, who stated with practiced moral fervor in the 1970s that no one needs more than 1 million dollars, is now estimated to own 3 homes and be worth 2.5 million dollars. This does not count the take of Bernie Sander’s wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, who managed to amass about 1.5 million dollars as a social worker and college administrator. There is good news and bad news about Jane’s tenure as President of Burlington College in Vermont. The good news is that when she resigned in 2011 from her 139,000 dollars a year salary, with substantial additional benefits, after her “ambitious plans” for the college, in which she overstated donations to it, failed to work out, costing a local Catholic Church dearly, Jane received a $200,000 dollars severance package to soften to blow to her portfolio. As a reward for her brilliant “leadership”, she was soon, perhaps in a poor attempt at humor, appointed to the Vermont Economic Development Authority. The bad news is that, due to “longstanding financial woes,” including the “crushing weight of the debt” undertaken by the college when Jane led them to buy the property from the Catholic Diocese, Burlington College shut down completely several years later, throwing many socialists and non-socialists alike equally out of work and ending the education dreams of many students. In any case, this makes Bernie and Jane a socialist American “power couple” with a joint net worth of 4 million capitalist dollars and multiple homes in which to plan the utopia.

The great “socialist man of the people,” Tom Hayden, who authored the Port Huron Statement, ended up, according to Celebrity Net Worth, with about 33 million capitalist dollars in his bank account, most of which he got in a divorce settlement from Jane Fonda. Jane herself, much beloved in North Vietnam and Hollywood for her picture with the anti-aircraft guns being used to shoot down American pilots in the Vietnam War, has amassed a quite respectable 200 million dollars. Quite surprisingly, Jane, unjustly stuck at a paltry 200 million dollars, is not giving her “Workout Collection” video tapes to the oppressed “workers of the world” for free but, rather, the tapes can now be purchased on Amazon.com for a mere 49 capitalist dollars.

Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek argue that there are reasons why, far from producing a new “socialist man” free of the greed and violence that characterizes the evil “capitalists,” socialism actually tends to produce far more ruthless and greedy leaders than anything seen in capitalist countries. One might make many points in support of Friedman’s and Hayek’s contention but I give only two here.

First, in contrast with capitalism, in which the “ownership of the means of production” is spread out over a plethora of competing capitalists, “the means of production” in a socialist regime is concentrated in one central authority,” usually the state. But it is inherently dangerous to concentrate so much power in one central authority. For, if the state controls the means of producing houses, cars, houses, factories, medicine and health care, then it is very easy for state actors to use that exclusive power to help political supporters and punish political enemies.

In a capitalist state, by contrast, with a genuine free market, if person X does not like the health care they get from supplier A, X may simply decide to patronize a different supplier B. Further, since it is in A’s interest to keep X’s purchasing loyalty, A is motivated to deliver the best possible health care to X. Thus, in a “free market,” it is inherently difficult to employ ownership of “the means of production” to punish people, but if any one supplier does become unfair or dictatorial, as they sometimes do (“woke” corporations Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook come to mind), that fact alone provides an incentive for a competitor to arise to capture this new group of disaffected buyers.  This liberating competition does not happen in a “single payer” system.

By contrast, a socialist system is perfectly designed to make it easy for the government to punish political enemies and provide a perfect excuse for doing so: “Please get into the queue, comrade, for the liver cancer operations and wait your turn! The Central Committee of the Party is compiling the list as we speak.” The common belief in the United States that a “single payer health care” system, that is, a system in which the single payer for all health care costs is the government, will eliminate injustice in the field of health care is foolish in the extreme. For control of the “single payer” system by a single central government authority is tailor made for political payback and government abuse of power.

The second reason a socialist system is inherently dangerous derives from the very thing that makes it so attractive to people, especially young people lacking in self-knowledge and inexperienced in the ways of the world. For the socialist leader does not merely claim that they are going to produce a better kind of car, perhaps a car that gets 5 % better gas mileage than the nearest competitor. The socialist leader claims they are going to produce the utopia of a universal “brotherhood” characterized by absolute equality and “social justice,” and, following upon that, the emergence of a new kind of “socialist man” and woman free of the oppressive greed of the “capitalist man” and woman.

But this means that the stakes of leadership in a socialist system are enormously high. For example, the former “comrades” and friends, Trotsky and Stalin, with their competing visions of the socialist state, vied for control of the emerging Soviet Union. Whereas the differences between two different visions of the 1971 Mustang is not likely to be seen to be sufficient to justify the murder of the proponent of the one design by the proponent of the other, Trotsky and Stalin promoted quite different visions of the glorious Soviet socialist utopia. The differences between these two visions are literally cosmic. A whole new world (and a whole new “socialist man” appropriate to that world) never before seen on the face of the earth is being created. Stalin is not just trying to produce a better Mustang than Trotsky. He is trying, like God, to create a whole new and better world than Trotsky. Since the stakes are so high, Trotsky cannot be allowed to succeed.

In 1929 Trotsky was exiled to Turkey by Stalin, but eventually ended up in Mexico. After surviving one failed assassination attempt in May of 1940 in Mexico, Trotsky wrote an article titled “Stalin seeks my Death.” In August of that same year, Trotsky was attacked in his study by Spanish communist Ramon Mercader with an ice axe. The blow penetrated 2.4 inches into Trotsky’s brain but failed to kill him immediately. He died a day later from loss of blood. And Trotsky and Stalin and once been close friends and comrades. So much for the heroic socialist brotherhood. The Messianic quality of socialism, the adolescent dream of a whole new world free of injustice, is among its most dangerous features.

7. “Social Injustice Warriors” and Sophistry

Since indoctrination and obedience can only be maintained when they are “justified” by a plethora of sophistries, the most popular arguments in our universities, and the arguments routinely regarded by the Left as definitive, are the arguments that a view is wrong if it is racist, sexist, homophobic and the like. In fact, these kinds of arguments can be found in the section titled “ad hominem fallacies” in any standard logic and critical reasoning text book. The claim that a view is wrong because it is racist, sexist, homophobic and the like is an attempt to avoid the onerous necessity of arguing against that view by employing legitimate rational methods. If, for example, someone says that it is racist to say that illegal immigration should be stopped, the proper response should be, “But is that true? Let’s look at the facts and the relevant moral principles and discuss the matter.”

It is a fundamental logical point that one cannot determine whether a view is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., without first independently determining the relevant facts and moral principles. Thus, these arguments also commit the fallacy of “begging the question,” that is, assuming what they purport to prove.

For example, if there is in fact a crisis at the border, that is, if there is an abusive people-smuggling ring exploiting laxity at the southern border, if there is a large amount of dangerous drugs smuggled across the southern border, if there are not sufficient resources available in place to care for people who enter illegally through the southern border, thereby putting them in danger, if a large influx of people illegally entering depresses the job market for poorer American citizens and so on, then it cannot be racist to say that illegal immigration should be prevented.

The immediate jump by the Left to the charge that it is racist to make these sorts of points is a transparent attempt to avoid the discussion of these relevant issues (and the main reason the Left usually wants to avoid a fair discussion of these issues is that it cannot win in a fair debate). The easy accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and the like by the Left are an attempt to exempt themselves from the onerous trouble of thinking – that is, to excuse themselves from what used to be the whole point of an education. Thus, the various left-wing indoctrination tools employed in the university must at the same time be supported by a pervasive set of left-wing sophistry tools.

It is worth mentioning, at least briefly, the role of “Post-Modernism” in honing the systematic use of sophistry to achieve political ends in our universities. Although “Post-Modernism” deserves a more sustained treatment, the basic point for present purposes is that it is a relativist view that dispenses with the notion of “objective truth” in favor of the view that there are just different narratives about the world.

Whereas Marx believed in objective truth, later leftists, perhaps because of the perceived failures of Marxism, formed an alliance with “post-Modernism” that has cleared the way for the wholesale embrace of sophistry in order to achieve their political ends. For, the elimination of the notion of “objective truth” leaves a lacuna in human thought that will be filled by something. Since the notion of “objective truth” places limits on the tendencies toward excesses in human thought, the elimination of this notion gives free reign to the idea that it is legitimate to use one’s cognitive faculties simply for the pursuit of power.

Since SJW’s are prepared to use undemocratic means, including, not only systematic sophistry, but also intimidation and violence, to achieve their ends, the expression “social justice warrior” is, in fact, a euphemism for “social injustice warrior.” The fact that our universities are largely run by “social injustice warriors” is amply illustrated by the treatment of progressive Professor Weinstein and his wife, but also by the infantile and thuggish reactions to harmless conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro on college campuses. The students who pull fire alarms or chant slogans like “Hate speech promotes violence”) are more than happy to violate other people’s civil rights and dole out social injustice to those who disagree with them.

Once a certain tipping point is reached, and there is no longer any check on leftist ideas in the universities, there is no limit on how extreme the Left can become. A professor at Drexel University in October of 2017 can tweet, “All I want for Christmas is white genocide” and then claim victim status after he was forced to resign his position, but not, of course, by the university, which, apparently, does not consider the call for mass murder as a firing offence. In an additional pathetic chapter to this story, this former Drexel professor later put the following comment on Facebook: “I’m glad to announce that, starting today, I will be a Visiting Scholar at NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. Happy New Year!” It is, apparently, not inconsistent with NYU’s enlightened system of values to call for the genocide of a whole race of people – as long as one is murdering the right people. One does not have to be a conservative to recognize that calling for mass murder may not be the best way to solve the problem – should, that is, actually solving problems, as opposed to virtue-signaling (and other forms of self-promotion), even be the aim anymore.

8. “The Worse Things Are, The Better They Are”

Since many of the proposals put forward by the Left are transparently not designed to solve any problems, but are more like to exacerbate them, one should make the obvious inference. These members of the Left do not actually want to solve the problems. They want to make them worse. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian communist revolution, is reported to have said that “the worse things are, the better they are.” What this means is that that one is not going to bring about the glorious socialist or communist revolution if people are content with their lives. Recall SDS’s view that one must convince people that their private troubles are really caused by societal factors and require political change.

On the contrary, if the glorious socialist or communist revolution is to take place “the people” must be maintained in a state of misery. If they are content with their lives, they must be changed to become discontented with their lives. The left often does not, therefore, actually want to solve problems. If conservatives, or even what remains of the genuine liberals, are permitted actually to solve the problems and lift the poor out of poverty, thereby enabling them to achieve dignity and self-respect, the socialist or communist revolution is off (and with it the well-paid careers of a bevy of leftist politicians and functionaries).

For example, one would think that the Democrat Party and the Black Caucus in Congress would have been pleased when Donald Trump was able to announce at his first State of the Union address that black unemployment was at an all-time low (a claim that Politifact, not a right-wing outlet, rated as “mostly true”). Instead, the Democrat side of the aisle and large majority of the “Black caucus” scowled and sat on their hands at the good news for the black community. Sometimes the most obvious inference is the best one. The left is not interested in solving the problems of the poor. They have a different agenda. For the elite Left depends on a dependent miserable aggrieved underclass to justify their own existence and keep themselves in wealth and power.

9. The Decline In Our Primary And Secondary Educational Institutions

Since the university is the source of much of our current political discourse, and since many of our political and cultural leaders come through the university system, the corruption of the universities has led to the corruption of most of our cultural institutions, including not only the “media” and the “arts,” such as they are, but also our primary and secondary education.

Consider the state of our primary and secondary schools in the United States! Since the teachers and administration at these institutions are almost invariably a product of the university system, the effect of leftist intimidation of the universities is reflected there as well. The Brookings Institute, which is not a conservative organization, and whose employees tend to support democrats, describes the poor state of US primary and secondary education:

For private education, from pre-K through secondary, prices are 8.5 times higher now than in 1980. For public schools, the rise is lower—4.7 from 1980 to 2013 —but still far above general inflation… but learning has stagnated. For the nation’s 17-year-olds, there have been no gains in literacy since the National Assessment of Educational Progress began in 1971. The long-term stagnation cannot be attributed to racial or ethnic differences in the U.S. population. Literacy scores for white students peaked in 1975; in math, scores peaked in the early 1990s.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the United States is outperformed by many countries at the international level, not only by Singapore and Hong Kong, but even countries like Vietnam that had not so long ago been bombed to oblivion during the Vietnam war and now spend much less per student on education. Singapore tops the list in primary school math, secondary school math, primary school science and secondary school science. In 2016 it was reported that the United States only scores 10th for secondary school math, outperformed even by the relatively poor country of Kazakhstan. The United States is not even in the top 10 for primary school math. The United States is not in the top 10 for secondary school science, outperformed by Slovenia and Kazakhstan. The United States scores tenth for primary school science education, outperformed by Poland and Kazakhstan.

There are, no doubt, many factors for this poor showing. However, since the primary and secondary schools are staffed predominately by people who go through our universities, leftist bias in education, and the ensuing cultural decline, starts long before college. Since the Left emphasizes “social justice” over basic education (reading, writing, mathematics, and science), students from US primary and secondary schools will have learned to feel aggrieved, or, perhaps, learned to feel guilty for other people’s grievances in which they personally had no hand whatsoever. What they will not have learned, unfortunately, is mathematics, science, or reading and writing skills that will enable them to compete with students in Singapore, Hong Kong, Poland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan or Vietnam. The problem is now severe enough that it is a matter of national security.

The fact that America’s educational system, from primary school through university, is in such a state of decline should not be a surprise. When, under the pressure of leftist activists, one prioritizes “social justice” (sometimes social injustice of the sort witnessed at Evergreen University, the University of New Hampshire, Berkeley and so on) over a neutral pursuit of the truth, one gets waves of students highly sensitized to their series of grievances but not very good in math, science, or writing (or, as at the University of New Hampshire, for formulating a coherent position at a public talk).

Since the decline in education standards is evenly spread across the board, the average American may not feel the effects of the decline in at the present time. But when America’s chief competitors, like China and Russia, surpass it, Americans will soon learn the difference between the “woke” grievances conjured by privileged political activists in Sociology 101 and the real grievances that will be imposed on them by their rather less gentle external enemies.

10. What About Real Grievances?

It may be objected that the present article makes light of the real grievances experienced by many groups, for example, black people, Native Americans, women, handicapped people or LGBT people throughout in American history. In fact, the present argument makes no effort whatsoever to deny that such grievances exist, that many of them have considerable merit, and that the university is one of the places in which it is appropriate to address them. The present argument is only opposed to the a priori political activism imposed on our universities at the expense of the traditional mission of a neutral pursuit of the truth as laid out by the Port Huron Statement.

It is only when the discussions of social problems and human grievances is framed a priori in favor of the Left (“A new left must be distributed in significant social roles throughout the country. The universities are distributed in such a manner”), that the university is turned from its proper mission to understand the world to an improper Marxist mission to change it. For, the latter alternative makes the decline in standards that is evident throughout our educational institutions today inevitable.

Putting on a pair of “blinders,” especially ideological blinders, is never a wise way to set about actually solving social problems. If one structures the university around leftist agendas then the results of studies and investigations within the university will be that capitalism, “the Patriarchy,” Systemic Racism” and the like are the cause of all our ills – because that is the a priori assumption one begins with. Tautologies may be comforting, as our political class and the “news” media know very well, but they never yield any real insight into the problems.

Since history shows that the problems are best resolved when the universities maintain a free and fair environment undistorted by any a priori political ideology from either the Left or the Right, the leftist domination of the American university beginning in the 1960s, accompanied by the usual threats and censorship, can, therefore, only guarantee that the real problems will not be satisfactorily solved and that a more just and fair society will not be produced. Quite the contrary! Ideological blindness can only lead to injustice and misery. The present paper does not, therefore, argue that the various social problems and grievances should not be addressed within the university. It only argues that these can only be properly addressed in the free and fair environment that preceded leftist intimidation that began in the 1960’s.

The usual reply to this argument is that things were not very good to the various minorities prior to leftist intimidation of the universities. After all, “the Patriarchy,” “capitalism” and other abstractions, we have been told, ruled with an iron fist. In fact, this is easily refuted. The fact that the Left is so well represented in the contemporary university and is permitted, even encouraged, to make their criticisms and demands, testifies to the fact that these exaggerated claims are not true.

For, once a group claiming victim status stand up in America and makes its case, the culture generally responds quite quickly at multiple levels. It is, of course, true that aggrieved groups must step up and make their case. They cannot expect “the System” or “the Patriarchy” to make their case for them – or do they? There is, therefore, a sense in which the exaggerated left-wing criticisms of “the system,” “the Patriarchy,” and “capitalism” are self-refuting. For, if those criticisms were true, if, that is, the “System,” “capitalism” or “the Patriarchy” were really were so oppressive as the Left claims they are, the plethora of aggrieved anti-democratic university activists making them would not occupy their present privileged positions.

11. Choosing Ignorance

In the “old days,” when children went to the university to learn, rather than to teach, the traditional mission of the university was understood to be to provide a neutral free and fair environment for the discussion of all views as the best means for arriving at the best ideas and solutions to problems. When problems were pointed out, e.g., the dearth of women and minority students, rational arguments were put forward to rectify this situation and female and minority representation in the universities increased dramatically.

For example, whereas male enrolment in US universities 1967 was almost double that of female enrollment, Wendy Wang and Kim Parker for the Pew Research pointed out females caught up with males in university enrolment around 1990 and that the United States now experiences “a ‘reverse’ gender gap where women are more likely than men to go to college. By 2009, a record 44% of young women were enrolled in college, compared with 38% of young men.” The same study points out that the female graduation rate has now surpassed that for males.

Similarly, a 2015 article in The Atlantic by Andrew McGill describes the changes in black enrollment in tertiary institutions:

Since 1994, black enrollment has doubled at institutions that primarily grant associate degrees, including community colleges. In 2013, black students accounted for 16 percent of the student body there, versus 11 percent in 1994. Universities focusing on Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees also broadly saw gains, with blacks making up 14 percent of the population, compared to 11 percent in 1994.

Not everyone, however, was happy with these successes. Since solving social problems does not produce enough unhappy leftist revolutionaries, a group of radical “New Leftists” in the Students for a Democratic Society plotted to change American universities as a first step towards changing America as a whole. They did not, however, as their name might suggest, propose to do this by democratic means. They did not set out to convince the American people by open and transparent rational arguments that the traditional neutral mission of free and fair discussion needed to be changed. Since the traditional university system had been so successful, this would be almost impossible to do. Rather, they developed a plan to “distribute” leftists across the universities and set about carrying this out. In response to grievances, whole new departments, programs, and hiring practices were quickly established in response to these leftist demands.

Since the primary aim of the leftists is the advancement of their ideas and programs, once they achieved a “critical mass” in the universities, they used their newfound power, conferred on them surprisingly easily by the implacable evil oppressive “Patriarchy,” to make adherence to these leftist ideas, as opposed to the neutral pursuit of the truth, the primary criteria for hiring and policy decisions. As a consequence, the Left’s power in the US universities grew, leading to further control over the hiring and policy decisions, in an ever-repeating cycle.

The notion of a meritocracy, intrinsically suspicious because it had been so successful at producing a level of national wealth and power unmatched in human history, was decreed to be verboten by the intolerant Left and had to be abandoned. As a result, the Left now enjoys a dominant position of power in most university faculties and administrations. Conservatives, and sometimes even moderates and progressives that do not follow the script du jour closely or quickly enough, as at Evergreen University, are literally afraid to express themselves in the “Ivory Tower” citadel of ideas. The Port Huron “New Left” plan has been successful beyond its wildest dreams. In this way, the traditional formula for success in US universities was replaced by a formula for failure.

The fact that the Left was able to take over the universities so quickly and so easily might lead a neutral observer to think that these abstractions conjured in Sociology 101, such as “the Patriarchy” and “the Capitalist System,” to explain all of our sins, real and imagined, do not really exist, but, since the neutral observers no longer exist, or, to be more precise, since the ones who do exist in the university are afraid to speak up, no one is left to point this out.

As a consequence, over a period of time, the peaceful environment for the free and fair discussion of issues was replaced by the leftist mobs that threw progressive Professors Weinstein and Heying out of Evergreen University for questioning their adolescent racist plans, that insulted Dave Rubin for talking politely, even when they gratuitously insulted him, to students in a public talk, and that rioted, set fires and beat people at the home of the Berkeley “free speech movement” when gay British conservative Milo Yiannopoulos attempted to state his point of view. Ironically, it was often “conservatives,” who still retain the old-fashioned notions of freedom of speech and other fundamental democratic principles, that spoke up in defense of the progressive professors Weinstein and Heying and “gay” speakers Rubin and Yiannopoulos.

In the Gorgias, Plato has Socrates argue that it is better to lose an argument than to win it (because one learns something new when one loses the argument but not when one wins one). The current state of our universities can be explained by the fact that, dominated by the censorship and intimidation employed by the Left, they have chosen not to learn anything new. They will not lose any arguments because they will not engage in any arguments they cannot “win.” Anyone foolish enough to argue against the Left will be driven off campus; or, if they are lucky, will merely have to endure students, sometimes, unfortunately, supported by members of the faculty and administration, ringing cow bells, pulling fire alarms or chanting juvenile slogans to prevent them from being heard. As a consequence, discussions in the universities are reduced to a continuous virtue-signaling rehearsal of leftist ideas, which, inevitably leads to even sillier ideas.

Since the a priori goal of the universities is now the promotion of leftist ideas on and off campus, objections to these ideas will either be censored altogether or “refuted” by invoking transparent sophistries. When, therefore, reality intrudes and these leftist ideas fail, perhaps leading, in “progressive” cities, to soaring poverty and crime rates, sprawling unhealthy tent cities, “poop” maps to protect tourists from the odoriferous truth, and discarded needles everywhere, it will be impossible to solve these problems because it will be impossible even to “see” them (describe them) for what they are. For it has been decreed, a priori, that social problems cannot be caused by the leftist ideas or policies because everyone knows the Left only seeks equality and “social justice” and that these problems must be “caused” (in some notion of “causation” not found anywhere in the history of science or in any leftist’s head) by “the class struggle,” “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism.” If anyone disagrees with this, let them formulate a properly formulated testable causal law, hopefully in grammatical English, linking “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism,” with the presence of used needles and poop all over San Francisco streets.

12. Reversing The Decline

The question arises whether this decline of the United States into an intolerant “war of all against all” can be reversed? There are many reasons to think that it is already too late. For a psychosis of intolerance involving an obsessive unrealistic way of thinking has entered our national mentality and one feature of the psychosis is that those who have it do not see it as a psychosis, but, rather, as wisdom incarnate. Another feature of the intolerance-psychosis is that those who have it see those who do not have it as evil. Normally, one would look to the more rational elements in our institutions, in particular, our universities, to resist this kind of destructive movement.

The problem is that since the root of the psychosis is the universities, and since they provide the people to fill the rest of the influential positions in society, none of these leading influential institutions are interested. In some cases, the remedy lies as close as the nearest critical reasoning textbook but since that was written by “the Patriarchy,” it cannot be trusted and is only invoked in special cases when it can be useful.

Something similar can be said of other parts of the “education industry,” the “news” media, and the “government,” most of whose members have been produced by the same “cookie cutter” assembly line in the universities. Filled with the massive pride and self-certainty of people who live inside the leftist bubble and suffer only to talk with the faithful, they are certainly not going to do it themselves. “It is the pride of a child and a schoolboy.” (Dostoevsky, “The Grand Inquisitor”).

This leaves only “the people” to repair the situation, and it may be that students and parents, finally appalled by the kind of intolerance, censorship, hate and rank infantilism exhibited at so many other universities may begin looking for alternatives to traditional university education in sufficient numbers to force the universities to reform. Unfortunately, since “the people” have been declared by the all-knowing elites to be “a basket of deplorables,” the all-knowing elites in the ‘Biden administration’ are currently preparing “domestic terrorism” guidelines to monitor these dangerous individualistic freedom-mongers more closely for thought-crimes.

In the United States, “the people” used to be respected as the ultimate authority in the American democratic system. Unfortunately, since they, with their dangerous tendencies towards individuality, self-respect and freedom of thought, stand in the way of the elite’s plans to control everybody’s lives, prospects for individual freedom and human dignity in the United States do not look very good at the moment. However, reality can be surprising. The massive levels of transparent “in your face” greed, incompetence and corruption in Washington D.C. may help the Constitution and the rule of law make a comeback. It is, therefore, necessary to keep working toward the recovery of our freedom and dignity should the chance arise to claim it.

But one thing is for sure. No matter what changes one makes in other parts of the society, no matter how many laws one passes, no matter how much money one raises and spends, no matter how many conservatives one puts into office, no matter how many constitutionalist judges one puts in the courts, no matter how many carefully reasoned books and articles one publishes,, the intolerance psychosis that infects our society will not be healed until our universities, and, consequent upon that, the rest of our “educational” system and other societal institutions are “liberated” from their leftist “liberators” and returned to normalcy.

It is important, however, not to deceive oneself. Since a corrupt leftist dominated university system will continue, following SDS’s plan, to “distribute” leftist anti-American activists throughout the entire society, poisoning every institution against the country and its traditions, if we cannot return our universities to their traditional proper mission of providing a genuinely neutral free and fair forum for the discussion of all issues, nothing else we do can make any real difference to the emerging tyranny. Conservatives require only a free and fair discussion. Nothing more. The censorship and “cancel culture” that have poisoned American society began in the universities; and they must be ended there before the country can heal itself. Conservatives are happy to let Marxists, communists and socialists have their say. It is the Left, supported by their capitalist child billionaires in Silicon Valley and the partisan Lilliputians in the “news” media that, knowing the outcome of free and fair discussions, fears freedom.


Richard McDonough is the author of two books, numerous articles, encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and book reviews. He has taught previously at Bates College, the National University of Singapore, the University of Tulsa, the University Putra Malaysia, the Overseas Family College, the PSB Academy, the University of Maryland, the Arium Academy, and James Cook University. In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, humanities and writing courses.


The featured image shows and anonymous work from the 18th century.

After The Anti-Racist Struggle At Trinity College – The Wokeness Crown

There is nothing novel about the gravamens of “anti-Black racism” that Mayo Moran, the Provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, has been laying down over the last half year. Indeed, it is rather disappointing how pedestrian her pronouncements have been. When Canadian university faculty and administrators were swept up in the Great George Floyd Moral Panic of 2020 in May and June, Moran like others declared that she had suddenly discovered wide-ranging racism plaguing Trinity and announced plans for complete therapy.

As elsewhere, Moran is now taking this movement in its logical direction of abandoning deliberation and procedure in favor of revolutionary action. In November 2020, she promised that the “recommendations” due to be made by an “anti-racism task force” by the end of the year would be treated not so much as recommendations as commandments: “Our goal is to begin implementation as soon as possible.”

The idea that there is a crisis of “anti-Black racism” at Trinity, or elsewhere on Canadian college campuses, is absurd, and everyone knows it. Alongside First Nations students, black students are the most coddled and privileged members of the campus community. When three black Trinity students of the college’s Multicultural Society wrote in the university newspaper this summer about the intolerable suffering of “anti-Black racism rampant in the dining hall, the quad, and on the front steps” of the college, the most they could come up in specifics was that they had “heard of” some black students being treated rudely during orientation.

When I went to Trinity, being treated rudely during orientation was one of the purposes of the exercise, creating solidarity with one’s fellow classmen and good-natured connections to upper classmen. The three black students would have Trinity redesign its orientation with special rules for the treatment of black freshmen, surely an ironical aim for a group devoted to “inclusion.”

The other charge of pervasive anti-black racism the students made was that Trinity student groups – which include the Trivia Association, the James Bond Society, and the Garlic Bread Society – had not issued pro-Black Lives Matter statements during the summer. These non-compliant student groups, they charged, were “rooted in hate and further the exclusion of Black students at Trinity.” From what I can tell, their Multicultural Society did not issue a letter of condolence on the death of Sean Connery in deference to the feelings of the James Bond Society either. Shocking.

The totalitarian face of any political movement is never so clear as when it demands complete deference to its agenda from others in a pluralistic world. Like Provost Moran, these three students believe that the purpose of a university or college is to take a position on controversial social issues of the day and then rigorously enforce conformity among all students – sort of like the Marxist doctrines that animated the BLM movement in the first place.

In good Leninist form, the students also warned darkly that “people are choosing to protect their own images rather than acknowledging their faults” without naming anyone in particular. Perhaps sensing the threat, the college’s three main student leaders stepped down and apologized for their skin color: “As white and privileged leaders, we are the very people who have benefited from these institutions. We wholeheartedly believe that these structures need to be taken down.” This was the only blatantly racist episode that Trinity experienced over the summer, but of course it was the sort of performative virtue-signalling that progressive administrators like Moran look upon with loving kindness.

To charges of rampant racism, student radicals at the college later added rampant misogyny and “classism” (to be distinguished from classicism which these students may not have heard about in their years of thought reform at Trinity). This new Holy Trinity – race, class, and gender – has now replaced the older one that sought God’s truth.

Following the cue of the “white and privileged” students to “take down” the 170-year old college, Provost Moran and her “task force” are running headlong into a transformation of Trinity from a place of education into something truly sinister. There is already a student-led “Trinity Anti-Racism Collective” formed this year, and if its writ is as large as the Provost’s actions suggest, the college might simply rename itself accordingly as part of its Woke rebranding.

Such a renaming would at least help the shrinking number of intellectually curious high school students – as opposed to those adept at the virtue-signaling, performative moralizing, and careerist box-checking – to begin seeking out alternative places for a serious education. The list of elite colleges in the U.S. that have suffered this fate is a long one and Trinity may soon join them. Along with the disappearance of top students will go a disappearance of the “excruciating whiteness” that the organizers of the Trinity Multicultural Society insisted forced them to mobilize in 2018. During the current academic year, just 2 of Trinity’s 10 student leaders are white. Surely there will be no more excruciating whiteness once the whites have been sent packing. This is of course a problem from Trinity because there is wide evidence that top-performing high school students will avoid ethnic ghettos where the majority group has been ethnically cleansed since those places will not help them to thrive in mainstream society or to form valuable social connections.

So why care about this predictable response from Provost Moran and her anti-racist task force, any more than we care about similar developments elsewhere on Canadian college campuses? Isn’t this just the way the campus has gone, and the evidence that Canadians interested in freedom of thought and speech and a vigorous contest of ideas in the search for truth should no longer expect to find it in taxpayer funded universities and colleges?

Two reasons suggest otherwise.

One is that Trinity, like some other legacy institutions of education in Canada, holds a special place because of its deep lineage in the Canadian tradition. What happens there is more emblematic of a core shift than, say, similar developments at a newer or more experimental institution, or for that matter at Provost Moran’s alma mater, the UBC English Department whose June Statement of Solidarity Against Anti-Black violence promised with illiberal ferocity to eliminate “scholarship that still valourizes whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” We don’t expect much of the UBC English Department, which regularly suspends classes so that its students can rush to the barricades to support the latest social justice cause. But if excellence and academic freedom and merit cannot survive at Trinity, they will not survive anywhere in Canada.

More practically, there are substantial intellectual lineages of which Trinity is the steward that risk annihilation by Provost Moran’s new fanaticism. Over the summer, the college’s library was “re-evaluated and reshaped” according to an official notice, to downplay its main holdings in Canadian history and literature and emphasize the new party doctrine which the Provost helpfully enumerated as “anti-racism, anti-oppression and equity.” Surely it does not take a history degree to feel alarmed when political movements show up at the library spoiling for a fight with the stacks. Book burnings in the Quad anyone?

In particular, the Trinity library is steward of the Upjohn-Waldie Collection, which is no mere trifle in Canadian heritage. The collection includes rare books from late medieval Europe such as a 1473 book on the education of princes and a psalter of the same year. Priceless manuscripts from the early Renaissance include two first edition publications by Martin Luther and printed in 1520 and 1531, and a 1623 printing of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. The collection harbors one of the best holdings of early exploration accounts of Canada, such as a 1728 printing of John Gatonbe’s A Voyage into the North-West Passage Undertaken Anno 1612, and Alexander Mackenzie’s 1801 Voyages from Montreal on the River St. Laurence Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans. There is a 1787 Book of Common Prayer in Mohawk, a critical early resource documenting that language, and a first edition of Joseph Conrad’s 1942 collection of nautical stories, The Tremolino.

I dwell on these precious holdings because libraries and collections are not inert, but rise or fall depending on how they are stewarded and celebrated. The Trinity library staff spent their entire summer “reevaluating” to promote the latest Woke Studies novels, as well as reading and promoting hate-filled screeds by black American racialists. Trinity’s precious holdings, especially that Mohawk prayer book, may soon be charged with “valourizing whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” The iconoclastic destruction of Trinity’s Upjohn-Waldie Collection, by indifference and erasure even if the books survive in some forgotten vault, seems only a Provostial missive away from “immediate implementation.”

Of course, the world will not fall because Trinity (or McGill, or Queen’s, or Dalhousie) falls. But the wave of illiberalism that Provost Moran is leading is an important signpost in this larger trend. As goes Trinity, we might say, so goes Canada. “After the Struggle, the Crown”, reads the college moto from 1851. Queen Moran is now hastening to the throne after her struggles against phantom racism at Trinity. I prefer an older college motto, that of the Trinity Literary Society that came into being in the 1840s, and has recently become a focal point for the Trinity revolutionaries that Moran has unleashed: Feros Cultus Voce Formare. “To tame wild manners by power of the voice.” Canadians as a whole need to tame the wild manners of campus barbarians with the voices of their strong opposition.

A native of Calgary and a graduate of Trinity College, Bruce Gilley is professor of political science at Portland State University.

The image shows an etching of Trinity College by Owen Staples, c. 1930.

The Decline Of Postivism: A New Culture War

The current ideological spasm seen widely in the West has a quasi-religious aspect. The idea of racism as a demonic force operating everywhere fits that. So does the iconoclasm, the attempt symbolically to reorder urban spaces in order to drive home a set of political imperatives.

What is most striking is the suspension of any sense of critique of the new order. Debate is so beneath you when you possess all truth. Much better just to steamroll people into subjugation. Debate is seen as oppressive. Instead, edicts are issued from on high, as befits a cult. Those who hold contrasting views are readily dismissed and shunned: if you do not think you are a white supremacist that means that you are guilty. If you feel uncomfortable about being accused of being a white supremacist – that means you are guilty. This is like a blatantly constructed trap; as is the reference to having “a conversation” when that is the very last thing that is intended.

In practical terms, we are seeing a bringing to fruition of the attack on positivism that has been so insistent since the 1960s, an attack that is bridging from academic circles to a wider public. In particular, there was, and continues to be, a critique of subordinating scholarship and the scholar to the evidence; and a preference, instead, for an assertion of convenient evidence that was derived essentially from theory. Empiricism was discarded, or at least downplayed, as both method and value, and there was a cult of faddish intellectualism heavily based on postmodernist concepts.

Divorcing the Arts and Social Sciences from empirical methods invited a chaos that some welcomed but that others sought to reshape in terms of a set of values and methods equating to argument by assertion and proof by sentiment: ‘I feel therefore I am correct,’ and it is apparently oppression to be told otherwise. The conventional academic spaces, the geopolitics of academic hierarchy and method, from the lecture hall to the curriculum, have all been repurposed to this end.

In this view, the statues that are unwelcome are not isolated residues of outdated and nefarious glories, but a quasi-living reproach to the new order. Indeed, the statue of Cecil Rhodes that decorates Oriel College, Oxford is referred to by its critics as making them feel uncomfortable. So also with crests of arms or stained glass, or the names of buildings and streets. All are to be removed because they are seen not as mute products of the past, but, instead, as toxic reproaches in a culture wars of the present in which there is no space for neutrality or non-committal, or, indeed, tolerance and understanding.

Iconoclasm, therefore, from whatever political direction, is a matter of a set of values that is inherently anti-democratic, in that the legitimacy of opposing views is dismissed, indeed discredited as allegedly racist, and anti-intellectual because there is an unwillingness to ask awkward questions and to ignore evidence which does not fit in the answer wanted. Examples of the latter might include the extent of slavery and the slave trade prior to the European arrival in Africa or the role of European powers in eventually ending both. It is possible to debate these and other points, but debate is not accepted if it involves questioning assumptions.

However, such questioning is crucial to understanding the past, which is the key aspect of history as an intellectual pursuit rather than as the sphere for political engagement. Historians need to understand why practices we now believe to be wrong and have made illegal, such as slavery or (differently) making children work or marrying them, were legitimate in the past. It is not enough, in doing so, to present only one side of and on the past because that is allegedly useful for present reasons. Nor to refuse to recognise debate in earlier, plural societies.

People in the past believed that they were right for reasons that were perfectly legitimate in terms of their own times, experience, and general view of the world. Imposing anachronistic value-judgments is antithetical to the historical mindset of the scholar, and is inherently transient as the fullness of time will bring in fresh critiques of present-day values, which will also be wrenched out of their historical context, not least by ignoring inconvenient evidence. Thus, iconoclasm will be perpetuated, providing a form of blood of (stone) martyrs to revive revolution, and to the detriment of any sense of continuity, unless, that is, the sole sense that is sought is that of an anarchic presentism.

Again, there are elements that can be traced to the assault on positivism. In particular, the notion of accumulated wisdom, and/or of source criticism based on an understanding of past practices, have in large part been discarded as a consequence of an academic culture being brought into line with those within it who use virtue-signalling to push their views. Iconoclasm is to the fore here.

The theme of a difficult ‘conversation’ about Britain’s past and its legacy in the present was pushed hard by critics, but their view of conversation was only one-way. It encompassed growing calls for iconoclasm, with Rhodes a target in Oxford from 2015 and Afua Hirsch, in an article in The Guardian, calling for Nelson’s Column in London to be pulled down. She described Nelson ‘without hesitation’ as a ‘white supremacist’ because he spoke in favour of slavery. Hirsch, who pressed for Britain to face its role in the slave trade and attitudes linked to its empire building, backed the Rhodes Must Fall movement vigorously and, in ‘The Battle for Britain’s Heroes’, a BBC programme on 29 May 2018, returned to the attack on Nelson and presented Churchill as a racist. Meanwhile, in February 2018, the controversy was over the exhibition ‘The Past is Now’ at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in which information boards claimed that “the relationship between European colonialism, industrial production and capitalism is unique in its brutality.’”

The key Birmingham politician of the Victorian period, Joseph Chamberlain, an exponent of a stronger British empire who became Secretary of State for the Colonies (1895-1903), was described as “still revered despite his aggressive and racist imperial policy.” One board attacked Britain’s ‘hasty’ departure from India in 1947 for ‘trauma and misogyny,’ and a second board offers another partisan context: ‘capitalism is a system that prioritises the interests of the individuals and their companies at the expense of the majority.’

Janine Eason, the Director of Engagement, said that it was “not possible’ for a museum to present a neutral voice, particularly for something as multifaceted as stories relating to the British Empire,” and, instead, that the exhibition was both a way to serve the multicultural population of Birmingham and was intended ‘to provoke.” Of course, real “provocation” would have been to offer a different account, one that was more grounded in historical awareness; or, even more, two or more accounts, but such an approach is indeed regarded as provocative.

The toppling of statues is far from new in Britain which has had its share of revolutions. Indeed, in addition to those of political and constitutional transformation, which included the execution of a king and declaration of a republic in 1649, and an overthrow of another king in 1688 leading to constitutional change, came those of three religious revolutions: the Henrician under Henry VIII, the Edwardian under Edward VI, and the Puritan one of the mid-seventeenth century. These saw state-imposed iconoclasm in every community in the country, which was far more extreme than political revolution. Church decorations and paraphernalia, from mass-books and roodscreens to wall-paintings and statues, were destroyed, with particular emphasis on the destruction of shrines to saints, for example, that of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Every monastery, nunnery and chantry was despoiled and terminated. This iconoclasm left the ruined monastery as an abiding image in British culture.

Yet, the brutal iconoclasm of the British past was also left in the past because of the nature of British politics and political culture after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9. The emphasis switched to one of organic change and a government of consent expressed through, and in, parliamentary accountability. The British came to convince themselves that their politics was one that was far more orderly than those of most others, and notably so France, where there were revolutions in 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1871, followed by the instabilities of the Third and Fourth Republics.

So also with the British view of their own political culture, society and emotions. Iconoclasm, therefore, was not part of the British design. There were radical movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but they were those of minorities, and there was an essential ‘lawfulness’ about Methodism in the eighteenth and Chartism in the nineteenth.

Attacks on symbols of power and continuity were pronounced in the case of Irish nationalism, but that was a separate tradition and one that did not influence the British one. The continuity of British political culture proved able to absorb the impact of trade unionism and the rise of the Labour Party, while the end of empire did not have the disruptive impact in the metropole that was to be seen in some former colonies.

That was very different to the situation today. In one respect, the disruption of decolonisation is being brought back now into the metropole, and that element is certainly apparent in the case of some members of minority groups from the former empire. Alongside the attempt to use slavery to discredit imperialism, different immigrant sensitivities play particular roles, with those of people of Caribbean descent especially concerned about slavery and those of Indian descent more so about the legacy of imperial rule. Conversely, there is less comparable critique from those originating in Hong Kong about British imperial rule.

In this overall context of contrast, statues in practice have different resonances. That of Edward Colston (1636-1721), the Bristol merchant who played a role in the slave-trading Royal African Company was one of particular note for the controversy over slavery, and the 1895 statue of him was pushed into Bristol Harbour in June 2020. The statues of Robert, 1st Lord Clive (1725-74) in London and Shrewsbury had more resonance for empire and India, and petitions in 2020 calling for the removal of the Shrewsbury one had 23,000 signatures between them. A counter-petition argued that removing the statue would erase part of the town’s history. Shrewsbury Council decided on a 28-17 vote not to remove the statue, and this decision was criticised on the grounds of supposed racism.

Similarly, there was a petition to remove the London statue, while the highly-overrated historian William Dalrymple, writing in The Guardian on 11 June 2020, declared that Clive “was a vicious asset-stripper. His statue has no place on Whitehall … a testament to British ignorance of our imperial past…. Its presence outside the Foreign Office encourages dangerous neo-imperial fantasies among the descendants of the colonisers… Removing the statue of Clive from the back of Downing Street would give us an opportunity finally to begin the process of education and atonement.” And so on with the usual attacks on Brexit being apparently a consequence of an imperial mentality that has never been confronted. Leave aside the extent to which Dalrymple is strong on assertion but no evidence, and that “Little Englanders” were of far more consequence in the 2016 referendum, what you get is a running together of past and present with the modern British supposedly trapped by the past. Therefore, in this approach, the statues have to fall, and the libraries and reading lists must be reordered.

The alleged validity of these views is allegedly further demonstrated by the false consciousness adduced to those who do not share them. Other statues then come up for immediate criticism. The most prominent in Exeter, that of General Redvers Buller on his horse, Biffen, is allegedly rendered unacceptable because he was a general of empire. That Buller was not associated with anything particularly bad is ignored by referring to him as having invented concentration camps during the Boer War of 1899-1902. In fact, one, he was no longer in command then; two, these were not the same as the later German camps, being more akin to detention centres; and, three, such camps had a long provenance, most recently being used by Spain in fighting an insurgency in Cuba in the 1890s.

Why, however, let facts stand in the way? In each and every case, there is misrepresentation in the iconoclastic demands; but that is not the point. We are in the midst of a postmodernist world in which facts are allegedly subjective, an irrational one in which emotion trumps reason, and one of gesture in which the statue is all-too-prominent as a target and the senses of continuity and identity that go with it deliberately attacked. If this is not a culture war, a war on culture, it is difficult to know what is.

The image shows “Fraternité Avant Tout (Brotherhood Above All),” by Asger Jorn, strategically vandalized in 1962.

Ideology And Global Politics: A Conversation With Ciro Paoletti

We are so very pleased and honored to present this interview with Dr. Ciro Paoletti, the renowned military historian. Dr. Paoletti is the author 26 books and several hundred essays and reviews. He serves as General Secretary of the Italian Commission of Military History, and as Director of the Association for Military and Historical Studies. He is a Life-member of the Institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento, a member of the (US) Society for Military History, a corresponding-member of the Instituto de Geografia e História Militar do Brasil, a member of the Società Dalmata di Storia Patria, and a member of the International Commission of History of Technology. In 2007, he was awarded the SMH Moncado Prize, which he holds along with two other Italian prizes. Dr, Paoletti curretnly works for the Education, University and Research Ministry. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): You are a military historian, which, if I am not mistaken, is a rare breed. I can only think of three others: Jeremy Black (English), Donald Kagen and Victor Hansen (American), and you. The four of you also happen to be conservatives. Is there any relationship between your discipline and conservatism?

Ciro Paoletti (CP): I know many military historians who belong to the Left. Many of them may have chosen the Left to be successful in terms of their career. Others are believers. I have in mind a historian, who, when asked why he was a Leftist, candidly answered: “Because this allows me to say whatever I want, feel protected, and suffer no persecution.” However, whenever a historian melts politics into his work, the result is bad quality of work. If you want history to support your political ideas, you have to be a liar. If we don’t rely on facts, if we don’t reconstruct facts properly, and if we don’t present facts as they occurred, we do bad work, and the result is therefore quite bad.

ZJ: From what you said, I gather you consider history, not just military history, to be conservative by definition. Am I right?

CP: Military history and conservatism are not necessarily linked. It depends on the time one lives in, and on the political background. As things are, in this historical period, if one in the so-called West relies on facts, he is a conservative; it is a matter of logic. When you know how things happened in the past, and apply their schemes to the current affairs, you may easily realize how close Political Correctness (PC) is to the worst 20th-century dictatorships.

In Italy we had Fascism, as you know. Fascism altered a lot of things, provided its own historical versions and interpretations, but it did not alter – never – the content of books written in the past because they were not in conformity with Fascism. Communism under Stalin modified paintings, exterminated people when they became “enemy of the people.” The Soviets banned and eliminated books from libraries, the Nazi did the same and burnt books, but did they alter their content? No.

ZJ: Is there a connection between the former totalitarian approach to history and the new PC (politically correct) ideology?

CP: PC makes changes to the original version; It does it in some books, it does it in theater. Thus, how can an honest historian join the politically correct, if it’s based on the falsification of sources?

ZJ: Italians are the most historical nation in European history. As my older friend told me, everybody must study art history, except the Italians. They live in a “museum.” Does this “historical” experience translate into greater attachment to history? Here I want to make a distinction between being culturally conservative and politically conservative.

In the US, where I live, when I say that I am conservative, people almost instinctively think I always vote Republican. To me, to be conservative means to be conservative in the cultural realm, which, in my mind, is the only realm that truly matters. Political allegiances come and go, culture lasts. When you start changing the past, you wage war on the whole cultural heritage, going all the way back to our historical beginnings. The former totalitarians may have done it as a matter of expediency; today’s totalitarians condemn history as such, and find little in it to learn from. What is your take on this?

CP: Italians are instinctively traditionalist, and highly nationalistic. They don’t like sudden changes – but there has been a generational dramatic change since 2000. Historical heritage provides an instinctive common background, comprised of Rome, the Renaissance and Garibaldi. But there it stops.

Translated into politics, this means that the majority – with the exception of the young people – is surely conservative, for almost every-time a general election has been called, the higher the number of voters, the better the result for conservatism. But, as things have gone in the last twenty-five years, almost every time the Right won, the ballot result was turned upside down by political crises and rule went to so called “technical governments” which more or less pended to the Left. And these crises, which were called by the Right “palace plots,” allowed the Left to take power again.

Paradoxically, as things are today, the Progressive Left – composed of former Communists – Is tasked to keep things as they are, to keep the power as much as possible, no matter what the compromise and the related cost for Italians, whilst Conservatives are the real progressive forces. Unfortunately, as things went in early 1995, in 2011, and 2019, the majority of Italians think voting is useless, because, no matter how you vote and what the result, later “they do what they want.”

Young people today are the product of diffused technologies and related apps. The vast majority do not read; hence they do not think, and they vote according to how familiar this or that sounds. Thus, political propaganda is basically advertising: the easier the slogan, the easier to get the vote, even if there is an instinctive resistance to “inclusion” and what it implies. People can also rely on national heritage to justify the reaction to “inclusiveness;” but this reaction is not a consequence of the national heritage, which exists by itself.

ZJ: In the 1970s, we used to say – after Hayek – that there is a distinction between European and American Liberalism, because one could not apply the term Conservatism in the European sense to American reality: no monarchy. Accordingly, the European liberal was conservative in the American sense, and the European socialist corresponded to the American liberal, or, supporter of state intervention, state social programs. If you remember, Hayek even wrote a chapter, in his important Constitution of Liberty, “Why I am not Conservative” – and this, despite the fact that many conservatives claimed Hayek to be in their camp. Do you think that this lack of parallel between the terms – conservative, liberal, socialist – in America is still valid? If I may suggest, my impression is that because Liberalism – or what used to be called classical Liberalism – simply disappeared and became PC. As far as the economy is concerned, both conservatives and “liberals” or democrats are for big state, something inconceivable to liberals and conservatives of old.

CP: You are right, but it depends on a tricky misunderstanding that occurred many decades ago in America. The Leftists never attempted to call themselves Socialists, and sneaked in as “progressive Liberals.” But a look at American affairs allows you to realize that the Democratic Party has never supported state interventionism till F.D. Roosevelt – who copied it from Mussolini, who was and remained a socialist all his life – and, also after Roosevelt, the Democrats were never as progressive as they claim to have been. The conservative South traditionally voted for Democrats “because Lincoln was a Republican.” Thus, due to such a core of voters, how could the Democratic Party not be conservative?

Additional example: in Italy we had the Liberal Party. In 1848 it was at the extreme Left and Republican. In 1876 it got into power and was loyal to the king. In 1948, it sat at the right and was considered a conservative party for the next 50 years. The problem is that the name on the box often does not, or does no longer, correspond to what’s inside the box. In 18th-century Britain, being a Liberal simply meant to be a supporter of free commerce, thus to be a capitalist, no matter the cost for low-income and non-mercantile classes.

As things are now, so-called Liberalism claims to be different, but actually it is still what it always was, and again no matter the cost for low-income and non-entrepreneurial classes. All those other narratives about care, inclusion, the environment, peace and love, and so on, are only a nice package to let the worst and most greedy capitalism be accepted by the people.

The same goes for conservatives: conservatives are the real revolutionaries today, because conservatives want people to use their own brain, feeding it with education and culture, in order to think, and then to act according to their own decisions. Unfortunately, thinking means realizing how dangerous debt can be, and how useful saving is. Thus, thinking is not welcome by the current Liberals, because it may affect the market in an unpredictable way. What the market likes are standard-minded people, a society whose consumers are predictable – and thus planned – in order to minimize losses due to stocking costs and unsold items, and to maximize profits.

ZJ: In our private conversations, you often refer to America as Calvinist, meaning in broad historical terms, Protestant, as opposed to Catholic, meaning different attitudes towards private and social realms. Those attitudes today do not express themselves as theological differences, nor a religious vision on how to organize earthy existence, or work-ethics, as Max Weber would have it, but as social attitudes broadly speaking. One of the characteristic features of life in early Protestantism was insistence on certain socially acceptable behavior.

There were no libertines in Protestant countries, who would mock religion. Sin is evil and thus we must eradicate it. Today religion does not have much of a grip on our lives, but PC in America does. Since punishment cannot be postponed till after death, we use the power of the state – rules, regulations, ostracism to thwart social sins. The last three decades in the US saw unprecedented growth of regulations affecting human behavior, and confessions for saying something considered socially “unacceptable.” Our reality looks like Calvin’s Geneva, with sinners prostrating themselves before the public, expiating their sins. Do you see a connection between PC, which has assumed totalitarian posture, and what you see as American Calvinism?

CP: First of all when I say “Calvinist,” I mean exactly Calvinist, not Protestant in general, because Calvinists consider salvation as a gift; and, in order to feel safe, they think they can realize whether salvation has been conceded to them by looking at the success of their actions during their lifetime. The best measure of success is money: thus, the richer one becomes, the surest one is to go to Paradise.

Due to its Puritan heritage, the USA still relies on a Calvinistic background, and this is part of the explanation. Then I’d say that the current mind depends in part on the Deism of the 17th- and 18th-centurries. That is to say: be loyal, pay your debts, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t be a liar, and be friendly to other human beings – and this depends on whom one perceives as human beings, because many deists, including Voltaire, got good returns on the money they happily invested in the slave trade – and this in part depends on a Calvinistic vision of sin and money. I have already mentioned money.

About sin, the problem was that no official absolution could exist, for it was Popish. In early America a person was judged by the community, and, when found guilty, punished. That’s why it is so important on one hand to strip some behaviors of their quality as sins – those related to sex – and on the other hand to still identify some “sinners” to go after. If a behavior is no longer a sin, that behavior is by definition correct and you are no longer a sinner.

Thus, a person who is rejected (but who is otherwise a good member of the community) is one who criticizes your behavior; for this criticism makes that person “ipso facto” wrong; thus, he is a sinner. On the other hand, if you have sinner to go after, it means your society still has a “moral code.” Thus, if it has a moral code, it is still a “good” society; and, when supporting such a code, you are “on the right side” (that is, of the community); and you act well when going after the “sinners” opposing such a code, because they are out of the community, and thus a threat.

Legal means may seem soft, but are becoming far less soft. As far as I know, if German parents prevent their child from learning what is taught about gender at school, they are fined and can be also jailed. But this is only in theory a punishment of the sinner. In fact, it’s just the same system the KGB used in case one missed the Komsomol meeting and, by the way, is just the same system used also by the Church in the Middle Age when one refused the globally accepted behavior.

The problem is that these fake liberties are in fact the surface of a dictatorship which, thanks to Facebook, Watsapp and similar things, is more and more controlling and conditioning every aspect of our life, to plan it as capitalism wants, and not as we want. And capitalism has no interest in punishing our soul after our death, because, first as things are, you can’t trade souls, for now. Second, your death would simply mean one consumer less, thus depriving the market of a client – excluding funeral houses, of course. No, capitalism wants us to behave all in the same predictable and planned way, and that’s it.

ZJ: To move on to a different but related topic: The Protestant Reformation. It is a great modern event, whose consequences we are feeling even now. The second greatest event was the French Revolution of 1789. It proclaimed equality of all. It was the end of the world as we knew it. Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is a great document of the old frame of mind, which saw the end of a long epoch. It abolished not just the monarchy as a political system but delegitimized the idea of social hierarchy.

For about 150–200 years the world went on without noticing how destructive this is. it is one thing to say, everybody should share political power to a small extent, have the right to vote and influence politics, it is quite another to assert equality in the way it manifests itself today as “discrimination.”

CP: America and Americans are a consequence of their revolution, not of the French one. The latter abolished slavery; the former kept it. Both stated a deistic application of the Christian principle of equality. But in both cases the principle of hierarchy was preserved. I do not see the root of the idea of “discrimination” in the French Revolution. America kept discrimination alive. It did not change significantly till Martin Luther King, who was killed in 1968.

ZJ: Since you referred to slavery, would you agree that there is a difference of attitude in Catholic and Protestant colonialism for this every reason. The Spaniards and Portuguese were Catholics; the Dutch and British were Protestant. The Catholic Spaniards and Portuguese went to the new world without women; the Protestants fled the British Isles taking populations of villages – men and women. They were self-sufficient; they wanted to recreate their life in a New World on old principles minus the British hierarchy. The local population was a nuisance.

CP: The Spaniards started their colonization, wherever it was, as a military operation, thus no woman could go with them. The Portuguese started their colonization establishing trading posts to support their commercial expeditions, thus in this case too there was no room for women, at least at the beginning. The Dutch and the British were looking for free spaces to migrate. They emigrated with families. On the other hand, the French started their North-American colonization smoothly, as a commercial penetration, thus they allied with the Hurons, and converted them to Catholicism. As a result, there was no destruction of the local population in Canada, whilst it occurred in the 13 British colonies (as happened in a similar way in South America ruled by Spaniards and by the Portuguese).

America

ZJ: Let me move to 20th-century. Here is something that an American military historian, an expert on the Greek historian Thucydides, Donald Kagan, said in an interview for American Heritage: “In my view America represents something relatively new in history of international relations. We are the greatest military power in the world today and we remain the greatest economic power. There haven’t been very many times in the past when there has been a single power with so much relative strength. And we are still almost universally perceived to be what Bismarck called a satisfied power, happy with what we have, self-sufficient, not aiming to seize anything essential to others. We don’t represent the kind of menace that powers approaching our relative strength have in the past. I think there is a new set of rules for us: If America tries to exert leadership in the world, it can do so in many ways that are historically new.”

Kagan said this in 1997. It is hard to believe how much changed: September 11th and all that it entailed, financial crisis in 2008, and, above all, the rise of China, which in 1997 one could not mention as a threat to American hegemony. What, if anything, from what Kagan said still holds true about the position of the US.

CP: Kagan at that time probably presented the shared great American pride after the fall of the Soviet System, when everybody thought America to be unchallengeable. It lasted till September 11th, only a few years later. That America was “not aiming to seize anything essential to others” is something many countries could easily argue about, but my answer to your question is – not that much still holds true.

Rules to hold power are always the same, no matter the historical period and the geographical location. In case you may dispute it, it is about how much velvet to use for the glove dressing your steel hand, but that’s it. Americans still rely on Theodore Roosevelt’s statement: “Speak kindly, and bring a big stick.” The typical American likes very much the self-perception of America as the land of liberty – which in Academia no longer exists and is severely scrutinized by the progressive press and television – and of Americans as welcome everywhere because they bring democracy.

Well, in 1944 and 1945 they were perceived this way, but now? What do they bring? Political correctness? The Americans are not aiming to seize anything essential to others because they are at the top. “If America tries to exert leadership in the world, it can do so in many ways that are historically new?” Oh, please, which new ways? There are no “new ways;” there is, perhaps, only a new way for dressing and describing the old ways. But the core is the same used since the days of the Egyptians to now, passing through thirty or forty or centuries of human civilization everywhere in the world.

ZJ: To bring support to your claim I can invoke two examples. When Hilary Clinton went to India, she uttered her famous slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights.” When Barak Obama visited Ethiopia and Kenya, he was talking about gay rights. My Ethiopian friend was outraged and said: “Ethiopians have serious problems to worry about: poverty, brutality of the government, non-existence of a free press, a corrupt ruling class, rule of law, and Obama is talking about gay rights!” One can, of course, score some points at home by saying such things, but it shows Kenyans and Ethiopians that America offers no support for the people in Ethiopia and Kenya in their fight against corruption to bring necessary reforms in their countries.

When President Carter came to Poland, in 1977, he talked about violation of human rights, his wife met with the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski. It gave us hope and created the impression that the US stands for universal values and supports opposition. In contrast to Carter, Clinton and Obama were the supporters of new ideologies.

Would you agree that the more the American mind is preoccupied with ideological thinking, the less effective it can be in shaping politics outside America, and this preoccupation weakens its own influence? What America exports now is ideology which, incidentally, is inimical to freedom. This attitude antagonizes many people in other countries. People in former communist countries in the 1970s and 1980s were looking up to America. Today, no one is looking up to America any more.

CP: I subscribe to everything you said. Americans have often a very poor perception of what happens outside America. if you look at the American press, you know all about the city, enough about the county, not that much about the state, or about the USA, and practically nothing about the world. Americans like to think that what works for them works for everybody and that everybody must be happy with it.

Unfortunately, it is not so. A politician, of course, thinks above all of re-election, and thus speaks in order to keep or enhance the number of voters. This is normal, but what Obama did, and what Hilary did, seems something, in a certain sense, different: they seem to have perceived themselves as the apostles of progressive evangelism, telling the people living in the darkness how to think, behave and act. They had no doubt about being enlightened, thus better. But this is what we are dealing with since the French came to Italy in 1796 – which, believe me, was not a good period; and they were hardly welcomed, given the popular armed resistance they had to face for a very longtime – and it is something we know well. Beware of it.

When you make a comparison between Politically Correct and Communism, you are not right; the real comparison is to Jacobinism, and, of course, since people are all but stupid, the result is just what you say: no one is looking up to America any more, except, in my country, the provincial-minded and not the cultured leftists, who think America to be the land of the best by definition. By the way, until 1994, these cultured leftists were all formally Communist.

ZJ: As you said, Obama and Hilary Clinton perceived themselves as the apostles of the progressive evangelism. This struck me, because I heard the same argument some 25 years ago from conservatively minded Poles: the liberal elites feel disdain for the uneducated, simple people. And, 25 years later, the same argument came to the fore in France, Britain and the US. Trump and Johnson came to power on the wave of popular dissatisfaction with the liberal elites who are suspicious of ordinary people. It is the same thing everywhere in the Western world. The liberal elites, like the Democratic Party in the US, claim to be on the side of “the people,” but any real contact with them terrifies them: dirty, primitive, uneducated and, therefore, stupid. Or, as Hillary Clinton called them – deplorables!

CP: Yes, deplorability. This is the term which tells you who we are dealing with. But this is also why I perceive Political Correctness as Jacobinism, and not as Communism. A Communist will hate you, but will rarely look at you from on high because you don’t share his opinions; and a Communist will never consider you as “nothing:” you are equal, but opposing, thus an enemy to be destroyed – which is easier, faster and safer than re-educating. But the Jacobins felt superior; they had all the arrogance of the authors of the Encyclopedia, the same arrogance Voltaire displayed. They claimed they were right because they were enlightened. Being enlightened – of course, according to their standards, agreeing with those standards – meant ipso facto to be superior. If you think of it, you realize also that Communism was a result of the Jacobinism, not much different from it.

I would add that the worst form of arrogance is the intellectual one. This is an infringement of the first rule of democracy: parity. No matter what the Politically Correct people claim to be, they perceive as unequal everyone who is not like them. Thus they in fact deny fundamental parity to those who are not like-minded. This is undemocratic.

America, China, Russia

ZJ: I would like to ask you about China, but before that I want to ask you about ancient historians, whom, I know you studied, as most military historians do. Whom among the Greeks and Romans did you read? And, how important are they for military history?

CP: They are very important for history in general, and they are the first Europeans who wrote what they knew, and thus our cultural identity is widely indebted to them. What did I read? Thucydides, Herodotus, Polybius and Epaminondas, Caesar, Livy, Tacitus, Sallust, and Suetonius, the last ones both in Latin and in translation. How important are they for history is well-known. In military history, well, just think that the military academies normally include the Greek and the Roman wars in their teaching, because neither strategy nor tactics has changed.

ZJ: The reason I invoked the ancient historians is that the Chinese Communists are interested in them. Xi Jing Ping read Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. Books by European classicists, for example by the Jacqueline de Romilly who wrote about Thucydides, were translated into Chinese. Recently two books on Thucydides were published here in the US – Thucydides’s Trap?: Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relationship by Steve Chan, or Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison. One can observe a renaissance of ancient authors, Thucydides and Polybius, in particular, in small circles of specialists and political decision makers.

Wouldn’t you say that there is no better recommendation than the fact that non-Western communists read Western classics?

CP: I agree with you, but I’d add something. They, too, wrote incredibly valuable books. So, if they are reading ours, it’s because the first rule of a commander is – know what, and how your potential – or not – enemy thinks. This is what the Chinese are doing; and this is what we are not doing, because I don’t think our decision-makers have read, for instance, Sun Tzu. And it is dangerous.

Then you ask why the Greeks, the Romans? Well, it would be best to ask the Chinese. I can only wonder why. Maybe because our mentality is still that of ancient times, and because Greece and Rome are the roots of our culture. But honestly, I’m not a Chinese political leader; thus, I don’t know. Also, I do not know how much Classical education in the West is dead, because I do not have an idea of how it is in other countries but mine. I know that in my country we still have to study Latin and ancient Greek during the five years of high school – in the classical lyceum – or only Latin, and also five years in the scientific lyceum. Of course, a lot of families don’t like Latin and Greek, and thus look for not so “useless” subjects for their children. Nonetheless, many others still study them; and this is something. As for the last question, it is highly possible that by not reading – not reading in general I mean – the new generation of Westerners is bound to lose to the Asians who are learning from our heritage. Unless we forbid the use Facebook, WhatsApp, and related chats, I don’t know what we could do.

ZJ: Should we – and by WE I have in mind many different “WEs” or us – be afraid of the rise of China for the same reason? In the case of the West, the rise of China as a world power is threatening because we fear that the Chinese mentality, world-view is incompatible with ours, particularly the idea of the relationship between the individual and the collective. We fear that if China becomes a world-power, collectivism will have to override Western individualism. Asian countries, on the other hand, whose cultures are closer to that of China, see the threat more in economic and military terms. African countries, where China’s presence is ubiquitous, see China as a force exploiting their countries’ natural resources. China allies itself with corrupt local authorities. Is there a common denominator in everyone’s fear; or, is the situation in each of the three cases different?

CP: The answer is yes to the first two questions. The problem is that I hardly see a way to react or to avoid it.

Let’s take the case of Poland, at least the case of Poland of ten years ago. I went to Wroclaw that year, because I was going to be appointed to the scientific board of a journal published by the University of Lower Silesia, and I complimented my friend who invited me on how Poland had improved in less than ten years. I remember quite well that during the meeting of the board, when discussing the distribution of the journal, my friend said that 10 euros (yearly subscription) was too much for students. I was surprised, but made no comment. The next day, I asked him: “If a student can’t pay 10 euros per year, how can families purchase what I see in stores?” The answer – you know it but I did not know it at that time – was: “Whatever you see on sale is very inexpensive in Western terms, and it all comes from China. It’s all made in China: pencils, pens, paper, cloths, shoes, all. Otherwise we could not otherwise purchase it.” So, the terms for Poland were: better to buy Chinese goods and get what you need, even if it is not of the best quality, than not have at all.

That’ s the core of the problem: China grew because it was – and it still is – competitive in terms of prices, because of her lower standard of li ving, and because now China is competitive also in terms of quality. As things stand, you can’t stop it, unless we introduce strong protectionism. But what will happen if, for example, China causes a collapse of US bonds? What then? America would crash in a month, or less than a month, or would go to war.

So, you can’t stop it, unless you have no state debt, a lot of raw materials making you potentially self-sufficient; or, you don’t care about your citizens’ standard of living; or, if you don’t care how your citizens react in case their standard of livinggoes plummets. And there is only one country in the world, today, in such a situation: Russia, and it stands together with China – thanks to the US.

ZJ: Is there a way to avoid it?

CP: There is no way. Rather, the question is how to survive. Only in a Japanese way: keep the standard of living relatively low, keep manpower cost relatively low, increase technological innovation in order to render national production more competitive, and reduce national debt.

In all four cases, this is very hard, if not impossible, to do in the West; and in Japan it works only due to their longstanding tradition of low standard of living, hard and prolonged daily work, and, above all, a national debt which, by law, can be held only by Japanese nationals. But we can’t do it, unless a major social U-turn happens, which nobody is ready for. Think of the French under Macron in the last 28 months.

The problem is that the Chinese have a centralized decision-making process, and we have not. In military terms, they have already won, because a centralized command is always far more effective than a non-coordinated one; and in the West, we are not-coordinated.

Hopes? None, or a very small one: the increasing social gap between inner China and coastal China. To be even clearer – coastal China enjoys far better standards of living than inner China. Coastal China is in relatively good condition as far as I know, as good as Poland could be in 1980. Inner China is far below, as far below as the Soviet deep countryside could be in the 1960s, or more. Now, the Chinese government knows this and must somehow fill the gap. A way to fill the gap is to open the inner market, increasing wages in some areas. This will heavily push production – thus incomes should increase.

So there is a slight, very slight possibility that, on one hand, this may push prices as high as needed to render Chinese goods less competitive on world markets; on the other hand, there is a slight possibility that once richer, the Chinese may be a bit less disciplined than they are now, and thus they could somehow start not to obey as blindly as they do now. But I don’t believe either the former or the latter scenarios. Moreover, in Germany and Italy, we have seen how effective the dictatorial control can be, even when improving standards of living; and back then, there was no internet, and no mobile networks. Think of mobile networks and the internet controlled by Hitler and the Gestapo!

We can only hope to be left alone, because, as things are, there is no way to stop them. Besides, with this stupid Political Correctness, I don’t think there is the smallest room to challenge China. America is fighting rearguard action: it’s trying to keep the advantage it still has in terms of technology. But for how long?

ZJ: Given what you’ve said, I have two related questions. Let me begin with the following. Liberal states with their hostility toward power are ill-equipped to fight or oppose the dominance of non-liberal regimes, like China. Any attempt to endow the State with more power is seen as “fascist.” The moment Covid-19 broke out, liberal journalists claimed that the extraordinary measures which some governments took, in Poland, for example, is a smokescreen to amass more power. In the US we heard the same rhetoric. Now, weeks later, when people want to leave homes, go back to work, restart economy, and, like in the US, start rebelling against stay-at-home orders, the same liberal media outlets which complained about the government amassing power want the State to go after those who want to relax the regulations.

This leads me to believe that the liberal idea of a weak state is untenable precisely because when a danger looms, the state must have considerable power to provide order, and it is never because of extraordinary circumstances. Such circumstances, whether they manifest themselves on a daily basis or not, they exist by the very nature of political existence. For example, we don’t fight wars on daily basis, but we maintain the military in case we go to war, and it would be impossible to organize the military overnight if a country were to be invaded. It makes me think that the liberal state can work only when there is no danger (be it Covid-19, or threat to national security), which is a rare or impossible scenario.

CP: The so-called liberals wants a weak state because a weak state cannot fight an organized massive opposition. A state can oppose better than a single person; thus, a state must be weakened; and liberals, as you say, accuse the states, which try to keep some of their natural powers, as being freedom-threatening and fascist. But this in their minds has nothing to do with state-power as such. According to them, the state should be a sort of waiter, providing all the needed commodities, while allowing them to do what they want, when they want, and the way they want. The State, according to them, should be a gadget to be used as they like. So, there is no paradox: they are quite coherent. It’s the idea of the state which is different. Their idea is not ours.

ZJ: What you said in your previous answer sounds like the West’s doomsday or even its death certificate. The 20th-century is often referred to as the “American century.” That century started with a very optimistic statement by President Wilson, known as a “doctrine:” “To make the world free for democracy.” Fascism and Nazism failed. Soviet totalitarianism disintegrated. But now America and the West are being slowly replaced by a very non-democratic China. Do you see in Wilson’s doctrine something naïve; an expression of typical American optimism; or, the unfolding of the Enlightenment idea that Reason, democratic egalitarianism, will win over tribal passions and national interests?

Second, do you think that Americans will learn a permanent lesson after what one can call a defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan; or, for as long as America cherishes its Enlightenment principles, it will commit the same mistake again? Last but not least, would you say that under Trump, America already changed in this respect, not because Trump has any doctrine, but simply because he is a pragmatic businessman who sees the world in terms of dollars, not ideas and ideals, and looks at politics as a tool, not as a science of moral principles.

CP: Wilson was an academic who had no actual experience in foreign affairs, and in politics other than in the USA. His principles were fine on paper, but think of how easy would it be to apply them in Danzig and neighboring area. And in Silesia? And what about Czechoslovakia, where Czechs were only half of the population? Had his been applied, as he stated them, in Poland, you would have the cities kept by Germany and in the neighboring country; in Dalmatia the cities, and only the cities, had to belong to Italy; the countryside would belong to Yugoslavia – it was a mosaic of people changing into a nightmare. It was impossible, because the countryside wanted also the city they relied on; and the city wanted to rule the countryside it relied on.

As for Afghanistan and Iraq, let’s start with the latter. A couple of American friends of mine, deeply liberal, voting Democrats, fully objected to the Iraq war. As she always said: “It’s only for the oil.” Then, from a military point of view, it started badly, because the US Expeditionary force was less than two thirds than what should have been. Thus, it was clear to everybody with a bit of military experience (including me) that from the very beginning they were going to face a lot of troubles once the offensive was achieved. Afghanistan was an additional disaster. Why? After September 11th the US needed to show that they were reacting, the faster the better. They needed a target. They knew where Osama bin Laden was and they attacked. Now, as military history teaches, nobody can seize and keep Afghanistan, nobody. That’s why the Czars never tried. The British left it unoccupied after having suffered many severe total military disasters every time they entered Afghanistan. Ok? And Moscow entered in 1979. You know how that ended.

Will they make the same mistake again? My answer is, Yes. But it does not depend on their military; it will depend on their politicians; and it has nothing or very little to do with the Enlightenment mentality, because in both cases the fight for democracy was only the badge and did not correspond that much to what was in the box.

ZJ: Ever since the collapse of Communism, Russia feels uneasy about what to do and where to go. Whatever Sovietism was, it gave them a sense of being a great power; and, of course, the victory over Nazi Germany strengthened the feeling of being a liberating force. (It did not matter that it was one totalitarian power fighting another totalitarian power). All that went hand in hand with the old idea of Imperial Russia. Then, 1991 came as a psychological blow; the colossus collapsed, but the huge territory remained. As you know, in Putin’s mind, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the 20th-century’s greatest disaster. Today, Russia’s economy is the size of that of Italy.

It leads me to think of a paradox. I gather Italy does not have imperial ambitions; it is not flying military planes, armed with nuclear weapons over Europe, and so on. But Russia does. Does Russia, Russians, or Putin live in an illusory reality? Is their perception of the world, first, based on the divorce between their real power and the illusion of power they have? Or, is historical reality so strong that it makes it almost impossible for the present generation of Russians to reconcile themselves that the world has changed. After all, Britain ruled one third of the world. It lost its Empire, but accommodated well to the new reality.

CP: Russia is a nuclear power; we Italians lost World War II. Thus, we were prevented by a treaty, and we had to renounce military ambitions. But we belong to NATO; and this dictates our behavior. Britain did not exactly accommodate to the new status. Britain was heavily forced by the USA to progressively renounce her world power status – the Suez intervention in 1956 and the Bermuda Treaty about nuclear weapons were the two major steps in Britain’s decline, both enforced by the USA. But Russia is too big to be forced, and has too many assets to be used, in order to survive.

Russia won last World War II, and thus got and still holds a permanent seat with the right of veto in the UN security council, which we Italians have not got. Russia has plenty of raw materials – which we have not, as Britain too practically never had – from uranium to natural gas, including crude oil, gold, iron and so on. Russia is overextended in two continents, bordering with China. And, not the smallest issue, Russian is still a communication language in many countries, as I saw in Prague when, in 1997, I realized a Czech captain was speaking to a Chinese colonel in Russian, and as I still realize when in the Baltic States, in Eastern Europe, or in Israel.

Whilst Britain, once she lost her colonies, remained a peripheral, relatively small island off the European Atlantic coast, Russia must exist as a world power, simply because it shares the border with China. Russia has no alternative. It must remain a world power or disappear; and this is, I think, what Putin has in mind; because I do not think anybody will prefer to let his own country disappear.

ZJ: I would agree with your last point. But on the additional supposition, that Russia’s interests are or could be co-extensive with our interests, I am not sure. However, as things stand today, Russia appears to prefer, or pretends to, a close alliance with China over America, probably to oppose America’s influence for the 1991 humiliation. But given the size of Russia’s economy, her alliance with China makes her look more like “a gas station” for China, whose primary purpose is to secure resources for itself.

You can say, and the argument seems valid, that part of the blame is the attitude of the Democrats in the US. It is mindboggling to see the Democrats running around and screaming at Trump because he wants to have a relationship with Russia. Even Steven Cohen, an American scholar of Russian history, is stunned by the Democrats’ attitude. The Democrats sound as if it was in America’s interest to continue the Cold War. None of this seems to get Russia onside the West’s cultural and political influence to oppose China.

CP: When the USSR collapsed, Russia found itself weak, and isolated. On the other hand, USA did their own best to help all the former Soviet nationalities to get their independence. Hence the USA was perceived still as an enemy destroying Russia; for in Moscow’s mind, Russia and the USSR were basically one and the same. When that process ended, Russia found itself weaker than in the past, hugely indebted, and still alone, sharing an incredibly long and impossible to defend border with an increasingly powerful China. What to do?

After what just happened, Russia could not rely on the USA, and had to find a solution. China in that moment was not a threat and, according to the old rule, “if you can’t fight them, join them,” Moscow signed the Shanghai Pact. The consequence – both partners felt their back was safe. An important Chinese general in 2007 in South Africa clearly and officially said, in an international conference I attended, that China appreciates nothing better than harmony, and harmony leads to happiness; and the Shanghai Pact was aimed to keep harmony, thus rendering everybody happy. As I later wrote in the Italian Navy Journal, this basically meant: “We want to run our own business according to our own mind. So, please, don’t intrude, or you will be against harmony, and the Pact will be turned against you.”

I do not know when, and if, Russia will be compelled in the future to choose whether to break harmony and survive, or submit to Chinese hegemony and become a satellite. But it is certain that, as things are, if the USA does not take a different approach, the relationship between Washington and Moscow will hardly change. I remember well the terror that existed in Eastern Europe in many countries, before the last US presidential election – because everybody considered the election of Hilary Clinton as the trigger for a war on Russia, with their countries in the middle. Nobody forgot that the USA entered both the World Wars led by a Democratic president, who had been re-elected promising to keep peace. It is something some Democrat should keep in mind.

ZJ: Are you saying that European alliance with the US is not necessarily in the interest of Europe and that Russia’s flying her planes over Europe is a benign exercise.

CP: Please don’t rely on the American vision: America, seen from here, did her own best to destroy Russia, and went further than strategically needed. Yugoslavia had to be dissolved, for it could no longer hold as it was. But there was no need to attack it, as was done in the 1990s, thus creating that ghost named Kossovo, and the other ghost called Bosnia, after a bloody civil war, and compelling NATO to keep its forces there for 30 years. But if it was done, it was only to deprive the Russian fleet of a possible port on the Mediterranean. That was the only reason for that war: democracy and self-determination were empty words. Now, try to see who the Serbs perceive as being closer to them – Washington or Moscow. And the answer is, Moscow, and right in the center of the Balkans! Wonderful result!

What do you think that many Poles thought? Do you think that they were supportive of the American initiative in Kiev? Not at all. Poles know quite well that in case of war, they will be alone in facing Russia, because, as the press reports, the Germans have exactly 16 effective aircrafts – 16, no kidding – and far less tanks then the Polish Army has; and in Warsaw nobody seriously thinks the USA is ready “to die for Danzig.” And what did the Americans do? The Orange surge in Kiev; and why? To establish in Kiev a government whose first declared task was not to renew the lease of Sebastopol to the Russian fleet! Could whatever person with a working brain think Putin would just happily accept the loss of such an asset? Could Putin agree to such a change? What do you think the USA would do in case a party in Italy would run saying, Let’s kick out the 6th US fleet from Naples and the Mediterranean?

I have heard with my ears Poles terrified by the perspective of an Orange success in Kiev, for that meant war on Russia, and many others in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the three Baltic States were frightened by the possible victory of Hilary Clinton – for that, in their mind, meant WAR, with Poland alone in the first line. Putin is no choir-boy. But the Americans, my goodness, they did their own best to push him in the corner where he is now, to push him to find an agreement with China, and now they complain!

We are losing tens or hundreds of billions of euros to be loyal to the NATO-imposed – thus American imposed – commercial embargo on Russia: does the USA care? Not at all. We, not USA, gets damaged. Obama left Iraq to be devastated because it was a former Russian ally; and then he did the same with Assad; and when Syria – which is flooding us, not America, with her refugees – after years of not ending war – asked for help, and Putin said, Yes, for he could not decently refuse to support a longstanding ally, what did Washington do? It said “Oh-oh, this is unfair.” But when Syrian people were massacred by the war, was that fair? And why did it happen? In the past 30 years, it seems that there was not a single day when Washington did not try to destabilize Russia once and for all – and this is the result.

Russia would like to come to an agreement, but America prevents it. I know that one can’t trust the Russians, but, for Heavens’ sake, when did we, the West, offer them one – I say just one – opportunity to show how reliable or unreliable they can be? Never! That’s a very bad and shortsighted policy. Only the Americans can think that it is only a matter of Russian goodwill. It is a matter of nonexistence of American goodwill. That’s it!

You say, Russian planes fly over Europe, and close the US coasts? And what does the USAF do? It patrols along the Russian border, just above the line of the Russian border? Who started first, guess… the Americans. Putin is reacting, due to many reasons, to show his Chinese allies that “he can,” that he is not the weak member of their dual alliance, to let the USA realize that he will not surrender, and that “he can stand up,” and provide evidence to his people that they are still under threat. Thus, the current situation – bad or good – has to be kept due to the external threat. And the problem is that, as things have been and still seems to be, he is right, because the external threat does exist – from America.

America wants – Russia destroyed, the European Union weak and disbanded, and China falling. As American policy is going, they may have the EU going down, but no success with the others. Thus, if they do not offer Putin a good compromise, a good loyal offer, they won’t achieve whatever result they want. And whilst Trump could, the Dems won’t; and you will see the result.

ZJ: Henry Kissinger’s view was that America in the late 1960s and 1970s was a declining power, and the best thing America could do was to contain the Soviet Union by agreeing to the division of the sphere of influence between the US and Soviet Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser under Carter, devised a different policy: using human rights as a weapon to build opposition in the Soviet empire and hold the communist governments accountable for their violations, and indirectly and slowly weaken communist grip on society.

After the collapse of communism, the sphere of America’s influence spread; but it spread exactly at the time when America entered the phase of its moral decline: its economic model – living on credit which was in perfect agreement with the hedonistic values of the society – led to unprecedented debt, which, as you remarked, makes it even less possible we can build a sensible opposition to China.

So, we moved from the world being split between America and the West and the Soviet Union, to the West and America being ripped apart by unprecedented debt and lack of ideological cohesion which makes it impossible to build an opposition to China. Does America have an attractive message to its allies and other countries, who are afraid of China as well, that could unite them today?

CP: No. It once had one; but now no longer does. Political correctness is not a message; and its rules seem to push people far away from America instead of becoming close to America.

ZJ: Hence my last question. Does China have an attractive message? Before you answer my question, let me read to you something that Xi Jing Ping said in 2014: “The Soviet Union collapsed because nobody was man enough to stand up and resist [its downfall]… Constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarism, a multiparty system and the presidential system – we considered them, tried them, but none worked.” You can contrast it with Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others.” Was Churchill too optimistic, as was Pericles in his funeral oration during the Peloponnesian war? Are Xi Jing Ping’s words the next superpower’s message to the world?

CP: A mistake usually made in the West and above all in America, is that of thinking of the others as compact. Europe is not compact – think of the differences among the different European peoples – and China too is not, and it is big, enormous, and, till now, the most populated country of the world. Can you imagine what if all the ethnic groups would start acting with the same freedom we have in the West? Divisions, quarrels, differences, and who would settle them? They would soon be back to the War Lords time, or something like it; and that was a very sad time. We cannot, and we must not think that what works for us, here and now, may suit the others in the same time, and in another part of the world, because this is just the mistake Political Correctness does: it’s right, it works here, hence it must be exported everywhere. That’s wrong.

Some years ago I met an American based in London, who had a deep knowledge of the Far East and he had to agree with me when I told him that we can’t export democracy; we can’t enforce other people to accept democracy, because if they want not to have it, there is nothing to do, and we can’t go to war to impose democracy. This is America’s biggest fault – to believe that the American way of life can work everywhere, and thus must be exported and, in some cases, enforced. As long as it was a sort of shared idea, it could be neglected. But for the last 25 years, it is no longer so. It was officially stated by Warren Christopher in an article published in 1995 in Foreign Policy. Christopher wrote that the post-USSR-collapse situation presented the USA with an exceptional opportunity to shape the world according to their standards. His idea was based on four points; and the fourth was the support for democracy and human rights, according to American interests and ideals. Soon thereafter, senator Robert Dole also published an article – “Shaping America’s Global Future.” He said basically the same things Christopher said. Thus one could conclude that, no matter the party ruling the country, that policy had to be the future American policy.

So, back to China, why should the Chinese accept to share American standards, if those standards can’t be safely applied to their country? Primum edere, deinde philosophari – Food first, then philosophy. After that, many other things can follow.

ZJ: Dr. Paoletti, thank you for your time.

The image shows “Fury of Achilles,” by Charles-Antoine Coypel, painted in 1737.

The Death of Liberalism? An Interview With Nicholas Capaldi

This month we are so very pleased and honored to present this interview with the renowned philosopher, Nicholas Capaldi, who is the Legendre-Soule Distinguished professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, USA. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, who himself is a philosopher and author of several important books and is currently working on a collection of articles, entitled, Gods Will Have Blood: Rise of Totalitarianism in America.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): My image of Nicholas Capaldi is that of an American intellectual and academic, rather than a philosophy professor. The reason is, correct me if I am wrong, that in your books you always try to tackle a big intellectual problem, just like in your book on analytic philosophy, which you inscribed in the Enlightenment Project. It is not just narrow philosophical problems that you see, but you see them in a broad historical context. The same goes for your other books and the one you have just finished, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law. Is my description of you correct?

Nicholas Capaldi (NC): Yes! Thank you. Philosophical issues do not exist in a vacuum but within a larger context. It is always important to ask “why” an issue is an issue and for whom. The academic world, wrongly modeled along scientific grounds, forces people to know or think they know more about less and less. The result is a series of fashionable discussions akin to a carousel on which the riders and tunes change but there is no progress or direction.

ZJ: Your other book is a biography of John Stuart Mill, the father of the Liberal Idea. What made you write it?

NC: As an undergraduate seeking to find my own voice, I was inspired both by Mill’s defense of individual autonomy and by the critique of censorship. A career in academe has only reinforced the need to seek for the truth and to be free to articulate it, even more so as the academic world becomes increasingly politicized and intolerant.

ZJ: As the author of two books on Mill, you are well qualified to assess Liberalism as a doctrine. Liberalism travelled a long way from where it started in 1820, as a criticism of the establishment of the aristocratic Anglican order to what it became in Mill, and to where it is now, essentially a form of Politically Correct orthodoxy. One could probably find a number of other intermediate stages in the 20th century (welfare state, extension of suffrage, etc.) How do you explain its plasticity, the ability to adapt itself to the changing circumstances? In ten years, it will be roughly 200 years since the emergence of the Liberal Idea in Oxford in the 1820s, as Cardinal John Henry Newman explained it in his Apologia.

NC: I think it is a mistake to talk about Liberalism. It would be better to focus on the importance of individual freedom and how it emerged/developed historically within the European psyche, but most especially in the English world. Once you try to understand this as an isolated concept (philosophical, political, economic, etc.) you have created a contextless abstraction – and abstractions can be interpreted to mean anything. The best discussion I know is Oakeshott’s distinction between civil and enterprise association, wherein the former is a society without a collective end, but exists to allow individual members to pursue their own individual ends with a minimum of conflict.

The existence of people (anti-individuals) who are incapable or unwilling to live in such a world enables them to take an abstract concept and make it mean the opposite of its original meaning. I might add that intellectuals who are limited to using only Greco-Roman models have bought into an intellectual frame of reference that limits their ability to understand individual freedom. Such intellectuals want to be free to impose their own model on others – freedom of speech for them means freedom to impose their private vision on others.

ZJ: What, in your opinion, were the classical characteristics of Mill’s Liberalism and which are the ones which today’s Liberals promote?

NC: Mill sought to respect individual freedom; today, many so-called Liberals seek to “promote” individual freedom by collectivist means. Assuming they know what they are talking about, they are blind to the inherent contradiction of ‘forcing people to be free’ (Rousseau). It all goes back to what Voegelin called “Gnosticism.”

ZJ: Let me give you one example, from his On Representative Government. Mill was a great proponent of universal suffrage. Yet, he understood that it was not a God given right, like the American inalienable rights, but contingent upon certain factors – education, for example. “Universal teaching must precede universal enfranchisement.” In other words, basic education, which he considered to be the knowledge of basic mathematics, reading, geography, national and world history is the foundation on which suffrage rests. We, today, on the other hand, believe that it is a right, that democracy can function anywhere, and that regardless of our personal and intellectual qualities, democracy can function. Democracy in Mill’s writings appears to be a very fragile and complex mechanism. How would he see the democratic world today?

NC: Mill wrote the essay, On Liberty, in part, to call attention to the difference between the negative role of democracy in the eighteenth century (favored by the U.S. founders) and the “tyranny of the majority,” against which Tocqueville argued so eloquently. Mill also called attention to the difference between what the majority might think and what those who claim to speak for the majority (power elite) claim on behalf of the majority.

ZJ: We seem to be obsessed with the idea of wide participation of the masses. No exclusions; in fact, every exclusion is called discrimination. Mill, sympathetic as he was to the idea of extending the right to vote, was very clear that, first, criminals’ right to vote should be suspended, that people who live off others should not have a right to vote, and those who are unemployed for an extensive period of time (he thought of 3-5 years), should not have a right to vote either. Today, Mill would be accused of discrimination.

NC: Today, democracy has become a mask for oppression. So-called “identity politics” brings together all the of the anti-individuals (mentioned earlier – see Oakeshott) to undermine the achievements and prestige of autonomous individuals. Instead of transferring resources from the rich to the poor, we transfer power from individuals to the state (de Jouvenel). Political discourse has become Orwellian.

ZJ: Let me go back to his educational requirements – literacy, national history, global history and geography. This is what he thought was necessary in 1861 when he published his work! The world of 1861 and the world of 2020 are not the same, and by that, I mean the world is so much more complicated and complex that even the best educated among us cannot claim to be experts in political matters.

Let me draw a parallel, I am not sure how useful it is, between criticism of Socialism by Hayek and democracy’s ability to sustain itself. According to Hayek, one major reason why Socialist economics is not viable is because no one can have complete knowledge that goes into pricing, and therefore, only free market can provide us with correct price of goods. Planned economy can’t work. The idea that the masses somehow have enough knowledge to run the social and political realms seems to me Utopian in nature, in the same way that Socialism was.

NC: You are absolutely correct. Keep in mind that Hayek’s argument against planning is a restatement of his mentor Mill’s position that no one can be infallible (remember the context of 19th-century debate on infallibility). The U.S. was founded as a Republic (constitutional protection of individual liberties) as opposed to a DEMOCRACY (majority-tyranny).

ZJ: In the beginning of his On Liberty, Mill states: “The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times this contest was between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the government.”

This idea sounds very familiar to the readers of Marx and Engels, who at the opening of the Communist Manifesto formulated their vision of progressive history as well. In their view history is a class struggle, between oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressors are in Mill’s scheme the Party of Authority, and the oppressed are the Party of Liberty. Is it a coincidence that Mill – the Liberal – and Marx and Engels sound so alike? Or does the similarity stem from the popular understanding of History as Progressive, a popular conception in 19th-century.

NC: Great question. There were different conceptions of history in the 19th-century debate. For the mature Mill, history evolved but did not progress; as in the common law, we constantly seek to retrieve, explicate, and restate for new contexts the inherent norms of our inherited civilization. For Marx, Comte, etc. “history” was understood “scientifically” as a form of teleology or progress. The great attraction of the latter view is that it allows you to invent self-serving narratives.

ZJ: Do you think there are consequences of such an interpretation of history? In Marxism it was called “Historical Inevitability,” which in practice gave the communist apparatchiks a theoretical tool to eliminate the enemies: If History is progressive, if it unfolds itself in a certain direction, there is nothing wrong in eliminating the enemies of Progress. The idea had serious consequences in real life. Millions of people killed! The Stalinist trials, for example, are a good exemplification of it.

Let me quote a few sentences from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, a book about trials, in which Gletkin, the interrogator, explains what kind of historical thinking drives the communists and what justifies the elimination of the enemies: “My point is, one may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brother for emotions. This is the first commandment for us. Sympathy, conscience, and atonement are for us repellent debauchery… to sell oneself to one’s conscience is to abandon mankind. History is a priori amoral; it has no conscience.”

Thus, one can torture, kill. History provides justification. Are today’s Liberals heading in the same direction? Not necessarily by physically extermination, but by destroying everyone who disagrees with them? I am asking this question because their intolerance is growing; they attempt to shout down any critical voice; they become increasingly more violent; and the words, such as progress, progressive agenda, progressive policies, etc. are their only vocabulary.

NC: I fear that you are correct. All of this nonsense reflects the fact that the British and U.S. Revolutions were “conservative” in the sense I attributed to Mill above. The Russian and all subsequent Revolutions have been “radical,” that is, based on abstractions. Furthermore, the intellectual origin of all of this dangerous nonsense is what I have described as “the Enlightenment Project” – the belief that we could construct a social ‘science’ and thereby a social technology. You alluded to this in mentioning my other book. Like all bad ideas it originated in 18th-century France. If there is a social technology then dissent undermines utopia. Again, this appeal to infallibility is what Mill objected to in Comte.

ZJ: These dangerous tendencies in mass behavior are not new. They were noticed by philosophers, sociologists and psychologists. Let me begin with Mill who talks about tyranny of the majority in a democracy often in his On Liberty. How do you account for his favorable, even enthusiastic support for the rule of the majority, on the one hand, and his contempt for them (the collective mediocrity), as he refers to them?

NC: Mill saw political democracy as inevitable—curiously a product of industrialization. What he advocated was a cultural and political bulwark against its excesses.

ZJ: Was his contemporary, Nietzsche, a more perceptive critic of democracy and majority rule than Mill? Sometimes they sound the same, but Nietzsche took the masses for what they are – mediocrity, and saw what Mill refused to see – lack of aristocratic virtues. In fact, Mill hated aristocracy; wrote nasty things about it. Do you think it was a well-argued position, or was it a psychological suspicion of someone who did not belong to an aristocratic order, and who gave support with the power of his considerable intellect to the rule of mediocrity?

NC: lan Kahan has written a good book, Aristocratic Liberalism, in which he makes the case that Mill, Tocqueville, and Burckhardt were exemplars. I have argued that England (individual autonomy tradition) was different from the Continent (long history of collectivism). I see Nietzsche as responding to the more threatening Continental context.

Elsewhere, I (following many previous writers) have identified the extent to which intellectuals are attracted to holistic, collectivist, and Utopian thinking (e.g. Enlightenment Project, Hoffer’s men of words in his book True Believer). So, it is no surprise that the ‘Continental Disease’ has slowly infiltrated the Anglo-American world.

I also believe that the cultural dimension is more important than the purely intellectual one. In the U.S., many ordinary people understand and respond positively to Clint Eastwood’s Western films and to Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way.” This is behind Buckley remark that some of us would rather be governed by the first 300 people in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard.

ZJ: Ever since the beginning of the 20th-century, that is, the rise of psychology and sociology, we know not only how, but why masses behave the way they do. Freud devoted an interesting book, The Group Psychology, to the topic. In a nutshell, man loses his individuality and identity in a crowd. Following Le Bon, Freud claims, man goes back to his primitive instinct and nature, and acts like a member of a herd, again, an expression that Nietzsche uses frequently to describe what he calls slave-morality. Only individuals, not crowds, not masses, have a moral compass. How does it square, in your view, with the idea of a democratic, mass society? Is such a society bound to be immoral?

NC: This is the very issue that Oakeshott addresses in his essay, “The Masses in Representative Government.” His conclusion was that “….[the anti-individual or mass man] remains an unmistakably derivative character…helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality….The desire of the ‘masses’ to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge.”

ZJ: Let me turn to something that has been on my mind, and which made me put out a new edition of Mill’s writings, where I think one can trace the trajectory of his development; namely, the idea of authority, which is so inimical to Mill. He made it, as the quotation from his On Liberty which I used before reveals, the centerpiece of his philosophy. Authority is the enemy of Liberty. Plato, in Book. VIII of his Republic, on the other hand, saw the dissolution of authority as the beginning of anarchy, which, in turn, is the result of expanding equality in a democracy.

Now, Mill, as you know, translated several of Plato’s dialogues and knew his philosophy well. Did he miss something? Did he expect democracy to last despite Plato’s warnings? Or did he think that everyone is rational? Or was he just too steeped in the English tradition of respect for law, order, conservatism in private life, etc.? Did he think that the social order is self-sustaining, that we will not cross a certain line? How would you explain his position?

NC: The intellectual and moral responsibility of the public intellectual, whether he/she be Plato, Mill, or us, is to (1) identify the social problem, (2) defend one alternative solution/policy against others, and (3) offer a rhetorical (artistic) expression, designed to persuade others to see the world as we do. Plato clearly did this in writing dialogues. You captured some of this in your collection of Mill’s more popular writings. You also capture this in some of your own cultural writing. It has been my great failing not to have done more of this in my own.

ZJ: Is the suspicion or hostility, in your view, as it is in Mill, characteristic of Liberalism? And if so, how far can the Liberals go, you think, without destroying social order?

NC: The greatest threat to tyranny is the capacity of a few people to stand up and say, “The Emperor has no clothes.” Keep it simple, clear, and authentic. It takes enormous courage to do this. In the end, the question is never how far tyrants will go, but how far we are willing to go to oppose them.

ZJ: Let me return to the idea of order. In Aristotle, we find a claim that the function of a good law giver is to make citizens good. In his defense, one of Socrates’ accusers makes the same point. When I taught those thinkers, it struck me that if Aristotle had a chance to read the American founding documents—pursuit of happiness, that is, leaving an individual to his own devices, without any moral compass—he would give the Founding Fathers an F. The idea that human behavior can be left unregulated would be preposterous to the ancients.

Now, given the American Founding Fathers’ brilliance, did they miss something? It is unlikely, which leads me to my question. The US was founded by the sectarian Protestants, with a very strict moral code. They, particularly Jefferson, could believe that the public realm can remain neutral because the citizens’ religiosity, or the Churches, will keep pumping, so to speak, the moral code. What are your thoughts on this?

NC: I think you are correct. The U.S. is, as Samuel Huntington said, an Anglo-Protestant culture. I would also make the case that since Mill and Nietzsche, it has become necessary to find an intellectual/cultural defense of the values of such a Protestant culture not tied to a specific theology as traditionally understood. I have tried to make such a case in a way that is compatible with some but not all traditional forms of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Curiously, we live now in an increasingly secular culture where clergy who no longer believe in God are attracted both to mindless defenses of abstractions, like tolerance of intolerant religious sects and movements, and, at the same time, a therapeutic view of the welfare state as the new moral community. When I meet such people, I am not sure whether I should laugh or cry. Perhaps we need a new Reformation. This is part of what it means to retrieve our moral tradition in a new context. Retrieving a tradition can never be a simple matter of an uncritical return to the past. Instead, it is the re-identifying of something that is a permanent part of the human condition, even though it is always expressed in specific historical contexts.

ZJ: Now, 250 years later, with the decline of religiosity, low church attendance—and the same seems to be true of Judaism (as my Orthodox Rabbi friend tells me, reformed Judaism is likely to cease to exist in a few decades) – there is no moral or ethical powerhouse. It is almost as if Sartre and de Beauvoir’s dream came true. Everyone invents his own moral code, lives according to his own rules. Are we becoming a nihilistic society? Is this nihilism?

NC: I would make two points. First, there are lost souls, some of whom embrace the latest fashionable, and sometimes destructive, enterprise association. Second, nihilism is not to be confused with moral pluralism. We have always lived in a morally pluralistic world. The mistake we have always made is to try and find the one new true collectivist faith and impose it on others.

What we need, and what we have to some extent, is a plurality of substantive moral communities who need to agree on common procedural norms. I think many such communities exist. I think some of those communities presently lack the internal resources to agree to common procedural norms. In our book on The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law, my wife Nadia and I have tried to show how this is possible and actual.

ZJ: Just like Mill, Jefferson was hostile to aristocracy, in his own, so to speak, American way. He saw it as an extension of monarchical order rather than a class, or much less so, because in one of his letters, he made a very strong case for aristocracy of spirit, education. He even designed a way how such a democratic aristocracy should be bred. In one letter he made a list of mad European monarchs, which, he thought, to be a very good case for abandoning monarchy as an institution.

Now, let me make this point – seceding from the British Crown, declaring independence from Britain, is one thing, establishing a new political order is another. So, after painful debates, the Americans chose the republic. Here is my question – one could believe, as Jefferson did, back then, that a monarch can become crazy and corrupt, but, one could argue, that one can replace a corrupt or mad monarch. However, when the masses become corrupt, what then? What can you do? And our present social and political situation seems to point to a number of problems which, on an individual scale, you could term unhealthy, or even insane.

NC: There are a number of issues here that need to be separated. First, I do not believe that the “masses” correctly captures the major issues. There are many people who cannot be classified as “intellectual,” but who are decent individuals and responsible citizens. You do not get to be decent and responsible by having a Liberal education. Second, the social pathologies I do see reflect the failure of major institutions (e.g. family, schools, religions). The failure of those institutions I would attribute to the false idea that we can have a social technology (i.e. the Enlightenment Project).

ZJ: You are an academic, having spent your life in academia. But you are more. You are associated with the Liberty Fund. When I think of the several conferences that I attended, I cannot resist the feeling that I have never, and I mean it, participated in more intense intellectual life than during the two days of their sessions. It is not only a well-organized setting, but it is a place where ideas matter. I am sure that you will agree with me. No university produces such an intense intellectual atmosphere as does the Liberty Fund. Do you agree?

NC: I would indeed agree. As long as the administration of Liberty Fund is true to donor intent, and is not captured by ideologues with a program, it remains the premier educational institution in America. Again, I would argue that the intellectual world in the last century has been a captive of the Enlightenment Project program of social technology. So-called higher education now disfigures the intellectual world, the worlds of the clergy, government administration, communication and journalism, law schools, teacher training, business, the arts, etc. At the risk of sounding self-promoting, higher education now controls the commanding heights of all that is wrong with our society.

ZJ: Given the absolutely dreadful state of education and universities in America, do you see a way out? The tenured academics will not give up their positions. Has academia been destroyed? Almost every week you can read an article of complaint from retiring academics stating how bad things are. Few people have the courage to stand up; and the majority of professors are afraid—afraid of students and administration. How did we come to be where we are?

NC: This is a long story. I started writing a book about it and became too depressed to finish it. It cannot be reformed internally, in part for reasons to which you have alluded. It can only be reformed from the outside. I do not see that happening in the short run. Our only hope is that it will collapse on itself, and the current financial crisis (student loan debt) may be how it happens. This is not an excuse for doing nothing – we keep up the rear-guard action. What we need to prepare is a positive alternative.

ZJ: What about the Liberty Fund method of education? Don’t you think that there is room for it to do the same kind of seminars with students? That Liberty Fund and other foundations could start real universities where education is what it used to be?

NC: I think the Liberty Fund model is a good one. I also think that education cannot be left to professionals alone. The articulation, defense, and critique of our fundamental norms should go on in every institution. The life of the mind also has intrinsic value. I end this interview as I plan to enter retirement with a program called “Community of Scholars.” Free from the constraints of teaching those who do not want to learn, freed from administrative B.S., free from the tyranny of journal editors and university presses; and with the help of the new technology and social media we can create a vast network of scholars who want to search for and articulate the truth, who want to share – for free – the wisdom of a lifetime of searching, and to do so in the spirit of Mill’s and Nietzsche’s ruthless self-examination. It requires both intellectual and moral virtue. It is our way, perhaps the only way, of keeping the Socratic faith.

ZJ: In 1977 Leszek Kolakowski published his opus magnum, Main Currents of Marxism. Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution. The first volume deals with the founders; the second with the golden age; the third with Marxism’s demise. Kolakowski’s work is, as I like to think about it, a death certificate of Marxist thought issued twelve years before the actual burial of Communism in Eastern Europe, and fourteen years before the end of the Soviet Union.

In his work, Kolakowski describes the vicissitudes of Marxism as a philosophy and practice. You wrote two books on David Hume, a massive book on the Enlightenment Project in analytical philosophy (or conversation!—as you called it), Liberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present; and just a few months ago, you and your wife Nadia Nedzel, published The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The range of your interests is impressive, but you also wrote a fantastic biography of John Stuart Mill – a great read! Would you feel tempted to write a work on Liberalism à la Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism? You could even title it, “Main Currents of Liberalism.” From our private conversations, I gather that you are thinking about it. Any thoughts on this and how would you structure it?

NC: I am most definitely interested in writing such a book. The general thesis is that what I have called the Enlightenment Project (18th-century French idea that there can be a social science modeled after physical science and that such a social science will give us a social technology) is the origin of Doctrinaire Liberalism, Marxism, and Socialism – these are all expressions of this bad idea (all bad ideas, by the way, come from France).

Doctrinaire Liberalism, I shall argue, is a French abstraction that (a) misunderstands Anglo-American culture, (b) and tries to introduce Anglo-American virtues into the Continent, but mistakes the abstraction for the reality. The mistake is then read-back into Anglo-American culture by British and American scholars and activists – thereby providing a fake history. All versions of the Enlightenment Project ultimately become totalitarian – hence, why what is happening in the U.S. (under the Democrats, not Trump) parallels what happened under Marxism.

ZJ: Marxism died not merely because the countries of real Socialism could not compete with the Western Liberal democracies, because the economy started to crumble, because of politics, etc., but because faith in Marxism died. Marxism, in its different stages of development, was not only a philosophy and political orientation, but a religion that required faith. One could say that its longevity depended on the existence of the believers. A host of intellectuals, writers, artists were Marxists; they gave support to the idea. When they lost faith in it – partly because of the form in which it manifested itself politically and socially – Marxism lost its magical power. Do you find any parallels between Marxism and Liberalism? Liberalism has also evolved, manifesting itself in different ways.

NC: I think you are correct that ideologies die when people lose faith in them. I do not think that this will happen soon in the U.S. In the U.S., the weakening has just begun; we need to make people aware that they are succumbing to an intellectual disease. We need to persist in weakening the faith.

ZJ: At the very end of volume one, Kolakowski characterized Marxism as man’s greatest 20th-century utopia, a flight to freedom. Today, the young generation is not familiar with such a hope and the Socialist idea, but being Politically Correct (with its call to social justice, the abolishing of “power structures,” etc.), which is a reformulation of Marxism. Do you think that the Liberal Idea is another utopia which replaced the old one, Marxism?

NC: Liberalism is just another version. What people confuse is our institutional structure with theory; we need to remind them that our structure is an historical product and not a theoretical product. I tried to initiate that in the book on The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

ZJ: There are a number of books on Liberalism, beginning with Hobhouse’s classic, Liberalism (1911), which, in my opinion, comes very close to what we find in Mill’s writings; Harold Laski’s book The Rise of Eurpean Liberalism is another minor landmark in the development of the idea, and a number of minor works (O’Sullivan’s Liberalism, Schapiro’s Liberalism, Brinton’s The Shaping of the Modern Mind, part of which is devoted to liberalism, and so on). What is probably the most ambitious and serious book on the subject is De Ruggierro’s History of European Liberalism. It occurred to me that one could write a book on the development of Liberalism by tracing books called “Liberalism” or “History of Liberalism.” This is a phenomenon in itself, which makes one wonder why Liberals must redefine or readjust the notion of what Liberalism is every decade or so. Do you have an explanation?

NC: There is a disconnect between theory and practice, a disconnect that the discipline of philosophy has encouraged, namely, the belief that we can theorize the relation of theory to practice. Intellectuals, as Schumpeter noted, are the culprits here. Intellectuals so want to be the new clergy, they are unwilling to acknowledge the limits of discursive reason.

We cannot defeat them with more theory; we need to root out the notion that reason exists independent of all context (almost every major philosopher from Plato on has made this mistake). In the 20th-century, only Oakeshott and a few others have tried to reign in this rationalism.

ZJ: Do you think there is a need for a work on Liberalism, like Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism, particularly now that Liberalism has assumed a freedom-threatening posture (I mean the PC movement, which is very destructive, socially, politically and culturally), just like Marxism before? Need the people be reminded how Socialism began and deteriorated? Liberalism is no longer an idea that promises liberation from the shackles of oppression but, like Marxism, has become an oppressive system, very much like what Tocqueville feared democracy would become.

NC: Several of us should write about it – not one book but a host of books. I do not think “democracy” is the problem. I think the problem is a collection of elites (academe, journalism, military, business, Hollywood, technicians in IT, etc.).

ZJ: Does Liberalism require and depend on faith as much as Marxism did? When this faith dies, does the Liberal Idea die with it?

NC: It is the same faith. We need to make clear what that faith is. Voegelin identified it as Gnosticism, a form of Pelagianism. It will never disappear; it will simply assume new guises. We have to be patient in dealing with its eternal return.

ZJ: Under Communism, where I spent the first 25 years of my life, we had a mild Marxist-Leninism indoctrination (it was not that mild in the 1950s or the 1960s); but no one believed this ideological rubbish. Opposing it meant serious consequences, losing a job, interrogations, prison, sometimes “an accident” (death). But people opposed it; there was an underground/ samizdat press. We would read Hayek, Milton Friedman, Roger Scruton, Kolakowski, and others in horrible underground editions. One book would be read by twenty individuals. People made the effort to clear their minds of the ideological pollution. But now they attend official university classes in feminism, gender studies, environmental justice, domination, patriarchy, colonialism, women in art, literature, and many others.

Here is my question: Why this weakness of man under Liberal Democracy, why such blindness? Is it because Liberal Democracies do not go after your body, but your soul, as Tocqueville observed? People prefer to lose their souls – integrity, conscience – than their jobs? This is not a recent phenomenon. Tocqueville saw it in 1835!

NC: We have to remember that the vast majority of Americans do not have college degrees; that the U.S. culture is not primarily an intellectual culture but a practice/pragmatic culture. The infected part of the population consists of two groups: (a) Intellectuals taking their cue from the Continental abstractions I previously identified, and (b) College students – most of whom are disinterested in ideas.

The public has been totally turned off by the media journalists (“fake news”), so they remain uninfected; and the public is largely oblivious to what goes on in higher education and still thinks it is about getting a better job. The problem is the intelligentsia (vast literature on why totalitarianism appeals to them) and the intellectual students who are indoctrinated. Most students are ignorant, disinterested, turned off, and remain quiet as a defensive maneuver.

It is OUR job to attack the intelligentsia (and remain unpopular with fellow faculty) to educate and re-educate those bright students with whom one comes into contact, and to reassure, by our opposition, the disinterested students that they do not have to take left-wing intellectuals and faculty seriously. The latter, ironically, may be the most effective thing we do.

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Capaldi, for this wonderful conservation!

The image shows, “Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen, 1849,” by Otto Bache; painted in 1894.

A Polish version of this interview appeared in Arcana.

The Conflict Of Opinions: Iconoclasm And The British History Wars

International movements delight those who like to find commonalities in cause, course and consequence, but each country has a unique dimension in every crisis and there is danger to reading readily from one to another. And so also with Britain. The demonstrations, agitation and commentary seen in 2020, notably in Bristol and London, but in practice across much of Britain, saw both deeper and more widespread tendencies and ones particular to the country, notably to the legacy of empire. The latter provided a matter of intellectual and conceptual confusion on the part of much of the agitation, with an elision of the distinction between discussion of the slave trade and that of the empire. In reality, the two were very different, and one of the major activities of the empire was the campaign against slavery. That distinction, however, was of no interest to what rapidly became a movement drawing together a range of interrelated discontents.

Declared a murderer, as his statue was thrown into the water, Edward Colston (1636-1721) was scarcely the evil personified that is now asserted, in a period in which the interface between history and myth is very active, while a new public history is constructed, mindless of the very many killed in the Chinese model of the 1960s cultural revolution; but then a total lack of context and comparison is part of the situation, as is a failure to understand the nature of tyranny in recent (and current) Communist states. Thus, those who care not a fig about the dire situation in North
Korea today are very happy to make gestures about the situation centuries ago.

Television presenters confidently announced as fact that Colston’s statue was thrown into the very harbour from which his slaving ships set sail, and that it met a watery grave like the dead and dying slaves thrown from the ships from which he made the bulk of his fortune; but he directly owned no slaving ships, and the bulk of his fortune did not derive from the slave trade. In many respects with Colston, we have the problems of addressing many issues for a period in which information is not as full as we would like; not that that prevents commentators.

A child born in Bristol, and fond of the city as a result, Colston left it during the Civil War and was essentially a London merchant. It is unclear how much of his fortune derived from the slave trade, in which he was involved from 1680 to 1692, due to his membership of the Royal African Company, of which he was Deputy Governor, from 1689 to 1690. Colston was also a partner in a Bristol sugar refinery. In practice, much of his merchant activity was focused on trading with the Mediterranean and Iberia, lucrative trades from which he presumably derived most of his wealth; and Colston was involved with slavery for around one fifth of his long business career. For the last thirty years of his life, he was not involved, although, crucially, it is not clear why. It was in that time that he endowed his charities, for education and poor relief, which makes him the greatest philanthropist in Bristol’s history.

The fate of the Royal African Company is separately interesting, as a result of the impact of national politics on its fortunes during Colston’s life (see my Slavery. A New Global History), and that possibly deserves more attention when he, who was later in his life an MP, is discussed. At the risk of being ahistorical, the relationship between his active levelling-up philanthropy and discussion of contemporary social policy and politics is also interesting. None of this concerned the demonstrators in Bristol. The facts of Colston’s life are irrelevant to the protestors who do not want to be told the truth, but, rather to attack the myth.

As far as the general point about memorialisation is concerned, it is surely better if matters are handled in a legal and temperate fashion. Feeling strongly about an issue as a justification for mob action could all too readily be used across a society that includes many who feel strongly about other aspects of belief and activity; and then we would be in a very dark place indeed, one possibly of sectarian violence, or of physical attacks on homosexuals or abortion clinics, or a whole range of what is hated by at least someone. I cannot help reflecting on the image of violence in Sir Thomas More, a play in the writing of which Shakespeare may have had a role:

And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

Readers of this who support the Bristol rioters might shrug their shoulders and say the ends justify the means and that I am ‘privileged’ by my whiteness, a charge thrown at me on Radio Four; but of course this passage referred to the ugly May Day 1517 riots in London; riots directed against foreign residents. And just before, as all too often, race is thrown to the fore, these foreigners were white, and the writer vividly refers to refugee foreigners, ‘their babies at their backs.’

As a Policy Exchange public opinion poll indicated, these discontents in practice were only those of a minority, and most of those polled wanted no iconoclasm, but, nevertheless, the impression was created of a mass movement.

The basic constituents were fourfold:

  1. Campus agitation
  2. Discontent among the young
  3. Pressure from the Left, especially the Far-Left
  4. Anger from ethnic minorities.

These categories, however, have to be handled with care, as much of each group, and, polls indicated, only a minority of the young backed the cause of the protestors. At the same time, to label the latter simply as entitled, primarily public-sector, often middle-class, politically correct, left-wingers, would be to adopt an overly tight schematic. More pertinent would be the observation that these were individuals and supporting groups and institutions; for example the BBC and the Guardian newspaper, frustrated by the overwhelming Conservative victory in the general election of December 2019.

Thus, in electoral terms, the demonstrations took place at a very different moment to those in the United States. There was, and is, however, a degree of highly inappropriate mimicking, as with holding up ‘don’t shoot!’ placards, like those in the United States, at unarmed British police. So also with the desperate and disproportionate search for episodes of real or alleged police brutality, which are then typecast to produce an image of alleged systemic violent racism. The reality throughout is that there are very few such episodes in Britain and, in contrast, a very large number of black-on-black killings, mostly linked to drug-dealers and turf-wars. However, the “performative” (a favourite “progressive” word) nature of protest is not to be directed at drug-dealers and the related criminality; a choice that is highly indicative of the irrationality and overt politicisation of the protests.

As another instance of difference with the United States, the “long march through the institutions” has developed further in more statist Britain. This “long march” is especially significant in the case of the universities, where they were particularly (although not exclusively) linked with Departments of English, History and Politics, and with younger academics. In part, this was a process of fighting for consequence in the face of the proletarianisation of a profession being expected to work harder as a consequence of mass-access student entry. There was also the ascribing of established intellectual strategies and academic practices to a new situation apparently full of potential. In particular, the discourse-merchants and zeitgeist specialists found opportunities in a situation that they could define in terms of good and evil.

In part, there was the normative repetition of slogans about inherent White privilege, many linked to reductive analyses on the part of “New Left” academics keen to reduce individuals to categories and to explain people in terms of supposedly inherent thought. Most of those offering this analysis were middle-class of some type or other; so, in order to pose as helping the underprivileged, the critique of a redundant, imperialising, conservative whiteness suited them. Ironically, the principal slants or “disproportionalities” in university entry in Britain were in favour of women as a whole, and, among ethnic groups, of Asian pupils, but truth was not to be allowed to stand in the way of a good narrative of justifiable anger. Thus, BAME [Black and Minority Ethnic] was employed as a classification, even though there was much variation amidst it, including very considerable tension. Yet universities lined up to sign up for, and propagate very actively, what was presented as an “antiracist” strategy.

Leaving aside the obvious self-interest involved, with those linked to this process gaining or protecting well-paid jobs, these attitudes helped encourage and disseminate the iconoclastic ideas of 2020, and as part of a rejection of the imperial past, indeed the past as a whole. There were liberals involved who were ready to vary the critique, but the key dynamic was that from a far left who saw all qualification, let alone criticism, as totally unacceptable. Moreover, they lived in a bubble of likemindedness that owed much to social media. Thus, on 22 July 2020, the Registrar, or head of the administration, of Exeter University, sent an email to staff declaring: “If you see or hear any inappropriate behaviour, and you feel able to call it out, please do so in an appropriate way. It may be that a colleague is unaware of the impact of their behaviour, and mentioning this may give them a chance to adjust their behaviour alongside allowing them space to reflect.” Such “space” to “reflect” is steadily becoming tighter, but the entire exercise is reminiscent of Communist activity. Those who do not say the right things can be “called out.” This “cleansing” will doubtless cause a thousand flowers to bloom, as long as they are the same colour and height.

An additional trouble is that now, as apparently “silence is violence,” those who remain silent will also be forced to go to mandatory “retraining” sessions. Freedom of thought and expression, as well as open enquiry, have been totally discarded. This is power at play; but, as so often, it is power masquerading as weak and suffering hardship, so that grievance becomes a necessary drive to action.

An historical perspective on this process would point out that we have been here before. Iconoclasm itself was central to the Protestant Reformation, notably with the destruction of monasteries and of shrines in the Henrician Reformation, named after Henry VIII. The end of sainthood proved particularly damaging for many churches. In turn, more strident Protestantism in the Edwardian Reformation, named after Edward VI and then in and after the mid-seventeenth century Civil War led to fresh destruction, the latter extending to the iconography of royalty, including statues. At that stage, Britain had a tradition of political and religious instability far greater than that of Italy, one compounded in 1688-1689 by the overthrow of James II (VII of Scotland), in what to the victors was the Glorious Revolution.

And yet, thereafter, iconoclasm ceased to be part of the British tradition. In part, this was due to the contingencies of history, notably no successful foreign invasion after 1688. Indeed, the prime damage to British (like Italian) cities was bombing in World War Two. There was also the practice and ideology of a domestic politics that in Britain (although not Ireland) saw political, economic and social transformation, but in a largely non-violent fashion. This, indeed, became a key element of the British “way,” one celebrated by conservatives influenced by the idea of organic change derived from Edmund Burke and by nineteenth-century liberals (and religious Nonconformists) similarly committed to peaceful reform. Taking outsiders into the political system was part of this process, as when the governing Whigs absorbed first (some) Tory policies and then Tory politicians from the 1720s. A key development was that trade unionism followed the path of the system-joining Labour Party rather than system-rejecting syndicalist or communist methods. None of these processes was simple or easy, but they were all important.

To a degree, the situation now is less happy. The system-rejecters who populated the Momentum Movement and were very influential in the Labour Party in 2015-2020, when it was led by Jeremy Corbyn, can be found behind Black Lives Matter, which is keen to replace both capitalism and the police; as well as being heavily white and middle-class. The critique of Empire provides a rhetoric to make their movement popular with tranches of campus culture, current or recent. And thus, the statues are attacked.

There is a present-mindedness at play, but also an absolutist, Manichean, good versus evil worldview, one defined by the would-be setters of the agenda, who have variously been described as Maoist, narcissist and Orwellian; all descriptions employed with reason. There is also a deliberate rejection of the notions of History as both a trust between the generations and a public practice of nationhood; or, seen differently, a determination to transform both into a very contrasting trust and practice. That is a deliberately disruptive process, and iconoclasm is simply one consequence.

Pressure on, and from within, institutions to change, in large part first by admitting institutional and inherent flaws in the shape, in particular, of racism, is part of this process. Thus, educational curricula, and hiring practices in all forms, are to be changed, not as a consequence of debate, but due to a demand for a monoculture of opinion and monopoly of power that is far more serious than any supposed virtue-signalling. I have seen this clearly with the University of Exeter from which I retired in January 2020. Its new self-definition as an “anti-racist university” might be an amusing comment on the racists who therefore supposedly ran it until the new initiative, but this is to be enforced by “unconscious bias” policies that are a clear grab for power by a group of administrators, would-be administrators and related academics, notably in Critical Race Theory, which is problematic in its conceptualisation and implementation. Typical of this is the search for microaggressions which, to put it mildly, are very much in the eye of the beholder. In another echo of the Cultural Revolution, student monitors have been employed at Sheffield University to report on staff and students, and, on the pattern of the NKVD, this only works if they provide the necessary evidence.

An industry is at play, with Advance HE, a data provider for UK Higher Education, pushing universities to meet its Race Equality Charter That it has Trustees who are senior officeholders in universities now agreeing, at considerable cost, to meet its targets, provides at the very least a serious conflict of interest. Moreover, significant sums of money are shown in the accounts as going to Trustees. Doubtless this has all been cleared by the relevant committees of their colleagues, but it will look heavily questionable with the perspective of history, and, at present, might strike some as unacceptable.

That money and status, and an ability to imagine that hard work is giving orders to others, who actually do the teaching, marking and research, are all at play, will surprise no-one who understands how bureaucracies operate in totalitarian systems. What is surprising is that this situation pertains in a democratic system with a Conservative government. So also with the BBC and its treatment of British politics and history, notably of late, Winston Churchill. The News at Ten, flagship programme, on 21 July 2020, was highly critical of Churchill’s stance during the Bengal Famine and provided no balance or contextualisation. To note that Churchill’s statue was one that was recently attacked is pertinent, as is the degree to which the criticism of Churchill by the BBC is part of a long pattern of revisionism in pursuit of a left-wing agenda. There is no equivalent in attacks on aspects of the left-wing past, for example, the Labour government’s role in the foundation of the National Health Service.

Statues are both real and figurative. In the latter sense, attacks from the Left have been on the ascendant from the 1960s, and the Thatcher years (1979-1990) did not really see this process stop. The intent on imposing a twisted narrative of hatred of the country, even a perverse virtue-signalling selfhatred, are issuing a call to destroy gentle, generous, democratic Britain; not a call to destroy statues. The dangers are far greater than ignorance of history; and the idea that a rational review of the real historical facts will help is far too optimistic, because any who argue thus are presented as sharing in the evil of a past that must be destroyed.

Conservatives in Britain are apt to be highly pessimistic about the state of the “Culture Wars,” and certainly Labour has done particularly well in university cities, such as Cambridge, Canterbury, Exeter and Oxford, and in the last election was in the lead among voters aged under 44. Thus, the crowds demonstrating or tweeting against statues are scarcely marginal. Yet, the self-indulgent, obsessed with an ignorant view of the past, should apply their energies to the present in giving direct help to the poor, on their own doorstep, and in large tracts of the World, who have nothing. That point makes addressing the situation more urgent.

Remedies worthy of attention include taking away the BBC’s anachronistic licence fee, reforming and/or removing funding from university quango bodies such as UK Research and Innovation, and the Office for Students, supporting legal and administrative action against universities that limit free speech, as permitted by the law of the land, and shifting the balance in post-16 teaching from HE (Higher Education) to FE (Further Education), with the latter encouraged to focus on vocational education and funded, in part, by money moved from HE. The radicals are the new establishment and their power can only be lessened by radical means, the means also necessary to hold off their malice.

I am most grateful to Julie Arliss, Peter Cull, Bill Gibson and Andrew Sharpe for their comments on an earlier draft.

Jeremy Black is a British historian, and a prolific author. His most recent books include, Military Strategy: A Global History, War and Its Causes, Introduction to Global Military History: 1775 to the Present Day, and Imperial Legacies. The British Empire Around the World.

The image shows the statue of Edward Colston, in Bristol, before it was toppled.

The Necessity Of Bravery In Scholarship

Roger Scruton was a brave man. He was personally brave and intellectually brave. His personal bravery is evident from his activities in Eastern Europe helping to forge underground universities in the 1980s. There were real personal risks in doing that. Police states do not look kindly on anyone who encourages intellectual opposition to them. But then neither did Scruton’s academic colleagues back in the United Kingdom. There, he was persona non grata in an institutional world dominated by leftists and socialists always eager to excuse despotism and authoritarianism. That, after all, was their road to power.

While his academic brethren indulged ever more fantastical theories of society and human nature, Scruton found himself at odds with his generation. As he observed somewhat ruefully in his autobiography, he had some regrets about this. A mild touch of melancholy offset his phlegmatic personality. The generation who got their PhDs in or after the mid-1960s were serially attracted to successive forms of soft totalitarian faculty-lounge rhetoric: Marxist, Nietzschean, postmodernist, and identitarian. Each of these currents worshiped power. Scruton didn’t. Nor was he intimidated by it. He didn’t bend to fashions, crowds or collective passions.

No small part of the reason that the English intelligentsia (on the whole) despised him was that he possessed a remarkable independence of mind which they conspicuously lacked. That independence of mind was obvious when Scruton published The Meaning of Conservatism in 1980. He was aged 36. A defence of conservatism was practically inconceivable then—and it remains in academic circles today a rare thing. Especially a defence undertaken with Scruton’s depth of thought.

Like all classic writers Scruton existed at a slight tangent to time. He entered the public intellectual fray with a book that was out of step with “the times”. He remained that way, steadfastly but always interestingly. He did not wait for Communism to fall to oppose Communism. He argued for the virtues of England long before Brexit. He defended the imagination against social fantasy, beauty against the despotic rage for reason, and a placid, gentle politics against angry political posturing.

Scruton’s work and life, voluminous and multifaceted as both were, displayed a number of fixed points, anchors amidst the flow of time. His intellect and soul were constantly and often maliciously attacked by his critics. He paid a personal price for all the nasty badgering, manias and melodramas that were the calling-cards of the post-modern intellectual generation. Nevertheless his persistence resulted in a venerable body of work which had at its heart an intimation of a beatific faith. This was not just faith in a transcendent personal God but also the kind of faith that manifests itself in decent societies, genial associations, firm friends and responsible individuals.

Scruton was a careful thinker. He was trained in analytic philosophy at Cambridge. Elizabeth Anscombe, a student of Wittgenstein, was his PhD supervisor. That training left a mark on his philosophical style—a care in drawing distinctions. Sometimes he overdid that. But after his Cambridge student years (1963-1973) he discovered another intellectual tradition. Philosophically it was the tradition of Edmund Burke, the Whig inspirer of English conservatives. But, in the case of Scruton, Burke represented not just a philosophical archetype. After all Scruton was deeply familiar with Hegel, Kant and Spinoza—and the rest of the Western tradition of philosophy. No, the Burkean aspect was more than philosophical. It connected Scruton with a tradition of English letters that favoured straightforward, elegant expression and a style of writing about society and politics that was beautiful.

Among his many works, this literary style reached a dazzling peak in England: An Elegy, Scruton’s unparalleled description of the nature of England and the English. Most of his critics favoured language that was obscurantist and tortured—the more unintelligible the better. They all aspired to be public intellectuals because they wanted their fantasies to rule the world. Yet unlike most of them, Scruton was a genuine public intellectual—a person who could speak and write clearly and movingly about matters of great human importance.

Because Scruton didn’t worship power, the political party that he was close to, Britain’s Conservative Party, casually turned on him in 2019. In the last year of life, an infantile trophy-hunting left-wing journalist publicised a series of doctored quotes from an interview with him. He briefly lost his unpaid appointment to a government commission on good architecture, a topic he loved. He was restored to the post after the journalist’s fraud was revealed. But the action to dismiss him showed something striking. Namely how weak those who hold power can be, and how prone they are to panicked judgements. Small-c conservative qualities of faith, reliability, durability, commitment, and piety mattered to Scruton. Woven deeply into his writings are themes of promises, commitments, and vows; and things imperishable, immortal, and transcendent. His life encapsulated those values. He lived the way he thought.

Peter Murphy is a professor at La Trobe University and at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University.

The image shows, “Watson and the Shark,” by John Singleton Copley, painted in 1778.