Arktos Journal – Arktos Wed, 26 Jun 2019 13:29:09 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 The Epic of Arya Wed, 26 Jun 2019 12:11:08 +0000 When Arya, the human goddess of Light, woke up from her long dream, following an endless night in the arms of Eternity, she found herself in a strange land where darkness reigned supreme, a gloomy world she had hitherto never seen. “Am I still dreaming?” she asked her perplexed mind, overwhelmed by the boundless obscurity surrounding her, “or have I just awoken? Is not Night the time for the soul’s awakening? Does not the soul blossom in the depth of the night, and dance with the stars and gods above, even as reason rules the earth and men below during the day? Am I awake, or is my awakening itself a dream?”

Is not Night the time for the soul’s awakening? Does not the soul blossom in the depth of the night, and dance with the stars and gods above, even as reason rules the earth and men below during the day?

“My eyes, wide-open, tell me that I’m conscious, but what do my eyes know of consciousness! They belong to the earth and see only the crude things of the earth, the hollow shell and the outer form; they remain blind to the subtle essence of divine truth and higher consciousness. The spirit alone, this spark of infinity, this glimpse of eternity, is blessed with divine sight, while the body totters aimlessly in the eternal darkness of blind matter. My eyes tell me that I am awake, yet my spirit looks beyond and contends that reality lies elsewhere, that what men call ‘the world’ is but a deceptive dream, a cruel illusion of the senses, a shadow of reality.”

As Arya thus questioned Truth, wondering about Life’s manifold forms, Her hidden meaning and purpose, she again asked herself: “are we awake when our eyes are open and our reason is sovereign, or does the soul truly see when the eyes are shut and the spirit roams the ether? Does not Night unfold its deepest mysteries and reveal our inner infinity, the god within, as it unravels the secrets of the universe? But who, save a god, could answer such questions?”

“Alas! I am only a human goddess, that is, a goddess with a mission on earth. The law of Nature commands that, lest they become mere idols, all gods must go down to men, must become men, so that men can become gods. It is their divine vocation, for only by going down do they uplift life; only by living among men, and through them, do they fulfil their own divinity. Nature’s will thus has it: gods must descend to men, and men must ascend to gods; only thus is the purpose of life accomplished, for the world is a sacred circle of absolute Unity.”

“It is God’s will that gods, His messengers, angels, and warriors — the noblest manifestations of the Unmanifested, the multiple forms of the One, the highest expressions of divine Force — must first fall into the depths and the abyss of existence, before they can rise to the higher spheres and soar to the heights of Supremacy. For only thus does life fulfil its first and last commandment, which is to eternally overcome itself and create beyond itself. Only thus does God turn into life, and Life becomes divine; only thus does He embrace Life and impregnate Her with the hallowed gift of creation.”

“I am a human goddess, that is my joy and my misery. It is a joy, for all gods yearn for incarnation, it is their ultimate destiny, as perfection lies in creativity, which can only be conceived, and achieved, whenever a lofty thought assumes a noble form. It is a misery, for in vain do all humans long for divinity; in vain do they seek out eternity and dream of immortality. Perfection, to them, remains an impossible dream and an unfulfilled hope, and they die unsatisfied with a bitter taste of unquenchable thirst upon their lips.”

“I am a human goddess, and though my divine spirit floats on its own river of perpetual bliss, there in the realm of the Absolute, its form below remains bound to the shackles of earthly life’s limitations and frustrations, hampered by the fallible senses of its own humanity. That is the price for incarnation: the form allows the spirit to unfold and reveal itself, yet it binds it to the human chains of time and space. Alas! The tragedy of life is that perfection is always achieved at the price of freedom, and freedom at the price of perfection. Thus God remains unattainable save for those who earnestly seek Him and pay the ultimate price of elevation, by sacrificing their finite souls for the eternal glory of divinity.”

Having touched the heart of her existential plight — indeed, the plight of all human gods — , Arya, despondent and lost, cried out to the wind: “alas! Could it be that the gods themselves have forbidden men from fathoming the riddles of the universe, jealously keeping the sacred flame of Truth as the blessing and the privilege of the sole immortals? Prometheus thus remains the symbol of man’s endless quest to equal the gods, for death that overcomes itself is a hymn to life which leads man away from himself and closer to God.”

My unknown brothers, who strive to become immortals and dwell in the boundless abode of the gods, I entreat you to sacrifice the evanescent glories of the earth for the eternal glory of God.

“All martyrs are immortals. Immortality, however, as all greatness, comes at the highest price — for how else would it justify Life? — and that is: to sacrifice one’s humanity and shed all finite thought and earthly desire. My unknown brothers, who strive to become immortals and dwell in the boundless abode of the gods, I entreat you to sacrifice the evanescent glories of the earth for the eternal glory of God; to abandon all earthly pleasures for the divine bliss of the higher world. Forsake all lower life, fellow Warriors of Light, and you shall gain everlasting Life; offer your perishable egos on the altar of divinity, and your immortal selves shall bathe in the fountain of Eternity. All sacrifice is an offering and a blessing, for life gives back to the earth what it took from the earth; it bestows its most precious gems and its sweetest fruit to him alone who, seeking to find himself, loses all and everything; and it takes away everything from him who gains everything, but loses himself.”

“Is not Life itself a dream of the gods, a fanciful play of joy and sorrow, elation and despair, wrought on humans by the powers that be, as a blessing to the eternal and a curse on the transient? Should not man welcome death — instead of dreading it as a daily tragedy cast upon men, as the end of all existence —, should he not welcome it as liberation, as a pathway to a higher life, a threshold to a higher awakening?”

“Could it be that in our waking state, we dream Life and suckle the breasts of Her sweet illusion, and only in our sleep do we truly exist? Is sleep merely a time of rest for the body and the mind, or is it the time for the awakening of our souls to a higher reality, to Truth and Beauty? Is not death a deep and constant sleep lifting man’s indestructible Self into the realm of infinity, where only gods dwell?”

After a short moment of inner silence, pondering the meaning of the human cycle of life and death, of night and day, of slumber and awakening, Arya thus questioned her Higher Self: “Is not sleep man’s only link with the divine, the only trace left of the reign of gods on earth, before Time itself began? And yet, we become humans once more when Night passes and the world of senses again holds full sway, when magic and mystery fade, washed away by the first light of day.”

“We remain ignorant and limited in our aspiration and elevation, so long as we remain humans, that is, thinking beings who use cold logic and plain reasoning, calling their ignorance ‘enlightenment’, instead of contemplative beings endowed with intuition — that last trace of divinity in men —, who dream in the brightest daylight and awaken in the darkest night, humans who live and fulfil the dream of the gods.”

“A veil of ignorance covers humanity, a veil of silent shame that can only be lifted by man’s sincere longing for the eternal, for that longing is the last sigh of God on this earth. That is the plight of man: he remains poor in spirit though the earth is full of riches; he remains human though the gods walk among men and talk through them. Alas! The god in man remains a child waiting to mature. Shall man grow into a god, or is he doomed in his humanity?”

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The Deconstruction of Democracy Mon, 24 Jun 2019 13:59:05 +0000 The Concept of “Democracy” Is Not Neutral and Not Self-Evident

Democracy today cannot be discussed objectively. It is not a neutral concept: behind “democracy,” as a political regime and corresponding value system, stands the West, Europe and the USA. For them “democracy” is a form of secular cult or a tool of political dogmatics, thus, to be fully accepted into society in the West, it is necessary by default to be “for” democracy. One who calls it into question falls out of the field of political correctness. Marginal opposition is tolerated; but if it is more than marginal, democracy sets its machines of oppression against its alternatives like any regime, any ideology, and any dominant religion. It is not possible to talk about “democracy” impartially. That is why in discussions about democracy we must say at once whether we are completely for or completely against it. I’ll respond with extreme candor: I’m against it, but I’m against it only because the West is for it. I’m not prepared to accept anything thoughtlessly and uncritically on faith, even if everyone believes it, and all the more so if this is accompanied by a concealed (or clear) threat. You suggest that I rely on my own reason, no? I’ll begin with the fact that reason advises me to reject all suggestions [predlozheniy, offers, proposals]. No one can give us freedom. It either is or it is not [we either have it or we don’t]. A slave will convert even freedom into slavery, or at least into swinishness, and a free person will never be a slave even in fetters. From his time enslaved Plato did not become either less Plato or less free, while we still pronounce the name of the tyrant Dionysus with contempt, so which of them is a slave? At any rate, as a popular textbook on technical analysis says, “the majority is always wrong.”

Only such critical distance in relation to “democracy” provides a field for its conceptual comprehension. We call “democracy” into doubt, into question, and challenge it as a dogma. We thus win the right to distance, but only in that way can we come to a valid and well-founded result. Not to believe in democracy does not mean to be its opponent. It means not to be its captive, not to be under its hypnosis and its suggestion. Starting from such unbelief and doubt, it is entirely possible that we’ll conclude that democracy is something valuable or acceptable, or we might not. We should reason in exactly the same way about all other things. Only that is philosophy. There is no a priori evidence for a philosopher. It is exactly the same for a political philosopher.

Marginal opposition is tolerated by democracy; but if it is more than marginal, democracy sets its machines of oppression against its alternatives like any regime, any ideology, and any dominant religion.

It is worth recalling that democracy is not a self-evident concept. Democracy can be accepted or rejected, established or demolished. There were splendid societies without democracy and detestable ones with democracy, but there was also the opposite. Democracy is a human project, a construction, a plan, not fate. It can be rejected or accepted. That means it needs justification, apologia. If there won’t be apologias for democracy it will lose its meaning. A non-democratic form of rule should not be taken as obviously the worst. The formula “the lesser evil” is a propagandistic ruse. Democracy is not the lesser evil … maybe it isn’t evil at all, or maybe it is evil. Everything demands reconsideration.

Only from these two assumptions can we examine democracy carefully. It isn’t a dogma, its imposition only repels one from it, and it has possible and entirely relevant and effective alternatives.

Elevating it into a dogma and denying its alternatives closes the very possibility of free philosophical discourse.

Demos in “Democracy”: Aristotle’s Etymology

Let us turn to the etymology of the word “demos,” since “democracy” means “the rule of the demos.” This word is most often translated by the word “narod.” However, in Greek there were many synonyms of the word narod: “ethnos,” “laos,” “phule,” etc. “Demos” was one among them and had specific connotations. Initially “demos” described inhabitants, that is, people living in a concrete and entirely definite territory. As cities broadened, these territories began to be carved up inside the city, like today’s regions or old-Russian city-parts [gorodskiye kontsy], so the inhabitants of one or another region were called a “demos.”

In Julius Pokorny’s Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, we see that the Greek “demos” stems from the Indo-European root dā (*dǝ-) meaning “to divide,” “to separate.” With the formant “mo-” this makes the Greek “demos,” and with the formant “lo-” the German teilin (divide) and Russian delit’.

Thus, in the very etymology of “demos” lies reference to something divided, cut into separate fragments and arranged on a certain territory

Thus, in the very etymology of “demos” lies reference to something divided, cut into separate fragments and arranged on a certain territory. The closest in meaning is the Russian word population [naselenie] but by no means narod, since narod implies a cultural and linguistic unity, a community of historic being, and the presence of a certain destiny. A population (theoretically) can manage without that. “Population” refers to anyone who has settled or been settled on a given territory, but not one who is connected to that land by roots or the mark of citizenship [i.e. there are three distinct notions here: belonging by roots, belonging by the mere fact of settlement, and belonging through citizenship].

Aristotle, who introduced the concept of “democracy,” regarded it extremely negatively, having in mind precisely this entirely Greek shade of meaning. According to Aristotle, “democracy” is practically identical with “mob rule,” “ochlocracy (rule of the crowd),” since the population of a civic region consists of everyone without distinction. Aristotle opposes “democracy” as the worst form of rule not only compared with monarchy and aristocracy, corresponding to the rule of one or the best, which he regards, by contrast, positively, but also to “politeia” (from the Greek “polis,” “city”). Like “democracy,” “politeia” is the rule of many — not everyone without distinction, but the qualified ones, the rule of conscious citizens, differing from the rest by cultural and genealogical, as well as social and economic, indicators. Politeia is the self-rule of the citizens of the city, relying on traditions and foundations. Democracy is the chaotic agitation of a rebellious mob.

Politeia assumes the presence of cultural unity, a common historico-religious and cultic basis among citizens. Democracy can be established by an arbitrary collection of atomic individuals “distributed” into random sectors.

Aristotle, it is true, also knows other forms of unjust rule besides democracy: tyranny (rule of a usurper) and oligarchy (rule of a closed group of rich and corrupt scoundrels). All negative forms of rule are interconnected: tyrants often depend on precisely “democracy,” just as “democracies” often appeal to oligarchy. Integrity, so important to Aristotle, is on the side of monarchy, aristocracy, and politeia. Division, fragmentation, partition into atoms, is on the side of tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy.

The Metaphysical Foundations of Democracy: The Hypotheses of the


Let us turn to the metaphysical foundations of democracy. For this we will draw on the Platonic dialogue Parmenides. It is customary to distinguish two theses and eight hypotheses in it. The first thesis affirms the One. Four hypotheses follow (true, the Neo-Platonists added a fifth, but right now that’s not crucial). The first thesis about the One and the four hypothesis following from it can be applied to the description of a republic [gosudarstvo, the word used to translate the dialogue by Plato called Republic in English; gosudarstvo can sometimes mean state in the narrow sense or, as in Plato, regime in the broad sense] based on hierarchy, stemming from the idea, the higher principle. The world built on affirmation of the One is built from top to bottom, from the One to the many. The same is true also of the republic, which reproduces the structure of the universe. At the head of such a republic are the monarch and priests, as servants of the One. Such a holy monarchy is simultaneously a model of the cosmos and a basis for the arrangement of the republic [gosudarstvennogo ustroystva]. The thesis about the One, and the hypotheses that follow from it, describe for us the spectrum of political models of traditional society, where the principle of integrity, the authority and sacral nature of power, and divine law predominated.

Sociologist Louis Dumont called such an approach based on the first thesis and four hypotheses “methodological holism,” since the understanding of society is based on conviction in its organic, integral nature.

The second thesis in the Parmenides, and the second four hypotheses, stems from affirmation of the Many, other than the One. Here, at the basis of the perspective on the world, lies not unity, but plurality, atomism, and the play of fragments. Such a perspective leads to an atomistic perspective on the cosmos (the theory of Democritus) and to the justification of political regimes of precisely a “democratic” type, i.e. built not downwards from above, but upwards from below, not on the basis of the transition of the One into the many, but, on the contrary, in the opposite direction. Plato himself regarded the atomism of Leucippus and Democritus as a “heretical” teaching, and according to some sources, even encouraged the burning of their books in his Academy. In the Platonic understanding of the world, the society built on the principle of the Many (non-One) can similarly be regarded as a “political heresy.”

Precisely this second thesis of the Parmenides, and the four hypotheses following from it, interest us now. Taking into account the first four, which relate to the monarchic cosmos, it is customary to call these the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th hypotheses of the Parmenides. If we consider them carefully, we will get four types of democracy, which are easy to discover in theory or practice in our surrounding world.

Political Platonism

The Platonic hypotheses help us understand the code of contemporary political philosophy. In the final analysis, all eight hypotheses can be regarded as fully rational models of the world and society and if we remove ourselves from the hypnotic suggestions of progress, we can fully make a conscious choice in favor of any of these hypotheses.

Thus, in the very etymology of “demos” lies reference to something divided, cut into separate fragments and arranged on a certain territory

This means that we can select democracy, and any version of democracy, taking the position of the second thesis, or we can choose non-democracy, taking the position of the first thesis and acknowledge the One. What is interesting is that this choice can be made not only today, for it also stood before the people of Ancient Greece, who chose between Atlantis and Athens (the Platonic dialogue Critias), Athens and Sparta (the Peloponnesian War, praised by Thucydides), and the philosophy of the monarchists Plato and Aristotle and the liberal-atomists Democritus and Epicurus. While man remains man, he carries in himself, even if vaguely and distantly, a capacity for philosophy. That means that he carries in himself freedom of choice. Man can choose democracy, and one of its forms, or he can reject it.

At the same time, if we take the position of Plato and Platonism, then on the basis of the juxtaposition of democracy and the theses of the Parmenides we come to the conclusion that we live in a cosmos that cannot be: in a society built on an absolutely false dogma. Everyone today is regarded by default as a supporter of democracy. It would not be bad for those “by default” persons to become aware of the philosophical principles to which they are automatically (i.e. without being asked) ascribed.

On the other hand, all opponents of democracy are instantly enlisted in the class of persons professing an ideology the very name of which has long since become a curse-word and an insult, and unscrupulous hypnotists use this technique more and more. Instead of this word, grown hateful and made senseless, which I do not even wish to pronounce in this essay, it is better to call us “Platonists.” Yes, we are bearers of political Platonism. We build our conception of the world and society starting from the first thesis of the Parmenides and the first four hypotheses. Others builds theirs starting from the second thesis and second four hypotheses. For heaven’s sake — would it be so bad to know about this allegiance beforehand?

Being philosophers, that is free beings, we can full well say “yes” to the metaphysical status quo, consisting in the dogmatization of the second [thesis] of the Parmenides (i.e. democracy), but we can also say “no.”

I say “no” to methodological individualism and the second thesis of the Platonic Parmenides and thereby clearly determine a place in the ranks, in the army of the supporters of Plato.

Plato burned the books of Democritus. Democrats, and in particular, Soros’s spiritual guru Popper, in his catechism The Open Society and its Enemies, call to burn the books of Plato. Popper says directly: either enemies of the open society, liberal democracy, the second thesis of the Parmenides, or friends. This is a true war of hypotheses, a battle of epistemologies, a struggle of gnoseological paradigms, a fight of ideas.

Thus, for us, Platonists, democracy is a false doctrine; it is built on a world that doesn’t exist and a society that cannot exist.

If that is so, the Platonist comes to a choice: democracy, by its false pretensions, conceals beneath itself something else, but something in any case very bad, unjust, and unhealthy, for instance a secret oligarchy or disguised tyranny, but that is a topic for another essay.

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The Crisis of Modern Society Fri, 21 Jun 2019 13:29:36 +0000 In those peoples that are called ‘primitive’, but which most often represent only the degenerate and ensavaged remains of more ancient races and civilizations, the phenomenon of the ‘nnerbunden1 has often attracted the attention of observers.

In such peoples, the individual, to be considered as a merely natural being, is up to a certain age left to the family and especially to maternal care, under the feminine-maternal sign, beneath which these societies locate everything which has bearing for the material, physical side of existence. But at a given moment a change of state occurs. Special rites, which are called ‘rites of passage’ and which are often accompanied by a preliminary period of isolation and hard trials, bring about, according to a schema of ‘death and rebirth’, a new being, which alone can be considered a true man. Indeed, before this, the member of the group, no matter his age, is held to be a member of the women and children, indeed even of the animals. Once he has undergone his transformation, the individual is therefore united to the so-called ‘Männerbunden’. This society, having an initiatic (sacral) and warrior character, has the power of a group. Its right is to be differentiated in terms of its responsibility and its functions. It has the power of command. It has a structure similar to that of an ‘Order’.

With the epoch of the revolutions, there began a mighty assault against whatever could conserve the semblance of a ‘Mannerbünden’, proceeding so far as a complete inversion of values and ideals.

While in the last century there was a tendency to derive the State from the institution of the family, a more modern current has rightly located the origin of sovereignty precisely in the phenomenon of a ‘Männerbunden’. The scheme which is now indicated effectively contains the fundamental elements which appropriately define every order, and specifically every political order, and which do so with a clarity that one would seek for in vain amidst the crumbling and degraded theories of our days on the origin of sovereignty. In that schema we encounter above all the idea of a virility in an eminent and spiritual sense, the quality of man as vir (as the Romans would say) and not as simple homo. To this is tied, as has been seen, a ‘break in level’, or a change in state; in its simplest expression, it is the detachment from the sensible, vegetative, physical state. Then there is the idea of a specific unity, much different from any other of ‘naturalistic’ character (as the family, the simple ‘people’, etc.). Finally, there is the idea of power as something connected essentially with this higher plane, so that originally it was recognized as possessing the character of a force from on high, of a ‘sacred power’ (auctoritas and with it imperium in the ancient Roman idea).

Therefore, we can with good right regard all of these matters as ‘constants’, that is, basic ideas which, in very different applications, formulations and derivations, appear recurrently in every major political organization of the past. On account of the processes of deconsecration, of rationalization and of materialization, which have grown ever more accentuated in the course of the times, these original meanings were forced to conceal themselves and to recede. But this remains ever unchanged: where these meanings have been totally obliterated, so that they no longer exist even in a transposed and debilitated form, without any longer even a background of initiatic or sacral character, there no longer exists a true State; every concept has been lost which, in an eminent and traditional sense, makes political reality, in its specific dignity and difference with respect to all the other spheres of existence and, in particular, with respect to all that which has an exclusively economic or ‘social’ character.

With the epoch of the revolutions, there began, in Europe, a mighty assault against whatever could conserve the semblance of a ‘Männerbunden’, which is to say, an assault against the very political principle itself, against the principle of every true sovereignty, proceeding so far as a complete inversion of values and ideals. Indeed, in one form or another the societarian ideologies have reigned for some time now – ideologies which represent simply the anti-State, and also a kind of protest against the virile principle on behalf of all that which, for its connection to the simply physical life of a society, and according to the aforementioned view of the origins, has an analogously ‘feminine’ and promiscuous character. While for the ‘Männerbunden’ honour, battle and dominion are values, for the simple ‘society’, on the other hand, peace, the economy, material well-being, the naturalistic life of the instincts and of the sentiments, and petty security are values: and, at their limit, hedonism and eudaimonism, as against heroism, rank and aristocracy.

It is more or less known to everyone in which currents of our own day these inverted perspectives most predominate, through the emergence of strata over which the ‘societies of men’ should be elevated, and with the demonism proper to every demagoguery. It would already be much if the knowledge of the values here briefly recorded might serve at least to make known, with precision, the true face of these currents, their true significance.


1Italian: società di uomini, literally ‘society/societies of men’. I have preferred the German term here because it has clear parallels to the idea that Evola has proposed, and because it is a word which has rightly begun to make headway in the Right. See Andersen, Joakim, Rising from the Ruins: The Right of the 21st Century (Arktos, 2018), especially pp. 168–175.

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What is Ethnocentrism? Wed, 19 Jun 2019 14:45:23 +0000 Ethnocentrism, argued the American economist William Sumner (1840–1910), is ‘the view of things in which one’s own group is the centre of everything and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it … Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders’ (Sumner, 1906, p. 13). This kind of attitude is epitomized in words attributed to Socrates: ‘He thanked Fortune for three things’, it was said, one of them being, ‘that I am a Greek and not a barbarian’ (quoted in Coleman, 1997, p. 175). It is also very clear in the way that the British Empire produced maps with Britain at the centre, and longitude continues to be measured in degrees east or west of Greenwich in London (Benson, 2002, p. 37).

National pride means being proud of your country simply because it is your country.

‘Ethnocentrism’, then, comes in two forms. On the one hand, ‘positive ethnocentrism’ involves taking pride in your ethnic group or nation and being prepared to make sacrifices for the good of it. Soldiers who regard their nation as being the best in the world and are prepared to risk their lives to defend it are ‘positively ethnocentric’. In England, at the start of World War I, a huge propaganda campaign successfully persuaded thousands of young men to fight for their country, appealing to this kind of ethnocentrism. Recruitment posters included John Bull, the symbol of Britishness,1 standing in front of uniformed soldiers and asking the reader, ‘Who’s absent? Is it you?’ (see Messinger, 1992).

On the other hand, ‘negative ethnocentrism’ refers to being prejudiced against and hostile to members of other ethnic groups. The English soldier who is motivated by hatred of the Germans and is prepared to brutalize German civilians because they are German is high in negative ethnocentrism. During World War I, anti-German feeling in England reached such extremes that there were anti-German riots, assaults on suspected Germans, and the looting of stores whose owners had German-sounding surnames (Panayi, 1989). The British Royal Family, who are of German descent, were even forced to change their surname from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor due to the anti-German hysteria generated by the War (Baldick & Bate 2006, p. 303).

‘Ethnocentrism’ combines these two dimensions. A person is ‘ethnocentric’ if they take pride in and make sacrifices for their country and are prejudiced against other countries, although, as we will see, there are people and groups who are high in one aspect of ethnocentrism but not in the other. Criticisms might be levelled against this division between positive and negative ethnocentrism. For example, it might be argued that people in many Western European countries – influenced by ideologies such as Multiculturalism – may profess a low level of national pride but will, nevertheless, hold to a view in which their own country is at the centre of the world and believe that everywhere should want to be like their own country, in the sense of being Multicultural.2 ‘Multiculturalism’ generally refers to the promotion of a culturally diverse society combined with the view that all cultures are of equal value and their members should have equal status,3 so it is, on the surface, inconsistent with ethnocentrism. However, it can be countered that, in this case, the sense of pride is in their country’s ideology and if their country had a different ideology, such as a highly nationalistic one, then the same people would have far less pride in their country. Equally, people who adhere to such an ideology seem to be prejudiced against genuinely ethnocentric countries, such as Israel (Jayanetti, 17th April 2017), precisely because they reject Multiculturalism. National pride means being proud of your country simply because it is your country.

In this book, then, we aim to understand the causes of ethnocentrism and the reasons why there is variation in the degree to which different races and ethnic groups are ethnocentric. Put simply, we want to answer the question: ‘Why are some races more ethnocentric than others?’ and, indeed, ‘Why are Europeans currently so low in ethnocentrism?’ As we will see, there has been considerable discussion of the possible reasons for individual variation in levels of ethnocentrism. However, there exists no systematic attempt to understand why different ethnic groups may vary in the extent to which they are ethnocentric. Understanding the reasons for group differences in ethnocentrism is particularly salient during a period of mass migration (see Salter, 2007). Europe, in particular, has been experiencing this since the 1960s and it started to become particularly acute in the summer of 2015, when the mass movement of people from the Middle East into Europe, often via Turkey, was referred to as the ‘Great Migration’ (e.g. Nelson, 3rd September 2015). As many of the immigrants claimed to be ‘refugees’, supposedly fleeing violence in Syria at the hands of ISIS (Islamic State), the European Union instituted a policy whereby each nation should take ‘refugee quotas’ (BBC News, 22nd September 2015). The crisis evoked a fascinating array of responses from different countries.

The governments of the northern European countries, such as the Scandinavian nations and particularly Germany, were, initially at least, extremely welcoming, with Germany processing 1.1 million asylum seekers (Peev, 31st December 2015). Indeed, some national leaders used the crisis as a means of playing for moral status by virtue signalling.4 The Finnish Prime Minister, Juha Sipilä, offered to take ‘refugees’ into his home (Withnall, 6th September 2015). However, attitudes soon hardened (Boztas, 5th February 2016), especially once the behaviour of some of the migrants came to light. This included the gang-raping of teenage girls (e.g. in Finland, YLE, 24th November 2015), the raping of children (e.g. in Austria, Dunn, 6th February 2016), the groping and widespread sexual assault of women (such as in large mobs on New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne where approximately 1000 women were sexually assaulted; Richards, 11th February 2016), masturbating and defecating in public swimming pools (Wyke, 24th January 2016), and general threatening and criminal behaviour towards locals. The suicide bombings and a massacre in Paris on 13th November 2015 by ISIS terrorists hardened attitudes further. Some of the terrorists were French citizens of Moroccan descent who had gone to Syria to train as terrorists and had then re-entered Europe as ‘refugees’ that summer (Phipps & Rawlinson, 14th November 2015). 130 people were killed in the Paris attack. This was followed, on 22nd March 2016, by ISIS terrorists (Belgian nationals of Moroccan descent) suicide bombing Brussels Airport and a Brussels metro station, killing thirty-two people. Nevertheless, the initial reaction of Northwestern European governments can be summarised with the virtue-signalling Facebook meme ‘Refugees Welcome’.

The response of Eastern European governments and their people was very different. There were quickly huge protests in former Eastern Bloc EU countries against letting in any of the overwhelmingly Muslim and male migrants whatsoever (e.g. in Poland, Gander, 13th September 2015). Leading politicians from these countries, such as the Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico (BBC News, 19th August 2015) and the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán (Traynor, 3rd September 2015) spoke out strongly against letting any Muslims into their nations at all. Countries bordering Syria, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, refused to let in any supposed ‘refugees’ even though they are far more culturally and ethnically similar to the immigrants than are Europeans (Akbar, 4th September 2015). Israel also refused to admit any of them (Burrows, 6th September 2015). Furthermore, across Western Europe there were huge outpourings of public sympathy for the people killed in the Paris and Brussels attacks, with people changing their Facebook profile pictures to the flags of France or Belgium, for example, despite the fact that precisely these kinds of people had previously shared the ‘Refugees Welcome’ meme. However, interestingly, there was no such reaction among Europeans to ISIS bombings in Turkey, which happened around the same time (D’Angelo, 14th March 2016).

Historical Observation of Differences in Ethnocentrism

Group and individual differences in ethnocentrism have always been an issue of significant concern, though I am not aware of any systematic historical analysis. During the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’ from the Renaissance until the nineteenth century, European explorers came into contact with many different ethnic groups with whom they had previously had no contact at all. Some of these groups were immediately friendly, others immediately hostile, while others still sat between these extremes and their attitudes noticeably altered according to the behaviour of the explorers. A fully comprehensive historical analysis of this area would be a fascinating study for any historian. But, to give a few examples, the natives of Hawaii were widely understood, when they were first contacted in the mid-eighteenth century, to be extremely ‘friendly’ (Wood, 1999, p. 30) until Captain James Cook (1728–1779) provoked their wrath by taking their king hostage. This geniality, however, was perhaps significantly because they thought that the white men were gods. But even putting aside the religious element, the Inuit have long been described by explorers as being very amiable to outsiders (e.g. Graburn, 2012). By contrast, the negrito tribes of the Andaman Islands, near India, have a reputation for being extraordinarily unfriendly and hostile to outsiders, to the extent that they are simply left alone by the Indian government. There is also intense inter-tribal warfare on these islands (Singh, 1994).

Group and individual differences in ethnocentrism have always been an issue of significant concern.

In terms of positive ethnocentrism, many descriptions of the Japanese by Early Modern European missionaries commented on the extent of their bravery in the service of their nation and the surprising degree of harmony in Japanese society; the degree to which they were prepared to co-operate with each other (e.g. Hawkes, 2016). By contrast, descriptions of the Yanomamö tribe of Venezuela portray a group characterized by extreme violence and lawlessness, unable to maintain a group membership of any significant size without splitting into rival clans. Known as the ‘fierce people’ even by neighbouring groups, the Yanomamö have also gained a reputation for being profoundly unpleasant to outsiders (Chagnon, 1968). These differences, in the extent of ethnocentrism, would appear to have resulted in observable differences in the fates of the different societies. The societies which are highly welcoming to outsiders, such as the Hawaiians and the Inuit, have both been substantially colonised by Europeans. The societies which are hostile in the extreme to outsiders, by contrast, are generally left alone. But they do not benefit, in either material or intellectual terms, from contact with outsiders so they do not develop into larger groups. Japan has developed a highly complex society with a very high standard of living, although, interestingly, its levels of genius – of innovating new inventions – appear to be much lower than in Europe and it has been suggested that its extreme cooperative nature may be a reason for this (Dutton & Charlton, 2015). Even so, the Japanese seem to have intense pride in themselves and their nation. By contrast, the Yanomamö remain in the Stone Age and are so internally divided into warring clans that it is unlikely that they could realistically mount a united front, let alone develop into a larger society. Group differences in ethnocentrism were even of interest to Charles Darwin (1809–1882) who commented in The Descent of Man: ‘A tribe including many members who, from possessing a high degree of the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes, and this would be natural selection’ (Darwin, 1871).

In much the same way, some individuals can be said to be more ethnocentric than others. In the UK, perhaps the most striking examples of positive ethnocentrism can be seen in those who have received the Victoria Cross. The Victoria Cross is the highest medal for valour in the face of the enemy that can be bestowed upon a British soldier or soldier fighting for a country of whom the British monarch is the head of state. Since 1857, when it was established, the medal has only been awarded just over 1350 times and it has only been awarded fifteen times since World War II (Smith, 2008). Recipients include Private Edward Barber (1893–1915) who, on 12th March 1915 at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in France:

ran speedily in front of the grenade company to which he belonged, and threw bombs on the enemy with such effect that a very great number of them at once surrendered. When the grenade party reached Private Barber they found him quite alone and unsupported, with the enemy surrendering all about him (London Gazette, 19th April 1915).

Private Barber lost his life due to this singular act of suicidal gallantry. By contrast, other people can be so low in positive ethnocentrism that they are prepared to spy for the enemy in return for payment or due to some shared ideology. In Britain, Guy Burgess (1911–1963), along with other members of the so-called ‘Cambridge spy ring’ (a reference to the university where they originally met), was a diplomat who passed information to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, making him a traitor to his country (see Lownie, 2016). By the same token, it is clear that some people are higher than others in negative ethnocentrism. Some people would be horrified by having someone of a different race as a neighbour, let alone a family member. In the UK, in the 1940s, a father threw his daughter out of his house because she insisted on marrying a man from Trinidad (Appleyard & Goldwin, 5th February 2016). Others will fall in love with and marry a person of a different race. It was not uncommon, for example, for British soldiers stationed in India during the Raj to marry local women. The products of these marriages were generally raised as Christian, and themselves married other mixed-race people, with the result that there remains a distinct Indian ethnic group known as ‘Anglo-Indians’ (see Muthiah et al., 2014). A famous example was Lt. Col. James Kirkpatrick (1764–1805), a soldier with the East India Company, who married Khair un-Nissa, an Indian noblewoman who was the grand-daughter of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, in 1801. Indeed, he adopted Indian culture more generally. He wore Mughal-style costumes at home, smoked a hookah, and converted to Islam (Dalrymple, 2004), this being the religion of much of the Indian nobility at the time.

So, these differences in the level of ethnocentrism – at both the individual and group level – have long been observed, but what are their causes? What are the environmental and genetic factors which mean that some people are so much more ethnocentric than others? And are there different explanations for the same levels of ethnocentrism between different people and different groups? In this study, we will attempt a comprehensive examination of this area in order to answer these important questions.


1 For a discussion of the history of John Bull see Hunt (2003).

2 I am grateful to Guy Madison for this observation.

3 See Dutton (2012) for more detailed discussions of the nature of this ideology.

4 In a highly social species, emphasizing that you are generous is a way of playing for status because generosity is a likeable quality. This leads to a kind of competitive altruism. In addition, such behaviour can be seen to advertise one’s qualities, including genetic qualities, rather like a peacock’s tail. Your qualities are such that you have excess resources and you can survive despite giving away your resources. We will discuss the ‘peacock’s tail’ in detail in the section on sexual selection.

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The Sense of History – Part 4 Mon, 17 Jun 2019 13:55:33 +0000 Modern historiography begins with Machiavelli; Machiavelli is the father of modern history. The transition that he effected between the older ways of viewing the relationship between man and time and the newer is easily obscured by the fact that we live within the view that he himself established, or on some special ramification thereof. Because we dwell within the castle he erected, we easily forget the world beyond its walls.

In the first parts of this essay we have attempted to gain some perspective on alternative senses of history, alternative ways of viewing this relationship between man and time or man and society. If we have succeeded in doing nothing more than indicating that there are other perspectives on history than the modern, and that modern historiography itself is not near so natural and automatic to man as we take it to be, that will already have been much. Having earned for ourselves such hard-won removal and placed ourselves in a position beyond the borders of the Modern Era, we are entitled to look back upon our own time, as voyagers who have travelled far beyond their city gates, and to see the whole of it from a new vantage, both to understand the particular courses of its development, and to begin to perceive, should we be fortunate, a means of living beyond it. In this final part of the present essay, we will attempt to provide some work toward these aims.

Machiavelli, as has been noted, departs from the idea of history proposed by Titus Livy. In many ways, Machiavelli’s work parallels that of Livy; he, too, claims to be regarding a noble past from a decadent present (‘the exceedingly virtuous works [operazioni] that the histories show us … are sooner admired than imitated, to such an extent that they have in each least thing fled from everyone, so that no trace remains of the ancient virtue: at which I can do naught but both marvel and rue’);1 he too attempts to understand the present (his contemporary Italy) in the light of the past (Ancient Rome); he too uses the light of the past to produce a self-inquiry and an incitement to virtue.2

Machiavelli is the father of modern history.

At least one difference immediately leaps out. Livy regarded the virtues of the Roman Kingdom and Roman Republic from the decadence of the early Roman Empire; Machiavelli regards the virtue of Rome, from Kingdom through decadent Empire, from the even more extreme decadence of fifteenth-century Italy. This might indicate a continual decline in the quality of states; for from the lowest perspective, the middle height appears very tall indeed. Or else, as seems more probable, it is rather arises from a decisive change in valuation which Machiavelli effects: put shortly, Roman virtus is not identical to Renaissance virtù. This difference can be seen clearly in The Prince, where Machiavelli goes very far in his praise of Cesare Borgia, a man who would hardly have been regarded as virtuous by Roman standards. The half-invented Castruccio Castracani reveals this perhaps even more dramatically, being as he is a kind of half-figment of Machiavelli’s ingenuity.

But while Machiavelli clearly admires the Romans and would infuse some portion of their spirit into the men of his day, he is not a blind adulator of the past. He seeks to comprehend the past with the aim of deriving practical knowledge therefrom. There is implicit in his review of Rome the possibility that that very review might make modernity greater than Ancient Rome. The main question in the nostalgic and virtue-centric view of history proposed by Livy is the objectivity of the same; put generally, does monumental history not stand in tension with true knowledge of the past?3 Machiavelli altogether sidesteps this problem by attempting to draw lessons from history. Machiavelli locates the decadence of his time in two sources: first, the harmful influence of Christianity; second, and primarily, the fact that his times or the men of his times ‘do not have true cognition of the histories, so that they do not, in reading them, draw out from them that sense, nor taste in them that savour, that they have within themselves.’4 The influence of Christianity may be reduced to this same cause: for Christianity is a kind of transhistorical belittling of all the pre-Christian past, and especially of all the pre- and non-Christian past; Christianity is a rupture on the face of time effected by the unique and violent act of God in begetting a human son. From the Christian perspective, whatever comes before Christ, with the exception of the special history contained in the Old Testament, must be regarded as deficient in the decisive respect, and permits one to consider ‘the histories’ in a spirit of pure antiquarianism, if one considers them at all. By this view, it is of infinitely greater importance to know the record offered by the Bible than to know the record of the Pelopponesian War. Reconnection to antiquity, to le istorie, ‘the histories’, is identical to an abandonment of, and a simultaneous transcendence of, Christianity. The modern sense of history first reveals itself as a Renaissance means for transcending its mere historical moment.

But Machiavelli does not replace Christianity with the worship of some other god or gods. In a shockingly bold series of chapters, XI to XV, he reduces religion to a function of the state, and, in his expressions of an ostensible piety, demonstrates to the reader the very method he would propose to the statesman. Religion is to be adopted in word by the statesman, and used in deed to order the state. The Roman faith is shown to be propitious toward this end (XI); the Christian faith, at least in its present Catholic dispensation, is shown to be prejudicial to it (XII). The faith of the Romans permitted the rulers to rule, and ministered to their governmental needs; the Catholic faith has enforced and perpetuated the division of Italy. All of this casts a particular light on Chapter X, which introduces this section on religion, and which opens by stating that ‘they are to be lauded most of all who are the heads and orderers of the religions.’5 This opens two fundamental questions, which we cannot consider here, but which are essential to understanding Machiavelli and the enormous effect he wrought on Modernity: first, is a godless (secular) state possible or desirable? Second, did Machiavelli himself propose a new faith, and if so, what is its character?

The godlessness of modern times cannot be understood in isolation from these questions. But these to some extent exceed our present purview. To return, Machiavelli’s historical studies, his study of ‘the histories’, possess a number of distinguishing characteristics, which differentiate them from pre-modern historiography, and by which they prefigure the entire modern age. These can be noted as follows:

1.) Machiavelli’s is the prototype for universal history, a wide survey of all the past of all peoples to whom one e has documented access. Thucydides and the Roman chroniclers took as their prime concern their individual peoples, and considered others only incidentally to them. (Caesar, for instance, viewed the Gauls ever through the gaze of a noble Roman conquerer – never forgetting the distance between him and them, but ennobling them as all great men enoble their enemies.) As for Herodotus, his consideration of foreign peoples was the consideration of a traveller rather than a historian; he sought to understand those peoples by speaking to them and by observing them. If we insist on using our anachronistic modern terms to speak of the men of the past, Herodotus would better be considered a sociologist or anthropologist than a historian. Machiavelli, however, is the first man of whom I am aware to take advantage of the written records of a variety of peoples; he is the first man to, historian-like, base his research into the past of humankind (as opposed to the Greeks or the Romans) on a wide review of the records that have been handed down to him. While his aim is not to record the events of the past, as a contemporary historian would seek to do, this generality and liberality of view nonetheless prepares the way for this kind of research. While Machiavelli considers the state of men (li uomini) and makes this the object of his research, it is also worth pointing out that in his treatment of the antiquity (l’antiquità), and making the focus of this antiquity Roman and Greek, Machiavelli prepared the way for the emergence of Europe out of Christendom.

2.) Machiavelli seeks to grasp the principle or sense of history. He notes the absurdity in believing antiquity to be irreproducible and inimitable: ‘as if the sky, the sun, the elements, men, had changed in their motion, their order and their power from that which they had been in antiquity.’6 In this he appears to follow Thucydides, in seeking to extract human nature from out of the snags and tangles of human affairs. Yet Thucydides remained high above the rabble of events, and never failed in his halcyon remove. Machiavelli is interested in the lessons that these events provide for the intent ‘to find new ways and orders’, in an action similar to finding ‘unknown waters and lands’; he, like the Roman chroniclers, poses old models with the intent of encouraging their imitation. But while the Roman chroniclers sought to instil in their contemporary compeers a sense of the virtue of the elder Romans, Machiavelli would teach models of governance and rule from past examples. This is the pith of the difference between Roman virtus and Renaissance virtù. It is also the pith of the difference between the historian Machiavelli and the histor Thucydides: Thucydidean historiography aims at understanding, Machiavellian historiography aims at theory and praxis. Thucydidean historiography culminates in that clarion calm of soul so characteristic of the ancients and especially the ancient philosophers; Machiavellian historiography produces a cold wakeful restlessness of soul such as was characteristic of the Renaissance men and especially statesmen. Put in other terms: Thucydides permits us to transcend and stand over time and the passage of human things; Machiavelli lodges us firmly within time, and to that extent agitates and perturbs the spirit. Yet Machiavelli’s own spirit, his aloof still eye, remains itself high above the same, and it is an open question whether Machiavelli’s perspective is any less elevated than that of Thucydides.

3.) The specific difference between Thucydides’ view and Machiavelli’s appears to reduce to a different understanding of man himself. Thucydides sought out the essence of human things, or human nature. This nature is as an interior principle governing the actions of men and the outcomes of all those events which do not depend on the gods or on the intercession of telluric disasters like plagues or earthquakes. That nature does not change with time, and to understand it for what it is reveals at once the limits of possibility so far as the governance of mankind is concerned; history, as Thucydides understands it, is a discipline in divine unconcern. Machiavelli seems to recognize this same stability of human nature or human being; yet he considers it variable in ways that Thucydides would have thought it stable. He puts it into the same category as ‘the sky, the sun, the elements’; Machiavelli speaks of man as being a part and parcel of what would come to be known as the ‘natural world’; his view of ‘human nature’ is essentially modern. All of these things, sky, sun, elements and man, have determinate ‘motion, order and power’; this is to be understood in contradistinction to nature in the ancient sense.7 The terms ‘order and power’ would develop in complicated ways in further modernity, especially in the work of historians like Giambattista Vico and José Ortega y Gasset on the one hand, and Hobbes and Nietzsche on the other. As for the use of the word ‘motion’ here, it is of peculiar interest, insofar as it seems to echo the work of the natural scientists, and to perceive man as a kind of physical being, made up of manipulable ‘elements’, while the ancients viewed man as a being of a speficic nature within the cosmos, the ordered whole. If the former view is taken, then man can be understood in his mechanical laws, just as any other part of the world; he can be reduced to these laws. But understanding these laws and their special workings permits one to manipulate them or to direct them;8 man and human society is more flexible than was hitherto believed. The study of history is therefore effective, insofar as it reveals, not how men are here and now, but how they always have been, thus allowing one to overcome the evident limitations of the human condition. Fortuna can be conquered by comprehension of the laws of nature; that is the modern scientific view. This dialectic, and the tension that it suggests between ‘material laws’ and ‘immaterial understanding’, form a sizeable portion of the later manifestations of modernity.

4.) Machiavelli’s view of time is twofold. On the one hand, he notes the destructive power of time: the better part of Titus Livy’s books have been ‘intercepted’ by the ‘malignity of the times’.9 Yet the plural here indicates that it was not time itself to have done this work, but rather the specific epochs of human history; the agent of destruction is not the ravaging of time, but the folly or ignorance or forgetfulness of man.10 Meanwhile, ‘they say [that time] is the father of every truth.’11 In this same passage, he speaks again of ‘malignity’, but now of the malignity of ‘wicked men’ (uomini rei), who might occult their malignity, but who will be shown out by time. Time, as opposed to ‘the times’, is not malignant; Time is the great educator and benefactor of man. The gifts of time are obscured or misused by the malignancy of ‘the times’, of men. He who comes later in time has access to knowledge which he who came before did not have; each man is privileged with respect to those who came before. Review of history will finally permit one to come to terms with the nature of man and the laws by which he is governed, the overcoming of history thorugh the conquering of Fortuna; modernity is characterized by the historical discovery of history, and the consequent light which it grants to the mind of man. This is the origin of our idea of progress; Machiavelli is the father of Modernity itself.

Put in brief, we might say that to the Livian sense of history, Machiavelli added science, though this (scienza) is not a word he himself uses, preferring to speak instead of cognition or knowledge (cognizione). His study of the past is aimed at deriving knowledge therefrom which can be used for the future. Put otherwise, while Livy looks into the past in order to encourage the Romans of his time to return to nobler past models, for Machiavelli it is not enough to return; one must go beyond as well. This is the expression of the agonistic spirit of the Renaissance itself, which did not set out merely to reproduce Antiquity, but to better it – which set itself into direct contest with Antiquity, and sought to improve upon Antiquity in terms of knowledge and art. In politics, in art, in literature, in philosophy, Renaissance man desired preeminence; who knows but that he was attempting at the same time to overcome Fortuna, and maybe even the gods.

1. Critical History

Machiavelli’s position implied a superior perspective of the past, a higher vantage which had been gained owing to nothing but the passage of time. The whole of Modernity adopted in full this sense of a higher vantage point as a special gift of ‘history’. It has been common, since the earliest dawning of Modernity, to regard Antiquity with a strange combination of reverence and contempt: reverence for its evident greatness, contempt for that which seems to us childlike and naïve in it. This higher vantage would later be referred to as the occurrence of a ‘privileged moment’, that moment which permitted the ‘end of history’ in the decisive, which is to say, philosophical sense.

Before the emergence of this idea particularly in Hegel, however, there was a nascent sense of ‘historical development’ or progress. We can summarize this view as follows. The past is past: its denizens, who lack the benefit of hindsight and of long ages of recorded human experience, are necessarily more ignorant than those late-comers who inherit this record. Modern man therefore knows what past man could not know. Modern man can view the past with the benefit of science.12

As Machiavelli perceived, scientific or historical knowledge hinges on the basic trans-historical similarity not to say unchanging substrata of the human condition in any age one pleases. Man, like sky, sun, and elements, does not change; the laws which govern his life remain the same. History gives us access to those laws; it does not alter them, but it can use its knowledge of them to alter the physical world. The scientific view of history depends on this supposition; science presupposes the equality of man throughout time.

In consequence of this, it is possible, according to modern critical historiography, to know more about the past than the past knew about itself. This feeling or theorum or hypothesis forms the first wave of ‘historicism’ in our times. It is the pith, for instance, of Spinoza’s Biblical criticism and of the Renaissance-humanist literary analysis, both of which attempted to guage the authenticity or spuriousness of past documents which had been traditionally taken to be genuine, as for instance the canonical Gospels as against the non-canonical, the dialogues of Plato, the fragments of Antiquity, the Donation of Constantine, etc. Similarly, certain ‘anthropological’ or ‘sociological’ investigations were inaugurated which proceeded from the supposition (later seemingly confirmed by Darwinianism) of the gradual progression of humanity from a state of animalistic barbarism to a state of increasingly complex, varied and sophisticated civilization. All of this provided the framework for our present view of these sciences or pseudo-sciences.

The modern conception of history is finally and secretly self-destructive, and that has formed the drama of history in our time, which has culminated at last in nihilism.

By this view, the seeds of contempt for the past were sown, the secret undoing of the Renaissance attempt recover of a noble Antiquity. The past by this scientistic view is lowly; what sense then is there in attempting to recover it? Sooner should one attempt to ‘objectify’ it, to understand it from our superior position. And simultaneously, this movement sowed the seeds of its own undoing; it established an attitude of superciliousness with regard to everything that had come before, seemingly unaware of the fact that it, too, would one day become merely that which had come before. By abandoning the eternal and the transhistorical, the modern conception of history consigns itself to the ravenous waves of Time the Destroyer; by enthroning the spirit of criticism, it dooms itself to be dismantled by the same. It is finally and secretly self-destructive, and that has formed the drama of history in our time, which has culminated at last in nihilism.

The critical view of history produced the conditions for the trifurcation of knowledge in the Modern Era. Prior to Modernity, knowledge was considered one, whole, indivisible, unified; in Modernity, one sees for the first time the emergence, not only of branches of knowledge (these had always existed), but three major trunks of knowledge springing up from seemingly disparate points of ground. These can broadly be called art, science, and what is presently called ‘philosophy’.13 We will consider these in turn, following ever our chosen polestar of ‘history’.

2. Art

The Renaissance, it could be said, discovered art. This is not to say that something akin to art (e.g., painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, etc.) had not existed prior to it; this is neither to say that prior ages and other civilizations had not produced art of a calibre equal to or surpassing that of the Renaissance – though it is at least arguable that so far as the so-called visual arts are concerned, the Italian Renaissance truly is the unsurpassed age. Be this as it may, the Renaissance was the first age to discover in the artist a way of life, an expression or consummation of human nature, a kind of being which might rival that of the philosopher, the priest, or the statesman. Nowhere in prior epochs or in other civilizations does one encounter this view; the closest one comes to it is in the rivalry between philosophy and poetry in Classical Greece, classically expressed in the divine contest between Plato and Homer. The differences or similarities between these two expressions cannot be considered here; for the moment, we can only note that the Classical view certainly relegated all handicrafts, including painting and sculpture, to a secondary if not tertiary rank, and held the viable contestants to be at most philosophers and poets. Insofar as the Renaissance was a repetition of the Classical view, it generally fell firmly in favour of the poets; but it also extended the same prerogatives, the same divine qualities, to all ‘artists’ as such. We owe the word ‘art’ itself in its contemporary acceptation to the Renaissance; it is a characteristically Italian transformation of the Latin ars into the Renaissance arte.

The men of the Renaissance were enormously proud of their achievements in the arts. It was in large part the obvious reproductive power of the visual arts with respect to the entirety of the post-classical period which led many Renaissance people to claim that their age rivalled the greatest ages of the past; and indeed, this extraordinarily high estimation of the arts was connected both to the growth of science on the one hand (science does not shrink from applications of its knowledge), and the growing dismissal and even contempt of the so-called ‘Dark’ or ‘Middle Ages’ on the other. The Renaissance heart was filled with wonder at the evident divinity of its own material creations; it felt itself for this reason to be living in a new age, to be in the throws of a rebirth, a renaissance. To this feeling, this sense, and also to these achievements, we owe many wonders without which the world should be painfully the poorer; but we also owe to it the birth of the dangerous idea of progress in our times.

But the Renaissance notion of progress was far from our present notion. To the men of the Renaissance, progress meant the perfection of the arts and technical knowledge in accord with a universal and transhistorical canon. They were not attempting to replace the great works of antiquity, but to surpass them; this depends necessarily on a shared standard of measurement, a shared valuation of excellence, common to both antiquity and to ‘modernity’, to the Renaissance. The standards were indelible; it was their manifestation, their execution which was improved, both from the technical standpoint (new techniques for producing more magnificent or longer-lasting or more vibrant works) and from the aesthetic (greater perfection of execution). That is why the classical is called classical, and why Renaissance art can rightly be regarded as an instance of the classical spirit. It is also why the Middle Ages were felt to be ‘Middle’, i.e. an intercession in an otherwise unbroken tradition.

But the spirit which was so infused into the hearts of men was of easy corruption, and fast it did indeed corrupt: it is all too easy, particularly for artists of the second-rank (I will probably not be forgiven if I include Bernini in this category) or for men of overweaning ambition (I provide the example of Caravaggio, despite my love for him), to mistake this desire to surpass for a desire to supplant – to suppose that the goal is not to perfect, but to break asunder; not to excel, but to produce novelty for novelty’s sake. The natural temptation is to overthrow the standards themselves and to replace the canon with a new canon. This degenerate and destructive inclination was aided by a basic ambiguity in the Renaissance; the Renaissance represented at once the reverence of the deep past in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, and the rejection of the more recent past in the Age of Christendom; while the one stance encouraged respect and submission for past standards and a love for tradition, the other strongly incited the rampant abandonment of past standards and of tradition. The movement from older and traditional standards to newer and ‘improved’ standards is necessarily erosive of standards as such; progress, so understood (as indeed most of Modernity has understood it) is a corrosive ideal.

Yet this is precisely what is mean when one speaks of ‘novelty in art’ or of the ‘genius of the artist’; still more when one speaks of the ‘genius’ as such. The ‘genius’ is not merely the man who, through a combination of native talent with fine education and training produces the highest manifestations of his particular trade or craft of art; the genius is rather that person who ‘shifts the paradigm’ – to use a phrase taken directly from our contemporary paradigm – or who upsets the entire world by ‘revaluating values’. The artist as genius was implicit in the Renaissance, for it was by the artists that the spell and spirit of the age were basically cast; the ‘genius’ became almost a cult in the Romantic period, during which, despite all its excitement and its often overwhelming and beautiful vibrancy of colors and emotions, one had almost even forgotten the true meaning of such ‘revaluation’; one was quite content to jump upon the latest bandwagon, no matter how road-worthy it might prove to be. The utter dissolution of the arts today is but the final and necessary expression of this tendency’s inevitable conclusion.

The artist so understood differed from the poet of antiquity. In the first place, the poet tended to be conservative (consider Aeschylus, Sophocles, even Aristophanes; Euripides was so controversial and so frowned upon precisely because he was not conservative). The poet was indeed more conservative than the philosopher, which was one of the points of contention between the two. The artist meanwhile is revolutionary, and appears to be even moreso than the philosopher; to some extent, this is due merely to an error of perspective (the philosophers like to hide beneath modest garb), but there is surely truth to it at least insofar as one compares modern artists with ancient philosophers. Even those artists who appear to be conservative betray themselves in their art: even Turgenev, that instinctually conventional man, produced the nihilist Bazarov; even Thomas Mann, that self-avowed friend of the bourgeoisie, produced an Adrian Leverkühn. Furthermore, classical poetry was always or almost always pious; the comic poets were able to express marvellous irreverencies, to be sure, but only because these were considered to be stated in jest, without earnestness. The contemporary artist, meanwhile, revels in blasphemy where he does not wallow in it; it is understood that he will be an atheist or a sceptic or worse still, so that one is surprised to find exceptions to this rule. Often enough he seeks out the impious, the horrible, the godless; his instinct carries him to do so even when he is, like Dostoevsky, a deeply pious man himself.

On this point, however, there appears to be an underlying unity between the modern artist and the classical poet: they are both infused with some kind of enthusiasm; they are both inspired by mysterious forces. There is something numinous or enigmatic in the work of the true contemporary artist, even if he himself is a thoroughgoing atheist; he owes his work, as much as Homer or Hesiod, to some Muse, if not to some devil.

The nature of modern art concerns us here only insofar as it was the agent of a certain historical development: it was largely through the idea of art and the artist that a significant portion of the modern world erupted, namely, that portion which moves restlessly and ceaselessly toward the abolition of the old and the establishment of the perennially new. That same force which tears down aging buildings to produce concrete monstrosities, which relegates ‘old art’ to museums so that it can set up blank canvasses (when one is lucky) in their place, and which sleeplessly dreams new ways of undoing the work even of yesterday to produce something ‘original’, was carried in ovo in the Renaissance. From this, indeed, there arose a new idea of history itself: history as constant development, history as becoming, history as ceaseless movement, history as – ‘life’ itself. It is no wonder that the ideas of ‘history’ and of ‘vitalism’ should have found their fullest expression in a philosopher who proclaimed himself to be a greater friend of the artists than any philosopher yet had been.

3. Modern Science and Philosophy

When pre-modern generations used the word ‘science’, it was ever in the Aristotelian sense of the science, the science of the whole, philosophy. These two ‘disciplines’ parted ways in early and middle modernity, for reasons we cannot consider here. In their division, the scientific view of man, and hence of history, was born.

This view arose in the first place as an attempt to work out the laws of history. This followed immediately upon the Machiavellian tradition, and it is probably no wonder that its great protagonist, Giambattista Vico, was himself an Italian. He attempted to grasp the cyclical nature of history in a precise and scientific way, through the notion of corso e ricorso, course and recourse, or turn and return, which mirrors the ancient philosophical view of the downward swinging cycle of human regimes. Yet his theories are stated most famously in a book which bears the title La Scienza Nuova, ‘The New Science’; Vico is not reproposing that which has been proposed, but is speaking in that new vein which is of the essence of modern things. The novelty of his view is contained, in part, in the fact that he is the first man to propose a universal history, a history which comprehends the whole of the past and attempts to derive therefrom the principles of human life. While the ancient philosophers were precisely philosophers, men who turned from the sky and the earth to consider human things and to the human soul, Vico is a historian, a man who attempts to understand human things through the understanding of ‘human history’ itself.

‘Objective history’ – this rodent-like ‘fact collection’ which is somehow supposed to issue in ‘scientific theory’ – is utterly ineffectual.

To perform this work, one must grasp the true, inner state of a vast variety of epochs, to understand them thoroughly, from front to back as it were. This art or science can no longer limit itself to scrutiny of the ways of one’s own people, as Thucydides, the Roman chroniclers, or even Machiavelli (who looked at the history of his own heritage as a man born in the lap of European Christendom); nor can it, with Herodotus, limit itself to that which one has seen with one’s own eyes or the rumour one has heard with one’s own ears. It must transcend these limitations in favour of three sources: first, the broad array of human documents of the past from all civilizations, even those most foreign (stranieri); second, the broad array of human documents of world travellers, as for instance Marco Polo and Herodotus himself, and the word they have brought back of what they have witnessed; and third, the evidences left by ancient civilizations in the ruins and artefacts of their once great cities. All of this depends on having attained a certain degree of ‘history’, of having a certain quantity of recorded past and exploration at one’s disposal; it is to that degree historically contingent, just as all human things, even the most transcendent of them (like philosophy), are today thought to be contingent. But this in itself does not suffice. One must also have reached a certain ‘historical sense’, an idea of the existence of history, of one’s having a certain privileged position in the historical flow which permits one to see what all past men could not see, to sit upon this vantage and to review the long arc of human events with an imperturbed and steady eye. The modern sense of history arises when man begins to replace philosophy with history. The emergence of this ‘historical sense’, which can be seen first in men like Vico, marks the birth of history as we understand it, which would later be systematized in Hegel and Marx.

This ‘historical sense’, in its scientific as opposed to philosophical half, was originally considered the product of our mere lateness, of the fact that we come after so long a past, so great a heritage; but the implication here is that there will be other and ‘later’ men who will see with yet greater clarity, for we ourselves and our achievements will form an accretion to their heritage. Then the ‘truth’ cannot be accessed by us simply on account of our historical position, for our perspective, while wide with respect to the past, is narrow with respect to the future. The man of tomorrow will see, not only the past that we can see, but also the ‘past’ that we ourselves are living; they will to that extent see more than we see. They will understand us as we cannot understand ourselves. The necessary consequence of this view is scepticism in the possibility of any transhistorical truth; it would appear that all men are bound by their time, for the great fount of human knowledge, the past, grows wider and deeper with time, as more and more tributaries empty into it; and all of us are bound to this swelling passage of time, unto the undoing of the human world itself in the great sea of nothingness or being. This scepticism would appear to abolish truth, and in its emergence, which followed fast on the discovery of history, Modernity glimpsed for the first time the abyss of nihilism that it had unwittingly opened beneath its feet.

The scientific view of history attempts to overcome this scepticism, to stave off the abyss, by replacing the ‘historical sense’ with ‘historical studies’, thus transforming history from a ‘subjective’ study, dependent on one’s personal position in the flow of time, to an ‘objective’ and ‘scientific’ study, which subjects historical material to the standards and criteria of modern science. In order to accomplish this, the study of history had to be rendered valueless.14 This movement can be seen most clearly in the work of men like Max Weber and his science of sociology, and it marks to this day the sense of ‘history’ in the text-book sense, which attempts to nowhere draw ‘value judgements’ about the past. It would review history, not only sine ira et studio, but even sine juditio.

In the first part of this essay, we have subjected this view to strong critique. It is worth pausing here a moment on at least one of the most serious flaws in such a perspective, which proves it to be utterly fanciful when one has taken the least time to scrutinize the matter.

The commitments of the scientific historian, which are largely unexamined by this historian himself and which undergird his viewpoint or worldview, force him to take critical stances on past events, despite his best efforts at ‘neutrality’; these critical stances cannot be regarded as merely ‘analytical’, but they are necessarily evaluative. Moreover, these stances do not arise from the historian’s study of the past, but rather inform it; they therefore render non-evaluative or objective or scientific historiography impossible.

Let us take a classic case: the case of Jesus Christ. Believers will interpret the life of Christ in the light of their belief, nonbelievers in the light of their nonbelief. The ‘historical record’ cannot determine this issue, for every fact of that record, every detail, every scrap or shred of information which remains to us of the life of a ‘historical figure’ bearing the name or moniker of Jesus Christ, will inevitably be thrown into special relief or will be given its particular weight and position in the overarching narrative of history by nothing other than one’s prior, one’s prehistorical ideas regarding that man and his life. But briefly, the Christian will interpret this life in a radically different way than the non-Christian, though both of them are working from ‘primary sources’. ‘Facts’ here are neutral in the true sense; they are given their valence, their ‘magnetic charge’ by one’s inherent manner of looking at the world. No man ever changed his mind about Christianity by reviewing the ‘facts’ of the matter, save as he had already been persuaded in his heart or his deeper reason by the worldview which determines Christianity on the one hand, and secular historiography on the other.15

‘Objective history’ – this rodent-like ‘fact collection’ which is somehow supposed to issue in ‘scientific theory’ – is therefore utterly ineffectual. The specific choice of facts, the special presentation of facts which characterizes every historian’s work, depends on an unstated determination of what facts are important, and what facts are not – what facts salient, what facts relevant, what records or narratives true and what false or mistaken or mendacious. None of this comes from history itself.

This has compelled some historians to attempt to look at past epochs from the perspective of those epochs, to attempt to see them as it were from within; this returns us to the ‘historical sense’ as, for instance, Nietzsche and Jacob Burckhardt understood it. But one runs into immediate difficulties even here, because the historian, to earn this ‘inner view’, must have recourse to the writings of the men of the epoch in question as his primary means of entering into the ‘spirit of the times’. But the men of one and the same epoch will disagree about the ‘spirit of the times’, and indeed in many cases even one and the same man of a given historical epoch will change his mind regarding it. One is thus flung into a whirlwind of first-person ‘subjective evaluations’, the very same that scientific historiography was supposed to save us from; and one’s determination of which of these to adopt and which to reject will ultimately depend on one’s own stance and standpoint here, in modern times.

Scientific history then appears to be unable to teach us anything about ourselves, for we bear ourselves on our backs as we march through the long terrain of the past, and seem to be driven on like donkeys by this rider we have never adequately understood, and about whom we can learn nothing by merely looking at the lands surrounding us. ‘History’ is thus essentially meaningless, the mere echo and babble of a million voices which dispute and argue points that we ourselves must adjudicate insofar as we are men, and which we ourselves cannot adjudicate insofar as we are ‘historians’. This enormous burden is either shucked off altogether, or else it is, as is only right, thrown back on philosophy; for in truth, one must be a good student of philosophy before one can be a good student of history.

‘Non-evaluative’ or scientific method is the very opposite of philosophy. It attempts to grasp the silver fish of the past with its bare hands, but they always slip away; and so it fashions a hook and a bait, and kills the past so soon as it has finally got its grip on it. This kind of history therefore transforms inevitably into academic or scholarly history – history which studies the past from a specific point of view which is tacitly understood to be superior: that of democratic, liberal, scientific modernity. This, however, so far from being ‘objective’ historiography, is in fact a historiography mired in its own delusion of objectivity; it is thus not objective even by half. In its most honourable form, it becomes ‘pragmatic historiography’, whose watchword is embodied in the prosaic expression that ‘whoever does not understand the past is doomed to repeat it’: it seeks to avoid past mistakes by drawing from history a set of analogies for understanding present situations. And while there is some evident value in such pursuits, it is dubious to what extent it is meaningful as a sense of history, a view and comprehension of the past or of the men of the past or of man as such.

Moreover, even this kind of pragmatic historiography is rarely enough attained in any brilliant way by contemporary history, which rather tends to devolve into an absolutely superfluous, banal, dry-as-bone and unconsciously arrogant review of the ‘infantile’ or ‘naïve’ or ‘unmodern’ past, or else an equally boring and totally inexplicable, almost frantic excitement at finding in the past analogues to modernity – ‘protoliberal thinkers’ or ‘prototypical forms of democracy’, etc. – as if the past were totally worthless save as it echoes the droning low of our own sacred cows.

This much is certain: by this view, there are no ‘lessons of history’, save those that we are taught all-too-often already: namely, that we are superior with respect to the past, that we embody progress, that we are the culmination of so many false starts and inadequate attempts and fragmentary knowledge on the part of past men. This ‘history’ is not history at all: it is but Narcissus gazing into a pool which is filled, perchance, with shimmering jewels and fish of the most brilliant and fascinating array, and seeing therein only – his own reflection.

And indeed, this has been the very pith and pivot of a good deal of modern philosophy, which has been actuated profoundly by the modern sense of history. This most modern portion of modern philosophy has essentially seconded the perspective we have just critiqued, by asserting that we have arrived at an unprecedented point in history, which has granted us a new consciousness, and absolutely privileged position or a situation of objective superiority. This is the view taken by men like Marx, Hegel, Kojéve and Fukuyama, and it is known as the ‘end of history’. By this view, philosophy, and with it the social or political order of mankind, has been completed in the decisive sense thanks to the ‘historical development’ of human thought. All that remains is the unravelling of the implications and practical establishments of this special and final historical insight: the past has been finally overcome, the future, finally abolished.

Yet it is immediately evident, as is sufficiently demonstrated merely by consideration of the ‘history of philosophy’ since the figures aforementioned, that this view is somewhat suspiciously inconclusive. It has not been immune to critiques by newer philosophers. We are then forced to ask if the bringers of these critiques were fools or madmen; for if they were not, if they were men in full possession of their faculties and of an intelligence not inferior to the producers of the theory of the ‘end of history’ itself, then it is clear that history has not ended. Yet no one who considers, for instance, Nietzsche, Leo Strauss, Julius Evola, etc. can easily make the claim that he is dealing with men inadequate to the task of philosophy.

Is the ‘end of history’ really meant in this peculiar sense, that Modernity has culminated in this end, has destroyed its own underpinnings, including the modern sense of history itself?

More: the end of history seems necessarily to bring the final social order. But there has surely been no stop to politics. Even the most recent (and most superficial) of the thinkers or philosophers listed above, Fukuyama, was forced to backtrack and qualify his somewhat premature announcement of the end of history; evidently he had cut the ribbon too soon, for history has stubbornly persisted despite his confident pronouncement of its conclusion. To preserve the sense of the end of history in the face of the pertinacious ceaselessness of events, one must then claim that it the end of history is merely philosophical, that it is not necessarily reflected in the social or political life of man – that that life is somehow immune to or ignorant of or disconnected from the end of history. Wisdom has arrived – to the philosopher; but this wisdom has no necessary ramifications for non-philosophical men, who make up the vast majority of any human society. And this could certainly be maintained. The evident problem, of course, is that all of the major proponents of the end of history have argued that the end of history would be as much a matter of polities as of philosophies, and would result finally in a universal or global world state which reflected this final human wisdom. One must then admit that these men were wrong in their estimation: and this means necessarily that their philosophies or systems of thought were incomplete, that philosophy continues beyond them – that even in the realm of ‘human wisdom’ there has been no ‘end of history’.

Finally: the end of history suggests the finalization of human knowledge in the decisive respect or the final unification of human knowledge in essentials or first principles, so that all that will remain is the ‘detail work’; but the ‘trifurcation of Modernity’ which we are discussing here persists, and even in the three branches of Modern knowledge, there are deep and abiding incompletenesses. Art has become a lowly mishmash, at war even with itself in the production of the most abhorrent and scandalous products imaginable. Modern science has yet to arrive at the ‘grand unified theory’ by which it can reconcile the evident discrepancies in its own fundamental hypotheses. Modern philosophy, meanwhile, remains eternally divorced from this modern science, and all attempts to reconcile the two – as for instance Husserlian phenomenology and ‘linguistic philosophy’ à la Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein – have been utterly in vain, and have if anything culminated in a more generalized and thoroughgoing scepticism, which teeters often enough into nihilism through the vortex of complacent relativism, as exemplified in those ultra-modern dogmatists Derrida, Rorty and Foucault.

‘History’ has no plateau. The greatest moderns, perceiving this fact, have proposed a sense of History as a mysterious containing horizon, a rigid boundary around human things which cannot be escaped by its children. Such often appears to be the stance of Nietzsche; such was certainly the position of Heidegger. But the attempts to lend philosophical justification to this view seem ever to presuppose a definite and definable ‘end of history’ to which one can make decisive reference. It has been averred, for instance, that the philosophers are not those men who transcend history in their thought, but only who, on account of their sensitivity of intellect and indeed being, are the first to see the new historical paradigms as they arrive. Yet precisely if this is the true view of the philosophers and their relation to history, it itself forms a transhistorical perspective which was evidently inaccessible up until our day: this view itself is a ‘gift of History’, the same History which has mysteriously determined to grant us some small truth which it has denied to all its other children.

This same objection can be brought against all philosophical ideas about the ‘nature of history’ which wish to avoid the privileged historical moment; they all of them exclude themselves from their judgement of the relativity of history, they all of them presuppose the privileged historical moment whether they would or no. Nor is it enough to say simply that the view of historical relativism is the most probable view; for what worlds hide in that sliver of possibility on the other side of mere probability!

Nonetheless, accepting this view for a moment, we become aware of an interesting feature of it. The claim is that all men are most likely bound by their birth and the conditions of their birth to hold to certain errors produced for them by the limitations of the city; the philosopher will then be he who is modest enough to acknowledge the boundaries set around his supposed knowledge. This is not a ‘modern relativism’ at all: this is practically identical to Socratic ignorance, to Socrates’ ‘I know that I know nothing’; this view is coeval with the birth of philosophy itself. And it opens the enormous question of whether the limitations of the city or of one’s time are really inscribed in adamant around the human life. But to ask that question is already in a certain sense to have transcended those limits.

Let us rephrase all of this in the context of our times. Modernity appears to culminate everywhere in the proposition that history has been brought to an end by Modernity itself. The ‘end of history’ seems at first glance to be an incredible liberation from the flow, the laws, the consequences of the ‘senseless course of events’; but upon review it proves itself as rather the contrary. This ‘end of history’ is produced by the laws of history itself, it is the inevitable and inescapable outcome of the ‘march of history’, whose destination is inscribed inscrutibly on a mountain face we can neither see nor summit. We care compelled to fall in step, until we have been ordered to stop at a point we can neither choose nor understand; we are the bondsmen of history.

According to modern dogma, every specific epoch has its own specific form of slavery to history. These forms of slavery are accessible to hindsight; looking back on prior ages, we, with our much touted ‘historical sense’, can perceive the special limitations of previous epochs and the specific limits of their sight. But supposing this as true for a moment, the question necessarily opens of what our own slavery consists in. One of the greatest modern innovations in all of human thought, however, is nothing other than the idea of history itself. This idea is our special prison. Awareness of this fact permits us at least a qualified escape from the same; for it already means much indeed if the prisoner is able to perceive the external boundaries of his prison; that already suggests a degree of liberty uncommon to prisoners.

Does then the sense of history abolish itself? Is the ‘end of history’ really meant in this peculiar sense, that Modernity has culminated in this end, has destroyed its own underpinnings, including the modern sense of history itself? To answer this, one must understand the modern sense of history thoroughly from within, one must review its origins and its quality. We have obviously not performed such an investigation here, which would require a treatise in and of itself. But a necessary step toward that investigation is the comparison of the modern sense of history with other possible senses of history; and it happens that the modern obsession with history opens that possibility to us in a way which was perhaps closed or difficult of passage to pre-modern times. Our famous ‘historical sense’ does indeed permit us to enter into the past, if we be fit for it and ready in mind and soul – to enter this past, not as some visitor to a museum, ready to soak up facts and figures and to look upon all of these matters from the point of view of a detached observer; but rather as a voyager in time who is capable of moving fish-like through the very spirit of prior epochs, which spirit he can access despite the obscurity of the ‘facts’ in which it arose. The sense of history, which seems to mire us in the swamp of history, permits us transcend history through this sense itself, by giving us the means to present ourselves before and within the prior senses of ‘history’.

So we are thrown back on the very question which has occasioned this all-too-brief survey. What is the meaning of history, what is its sense? That question itself contains the secret for overcoming the modern historical dilemma, and points us finally to the necessity of reunifying human knowledge16 – under the auspices of philosophy.


1Machiavelli, Discourses, Proem. All translations mine.

2Note indeed that the Discourses, which are much more steeped in history than The Prince, are dedicated to two of Machiavelli’s friends, not ‘men who are princes, but they who for their infinite good traits would merit to be such’. If The Prince is aimed at the training of a man who is to found a principality (Italy), the Discourses are aimed rather at the productiong of virtue in statesmen.

3See once more Nietzsche’s On the Uses and Abuses of History.

4Machiavelli, Discourses, Proem.

5Cf. The Prince, Chapter VI.

6Machiavelli, Discourses, Proem.

7I have no doubt that discourses entire could be written on Machiavelli’s sense of nature. A few observations here. Machiavelli speaks of nature rarely enough; first and centrally, in the ‘envious nature of men’, which is present in the very first line of the entire book; subsequently, he states that ‘the nature of men is ambitious and suspect’ (XXIX). This bad nature of men is surely a far cry from the ‘nature’ of the ancients, which was precisely excellent, noble, high; it was in their deficiency with respect to nature that men were considered bad. In Book I, Chapter XXXVII, Machiavelli says that ‘nature created men in such a way that they can desire everything, and cannot attain everything.’ This use of nature as the ‘composite of the things that are’ or ‘of the laws of all that is’ is strikingly modern, and equally strikingly far from the ancient sense; it is reproduced in other parts of the book (II: Introduction, II.III, II.V, III.XXVII; for the connection between man and the nature of places, see especially III.XLIII, which is the only chapter to contain the word ‘nature’ in its title, in what is also, I believe, the final use made of the word in the book). It represents the modern replacement of the idea of cosmos for ‘nature’. Nature can be altered (I.XLI–I.XLII, III.IX), and individuals and peoples may have their own specific natures (I.XVI, I.LVIII, III.XXII, III.XXXVI), but there is also a limit to how far it can be altered (I: Introduction, III.XXI). Following the Christian tradition, nature is understood in contrast to the supernatural (I.LVI).

8Nature can be changed: see Discourses, I.XLI–I.XLII, III.IX

9Machiavelli, Discourses, Proem.

10Might Machiavelli reduce this to the baleful ‘interception’ of Christianity?

11Ibid., Book I, Chapter III.

12I have considered this question at some length in a previous essay. See ‘Disquisition on the Origins’, Arktos Journal 1 May 2019.

13By ‘science’ we of course mean modern science; prior to the emergence of so-called ‘natural science’ in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, ‘science’ was identical to ‘philosophy’. Traditional philosophy was the king of all sciences, the unified science, that science in which the indivisible and unified truth was approached or revealed or studied. Philosophy as it is presently understood – an academic specialization – is thus fundamentally different from philosophy in the true sense. While the modern philosophers (as opposed to scholars or academicians) are true philosophers, they have struggled with the breech between science and philosophy for four hundred years, and have never yet resolved this modern problem to the satisfaction of those who see it with clarity.

14I have commented elsewhere on the necessary and strict connection between ‘valuelessness’ and modern science; see ‘Science: The Lesser Sphere’, Arktos Journal 5 November 2018.

15The reader who would like to consider this at greater depth is invited to compare the account made of the birth of Christ by Warren H. Carroll in The Founding of Christendom: A History of Christendom (Vol. 1), (Christendom Press, 2004) even with the account made by a ‘candid friend of Christianity’ like Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Penguin Group, 2011). These are both of them modern historians; both of them hold to the highest and most rigorous canon of historical criteria in their work. But one of them looks at these matters through the lens of his religious faith, while the other looks at them through the lens of his secular faith; indeed, the major difference between them consists in this: that while the Christian historian is well aware that he is working from a specific set of presuppositions, a specific point of view, which regulates and determines his history, the secular historian is labouring under the unworthy delusion that he is free of all this.

16See especially the third part of Alexander Illingworth’s recent Arktos Journal essay, The Enlightened Mind: Perspectives and Solutions.

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Social Doctrine and the Right – Part 3 Fri, 14 Jun 2019 12:57:44 +0000 The Character of Work

Having previously stated that the State must intervene where necessary to secure conditions proper to the well-being of the worker, Pope Leo rejects the notion that once the proprietor and the labourer agree upon the rate of wages, the proprietor need do no more.

We now approach a subject of great importance, and one in respect of which, if extremes are to be avoided, right notions are absolutely necessary. Wages, as we are told, are regulated by free consent, and therefore the employer, when he pays what was agreed upon, has done his part and seemingly is not called upon to do anything beyond.1

The attitude he describes ignores the character of work as an expression of one’s personality, additional to that of self-preservation. The proprietor has the upper hand in such negotiations, if there is no duty of the State to intervene, or if there is a lack of influence of subsidiary associations. Hence, ‘If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice’.2Remuneration should be such for a worker and his family to secure through reasonable thrift their own property’.3 Once one’s property has been secured through one’s own efforts then that ownership is sacrosanct, other than if it is being used to the detriment of the organic community. The State has no right of confiscation, and that includes expropriatory taxes.

The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.4

It is notable that here Leo introduces as an advantage to the securing of social justice and property within one’s homeland, that it would not necessitate migration, such as had struck Italy and Ireland particularly hard, for instance. ‘[M]en would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life’.5 As with the previous allusion by Leo for respecting the different laws of different races, here the Papal authority again rejects the global homogenisation of humanity.

Catholicism, while intrinsically a universal spiritual creed, is not a universal temporal creed, like Capitalism and Socialism.

Catholicism, while intrinsically a universal spiritual creed, is not a universal temporal creed, like Capitalism and Socialism. Again, the ‘Social Justice Warriors’ claiming to implement Church Social Doctrine are at odds with tradition; they are a modernist heresy. Yet this modernist heresy now goes to the top of the Church hierarchy, until Social Doctrine is rendered as a Socialist banality in the interests of globalisation: ‘The fact that he is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor the citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of women and men’, stated John XXIII in 1963 in the midst of Vatican II.6 There is a spiritual gulf between the outlook Leo and that of modernist Popes, in that traditional teaching regards attachment to one’s homeland as part of a sacred birth-right that should be maintained, while the modernists scramble to be in the forefront of open borders in the name of a nebulous ‘humanity’.

Subsidiary Organisation: Basis of the Organic Community

Leo concludes Rerum Novarum with discussion on subsidiary organisation as the basis of the organic community, on the premise that issues are best dealt with at the level most immediate to the individual(s) concerned rather by a centralised State bureaucracy. For example under subsidiary, unemployment insurance, and other welfare matters would be dealt with by one’s local organisation, such as a guild. The subsidiary character of Salazar’s Portugal for example meant that local trades organisations dealt with an array of matters from employment to sports.

While much of Rerum Novarum might give the impression of recommending ad hoc Church charity or placing the worker in a subordinate position under the guise of class ‘solidarity’, the foundation of the system relies on the return of subsidiary organs. Leo states: ‘In the last place, employers and workmen may of themselves effect much, in the matter We are treating, by means of such associations and organizations as afford opportune aid to those who are in distress, and which draw the two classes more closely together’. ‘Mutual aid’ association are recommended that comprise both employers and workers.7

Leo commends the unions, but it is evident that he desires these to return to the character of guilds, and not merely to exist in their inferior modern status as associations for class conflict. The modern union becomes a symptom of social pathology, whereas the guild was the foundation of the organic community. The unions become a reflection – like Socialism, of capitalism, as Spengler noted – scrambling after crumbs from the economic table; the guild was much more than an economic unit:

The most important of all are workingmen’s unions, for these virtually include all the rest.8 History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers’ guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age – an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient. We have spoken of them more than once, yet it will be well to explain here how notably they are needed, to show that they exist of their own right, and what should be their organization and their mode of action.9

Leo was acutely aware of the pathogenic character of Socialism, often arising from Freemasonry, that aimed at nothing other than to manipulate workmen for the destruction of faith, family, and homeland.10 Leo counselled Catholic workmen to form their own associations. He warned:

Associations of every kind, and especially those of working men, are now far more common than heretofore. As regards many of these there is no need at present to inquire whence they spring, what are their objects, or what the means they imply. Now, there is a good deal of evidence in favour of the opinion that many of these societies are in the hands of secret leaders, and are managed on principles ill-according with Christianity and the public well-being; and that they do their utmost to get within their grasp the whole field of labour, and force working men either to join them or to starve.11

The desire for association is an impulse that is basic to survival. Here Leo places social ethos above individual competition, where strength is had in mutual aid, not in ‘‘til the death’ competition, rationalised as a ‘scientific’ social-darwinism to justify social and economic excesses in the name of ‘natural law’ and social ‘evolution’, which sundry Protestant pastors taught as the ‘will of God’.

The consciousness of his own weakness urges man to call in aid from without. We read in the pages of holy Writ: ‘It is better that two should be together than one; for they have the advantage of their society. If one fall he shall be supported by the other. Woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth he hath none to lift him up.’12And further: ‘A brother that is helped by his brother is like a strong city’.13 14

Leo affirmed the right of association in bodies independent of the State. Although the State oversees the social organism as a totality, as the brain co-ordinates the different organs with their differing functions in an organism, it is because organs have specialised functions in being part of the entire organism that they should be valued as a necessity by the higher authority, and not seen as in conflict. Leo was addressing the situation of his day, where the State and the bourgeoisie regarded unions as ‘the enemy’. Where an organ of the wider social organism is in ill-health, it is surely incumbent on the social organism to seek to restore that organism to the fullest possible vigour, unless it becomes so pathogenic that it needs purging from the body-politic. Leo drew again on Church lore to explain the organic nature of mutual aid and association:

These lesser societies and the larger society differ in many respects, because their immediate purpose and aim are different. Civil society exists for the common good, and hence is concerned with the interests of all in general, albeit with individual interests also in their due place and degree. It is therefore called a public society, because by its agency, as St. Thomas of Aquinas says, ‘Men establish relations in common with one another in the setting up of a commonwealth.’15 But societies which are formed in the bosom of the commonwealth are styled private, and rightly so, since their immediate purpose is the private advantage of the associates. ‘Now, a private society,’ says St. Thomas again, ‘is one which is formed for the purpose of carrying out private objects; as when two or three enter into partnership with the view of trading in common.’16 Private societies, then, although they exist within the body politic, and are severally part of the commonwealth, cannot nevertheless be absolutely, and as such, prohibited by public authority. For, to enter into a ‘society’ of this kind is the natural right of man; and the State has for its office to protect natural rights, not to destroy them; and, if it forbid its citizens to form associations, it contradicts the very principle of its own existence, for both they and it exist in virtue of the like principle, namely, the natural tendency of man to dwell in society.17

Leo concluded by urging all the clergy to work to assist these associations and the rightful aspirations of workmen. Leo pointed out that class solidarity (‘solidarism’) is as natural as the collaboration of all the organs in the healthy functioning of the whole body. That such an obvious analogy needed explaining indicated the dysfunction of the social organism that has proceeded since the Reformation. Although the Church herself succumbed, her traditional legacy provides a complete philosophy of the Right. There are still remnants that are particularly active in providing traditional and realistic answers to modern maladies.18

The object of economy is to deliver sustenance, not to allow one element of the ‘common-wealth’ to compete for supremacy over another.

Pius XI commented that it is desirable that workers’ and employers’ associations combine in syndicates of the same trade and profession: ‘The associations, or corporations, are composed of delegates from the two syndicates (that is, of workers and employers) respectively of the same industry or profession and, as true and proper organs and institutions of the State, they direct the syndicates and coordinate their activities in matters of common interest toward one and the same end’.19 Pius XI commented that work has a social function which is not merely one of labour being sold as a commodity. Subsidiary associations need forming on the basis of mutual interests of both worker and proprietor as members of a social organ (an economic unit) which is itself a constituent of the wider social organism:

Labour, as Our Predecessor explained well in his Encyclical, is not a mere commodity. On the contrary, the worker’s human dignity in it must be recognized. It therefore cannot be bought and sold like a commodity. Nevertheless, as the situation now stands, hiring and offering for hire in the so-called labour market separate men into two divisions, as into battle lines, and the contest between these divisions turns the labour market itself almost into a battlefield where, face to face, the opposing lines struggle bitterly. Everyone understands that this grave evil which is plunging all human society to destruction must be remedied as soon as possible. But complete cure will not come until this opposition has been abolished and well-ordered members of the social body – Industries and Professions – are constituted in which men may have their place, not according to the position each has in the labour market but according to the respective social functions which each performs. For under nature’s guidance it comes to pass that just as those who are joined together by nearness of habitation establish towns, so those who follow the same industry or profession – whether in the economic or other field – form guilds or associations, so that many are wont to consider these self-governing organizations, if not essential, at least natural to civil society.20

Co-Operation or Competition?

Pius XI harkens back to an epoch prior to the ascendency of the bourgeois, when artisans, journeymen and apprentices, were parts of mutual associations that administered not only to the welfare of members, but that was ruled by an ethos of co-operation:

It is easily deduced from what has been said that the interests common to the whole Industry or Profession should hold first place in these guilds. The most important among these interests is to promote the cooperation in the highest degree of each industry and profession for the sake of the common good of the country. …21

Because order, as St. Thomas well explains,22is unity arising from the harmonious arrangement of many objects, a true, genuine social order demands that the various members of a society be united together by some strong bond. This unifying force is present not only in the producing of goods or the rendering of services – in which the employers and employees of an identical Industry or Profession collaborate jointly – but also in that common good, to achieve which all Industries and Professions together ought, each to the best of its ability, to cooperate amicably. And this unity will be the stronger and more effective, the more faithfully individuals and the Industries and Professions themselves strive to do their work and excel in it.23

The object of economy is to deliver sustenance, not to allow one element of the ‘common-wealth’ to compete for supremacy over another. Such economic competition is the product of the bourgeois epoch, and was not part of traditional society. Pius XI alludes to this: ‘Just as the unity of human society cannot be founded on an opposition of classes, so also the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces’.24 This is equally a rejection of Socialism and Manchester Liberalism. Competition is a modernist innovation.

Werner Sombart, the economist, wrote of traditional society that stating that one’s business or goods were better than those of others was regarded as ‘nefarious’. To undersell and price-cut was even worse, and worst of all to advertise. Such unethical practises started to appear during the mid-18th century. The ethical basis of traditional society was ‘fixed profits, a fixed livelihood, a fixed production and fixed prices’. An Ordinance in Paris in 1761 prohibited traders from running after one another; to quote: ‘trying to find customers, and above all, to distribute hand-bills calling attention to their wares’. ‘The theory of “just price” was an organic element’, writes Sombart. Price was as subject to religious and ethical principles ‘as everything else in economic life’. ‘It was to be such as to make for the common good, as well of the consumer as of the producer’. Sombart stated that the type of society in which such ethical considerations dominated economic life was one where ‘stability was its bulwark and tradition its guide. The individual never lost himself in the noise and whirl of business activity. He still had complete control of himself; he was not yet devoid of that native dignity, which does not make itself cheap for the sake of profit. Trade and commerce were everywhere carried on with a dash of personal pride’. 25


The traditional Social Doctrine does not require the repudiation of one’s homeland or race in the pursuit of a nebulous mass humanity. Defence of one’s homeland is referred to as a virtue. Moreover, Leo XIII stated that duty to one’s nation is analogous, albeit at a lower temporal level, to duty toward the Church, for which one must be prepared to fight:

If the natural law enjoins upon us to love devotedly and to defend the country that gave us birth, and in which we were brought up, so that every good citizen hesitates not to face death for his native land, very much more is it the urgent duty of Christians to be ever animated by like sentiments towards the Church. For the Church is the Holy City of the Living God, born of God Himself, and by Him built up and established. Therefore we are bound to love dearly the country whence we have received the means of enjoyment this mortal life affords, but we have a much more urgent obligation to love, with ardent love, the Church to which we owe the life of the soul, a life that will endure forever.26

There was recognition of differences between peoples that repudiates what is today called globalism. A baseless equality was rejected in favour of the recognition of differences within an organ ‘corporative’ or ‘syndical’ social order that recognises different functions as constituents of a social organism.

The Church has succumbed to modernist pathogens like any social organism. It has sought favour by compromise, a democratic filling of pews by pandering.

Despite his animosity towards the Church, Julius Evola wrote of the ‘organic state’ and other matters that are in accord with traditional Social Doctrine. He wrote of the antecedents, stating that, ‘The idea of the organic state was not born yesterday’. He stated that this needs recalling when the debate comes down to banalities about ‘fascism and antifascism’. Importantly, ‘the idea of the organic state is a traditional one, and thus we can say that every true State has always had a certain organic character’. A State is ‘organic’ when held by the ‘centre’, an axis, every part, even although autonomous, ‘by virtue of hierarchical participation … performs its own function, and enjoys an intimate connection with the whole’; the latter being ‘integral and spiritually unitary’, rather than by ‘a disorderly clash of interests’. Evola states that ‘organic and traditional are more or less synonymous terms’.27

So far from being a centralisation of power, a feature of ‘every organic system’ is ‘a relative pluralism and decentralisation’.28 This was the situation of ‘normal ‘societies to some extent, prior to Liberalism and Socialism. The totalitarianism of the Fascist states was a ‘counterfeit’ of the organic State.29 Here again his outlook is similar to that of Church doctrine, more closely followed by the states of Petain, Salazar and Dollfuss. For Evola, Fascism was an imposition that does not exist in organic States, which maintain the idea of what Church doctrine calls ‘subsidiary’ association, as we have seen.

An organic State ‘of a “superior character” maintains associations with multiple functions and autonomy – what both Evola and the Church recognised as maintaining personality above a nebulous mass. In an organic state one finds ‘both unity and multiplicity, gradation and hierarchy’; not the ‘formless mass typical of a totalitarian regime’.30 Leo emphasised that when he wrote of the ‘individual’ he was not endorsing ‘individualism’. Both Evola and Leo differentiated between ‘person’ and ‘individual’ when the latter word was referring individualism. Both identified liberalism as an attack on the ‘person’ in the name of individualism. Evola wrote that ‘the essence of liberalism is individualism. The basis of its error is to mistake the notion of the person with that of the individual and to claim for the latter, unconditionally and according to egalitarian premises, some values that should rather be solely attributed to the former, and then only conditionally’. 31 The modern state was an impersonal imposition of laws and bureaucracy.32 The traditional state allowed the individual to realise his ‘own nature and specific function’, characterised by the Classical saying ‘be yourself’. In the Classical view, according to Aristotle, Plato and Plotinus, the only institutions that are just are those that allow the person to realise ‘what is proper to himself’.33

Father Denis Fahey, more likely remembered among the Right for his book The Rulers of Russia, was a notable authority on Social Doctrine. On the difference between personality and liberal individualism, drawing on the authority of Thomas Aquinas, he commented:

It would greatly contribute to clearness of thought in regard to the questions involved in the reorganization of society and the establishment of order in the world, if the Thomistic distinction between personality and individuality were fully grasped and consistently kept in view. The neglect of either of these aspects of the whole truth, but especially of the former, leads to experiments that are disastrous for human happiness.34

Fahey cites Thomas Aquinas in regard to the fulfilment of the individual within the social organism:

For we see that a part by a natural inclination risks itself for the preservation of the whole, And because reason copies nature we find this action reproduced in virtuous social action. A good citizen will not hesitate to expose himself to the danger of death to save the State. And if the citizen were a native (or natural part) of the State in question, the inclination to make the sacrifice would be natural.35

It is notable that Aquinas does not shirk from affirming that defence of the organic State is one’s duty in the same sense that an organ at its own risk defends the organism.

The Church doctrine of ‘subsidiary’ association can be readily recognised in Evola’s description of the organic state. The ‘golden age of Scholasticism’, reviled today by progressive, liberal Catholics, upheld the social doctrine of ‘proper nature’, ‘within a socially organic and differentiated system’.36

The ‘absolute person’, in contrast to the atomised, standardised ‘individual’, was part of a political and social body that comprised ‘functional classes, corporations, or particular unities’. 37

The Church has succumbed to modernist pathogens like any social organism. It has sought favour by compromise, a democratic filling of pews by pandering. Leo counselled that the social, moral and spiritual decay he saw in modern life could be reversed by restoring the traditional ethos, adapted to the advances of technology. Pius X reiterated this, addressing the issue even then arising of what would today be called Liberation Theologians and liberal clergy adopting Socialist rhetoric:

In the maze of current opinions, these priests [dedicated to the works of Catholic Action] should not allow themselves to be led astray, attracted by the mirage of a false democracy. They should not borrow from the rhetoric of the worst enemies of the Church and of the people, high-flown phrases full of promises, as high-sounding as they are unattainable. They should be convinced that the social question and social science did not arise just yesterday; that the Church and the State, in harmonious accord, have always raised up fruitful organizations to attain this end; that the Church, which has never betrayed the happiness of the people by consenting to compromising alliances, does not need to free herself from her past.

All that she [the Church] must do is to retake, with the help of true workers for the social restoration, the organisms shattered by the Revolution, adapting them in the same Christian spirit that inspired them to the new environment created by the material development of today’s society. For the true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries nor innovators, but traditionalists. 38

The premise is that certain values of the Church are eternal and above time. That also is surely the premise of the Right, and in perhaps all (?) primary respects the eternal values of the Church and the Right are in accord.


1Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (43).

2Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (45).

3Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (47).

4Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (47).

5Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, ibid.

6John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 1963, #25.

7Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (48).

8Leo was referring to various mutual aid associations for workmen, women, and children.

9Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (49).

10Leo addressed the issue of Freemasonry in Humanus Genus (1884).

11Leo, Rerum Novarum (54).



14Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (50).

15Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, Part 2, ch. 8 (Opera omnia, ed. Vives, Vol. 29, p. 16.

16Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, ibid.

17Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (51).

18Among the best are the Pilgrims of Saint Michael, founded in Quebec in 1939, considering Social Credit as the primary means for enacting Social Doctrine.
For his part the founder of Social Credit, Major C. H. Douglas, recognised the Church, as distinct from the Protestant denominations, as closest to the wider Social Credit ideology, not only in the matter of usury, but in the rights of ‘subsidiary’ association. See: Dr. Oliver Heydorn, The Economics of Social Credit & Catholic Social Teaching (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, 2014). Also, Heydorn, Lives of Our Own: Social Credit, Catholicism, & a Distributist Social Order, (2017).

19Pius XI, Quadragsegimo Anno (93).

20Pius, XI, Quadragesimo Anno (83).

21Pius, XI, Quadragesimo Anno (85).

22 St. Thomas, Contra Gentiles, III, 71; cf. Summa theological.

23Pius, XI, Quadragesimo Anno (84).

24Pius, XI, Quadragesimo Anno (88).

25Werner Sombart, The Jews & Modern Capitalism (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1982), pp. 124-126.

26Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter, Sapientiæ Christianiæ, On the Chief Duties of Christians as Citizens (1890).

27Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002), p. 149.

28Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins p. 150.

29Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins , ibid.

30Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 151.

31Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 133.

32Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 139.

33Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 138.

34Denis Fahey, The Mystical Body of Christ, p. 12.

35Thomas Aquinas, cited by Fahey, p. 13.

36Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 138. Evola states that Luther also upheld this doctrine.

37Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins, p. 140.

38Pius X, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, (1910).

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Social Doctrine and the Right – Part 2 Thu, 13 Jun 2019 14:02:49 +0000 Family Predates State

The foundation of social order is the family, which precedes the State, being a society in microcosm. Consequently, the family has social rights and duties that are independent of the State.1 Private property is the means by which the father provides for his family, and ensures the well-being of his offspring – those who ‘continue his personality’. The hearth predates the State, and the State assumes its natural function in defending those families that have combined to form a community,2 which is reflected as literally a ‘commonwealth’. The State intervenes when necessity dictates, but when the social organism is properly functioning, ‘paternal authority’ is not required to be subjected to State authority. The child takes its place in society as a member of a family.3 The family is the fundamental social organ from which the social organism is built. ‘The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home’.4 It is indeed the family that one sees as the primary obstacle to the Socialist state, as much as for the ‘inclusive economy’ of the global capitalism’, both aiming at the destruction of the organic bonds through feminism, and other aberrations that have been promoted by the oligarchic Foundations and think tanks. One sees no difference between the oligarchic and Bolshevik attitude towards family bonds: both aim to replace parents with the workplace crèche.

Organic State

The organic state, literally the body politic, where a community is regarded as analogous to the human organism, is integral to the traditional ethos, which was continued by the Church from Classical times. Hence, the corpus, or body was formed as an association among trades and is along with the family unit the basis of the law of subsidiary which was developed from the Church. The corporation now assumed in popular language to be a reference to a business entity, was the corpus, the body that represented sundry interests, while the family was its own corpus, or organ of the greater social organism. The corporation flourished as the guild in the Gothic epoch. The Church as the custodian of this organic social doctrine kept the principle alive through the tumults of revolution and industrialism, and reminded states fragmented by class and hedonism of that traditional social ethos with encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum. When the aftermath of World War I accentuated the chaos of the modern world, Corporatism became a worldwide movement that challenged Capitalism and Communism for political supremacy. Church Social Doctrine was the primary inspiration, and many states embraced the Idea, as previously mentioned. Leo wrote of the organic state:

Socialism aims to eliminate all but the hands from the social organism; Classical Liberalism, all but the head. Both aim to dismember the social organism in favour of the supremacy of one component.

The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the result of the suitable arrangement of the different parts of the body, so in a State is it ordained by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labour, nor labour without capital. Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and savage barbarity.5

The fragmentation of the organic social order – the ‘body politic’ – through class conflict and egotism, causes ‘confusion and savage barbarity’ to the extent that it is a social cancer, a social pathology, insofar as the cells and organs of the social body are at war among themselves. Capitalism and Marxism are literally social pathogens. Pope Leo specifically alludes to the social pathogens that destroy the organic state, and the need to restore tradition:

When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to call it to the principles from which it sprang; for the purpose and perfection of an association is to aim at and to attain that for which it is formed, and its efforts should be put in motion and inspired by the end and object which originally gave it being. Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery. And this may be asserted with utmost truth both of the whole body of the commonwealth and of that class of its citizens – by far the great majority – who get their living by their labour.6

The position Leo counsels to ‘restore’ society, is fundamentally, inescapably, Rightist, in the true sense.

Leo considered it the role of the Church to act as the ‘intermediary’ in drawing ‘the rich and the working class together, by reminding each of its duties to the other, and especially of the obligations of justice’.7 It should be kept in mind that it was not the place of the Church to assume the role of a Government; hence the Church did not assume temporal authority, but was intended as the spiritual and moral authority guiding states. The Church offered ‘charity’, especially throughout the Medieval epoch, before being crushed by the Reformation and the triumph of the bourgeoisie. As for the enacting of the Social Doctrine politically, that was the responsibility of the State and of lay activists. The Church only advised in terms of what the attitude of the proprietor and the worker should be in the hope of achieving reconciliation. The spiritual impulse was expected to be the guide to right conduct.

The following duties bind the wealthy owner and the employer: not to look upon their work people as their bondsmen, but to respect in every man his dignity as a person ennobled by Christian character. They are reminded that, according to natural reason and Christian philosophy, working for gain is creditable, not shameful, to a man, since it enables him to earn an honourable livelihood; but to misuse men as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers – that is truly shameful and inhuman.8

In discussing the duty of the State in ensuring the welfare of all the citizens of the community, Leo proceeds to examine this in the context of society as an organism:

There is another and deeper consideration which must not be lost sight of. As regards the State, the interests of all, whether high or low, are equal. The members of the working classes are citizens by nature and by the same right as the rich; they are real parts, living the life which makes up, through the family, the body of the commonwealth; and it need hardly be said that they are in every city very largely in the majority. It would be irrational to neglect one portion of the citizens and favour another, and therefore the public administration must duly and solicitously provide for the welfare and the comfort of the working classes; otherwise, that law of justice will be violated which ordains that each man shall have his due. To cite the wise words of St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘As the part and the whole are in a certain sense identical, so that which belongs to the whole in a sense belongs to the part.’ Among the many and grave duties of rulers who would do their best for the people, the first and chief is to act with strict justice – with that justice which is called distributive – toward each and every class alike.9

Leo draws on Church lore in showing how the organic state is part of the traditional legacy of the Church. Indeed, it can be seen in the Bible where the early Church is described as an organism, the Body of Christ:

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honourable, on these we bestow more abundant honour, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honour to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.10

‘No matter what changes may occur in forms of government, there will ever be differences and inequalities of condition in the State’, Leo wrote, thus rejecting the impersonality of liberal egalitarianism. 11 The state needs to ensure however that no component of it is deprived. This is really a matter of organic health, for it does not profit the social organism, like any organism, when one part of it is withering. If the cells or organs of any organism are in ill-health then the whole organism suffers and might die. Leo explains the duty of the State toward the well-being of the constituent parts:

[I]t is the business of a well-constituted body politic to see to the provision of those material and external helps ‘the use of which is necessary to virtuous action.’12 Now, for the provision of such commodities, the labour of the working class – the exercise of their skill, and the employment of their strength, in the cultivation of the land, and in the workshops of trade – is especially responsible and quite indispensable. Indeed, their co-operation is in this respect so important that it may be truly said that it is only by the labour of working men that States grow rich. Justice, therefore, demands that the interests of the working classes should be carefully watched over by the administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community may themselves share in the benefits which they create – that being housed, clothed, and bodily fit, they may find their life less hard and more endurable.13

Whenever the general interest or any particular class suffers, or is threatened with harm, which can in no other way be met or prevented, the public authority must step in to deal with it. … The limits must be determined by the nature of the occasion which calls for the law’s interference – the principle being that the law must not undertake more, nor proceed further, than is required for the remedy of the evil or the removal of the mischief.14

It is interesting to note that Leo appealed to patriotism towards one’s homeland as an element in ensuring the health of its constituents, ‘that the members of the commonwealth should grow up to man’s estate strong and robust, and capable, if need be, of guarding and defending their country’.15

Socialism aims to eliminate all but the hands from the social organism; Classical Liberalism, all but the head. Both aim to dismember the social organism in favour of the supremacy of one component. Leo while primarily addressing the needs of the working class, nonetheless rejected the notion of ‘equality’; that had manifested as a bloody, hellish slogan since the French Revolution, proceeded by socialism, and bloodier still under Bolshevism thirty years later. It was private property that needed distributing, not eliminating, and no solution was to be found in coveting what rightly belonged to others by appropriation in the name of ‘equality’. It is a reminder that the greed of the bourgeois can be just as manifest in the proletarian:

Most of all it is essential, where the passion of greed is so strong, to keep the populace within the line of duty; for, if all may justly strive to better their condition, neither justice nor the common good allows any individual to seize upon that which belongs to another, or, under the futile and shallow pretext of equality, to lay violent hands on other people’s possessions.16

Notable however is also this comment: ‘[I]f all may justly strive to better their condition’. Rerum Novarum is not an apologia for capitalist exploitation; it is the answer to it, of more value than Das Kapital, The Communist Manifesto, or the works of Lenin or Trotsky. Leo, when addressing strikes and the increasing violence of the labour movement, as injurious to both proprietors, the trades and the social order, clearly stated that the causes are most likely to rest with social injustice and that these must be addressed a priori: ‘The laws should forestall and prevent such troubles from arising; they should lend their influence and authority to the removal in good time of the causes which lead to conflicts between employers and employed’.17 Human beings should not be used as ‘mere instruments for money-making. It is neither just nor human so to grind men down with excessive labour as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies.’18

While the individual personality and the family are the building blocks of the social organism that should not be imposed upon unnecessarily, the State maintains the authority to intervene when there is a social pathogen.

The fragmentation of the organic social order through class conflict and egotism causes ‘confusion and savage barbarity’ to the extent that it is a social cancer, insofar as the cells and organs of the social body are at war among themselves.

Rulers should, nevertheless, anxiously safeguard the community and all its members; the community, because the conservation thereof is so emphatically the business of the supreme power, that the safety of the commonwealth is not only the first law, but it is a government’s whole reason of existence; and the members, because both philosophy and the Gospel concur in laying down that the object of the government of the State should be, not the advantage of the ruler, but the benefit of those over whom he is placed.19

Work was ordained by God according to the Christian ethos, and is part of the universal condition of the human creation. Whether work is undertaken menially or mentally it is still part of the same divine order. The proprietor had a duty to be ever-mindful of this.

His great and principal duty is to give every one what is just. Doubtless, before deciding whether wages are fair, many things have to be considered; but wealthy owners and all masters of labour should be mindful of this – that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one’s profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven.20

The earnings of the labourer are ‘sacred’ and must not be confiscated by unreasonable means, including usury. ‘Lastly, the rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workmen’s earnings, whether by force, by fraud, or by usurious dealing’.21


It was the Church that led the fight against usury until Reformation eminences gave it scriptural justification and turned traditional Social Doctrine on its head, in favour of capitalism. The 12th Canon of the First Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th Canon of the Council of Aix (789) declared usury reprehensible. The Third Council of the Lateran (1179) and the Second Council of Lyons (1274 condemned usurers. The Council of Vienne (1311) declared the defence of usury a heresy.

The Church teachings on usury (defined as a loan bearing any interest) were codified in an encyclical in 1745 by Benedict XIV, after consulting with many knowledgeable Churchmen.22 The first principle of the encyclical is:

The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin in a loan contract. This financial contract between consenting parties demands, by its very nature, that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious.23

Naturally, it would be regarded today as a joke at best if one were expected to make a loan without interest. But then the joke is on those in debt, individuals, families, communities, nations, the world. And it becomes a perverse joke when there is destitution and even starvation, although the production of food and other essentials of life are abundant. It is the phenomenon called ‘poverty amidst plenty’. During the Great Depression, while masses went hungry, governments across the world ordered farmers to destroy crops and livestock to maintain price levels. John Hargreave, leader of the Depression-era Greenshirts for Social Credit, drawing on newspaper reports, listed dozens of occasions when produce was destroyed by State decree.24 It is this situation for which Father Coughlin demanded a remedy, and one which was not forthcoming from the much acclaimed New Deal until the USA went into a war-economy. Father Denis Fahey wrote extensively about the banking system.25

During the Great Depression, while masses went hungry, governments across the world ordered farmers to destroy crops and livestock to maintain price levels.

Whether secular authorities upheld the Church doctrines on usury was another matter, and there were many ways to circumvent the Canonical teachings.26 With the Reformation the ‘modern’ conception of banking arose, where usury was described as a ‘progressive’ form of commerce, and money-lending was upheld as a ‘service’, as argued by the French jurist Molinaeus in his 16th century Treatise on Contracts & Usury, a book that the Church tried to ban. In England Jeremy Bentham wrote A Defence of Usury, while other economic theorists such as Ricardo and John Stuart Mill stated there should be no limits on contracting parties.27

Property as a Social Function

The question that Social Doctrine asks of private property is: to what use is it put? This also includes the use of money; hence the matter of usury:

The chief and most excellent rule for the right use of money is one the heathen philosophers hinted at, but which the Church has traced out clearly, and has not only made known to men’s minds, but has impressed upon their lives. It rests on the principle that it is one thing to have a right to the possession of money and another to have a right to use money as one wills. Private ownership, as we have seen, is the natural right of man, and to exercise that right, especially as members of society, is not only lawful, but absolutely necessary. ‘It is lawful,’ says St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘for a man to hold private property; and it is also necessary for the carrying on of human existence.’ ‘But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used? – the Church replies without hesitation in the words of the same holy Doctor: ‘Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need’.28

The Social Doctrine does not require giving until one’s family is destitute, but maintains that once the needs of the family are well cared for, the excess should be distributed rather than accumulated.29 The Social Doctrine is then anti-Capitalist, yet upholds the ‘sanctity’ of private property. Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno commented:

Property, that is, ‘capital,’ has undoubtedly long been able to appropriate too much to itself. Whatever was produced, whatever returns accrued, capital claimed for itself, hardly leaving to the worker enough to restore and renew his strength. For the doctrine was preached that all accumulation of capital falls by an absolutely insuperable economic law to the rich, and that by the same law the workers are given over and bound to perpetual want, to the scantiest of livelihoods. It is true, indeed, that things have not always and everywhere corresponded with this sort of teaching of the so-called Manchesterian Liberals; yet it cannot be denied that economic social institutions have moved steadily in that direction.30

Social Doctrine repudiates the accumulation of capital whereby oligarchic wealth in perpetuated and ceases to have a social function. The answer of Socialism, is an ‘equally fictitious moral principle that all products and profits, save only enough to repair and renew capital, belong by very right to the workers’.31 The third option is again the wider distribution of capital:

[T]he riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate.32

One might hope that since 1891, or 1931, a lot more about economic function had been learnt. Yet no economic proposition like the raising of the minimum wage causes such an outcry of hardship from employers, other than the outcry from both employers and employees when there is a suggestion that welfare benefits be raised in accord with rising costs of living. If production is not consumed, then it is pointless, and this cannot be done with insufficient purchasing power. The Socialist answers: raise taxes. Again, the problem of production and consumption and the lack of purchasing power, the problem of distribution, is not solved. Pius XI advocated profit-sharing, which has not only a material, but a moral-ethical purpose:

To each, therefore, must be given his own share of goods, and the distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is labouring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice.33

To this could be added the Social Credit formulae of a National Dividend, given to every man, woman and child as a shareholder in a ‘common-wealth’, making up the shortfall in purchasing power (Social Credit’s A+B Theorem)34 inherent in the system. It is in this manner that the problem of capital accumulation can be solved while not only maintaining but increasing private property. It is why many Catholics such as the Pilgrims of Saint Michael were inspired by Social Credit, and priests such as Denis Fahey and Coughlin sought similar ways to eliminate usury from the banking system.


1Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (12).

2Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (13).

3Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (14).

4Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (14).

5Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (19).

6Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (27).

7Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (19).

8Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (20).

9Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (33).

10I Corinthians, 12: 14-26

11Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (34).

12Thomas Aquinas, ‘On the Governance of Rulers’, 1, 15 (Opera omnia, ed. Vives, Vol. 27, p. 356); cited by Leo.

13Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (34).

14Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (36).

15Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (36).

16Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (38).

17Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (39).

18Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (42).

19Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (35).

20Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (20).

21Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (20).

22Benedict XIV, Vix Pervenit, ‘On Usury & Other Dishonest Profits (1745).

23Benedict XIV, Vix Pervenit, (1).

24See: Bolton, Opposing the Money Lenders, (London: Black House Publishing, 2016), pp. 102-104.

25Denis Fahey, The Mystical Body of Christ & the Reorganisation of Society (Cork: The Forum press, 1945), passim.

26K. R. Bolton, The Banking Swindle (London: Black House Publishing, 2013), p. 76.

27Bolton, Opposing the Money Lenders, p. 4.

28Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (22).

29Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, ibid.

30Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (54).

31Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (55).

32Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (57).

33Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (58).

34This mystic Theorem is actually quite rudimentary. Dr. Oliver Heydorn, a Catholic and one of today’s most cogent exponents of Social Credit explains: A = All payments made to individuals (wages, salaries, and dividends); B = All payments made to other organisations (raw materials, bank charges, and other external costs). ‘Now the rate flow of purchasing power to individuals is represented by A, but since all payments go into prices, the rate of flow of prices cannot be less than A plus B. Since A will not purchase A plus B, a proportion of the product at least equivalent to B must be distributed in the form of purchasing power [National Dividend] which is not comprised in the description grouped under A’. Oliver Heydorn, Social Credit Economics (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. 2014), p. 149.

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Social Doctrine and the Right – Part 1 Wed, 12 Jun 2019 14:01:25 +0000

When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to call it to the principles from which it sprang.

— Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891)

‘Social Justice Warrior’ has become a term of ridicule and mirth in recent years, used to describe sundry liberals and leftists who jump aboard every feel-good cause provided by the think tanks and foundations of Soros, Rockefeller, Ford, and a multitude of others.1 However, there was a time when ‘social justice’ referred to social issues from a totally different perspective. ‘Social justice’ meant the implementation of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

If the ‘Right’ looks for the basis of a social doctrine then it needs to step well over all the modernist excrescences, including Free Trade, Enlightenment, Social-Darwinism – all of the dominating doctrines that emerged not only from the Jacobin Revolution, but from the time of the Reformation. The Catholic Church remained (albeit not immune from modernism) the only significant repository of the West’s traditional ethos, and it is from the Church that the social doctrine of the Right could be reformulated, regardless of one’s personal religious background.

Perhaps the largest organisation using the term was Father Charles Coughlin’s National Union for Social Justice (NUSJ), founded in 1934. His programme was based on the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum: the just wage, wide distribution of property, as opposed to its concentration under both capitalism and socialism; the right of group association; and control of the banking system.2 His magazine was named after that very term, Social Justice.3

What the Church saw in capitalism and its Socialist offspring was a two-headed hydra with a body marked by Godlessness and materialism.

Father Coughlin, Canadian born, but maintaining a distinctly Irish ascent, and the fighting manner of an Irishman, sought to implement in the USA at the time of the Great Depression those doctrines of his Church that had been formulated precisely to confront the crisis of the modern world engendered first by the liberal atomization of the French Revolution (and tracing it back further, the triumph of oligarchy over the Church during the reign of Henry VIII), then by the Industrial Revolution. All these revolts undermined the spiritual authority in their own ways, and with the rise of industrialisation, created a reaction – Socialism.

What the Church saw in capitalism and its Socialist offspring was a two-headed hydra with a body marked by Godlessness and materialism. The Papal authority sought to address the issues that were becoming daily more acute: driving Godlessness was the misery generated by an unjust economic system that had embraced Mammon and restored the Golden Calf.

Catholic Social Doctrine is regarded as having been formalised by the encyclical of Pius XIII, Rerum Novarum, in 1891, and explicated by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, having brought together the traditions of the Church from over the course of centuries. As such, these two encyclicals in particular, in codifying the Social Doctrine of the Church, reflected the traditional – Medieval – ethos of European society prior to its destruction by the Reformation, Enlightenment and Industrialism.

When Coughlin, originally a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, saw through the bogus character of the New Deal, and the bankers behind it, he confronted the ‘money changers’ in Washington and Wall Street, and the Communists on the streets, first with his radio hour, which reached millions from his Shrine of the Little Flower Church, Royal Oak, Michigan, then mobilising his mass-following into a movement that, had he not been betrayed by his own Church superiors, might have changed history.4 In addition to the NUSJ, the Christian Front was organised among young followers to sell Social Justice on the streets, and fight off the Communist opposition.

Throughout the world the papal encyclicals on Social Doctrine inspired movements from the so-called ‘clerical-fascism’5 of Dollfuss’ Austria, Salazar’s Portugal, Franquist Spain, Vichy France, and Getúlio Vargas’ ‘New State’ of Brazil; to the ‘Distributist movement’, whose most notable exponents were Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. The Catholic publishing house in Belgium, Editions Rex,6 under the direction of Leon Degrelle, became the Rexist movement.

Social Justice and ‘Liberation Theology’

Today the Church continues to discuss and activate what it continues to call Social Doctrine. As in keeping with the epoch of ‘modernism’, the Church has been a victim of what it once stood against as a mighty bulwark: Liberalism, and the hitherto anathematised doctrines of the French Revolution. As will be seen below, Church Social Doctrine was systematised by the papal encyclicals of Leo and Pius to provide a way beyond Liberalism (including capitalist economics) and Socialism. As is relatively well known, the triumph of liberalism within the Church is marked by Vatican II (1960-1965).7

There is a movement to ‘modernise’ the Church, and this ‘progress’ obscures the gems amidst the muck of the modern world against which the Church had stood.

A major aspect of this subversion of traditional Social Doctrine is ‘Liberation Theology’. As will be seen, the papal encyclicals on Social Doctrine specifically state that no Catholic can be even a ‘moderate Socialist’. The encyclicals provide a total doctrine for the re-organisation of society as the ‘Mystical Body of Christ’ on Earth. Yet for certain clerics, the theology and heritage of the Church was insufficient. As with much else in the Church, there is a movement to ‘modernise’, and this ‘progress’ obscures the gems amidst the muck of the modern world against which the Church had stood. To some priests there was a need to add Marx. Hence ‘Liberation Theology’ was born in Latin America and spread throughout the Church. In the name of ‘progress’, adding Marx to Social Doctrine bastardised the purity to the point of rendering Catholic social action as banal as everything else about the modern world.

‘Liberation Theology’ was formulated by Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Dominican priest in Peru. He was viewed suspiciously as a Marxist by the Vatican, but now he is embraced. A 2015 Guardian report commented:

Gutiérrez was the founder of a progressive movement within the Catholic church known as liberation theology, and while he was never censured in the manner that some of his philosophical compatriots were, there were often rumblings that Gutiérrez was being investigated by Pope John Paul II’s doctrinal czar, a German cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger who would later become Pope Benedict.8

It might be noted that this lack of formal censure seems to have been much more charitable towards these crypto-Marxists than the actions taken against Archbishop Lefebvre. The Guardian proceeds:

But when the 86-year-old Peruvian arrives in Rome this week as a key speaker at a Vatican event, he will be welcomed as a guest, in a striking show of how Pope Francis – the first Latin American pontiff – has brought tenets of this sometimes controversial movement to the fore of his church, particularly in his pronouncements against the blight of poverty and the dangers of capitalism.9

Again we see fallacious and ignorant assumptions. ‘Pronouncements against the blight of poverty and the dangers of capitalism’ are not an innovation of Liberation Theology; they are at the core traditional Social Doctrine. That such assumptions can be made indicates the extent to which this tradition has been buried and compromised. The Church did not need Marx or the ‘Declaration of the Right of Man & The Citizen’ to formulate its doctrine. It had a legacy of centuries, and something called The Holy Bible. Presumably names such as Charles Coughlin and Denis Fahey are best forgotten as the real heretics in modern times.

In its height in the late 1960s and 1970s, liberation theology – a distinctly Latin American movement – preached that it was not enough for the church to simply empathise and care for the poor. Instead, believers said, the church needed to be a vehicle to push for fundamental political and structural changes that would eradicate poverty, even – some believed – if it meant supporting armed struggle against oppressors.

… But since his election as pontiff in 2013, Pope Francis’s insistence that the church be ‘for the poor’, and his pointed criticisms of capitalism and consumerism have gone a long way to rehabilitate the liberation theology movement and incorporate it within the church. Experts point, too, to Francis’s decision to name Oscar Romero, the iconic Salvadoran archbishop who was assassinated by rightwing death squads in 1980, as a martyr as another sign of the resurgence in liberation theology.10

It is not correct to call Liberation Theology a distinctly Latin American movement. It reached throughout the world, and is evident today in the layman’s newspapers of the Church when discussing social issues.

The papacy’s ‘pointed criticisms of capitalism and consumerism have gone a long way to rehabilitate the liberation theology’, according to journalistic wisdom, but it is precisely this criticism that should have ‘gone a long way to rehabilitate’ not modernist excrescence, but the Church’s own teachings that had something real to say on ‘capitalism and consumerism’.

What Pope Benedict said of liberation theology in 2009, that it had produced ‘rebellion, division, dissent, offense and anarchy’, is now called a ‘misunderstanding and wrong application of this theology’. The ‘misunderstanding and wrong application’ is Liberation Theology per se; and not only a ‘misunderstanding and wrong application’ of Social Doctrine, but a total bastardisation and subversion.

Jung Mo Sung, a prominent liberation theologian in Brazil, says the church has turned a page on liberation theology precisely because Francis understands that the church’s mission is not just to announce God to a world of unbelievers, ‘but to a world marked by an idolatry of money’. ‘In this sense, we can say that part of liberation theology has been elevated to the doctrine of the church’, Sung says. He attributes this shift to the alarming increase in global inequality and the personal experience of the pope, who has worked in some of the poorest communities of Argentina.11

If ‘Francis understands that the church’s mission is not just to announce God to a world of unbelievers, “but to a world marked by an idolatry of money”’, then it is because Pope Leo wrote Rerum Novarum at the end of the 19th century; not because modernist clerics have stumbled on Karl Marx and thought of him as an update of Jesus Christ. But one looks in vain for a doctrine beyond platitudes in the modernist theology, where once there were analyses of the banking system – that the Church had for centuries condemned for ‘usury’ – and whose practitioners Dante had consigned to a hellish inferno; where the works of banking reform advocates such as Arthur Kitson and C. H. Douglas were consulted by Father Fahey et al. in explaining how Social Doctrine might be applied to the modern world.

‘Another theologian who studied under Gutiérrez, Michael Lee of Fordham University, said Francis is “open” to liberation theology because he understands the social and economic structures that “dehumanise people”’.12 One might have hoped that the papal authority would have consulted the Vatican Library for the works of Denis Fahey and encyclicals of his predecessors rather than assuming that modernist liberals have had an epiphany that the Church must suddenly rebuke ‘social and economic structures that “dehumanise people”’. Perhaps they are also on the verge of inventing the wheel or discovering fire.

Pius XI, in his commentary on Rerum Novarum, was unequivocal:

If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.13

Social Justice and Libertarianism

To the libertarians of the bogus ‘Right’, Social Doctrine is anathema, because it is an intrusion on the liberty of commerce between individuals. In a condemnation of left-wing ‘social justice warriors’ Jeff Lipkes, a columnist for the libertarian online journal, American Thinker, states that ‘the original social justice warrior’ was Father Coughlin, ‘the most notorious American anti-Semite of the 1930s’. Lipkes, in an impressive ignorance of history, ridicules the connection Coughlin made between bolshevism and international finance, which was quite well known at the time:

The alliance between the ‘banksters’ (Coughlin coined the term) and the Bolshies may have seemed unlikely, but it only demonstrated how devious and relentless the Jews were in their efforts to destroy Christianity and the West.14

Lipkes, as a libertarian of the pseudo-right, (with emphasis on the pseudo) refers to libertarian icon Friedrich Hayek in defining ‘social justice’ as a ‘mirage’, that the very notion of ‘society’ is an imposition. Lipke writes:

As Hayek points out, the impersonal process by which markets allocate goods and services and reward performance ‘can be neither just nor unjust, because the results are not intended or foreseen, and depend on a multitude of circumstances not known in their totality to anybody.’ Laws originally attempted to make the process fair and efficient, though there would always be an element of luck. ‘Social justice’ means fixing the results. The criteria will always be arbitrary.15

But Likpes’ real problem with Social Justice is that it might impact on Jews:

The pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower, now a basilica, had just as much right to define what is meant by ‘social justice’ as any leftist. In fact, like most fascists and many anti-Semites, Coughlin was himself a leftist originally, a staunch supporter of the New Deal (‘the New Deal is Christ’s Deal’) until he discovered that several of Roosevelt’s close advisers were Jews. He remained an avowed enemy of capitalism, and he urged the government to set wages and hours and factory outputs. It was as an enemy of capitalism, and of communism, that he wanted to curtail the activities of Jews. In the name of ‘social justice,’ Jews can be disenfranchised, deprived of civil rights, dispossessed, expelled, and murdered. The social justice warriors of the BDS movement want to do precisely this for Jews living in Israel. The slogan ‘Palestine from the river to the sea’ means nothing else.16

Hence, the subject becomes Judaeocentric. It was not so however for Coughlin. The NUSJ was open to everyone agreeing with the policy points, mainly on banking reform. It so happens that the lads selling Social Justice on the streets were attacked by Communists, Jews and Jewish-Communists. It is superficial to analyse Coughlin’s demands for monetary reform as predicated on a desire to eliminate Jews; likewise his rejection of Roosevelt and the New Deal. Perhaps Lipkes is one of those who sees opposition to usury as intrinsically anti-Semitic? Lipkes knows not of what he speaks when he equates the Social Doctrine of the Church, the legacy of centuries, with the ‘Left’. Had Pope Leo gone Bolshie? Or Thomas Aquinas? The raison d’être of Rerum Novarum was to posit the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth against the materialist hydra of liberalism and socialism. The pseudo-right however arose under the same Zeitgeist as Socialism; they both perceive matters in a similar manner. ‘The next time you run across the cant phrase “social justice”, think about Father Coughlin, and remember that the rights for which SJWs demonstrate are paid for with other people’s money and other people’s blood’.17 Social Doctrine is equated with both Leftism and Nazism and hence with genocide. The pseudo-right sees a connection between Nazis, Leftists and traditional Catholicism. The pseudo-right is the heir to Jacobinism, from which arose both market liberalism and communism; Catholic social commentators such as Denis Fahey saw the connection, as did Leo III and Pius XI. A luminary of the pseudo-right, David Horowitz, a prime mover of Islamophobia, also attacks Pope Francis as ‘not only a communist, but a sexual predator’.18 ‘The communist Pope just cannot keep his mouth shut’.19 A columnist for Horowitz’s Frontpage Mag writes:

Anyone with eyes knows that the proliferation of capitalism over the past two decades has lifted a billion people out of dire poverty – and in coming decades is projected to rescue another billion from pauperism – but Francis robotically slams global capitalism, or ‘globalization’ as the Left calls it, foolishly blaming markets for poverty. Markets, not handouts, accomplish humanitarian feats that the Roman Catholic Church could never, ever hope to match.20

… and this stuff is called ‘right-wing’ by media pundits and academia.

Social Doctrine

Social Doctrine was codified by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum in 1891, and explicated by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno 1931. It is notable that Leo’s encyclical was subtitled ‘Rights & Duties of Capital & Labour’; while the title of Pius’ encyclical means ‘In the 40th Year’, meaning that it was forty years since the publication of Rerum Novarum, and significantly it is subtitled ‘Reconstruction of the Social Order’.

The primary elements of Social Doctrine are:

  1. The organic state – the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth.
  2. The family as the most elementary unit from which the social order proceeds.
  3. Solidarity before class conflict (Socialism) and individual atomisation (Liberalism).
  4. The rights of association (e.g. guilds) .
  5. Subsidiary – that issues are best dealt with by associations at the closest level, rather than by remote central authorities.
  6. Distributism – the widest distribution of private property, as opposed to its concentration through Socialism or oligarchy.

Contra Socialism and Liberalism

Leo XIII promulgated Rerum Novarum against a deepening background of social dislocation, materialism and greed arising from Industrialism; and the rise of the oligarchy and the bourgeoisie since the Reformation. He saw that the Labour movement was a justified reaction, but with the doctrine of Socialism, what was being offered the proletariat was nothing other than the appropriation not only of capitalist wealth but of the bourgeois ethos, where man was reduced to animal desires devoid of spirit, and separated from God, whether in the name of dialectical materialism or of profit. Leo stated of the situation:

That the spirit of revolutionary change, which has long been disturbing the nations of the world, should have passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the cognate sphere of practical economics is not surprising. The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvellous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses; the increased self-reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes; as also, finally, in the prevailing moral degeneracy.21

Pius XI in Quadrasgesimo Anno explained the background for Leo’s encyclical forty years previously:

For toward the close of the nineteenth century, the new kind of economic life that had arisen and the new developments of industry had gone to the point in most countries that human society was clearly becoming divided more and more into two classes. One class, very small in number, was enjoying almost all the advantages which modern inventions so abundantly provided; the other, embracing the huge multitude of working people, oppressed by wretched poverty, was vainly seeking escape from the straits wherein it stood.22

While the modernist ‘Social Justice Warriors’ now chant about ‘white privilege’, betraying European proletarians, it was the British and other European proletarians who were the primary victims of Industrialism. One might hope that Friedrich Engels could disabuse white Leftists of any such notions with his pre-Marxian sociological study, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845);23 but probably not. The mental, spiritual and moral decay has gone too far for such an epiphany.

The Church stood as the bulwark against Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and Illuminism, and those subversive movements in turn recognised the Church as their primary enemy.

With the misery and tumult caused by Industrialism and the domination of the bourgeoisie mentality, Leo pondered the situation with the counsel of learned laymen and clergy. The charitable works of the Church, while a religious duty, could not be sufficient to deal with the changes wrought by industry and money. While Rerum Novarum was received ‘with great joy’ by many, there were others, even among Catholics, who were disturbed by it, ‘For it boldly attacked and overturned the idols of Liberalism, ignored long-standing prejudices, and was in advance of its time beyond all expectation, so that the slow of heart disdained to study this new social philosophy and the timid feared to scale so lofty a height’.24 Rejected was the Liberal doctrine that government is ‘a mere guardian of law and of good order’25 and must not interfere in the Free Market, a doctrine that has been reinvigorated in our time and is now somehow called ‘right-wing’. Of particular importance, in the face of opposition from those states ‘plainly imbued with Liberalism’, was the need for associations of mutual aid, at times mistaken even by Catholics ‘as if they smacked of a socialistic or revolutionary spirit’,26 although the basis of these associations according to Leo, quite naturally, should be of a spiritual character, as had been the guilds; Pius XI noted that a great many Catholic associations had been formed, albeit still surpassed by Socialist and Communist unions.27 It was noted by Pius moreover that employers and managers had largely failed to organise their own associations, but positive signs were beginning.28 Indeed, that very year, 1931, the Conférences des Associations Patronales Catholiques, was formed. This became the International Union of Catholic Employers Associations in 1949. Local associations had been formed in Holland (1915), Belgium (1921), and France (1926); preceded by others during the late 19th century.29

The abolition of the traditional association of the guilds had taken place the prior century, thanks to French Revolution, in the name of ‘the people’, and the labouring classes had been left bereft of protective associations, Leo writing:

[F]or the ancient workingmen’s guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition.30

The Catholic social order had been destroyed in the name of ‘progresses, ‘Enlightenment’, and ‘science’. The traditional religion was ridiculed as superstition, and by the Socialists as a means of keeping the working class subdued. With this attack on the Church came a disparaging of the Medieval epoch, and much has been buried that had created the High Culture of the Gothic West.31 What arose with the destruction of the traditional social order, through the Reformation,32 the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, each heralded as the greatest achievements of progress, was an increase in the role of the bourgeois. Leo wrote:

The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labour and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the labouring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.33

The Church knew more than any other that the decay of the West had started well before the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of Capitalism and Socialism. Those doctrines had been birthed by ground well prepared centuries earlier within secret societies such as Rosicrucianism,34 Freemasonry, and Illuminism; the Church stood as the bulwark against them,35 and those subversive movements in turn recognised the Church as their primary enemy. Pius XI, alluding to the decay of the traditional social order stated that it is firstly a moral question:

What We have taught about the reconstruction and perfection of social order can surely in no wise be brought to realization without reform of morality, the very record of history clearly shows. For there was a social order once which, although indeed not perfect or in all respects ideal, nevertheless, met in a certain measure the requirements of right reason, considering the conditions and needs of the time. If that order has long since perished, that surely did not happen because the order could not have accommodated itself to changed conditions and needs by development and by a certain expansion, but rather because men, hardened by too much love of self, refused to open the order to the increasing masses as they should have done, or because, deceived by allurements of a false freedom and other errors, they became impatient of every authority and sought to reject every form of control.36

Here Pius XI identified the morally subversive character of what became in politics Liberalism and Socialism, proceeding from the rot at the top of the traditional social hierarchy downward. Hence, for example the deterioration of the French aristocracy, headed by the Duc d’Orleans (who, as Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France, assumed he would be acclaimed as the head of a Masonic new order and lavished his money on the revolution) and the new bourgeois who saw revolution as the means of substituting their rule for that of the nobility.37

The answer of the Socialists, whose predecessors in France had brought the bourgeois to power, was the appropriation of private property to the State, as if this was the panacea for modern social ills. Leo rejected the Socialist solution:

To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy.38

Rather, the option is not the concentration of property in the hands of State or bourgeois, but the wider spread of private ownership, assuring that the workman and his family is self-sustaining, and that they may enjoy the fruits of their labour.

It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labour, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. If one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases. …39

It is the right to private property that partly distinguishes man above animal; that man through his rational being is enabled to utilise his property in ways beyond the understanding of the animal. In particular, that his ownership of property should be inalienable, and held intact for the bequest of his children; ‘to hold them in stable and permanent possession’.40 ‘And this stable condition of things he finds solely in the earth and its fruits. There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body’.41 Man as the master of his property, acquired through his labour, does not require the intervention of others to determine how that property is used, insofar as he does not, as a social being, conflict with the rights of others, and hence he is part of a social order, as Leo makes plain subsequently, and these ‘property rights’ are not of the bourgeois type any more than they are of the Socialist type. Leo explains this in the next passage: that God has given the fruits of the Earth to man, secured by his work, but ‘not in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they like. … that the limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man’s own industry, and by the laws of individual races’.42

It is an interesting aside that so far from this implying a globalised economic structure that is imposed on the entirety of ‘humanity’ without distinction, Leo refers to the differences of custom among ‘individual races’. Moreover, the work to secure the fruits of nature impresses the workman’s personality through that work, and makes some portion of it his own.43 To expropriate the fruit of another’s labour is a contravention of the commandment not to ‘covet’ the property of another.44


1Refer to the Soros, Rockefeller, and Ford Foundations for the origins of the ‘social justice warrior’ causes that posture in the name of ‘the people’; but whose aim is a capitalist ‘inclusive economy’.

2See the chapter on Coughlin, and several of his essays in: K. R Bolton, Opposing the Money Lenders (London: Black House Publishing, 2016), pp. 133-171.

3All of the issues of Social Justice can be viewed online here.

4After attempts by the broadcasting networks and the postal service to close Coughlin down, Roosevelt finally succeeded, by granting the Vatican diplomatic recognition in return for the silencing of Coughlin. The Church hierarchy had an incoherent policy towards the mass movements that arose to implement its own Social Doctrine, although the papal encyclicals advised that such campaigns were the responsibility of laymen, not clerics. Cardinal van Roeys condemned the Rexist movement in Belgium, although Degrelle had important support from Monsignor Louis Picard, the founder of the Catholic youth movement; and Pope Pius XI had condemned Action francaise in 1926, despite the movement’s support among local clergy. (Action francaise remains:

5The term, as one might expect, is an over-simplification. As this essay shows, Catholic Social Doctrine draws from traditions that predate Fascism by centuries, and have their analogues in antiquity. Action francaise predates Italian Fascism by decades, and its doctrine was called ‘integralism’, which inspired ‘integralist’ movements from Brazil to Portugal. Some movements, such as Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirts in Eire, and Adrien Arcand’s ‘National Christian Socialism’ in Canada, adopted ‘Fascist’ methods since during that epoch these were needed as defence from violent opposition.

6Rex as in Christus Rex = Christ the King; the symbol was a Crown and a Cross.

7A result of this liberal subversion was the revolt of Archbishop Lefebvre. He had been mentored in his youth by a supporter of Action francaise, Father Henri Le Floch, popular head of the French seminary in Rome, removed from his post at the insistence of the French Government.





13Pius XI, Quadrasegimo Anno (1931), (120).

14Jeff Lipkes, ‘The Original Social Justice Warrior: Father Charles Coughlin’, American Thinker, January 8, 2019.




20Matthew Vadum, ‘Commie Pope: Pope Francis emerges as a Marxist while the Christian World Burns’, Frontpage Mag, June 23, 2015.

21 Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1).

22Pius XI, Quadrasgesimo Anno (3).

23See: K. R. Bolton, ‘Marx on Globalisation, Whigs, & Free Trade’, Part II, Arktos Journal.

24Pius XI, Quadrasgesimo Anno (14).

25Pius XI, Quadrasgesimo Anno (25).

26Pius XI, Quadrasgesimo Anno (30).

27Pius XI, Quadrasgesimo Anno (36).

28Pius XI, Quadrasgesimo Anno (38). Cf. the Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Council to the Bishop of Lille, June 5, 1929; cited by Pius. Bishop Lienart had rebuked the largely Catholic Consortium du Textile de Roubaix-Tourcoing for attempting to impede the organisation of unions.

29Rev. Joseph B. Gremillion, The Catholic Movement of Employers & Managers (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1961).

30Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (3).

31See: K. R. Bolton, The Decline & Fall of Civilisations (London: Black House Publishing, 2017), pp. 287-305.

32Ibid., pp. 307-308.

33Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (3).

34K. R. Bolton, The Occult & Subversive Movements (London: Black House Publishing, 2017), pp. 50-52.

35K. R. Bolton, The Occult & Subversive Movements, pp. 43-49.

36Pius XI, Quadrasegimo Anno (97).

37K. R. Bolton, The Occult & Subversive Movements, pp. 175-183.

38Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (4).

39Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (5).

40Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (6).

41Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (7).

42Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (8).

43Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (9), (10).

44Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (11).

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What Is Retroculture? Mon, 10 Jun 2019 13:40:35 +0000 Retroculture is a rediscovery of the past and the good things it has to offer. More, it is a recovery of those good things, so we may enjoy them as our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents enjoyed them. Retroculture rejects the idea that “You can’t go back.” What we have done before, we can obviously do again. For many years, Americans lived in a land that was safe, solid and comfortable, a civil and even graceful society where life for the overwhelming majority was both pleasant and good. What worked for them can work for us. We can recover the good things they had and knew.

We can regain control of our destiny. And in the process, we can reunify the generations instead of pitting one age group against another.

Conventional wisdom says we have no choice but to drive blindly onward into an undefined but increasingly threatening future. Retroculture replies, “Hold on a minute.” We do have a choice. Through a dialogue with the past, we can shape that future. We can find ways, by looking back, to make the future promising rather than threatening. We can regain control of our destiny. And in the process, we can reunify the generations instead of pitting one age group against another.

Retroculture reverses the trend this country has been following since the mid-1960s. “Old is bad, new is good” has been the watchword of the last five decades. And it has ended up in a mess. Now, Americans from every walk of life are saying “Enough!” Life yesterday was better in a great many ways than life is today. The time has come to recapture the good things Americans had and have lost. The future can be better than the past – provided we look to the past for guidance.

Breaking away from “Selfism”

Americans are realizing that the time has come to free themselves from the unhealthy fascination with “self’ that has become almost an addiction since the 1960s. “Selfism,” – making the self the focus of life – goes back much further, but traditional moral values always held it in check. Traditional values told us to put service above self. They taught us that happiness comes from disciplining and mastering the rapacious demands of the self, not giving in to them. American culture expected people to focus their lives outward, to do useful things and help other people. It regarded “me first” as a sign of childishness – and of a spoiled child at that.

The flower children of the late 1960s turned these traditional values upside-down. They had the amazingly naive idea that a new “youth culture” could make the world perfect by ignoring “what other people think” and encouraging young people to do whatever felt good whenever they felt like doing it.

“Do your own thing!” became the battle cry of the hippies. Of course, your own thing mustn’t be anything your parents or grandparents might do. If possible, it had to be something they wouldn’t like at all. Hippies had to be hip, and that meant cutting themselves off from the ideas and standards of older people – except for a few older hip gurus like Timothy Leary or Alan Ginsberg. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” the youth culture advised. Get rid of all the garbage you’ve been taught. Drop out of the world of families, schools, and workplaces. “Get in touch with your feelings.”

But self-discovery, self-realization, and self-fulfillment didn’t make life any better. They often made it worse. Youth communes that were supposed to blaze the way to a perfect society instead fell apart because members had no sense of loyalty to the group or to each other. Widely publicized “alternate lifestyles” turned out to be fads, their followers soon growing bored and wandering off. It seemed that however much the self was given it always wanted more. A new pleasure worked a couple of times, then it was dead, and something more extreme had to follow to keep the ever-demanding self “feeling good.”

By the mid-1990s almost everybody realized that self-indulgence was not going to save the world or even make it better. But by then, the habit of “selfism” had become too strong to break. Besides, there wasn’t much else left. The youth culture of the 60s and early 70s may not have produced anything of lasting value, but it managed to trash the ideals of self-restraint and respect for the wisdom of the ages.

“Do your own thing!” became the battle cry of the hippies. Of course, your own thing mustn’t be anything your parents or grandparents might do.

So, the youth culture became “thirty-something” as the baby-boomers drifted through the mindless, feel-good glitter of the disco scene and on into the 1990s. The 90s completed the work of the 60s. With the self still in the driver’s seat, things – possessions and image – became the new road to self-fulfillment. Doing your own thing became doing whatever it took to get the trappings of wealth, power and status. In the process, modesty, honesty and fair dealing followed all the other old values onto the scrap heap.

That didn’t work either, of course. We still couldn’t keep up with the demands of the self, no matter how hard we worked to further our career, get seen in the right places, and pile up designer stuff. “Dressing for success,” “winning by intimidation,” and keeping score in terms of possessions didn’t satisfy us any more than “liberation” and “feeling good.” Paper profits melted in the following recession. Personal debt piled up. Houses and cars and boats became sources of worry rather than satisfaction.

Selfism, it seems, has run head-on into the wall of reality and gone splat. Now, in the 21st century, people are looking back to the times before the wreck. For many young Americans, it seems that the last people they remember being really content were their grandparents. The last time life was good was the 1950s, when most things were still done the old way.

A national poll, taken as early as 1992, showed how people were even then looking back fondly toward the past. 49% thought life in the past was better than it is today; only 17% thought it was worse. 47% felt that their grandparents’ lives were happier than their own; only 29% felt they were not as happy. 56% had a generally favorable impression of the Victorian period. A whopping 58% of those polled thought that our nation’s political leaders should be leading us back towards the way we used to be.

A Dialogue with the Past

Americans today communicate with a far wider variety of people than ever before, or at least so it seems. Social media, Skype and email connect us to others around the world. We travel to other countries, we go out for Thai or Vietnamese or Caribbean dinners, we see foreign films and drive foreign cars. CNN keeps us up on the very latest news from all around the world.

In discovering our own past in people and how they lived, not just in dry facts, we can take a fresh look at ourselves and our own lives.

But there is a large group of people with whom we communicate little, if at all: the Americans who lived before us. And what stories they have to tell! We have more in common with them than with almost anyone else. After all, they lived where we live, saw many of the same scenes we see, and faced many of the same problems.

True, they are no longer with us. But they left us a great many messages, in books and family letters, in the houses and towns they built, and in the furniture, clothes and music they created. In fact, they left us a large sample of the things that made up their daily lives. And they also left us their thoughts: the values and beliefs they held, ideas of how to live and the reasons to live that way, and memories of specific people – sometimes from our own families – memories that tell us why their lives were respected and even revered by those they touched.

Through the things they left behind we can talk with those who have gone before us. The dialogue can add great richness to our own lives. The immensely popular PBS television series The Civil War1 gave Americans a sense of what a dialogue with the past can offer. Seldom has a television series gripped so many people’s emotions so powerfully. Why? Because in it Americans from the past spoke directly to us.

The series had no dialogue between actors. Instead, it presented the words of the people who lived over 100 years ago in many of the same places where we live now. They spoke to us through their diaries, their letters home, their personal photographs. They spoke to us not as names in history books, but as real people struggling with real problems, and we realized that they have a great deal to say to us.

In discovering our own past in people and how they lived, not just in dry facts, we can take a fresh look at ourselves and our own lives. We can learn from their experience. We can find out how they protected themselves from life’s harsh blows through the warmth and mutual support of strong families. We can learn how they educated themselves and find that in many ways they were better educated than we are, even if they did not know how to use a computer or a smartphone. We can discover how, with much less wealth and fewer possessions than we have, they managed to build lives we often envy.

We realized in watching The Civil War that our own past, the past that earlier Americans lived, has become stranger to us than the African bush or the Amazon rain forest ever were to them. And we realized at the same time that this need not be so. The past is there, waiting for us to uncover it. We can read the words of those who are gone. And we can also learn from the many people still alive today who remember how people lived before America rejected its inheritance. The enduring pleasures of Retroculture lie in coming home to what is ours.


1 This was a highly popular mini-series on the Civil War directed by Ken Burns and broadcasted in 1990. The viewing figures were enormous, with roughly 39 million viewers tuning in to any one episode. The series has since been digitally restored and re-released on DVD in 2015. — Editor.

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The Sense of History – Part 3 Fri, 07 Jun 2019 13:39:04 +0000 While the Greek ἱστορία forms the first origin of our concept of history, it would be natural to suppose that its nearer source, particularly etymologically, lies in the historia of the Romans. Yet upon reviewing the Roman historians, in particular those who have come down to us tolerably intact and with living and justified fame, namely Caesar, Sallust, Livy and Tacitus, we come upon an interesting discovery; these men were extremely sparing in their use of the word historia. Indeed, so far as the author can make out, the single two appearances of this word in the major works of these men are to be found in the titles of Tacitus’ and Sallust’s Historiae, the latter of which has come to us in fragments alone.

The historiography of Livy is an attempt to regain the faded glory and the moral fibre of a past epoch, confronting the decadent now against the noble then.

It would appear from this merely etymological observation that the Roman historians had little consequence for our contemporary idea of history. Looking nearer to the emergence of the modern idea of history, we find that the word as we presently have it made its entry into modernity via the Renaissance, in which it began to appear with an evidently modern hue in a variety of Italian authors, including Petrarch and Boccaccio. The word’s primary philosophical tributaries however were probably Francis Bacon and Niccolò Machiavelli. The former, following long-standing tradition, spoke primarily of ‘natural history’ or related ideas like the ‘history of winds’ and the ‘history of life and death’ – phrases which will no doubt be obscure to us because we have forgotten the original sense of the word as ‘enquiry’. This Baconian usage probably contributed to our own pervasive idea of ‘history’ solely in the enormous influence that Bacon exerted on subsequent thought; he was important enough a thinker that his use of a term like this in several titles of his works was bound to have some ramifications for our subsequent language. While Bacon follows the Greek etymology in his own use, this is of course done without reference or regard to the specific work of the histors which has been discussed in the previous section of this essay. To this extent, Bacon’s work is unrelated to our present enquiry.

Bacon was also author of a certain History of the Reign of King Henry VII, which, following somewhat in the Roman tradition, did not repeat the word ‘history’ within the body of the work itself save but twice: once in reference to the writers of history and once in reference to the readers of the same. This would seem to suggest that the sense of history which Bacon proposed was rather more the ancient one than the modern, or at best was transitional between them. We cannot seek the proximate source for our sense of history in him. We lay down only this caveat, which we shall have cause to explore in the final part of this essay: the new science which Bacon proposed, which founded so much of modern science, appears to have something deeply in common with the sense of time and development over time which was later expressed in the modern sense of history, or at least in one branch thereof.

Machiavelli, on the other hand, appears to be perhaps the first man to use the word history repeatedly in something like its modern sense; this throughout his Prince, and more particularly yet in his Discourses on Livy, where the word ‘histories’ (istorie) makes several striking appearances already in the ‘Preface’ and ‘Introduction’. The use that he makes of this word no longer intends the ‘enquiries’ of the ancients, but has a clear indication of ‘events in time’ or ‘the series of events in the past’. Machiavelli was also an author of a work which contains the word in its title, the Florentine Histories (Istorie fiorentine), and in which, in contrast to the History of Bacon, the word is freely used, once more in what seems to be a very modern sense, throughout the body of the work itself.1 It would appear that Machiavelli is then the true ‘Father of History’ so far as Modernity is concerned.

While Machiavelli’s most famous work is his Prince, what well might be his most important work is his Discourses. These discourses, as indicated by the very title (Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio), are founded on a special investigation of the first decade of the Roman Livy’s Ad urbe condita. At the same time, the Discourses are rife with references to antiquity, particularly Greek, Roman, and Judaic, as well as to the more recent history of Italy itself. Machiavelli establishes himself in pointed reference to the Roman historian, and thus forces us to return to the Romans and their peculiar sense of history before we can understand Machiavelli’s response to or use of or modification of that sense. We focus primarily on Livy, for the simple reason that Machiavelli did the same.


Livy, as noted, nowhere uses the word historia in what we have the bad habit of translating as his ‘History’; this includes the title itself, to which in truth Livy referred to only as his immensum opus, (his ‘immense work’), his tantum opus (his ‘great work’) or his annales (his ‘annals’).2 It has come down to us in the tradition as Ab Urbe Condita Libri, ‘Books from the Foundation of the City’, following a usage established by an earlier chronicler of Rome, Quintus Fabius Pictor.3 Throughout the present essay we will prefer the English translation of Livy’s own description of his work.

Most translations of Livy’s Annals are very free in their use of the word ‘history’, which seems to this author an abuse, if perhaps a necessary one,4 of the language which Livy employs. The word which is most commonly translated as ‘history’ is the Latin res. Consider for instance a popular translation of the opening phrase of his Annals: ‘The task of writing a history of our nation from Rome’s earliest days fills me, I confess, with some misgiving’.5 The Latin has Facturusne operae pretium sim si a primordio urbis res populi Romani perscripserim nec satis scio, or ‘I know not what worth the production of this work might have, if I altogether write out the matters of the Roman people from the first commencement of the city’. Later, the same translation has ‘writer on history’ for scriptores … in rebus certius, ‘writers … in sure things/affairs’. Leaving aside the other liberties which were so evidently taken with this popular translation, the use of ‘history’ for res certainly infuses a modern sense into Livy which is nowhere to be found in the original.

To be fair, the Latin res has no right English translation; it literally and most immediately means ‘a thing’, but from here takes on the signification of ‘events’, ‘actions’, ‘deeds’, ‘facts’, ‘affairs’, etc.6 The common English ‘fact’ might be the fairest translation, though it lacks a certain dimensionality and depth, not to say dignity and import, contained in the original. If a more natural or elegant substitute is sought, ‘chronicles’ might be preferable to ‘history’. It is the same word that Livy sometimes uses to refer to his own work.7

As compared to the Greek histors, several differences with Livy can be identified immediately. First, Livy not only does not hesitate to look into the deep past (his work ‘falls upon more than seven hundred years’),8 but even insists upon doing so: Livy’s very task is defined by that deep penetration of the past. Where the past was incidental to Herodotus and shunned by Thucydides, it forms the very subject matter of Livy. Livy in this respect appears to us much more the historian in the modern sense than these others. He is permitted his long view of the past, perhaps, on account of the fact that he, as opposed to Herodotus or Thucydides, is writing in a long-standing tradition of Roman chroniclers, whose works sadly have almost entirely vanished to the monstrous hunger of time. The existence of these previous chroniclers gives Livy the possibility of referring to the past which was recorded by men interested in the truth.

Livy focuses on this deep past, despite the fact that he is aware that his readers prefer the modern (‘they will hasten to the new [time]’);9 he is thus not writing an entertainment piece, and to this extent follows Thucydides. Yet his relation to the question of history versus poetry appears at first glance to differ from that taken by Thucydides, and to mimic if not to reproduce the approach of Herodotus: ‘[I]t is [the intent of this work] neither to affirm nor to refute’ that which came ‘before the founding and the establishment of the city’, which are ‘decorated woth poetic tales’ (6). Livy passes no judgement on these ‘poetic tales’, but rather simply reports them or the various reports of them in a Herodotean fashion. Indeed, Livy notes that these tales ‘consecrate the origins’ (consecrare origines, 7); they ennoble the past.

Yet these ‘poetic tales’ are contrasted with the ‘uncorrupted chronicle of deeds’ (incorruptis rerum gestorum); they are fabrications on the face of truth, not the unadorned truth itself. In the last line of his Preface, Livy states that his ‘great works’ would commence with ‘votaries and prayers to the gods and goddesses, if, as with the poets, this were our custom’ (emphasis mine). The contrast with the poets and ‘us’ is clarion. Yet the ‘we’ is not so clear; to whom is Livy referring? Does he mean ‘we the chroniclers of the past’? In the opening lines of his preface he at once distances himself from the ‘writers’ of the past referred to above; yet he also suggests that he is working ‘in the broil of the writers’. He uses the first person plural several times in the Preface to indicate the Romans of his time;10 does this ‘we’ indicate then his contemporary compatriots, their distance from the piety of the past? The ‘we’ is contrasted with ‘they’ – the Romans of the origins, the Romans to whom ‘is given the grace of intermingling the human with the divine’.11 All of this in turn is contrasted with the use of the first-person singular with which Livy opens his Annals, and which is quickly laid aside in favour of the third-person singular passive, or the use of his work itself as the subject of his periods. This distancing from the first-person singular begins already from the sixth period, and follows from the introduction of the first instance of the first-person plural adjective nostra in the fifth period, returning to it only in the ninth, when he discusses his task and his objectives. Livy’s work is somehow subsumed in the trials and tribulations of his time; he is both responding to the vice of his day and attempting to redirect it toward virtue.

Livy’s work is somehow subsumed in the trials and tribulations of his time; he is both responding to the vice of his day and attempting to redirect it toward virtue.

Indeed, his purpose, as he states it, is threefold: First, he wishes to turn away from the evils of his time to look at the glories of the past (5), second to show his readers the healthy mores of their ancestors (9), and finally to show how these mores deteriorated and came to their current level of vice (9 again). The first part of this purpose is separated from the other two by Livy’s discussion of the virtue of the ancients, and in particular their ‘glory in war’ (belli gloria), which is accepted by all the world to such an extent that the other nations gladly submit to be ruled by Rome. This is also the justification given for Rome’s deriving her origins from the gods themselves, and in particular from Mars. Yet this same people, which has ‘long been paramount’, is now wreaking its deterioration (4), the very fact which leads Livy to look to the past in the first place. It appears from the organization of his text then that the purpose of looking into the past is to attempt to recapture its greatness for the use of the present.

The sense of Livy as a ‘Herodotean’ histor is immediately countered by the words which Livy uses to introduce the second two portions of his task, or what we might call the modified presentation of his task: ‘But to these things and their like, whatever criticism or valuation there be on them, I will not regard them as of great importance’ (8). Unlike Herodotus, Livy passes no judgement on these matters, not because he thinks no judgement can be passed, but because he believes that other matters are of greater importance. His ‘great enterprise’ is not the poet’s enterprise. The poet’s enterprise is to glorify or magnify the origins through beautiful tales, to ‘consecrate the origins’. Livy is looking to the record of those things which can be ascertained, the ‘uncorrupted things’ of the past. The greatness of Rome is not cancelled out by the dubiousness of her divine origins; her greatness is founded instead in the fact that ‘never was there a nation (res publica) so great, righteous, or so rich in good examples’ (11). All of these things are accessible to the chronicler, and have no need of the intervention of the poet, who indeed might render them gaudy and untrue.

Generally speaking, the historiography of Livy12 is an attempt to regain the faded glory and the moral fibre of a past epoch, confronting the decadent now against the noble then. The lessons of the past are moral lessons; history as a study is a study in mores and in the improvement of mores. This contrasts it strongly with the work of the Greek histors, as we have analyzed it in the previous part of this article, not to mention with the aims of the philosophers and the poets.

If Machiavelli is not atheistic in the sense of denying the reality of the divine, his work is certainly atheistic in the sense of almost altogether excluding the effects of the divine realm from its theme.

Several elements of this approach stand out in particular measure, by which the Roman chroniclers can be distinguished from the Greek histors. The first: Livy regards the past with the eyes of a man who would derive lessons therefrom. He is a ‘student of history’ in the truest sense of the word. He is intent on understanding the past, but understanding it as a model. This separates him both from the Greek histors and from at least the major contingent of modern historians, who are liable to look upon all ‘moral’ questions as being subsidiary to if not prejudicial to the unbiased and ‘scientific’ study of history; the moral element for Livy is central to his study. The second: Livy is the first man to take the ‘historical record’, or, to use his words, the ‘incorrupted chronicle of deeds’, as something to which one can make confident reference; he is the first man who truly considers the ‘historical record’ as being opposed to the mythical record. To this extent, he is a much more like to the modern historian than to the histors of Ancient Greece; at the same time, he appears to entirely follow the tradition enstated by the latter, of distinguishing historiography from poetry and cleaving unambiguously to the first over the second.

We must briefly mention another of the major founts from which Machiavelli draws his historical work: namely, the Bible, and in particular the Old Testament.

The Old Testament is at once a compilation of the work of various authors as well as a religious book of prime importance for three world faiths. We cannot possibly begin to speak of, much less to comprehend, the layers of all of this complexity here; that is the work of lifetimes entire. It will have to suffice to say a few provisional words about the nature of the ‘history’ presented in that book, from the standpoint, not so much of the work itself, as of that later historiography which was born with Machiavelli.

The Old Testament appears to be a work of ‘monumental history’ in the purest sense. It is a history, that is to say, in which the memory of great men is wedded essentially to reverence for the same. The subject of the work might be said to be the relationship between God and the chosen people; that is the motive for the record of the persons, events and actions that are contained within it. This relationship is expressed or manifested especially through the lives and the deeds of chosen individuals, who bear the favour or mark of God, who are tasked with carrying out God’s purposes on earth, and who, through their commission of that holy duty or their dereliction of the same, produce the arc of the narrative. There is a very real question about the relation between this kind of historiography and poetry, and whether they can be considered the same thing.

The events portrayed through this kind of historiography, if one subtracts the divine from them, appear to become meaningless, or else to transform into the fruit of mere superstition or myth or deception. The atheist or nonbeliever who approaches this work with the intention of extracting knowledge of ‘history’ from it, is forced then to interpret these stories in the light of his ‘realism’ or his non-Jewish/Christian/Muslim view of the world in order to get at ‘what really happened’. Machiavelli’s view of this work, then, depends in particular on his relation to the Christianity of his day. At present we can only state, rather than defend, the proposition that it is unlikely Machiavelli was much induced to take the Christian view of this particular history, and was rather wont to read these events in the light of reason alone, attempting to understand what they might teach about politics, power, and the macchinations of great men, armies and kingdoms. But this will depend on what he means when he speaks of prophets. The very least that can be said is this: insofar as any work displays events whose right interpretation wholly depend on the supposition of divine intervention, one can gain no clear knowledge of human things from them, and to that extent these studies cannot fall within the purview of Machiavelli’s project; if Machiavelli is not atheistic in the sense of denying the reality of the divine, his work is certainly atheistic in the sense of almost altogether excluding the effects of the divine realm from its theme.

Yet to excise the religious component from the account of events in a religious book – to attempt to reduce a work of worship to a ‘factual’ narration of ‘historical happenings’ – is work which is troubled from any number of points of view. The use that Machiavelli makes of these examples, and the question of why and when he chooses to employ them, leads us beyond the problem of the emergence of modern historiography, and forces us to confront the meaning and the purpose of Machiavelli’s works. It can be assumed, however, that whatever the answer to these questions might be, it will be either pragmatically or philosophically subsumed within, and will not exceed or transcend, the general view that Machiavelli took of history; to that extent we are justified in disregarding the Old Testament for the purposes of our present enquiry.


1This is to be compared to his Vita di Castruccio Castracani, the Life of Castruccio Castracani – a story which, while it was based on a ‘historical personage’, was largely of Machiavelli’s invention. The word istoria or istorie does not once appear in this work. Machiavelli states his intent in this work as follows: La quale [vita] mi è parso ridurre alla memoria delli uomini, ‘The which [life] it has seemed to me well to guide back to the memory of men’. The use of the verb ridurre, literally to reduce or decrease, is of peculiar note here; I have translated it by its etymology, but this should not obscure its commoner use and the potential meanings this might have for Machiavelli’s intentions with this beautiful and enigmatic little work. Compare this to what we have said in the previous essay regarding the distinction between the poets and the historians.

2See the first and last lines of his Preface for the first two references; for the third, Livy, Book XLIII, §13. All translations throughout this part of the essay, save as otherwise noted, are mine.

3The expression ab urbe condita was in fact used by the Romans to indicate the origin of their calendar: just as we measure time from the birth of Christ, they did so from the birth of Rome – petit fait which reveals a great deal about the great differences in outlook between Roman Antiquity and Christendom.

4The question comes down to the scope and object of translation, not to speak of its feasibility. If one holds, as many do nowadays in deference to the goal of selling copies, that a translation should be fluent in the contemporary language and should aim to flatter the ears and eyes of present-day men rather than to edify their faculties, it is evident that in many cases ‘loose’ translations of the sort mentioned are not only possible but even obligatory. If one believes on the other hand that a good translation should strive (within the bounds of possibility, clarity, natural syntax, decent grammar, etc.) to reproduce the view of things promoted by the author, which necessarily relates to or includes the view of his people and his native tongue, then it is evident that good translations will sometimes ‘sound strange’ or be even rife with inconcinnities and alien phrases. Surely every translation must be a compromise between these two approaches, but what matters is which one is preponderant. We do not venture here to pass judgement on the wider question, but for the purposes of the present essay we cleave emphatically to the second approach.

5The Early History of Rome, transator Aubrey de Sélincourt (London: Penguin Books, 2002); emphasis mine.

6Cf. with our consideration of τό έργον in Part Two of this essay; the two words have much in common. At the same time, in the opinion of the author, there is something decidedly more stable and ‘immobile’, something more established, something firmer, more concrete, perhaps clearer, drier, and more prosaic – in short, more Roman – about res.

7See for instance Preface, 4.

8Ibid., Preface, 4.


10First at Preface, 5, nostra … aetas (‘our age’) and then at 9, vitia nostra (‘our vice’); in the latter case he speaks in the first person plural, with possumus (‘we can’).

11Preface, 7.

12This is related to the work of Tacitus, who however focused on the more recent past and who wrote what might be considered the first dedicated piece of ‘critical history’. Recall his justifiably famous sine ira et studio in his own statement of purpose, at the very opening of his Annales; this is to be compared to the Greeks. Yet this ‘critical history’ derives its force from the contrast of a corrupt present to a virtuous past, and to this extent agrees with the Livian tradition. Comparison of these two chroniclers, not to mention of the two chroniclers with the Greek histors, would make for a very interesting study. It seems to this author that, despite their various differences, there is a certain spiritual or aesthetic affinity between Herodotus and Livy on the one hand, and Thucydides and Tacitus on the other.

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