47 Responses

  1. Escoffier

    One more thing B.

    Somewhere you linked a post by someone else about how academia is today’s clerisy and we do in fact have union of “church and state” on this basis. I agree and once again point to … modernity! This is by design. This is what the modern philosophers wanted.

    Again, going fast and oversimplifying, from the death of Socrates onward in the ancient world, philosophy was always suspect and the philosophers lived precariously. Aristotle fled Athens late in life, fearing that he was going to get it, saying that he didn’t want to allow Athens to “sin twice against philosophy.” The more conservative faction in Rome, led by Cato the elder, took active steps to keep out philosophers and persecute the ones they found. Etc.

    This tension somewhat eased when the early church embraced philosophy and especially when Aquinas and the scholastics made Aristotle the basis of all knowledge. However it never fully went away.

    In addition, the moderns are quite pissed off about how (as they see it) Christianity and the Church have co-opted philosophy. They set out to “remedy” that by breaking the link and also putting philosophy on a firmer footing. In the ancient world, philosophy’s strategy for protecting itself was to try not to be too obvious about what it’s doing and also to make alliances with the interested children of aristocrats who will protect philosophy from popular backlash.

    The moderns say, well, that failed totally. The old aristocracy is dead, the new one is tied to the Church, and the Church owns philosophy’s hide. Philosophy has become a maidservant to a false god.

    Their “solution” is to ally philosophy with the many (people) rather than the few (nobles). And you do that by promising to give the people “stuff”, above all security and plenty. This is rather cynical and I am sorry to have to be so blunt but I don’t have time to couch this under an elegant veil so … the moderns basically say, look, if Christianity could convince the masses that it could make them live forever, which is rather obviously preposterous, why can’t we win them over by giving them stuff? At least our “stuff” will be tangible in the here and now …

    So modernity’s other purpose is to establish philosophy as the benefactor of the people as a strategy for making philosophy ultimately the hidden ruler of society. No longer will be on the margins, half in hiding, afraid for itself, nor will it be in hoc to the prelates. Philosophy will henceforth rule.

    To do this the moderns have to reject the classical teaching that society is ultimately not capable of rationalization. The moderns say, That’s true only if by “rational” you mean “philosophic in the highest sense.” Lower your sights a little to things that can actually be achieved and it can be done. Or, as Churchill put it many centuries later, “the moderns built on low but solid ground.”

    Hence, e.g., Hobbes’ teaching which purports to be wholly rational and “scientific” with principles knowable by all non-morons. The meaning of the Enlightenment is that, properly understood, society IS rationalizable. Humanity CAN live strictly on the basis of rational principle and reason.

    Hence, you get (among other things) the institutionalization of philosophy through the codification of the “Doctor of Philosophy” (PhD), the ultimate credential in our credentialist society. Everyone today likes to appeal to “studies” and “experts” which is just another manifestation of modernity and the replacement of “philosophy as way of life” with “philosophy as combined master and servant.” Master as in, we know best, do what we say, and servant as in, we make it possible for you to get your stuff.

  2. deti

    This is a great post, Esco. Well done. It’s disconcerting to read this, particularly since anyone who has studied politics or philosophy or history in higher education is taught that modernity and Judeo-Christian precepts are the entire foundation for the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and the entirety of western civilization.

    1. Escoffier

      The historiography on the Renaissance is quite messed up because historians by and large don’t understand philosophy and the have a prejudice against the “Great Man” theory of history so they don’t like to believe that individuals or small numbers of men, much less ideas based on conscious choice, can move history. Rather, they think everything is determined by broad patterns and movements like the tides and the weather that men have no control over and no hand in designing.

      Then there are a lot of historians who are simply mesmerized by Renaissance humanism and its love of Latin lit, so they assume that the Renaissance was all about a revival of the classics and they miss the changes.

      And then you have the problem of Burckhardt, which gets some of the effects right but the cause wholly wrong.

  3. Morticia

    That picture is really worth a 1000 words.

    This is some great stuff.

  4. Morticia

    How does “modernity” handle the issue of conflicting wants?

    1. Escoffier

      OK, for the classics all rule comes down to the question of competing titles to rule or claims or justifications based on differing and irreconcilable wants. The moderns say, We can harmonize the competition into win-win situations where everybody more or less gets what he wants.

      This begins with Machiavelli, who reduces all the classical categories of people and claims to rule (3 or 5 or 6 depending on the source) to two: the people and the great. The great desire to command and oppress the people, the people desire not to be commanded or oppressed. And he also changes the premise. Rather than being “claims” to rule, which implies or presupposes a rational argument underneath, he calls them “humors,” which means they are not rational, they are basically inborn dispositions of spirit or character. And when you read through and think about it, the distinction turns out to be very much like the game distinction between alpha and beta. Pushy and entitled and versus shy and retiring. Rule breaking versus rule obeying. Etc.

      Machiavelli says that he has found a way to harmonize these competing wants. Glory is the ultimate aim of the great, so let’s build a system where they can get it. The glorious deeds they perform will redound to the people’s benefit. Military victories will bring booty and security. The people will have to participate in the fighting, which is what the give to the great, but they also benefit from it. Everyone gets what he wants.

      From here Locke and later moderns get the idea of “self-interest rightly understood,” or in Gordon Gekko’s words, “greed is good.” Pursuit of private interest is harmonized with public order and indeed made the foundation of it. Kant: “As hard as it may sound, the problem of setting up a state can be solved even by a nation of devils (so long as they have sense). In other words, rational calculation limits man’s natural rapacity and tendency toward evil. His rapacity is not tamed by morality but by the sure knowledge that by staying within certain bounds he will have more than if he tries to transgress those bounds.

      1. Desiderius

        I can’t recommend highly enough Isaiah Berlin’s work on value pluralism and its fundamental incompatibility with the rationalizing spirit of modernity.

        Great credit goes to Morticia for so acutely spotting the spanner in the works.

        My guess is that the way forward involves allying with those of liberal temperament against the illiberalism of the Modern. There are also many on the post-modern Left who would be sympathetic to such an effort.

  5. Elspeth

    I enjoyed your post, Escoffier.

  6. sunshinemary

    Escoffier wrote:

    EVERYTHING that bothers us here flows from these (and other) modern premises. Now, one might try to find some of the problems within religion itself, or in the misinterpretation thereof. E.g., Christianity raises the status of women, hence eventually leads to feminism. Or (this is a common Enlightenment argument): Christianity’s emphasis on mercy and forgiveness leads to permissiveness and the breakdown of order. (Montesquieu says this about Rome after Constantine.)

    However, the far more proximate cause of our ills is modernity. Modernity holds that nothing is transcendent. The world is materialist/atomistic; there is no soul in either the Biblical or the philosophical sense. There is no heaven or hell, nor is there any “right” that is not ultimately derived from utility. Man is the measure. To the extent that life has a purpose (and really it doesn’t) it is to satisfy his wants. The individual is the fundamental unit, society only exists to serve his wants.

    OK, maybe you can help me with something that bothers me. I keep wondering – if we as Christians accept that Bible is true and Christ’s teachings are right, then me must embrace concepts like mercy and grace, which really do seem to lead to worse and worse behavior in those to whom mercy and grace are extended.

    Women who have been shown mercy for their sexual sin seem to believe it means they are above judgement and reproach. People on welfare seem to believe that the grace of receiving free stuff is owed to them. And I keep having this nagging feeling that there is a problem, maybe not so much with our religion, but rather with our understanding and execution of mercy and grace.

    So if the problem is really Modernity, what does a non-Modern form of Christian mercy and grace really look like? Or does it look the same as now but the non-modern response would be different?

    I know your essay is meant to be philosophical, but being a woman, I desire the practical application, please.

    1. Escoffier

      You have to keep in mind that these criticisms are not made by friends of Christianity or believers or reformers or even critics. They are enemies.

      Philosophy and faith ultimately do butt heads and I don’t see a way around that. There is a vast area of agreement between (say) Biblical morality and Aristotle’s Ethics but then a lot of non-trivial disagreements as well.

      Machiavelli liked to say that the important thing was to interpret Christianity “according to virtue” meaning his conception of virtue. On the one hand, he was lying, he despised Christianity and wanted to kill it so he meant that as a blasphemous and/or subversive joke. On the other hand, and interpretation of strength that allows for just punishment, defensive wars, the just accumulation of wealth and so on is probably not an altogether bad thing.

    2. Desiderius

      One cannot transcend something that one has not achieved.

      Mercy requires dominance, grace justice.

  7. imnobody


    I’m reading “The Theological Origins of Modernity” that methinks it’s very similar to the book you are reading. It tells how the nominalist revolution of the Late Middle Ages (Scotus and, especially Ockham) paved the way to the Reformation and, through Luther and Descartes, produced modernity.

    Very insightful reading


    1. veritaslounge

      Yes, Gillespie is next on my list after the book I am reading. My sense from briefly looking at Gillespie’s book is that it is a more in depth look at the theological aspects specifically, whereas the theological aspect is only one of 6 factors Gregory looks at in his book – so same general bent, but one seems more focused and the other more broad.

  8. Escoffier

    Another point re: Modernity that I think is important is the inherent contradiction or irony in the whole enterprise.

    Modernity arises as a rebellion against both Biblical religion and classical philosophy. One of its lines of attack against both is that they “utopian.” They set man’s sights too high. The Bible wants men to be holy and live in the image of God and Plato wants men to be virtuous and set up societies ruled by philosopher kings. Machiavelli called these “imagined principalities” and he had in mind Plato’s Republic and Augustine’s City of God.

    The moderns say that two possible outcomes result from this—both taking for granted that achieving either goal is impossible. First, men actually try to live up to the impossible standards and screw everything up royally, often killing a lot of people and making others miserable in the process. Machiavelli referred to this as “pious cruelty.” Or else people realize that the standards can’t be met and they become fatalistic and just accept whatever comes there way, not putting much effort into building or doing anything hard or important. This latter interpretation became the standard claim about the Middle Ages and is still with us in attenuated form.

    So, the moderns say, lower the goal. Don’t make impossible demands of holiness and virtue and perfect justice and societal perfection. Just make the goal peace and security and prosperity and such. These can actually be achieved. Or, again in Machiavellian language, let the “is” replace the “ought.”

    Now the first irony is that the moderns accuse the classics of being utopians and they praise themselves for being hard-headed pragmatists. However, the pre-modern teaching is actually more humble. The Bible sets a high standard but also holds that all men are sinners and meeting that standard 100% of the time is impossible. Men need to be humble before God and humble about their own powers and merits. Strive for the goal but realize your limitations. Plato (and others) sketch the “ideal” society but then intimate that its actualization is not merely unlikely but also depends on chance. Don’t expect too much from politics, this world, or men’s efforts. Be the best man you can be, be as virtuous as you can be, but ultimately the only thing you have full and true power over is you and your own behavior. In other words there is an inherent humility or moderation in the pre-modern teaching, whether religious or philosophic.

    The moderns think that by lowering the goal to what is truly achievable they have dispensed with the need for humility or moderation. It’s sort of like … when you set yourself the goal of running a marathon, you have to be humble about it because, man, that’s really hard … but if you set yourself the task of walking around the block, hell, anyone can do that! The analogy is imperfect but so be it.

    So the moderns, in lowering the goal, think that they have guaranteed actualization of the goal. There is no humility or moderation. They become the real utopians. They become what they accused the Tradition of being because they dispense with the Tradition’s humility and moderation.

    The second irony is what this does to mankind. After centuries of this rhetoric and propaganda, men become completely convinced that the actualization of the ideal is not only possible but inevitable, that all failures are owing to incompetence or lack of will (or money). Plus, modernity actually does start to deliver on its promises of security and plenty and so men come to think that, in fact, mankind has indeed conquered fortune and nature just as the modern philosophers said they would. Man’s expectations start to rise. He starts to think of progress as his right and setbacks as always someone’s fault.

    Meanwhile the ministers of modernity—the technocrats and implementers—forget all the caveats made by the philosophers and start to think they can do anything. All problems are solvable. So they try to solve all problems. The idea that there are limits to societal or government power becomes abhorrent to them, an affront to their sense of self. So what happens is we have whole societies spending fortunes in money, time and manpower trying to do and fix absolutely everything, failing at most of it, and not doing well the things that it’s possible to do well. Our ambitions and our agendas keep expanding even as our zone of competence shrinks.

    That’s where we are today. We’re getting stupider and less effective at basic tasks even as we keep taking on messianic reform projects that will never work. Every failure makes us want to try harder and spend more. Meanwhile it never seems to occur to anyone that if we can no longer fix and escalator, how are we going to eliminate world poverty?

    So, that in mind, it’s really the moderns who are the misguided utopians and the classics who were the wise realists, not the other way around.

  9. Cail Corishev

    Thank you for writing this; it’s excellent, though I’m still trying to get my mind around some parts of it. So do you define Modernity as the belief that Man can/will always make life better with his own talents, therefore new is always better than old? Is that the kernel of it, or am I missing something?

    It’s weird to think there was a time that people didn’t think of themselves as having “rights,” though I’m sure you’re right. I guess before Hobbes, murder was wrong because God said it was wrong, not because the victim had a “right to life”? So then a new reason — the right to life, liberty, and happiness — had to be found for not murdering and stealing, so that God could be forgotten?

    I’m having trouble understanding this bit:

    So modernity’s other purpose is to establish philosophy as the benefactor of the people as a strategy for making philosophy ultimately the hidden ruler of society.

    Do you mean that philosphy’s goal was changed from the study of God to the study of how to make things better for men? Or something else?

    Thanks again; I’ll be coming back to this for inspiration, I’m sure.

    1. Escoffier

      There are many essential tenets of modernity. The ones I tried to isolate here were:

      1) Man has much more control over his destiny than the Bible or ancient though suppose;

      2) An ever-upward arc of progress, especially human progress, is possible if man exerts himself;

      3) Nature is an enemy or at least adversary to be subdued and turned into a servant.

      Regarding rights, the classics believed in natural “right,” that is, right and wrong exist by nature and not will or convention. Man could pass a law that declared murder “right” but it would still be wrong and the law would be an unjust law. The classics did not believe that human beings had “rights” in the sense that we mean them today.

      I mean more that philosophy’s goal was changed from contemplation of the whole with the goal of understanding the whole–i.e., wisdom–into using what knowledge philosophy had already achieved, and could achieve, in order to benefit man.

      The classics believed that man could probably not fundamentally grasp the whole. At the very least, he hadn’t yet. However, he could grasp parts of the whole, or smaller wholes, or wholes-in-themselves. For instance, man could learn the full truth about, say, horses. He could understand entirely the eidos of the horse. He could understand many things on this level. (Including, I would venture to say, man.) Then he could think about how they all fit together. But ultimately he bumped up against massive questions of cosmology, metaphysics and theology that he simply could not resolve with his unassisted mind. The best he could do was articulate the problems and certain fundamental alternatives and come up with probabilistic answers.

      That is a very large and insightful body of thought. But ultimately it is not knowledge of the whole and until philosophic man has knowledge of the whole, he is not satisfied. This impulse, I believe, motivates theoretical physicists to this day. Remember that Socrates began his life as a philosopher as a cosmologist, investigating the heavens. He turned to other things both because that was getting him into trouble (cf. Aristophanes’ Clouds) but also because he thought he had taken that investigation as far as it could go given his limitations. I am speculating but were he alive today I bet he would be hanging with Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene and trying to book time on the Hubble and the super-collider.

      So, as long as the whole remains mysterious, philosophy remains a way of life, a quest.

      The moderns say, actually, philosophy has learned a great deal about lesser wholes, especially man, and done nothing with all that knowledge. We’re sitting in a garden while the world burns. We need to take action—and take over. So the higher quest is at first abandoned. But then later moderns start to think that in fact they have figured out the whole. The problem is, the “whole” that they think they understand is not really the whole at all but a part. And because they mistake that part for the whole, their understanding of the part is itself flawed.

      1. Cail Corishev

        Thank you for further explaining; that was very helpful.

        #2 is certainly an unquestioned part of social and political thought today. At first blush I thought #3 may be a thing of the past thanks to environmental activism, but then I realized it’s only shifted: instead of subduing “nature” with fences and bulldozers, we’ve shifted to medicine and genetics. But the bottom line is the same: nature (especially human nature) is completely malleable, and if we just apply the right Science to it, we can improve on it.

        1. Escoffier

          I was speaking more of the original conception of modernity. It starts to be decisively changed with Rousseau, who had a big influence in America on (among others) Emerson and Thoreau.

          So, today, certain modern reactions to nature are funny. As you note, the modern left is insistent on conquering the nature of the body but takes pride in its reverence for the “sanctity” of the planet.

          However, if their energy schemes are eventually put into practice, I wonder how many of them are really going to be happy paying multiplies for fractions of the energy they now consume. Right now they get around that by convincing themselves that “green energy” will solve all problems–have your cake and eat it. When it becomes clear that’s not going to happen, I wonder what many of them will do. Some truly are committed to donning the hair shirt but somehow I doubt that’s true of the majority.

  10. Anonymous Reader

    I’m curious how Escoffier reads, for example, the Magna Carta, which was signed by the then-King of England in 1215. Consider this part:

    29. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.[45]

    This clause clearly establishes a right to trial. It limits the power of authorities, including the King, to simply punish freemen at will, “just because”. I am not aware of any historical school that regards the early 13th century as “modern”.

    I would also ask Escoffier about the Roman system of justice. There were limits to what could be done to citizens of Rome; they could not be tried by inferior systems, if memory serves they could not be physically bound or chained, and so forth. It would seem that citizens of Rome clearly had certain rights by virtue of their status.

    The notion that “rights” are completely a modern invention seems questionable.

    1. Escoffier

      The Magna Carta does not establish, nor is it based on, a doctrine of “rights” in the modern sense. It is basically just an assertion of power by one part of the polity (essentially the nobles) over and against another part (the monarch). In this it followed the Aristotelian analysis of politics being about competing claims to rule. Aristotle says that the best regime—the mixed regime—is the one in which each competing claim has a say, with its virtues contributing to the polity and its characteristic vices being suppressed or mitigated by the other claims.

      Now, the MC was historically significant and it is part of the reason why “Anglo-Saxon” societies evolved a culture of liberty that (say) France and Spain did not. In fact, later thinkers such as Montesquieu praised England for being the closest thing to Aristotle’s mixed regime in the modern world. John Adams called the English constitution “purged of its corruption” the most perfect mankind had yet devised precisely because the one, few and many all had a say and all acted as checks on the others.

      There is no coherent doctrine of “rights” (as opposed to “right”) that is not universalist and grounded in nature. The MC petitioners did not assert any such thing.

      Similarly, the Roman laws you cite were just examples of the ancient distinction between citizen and non-citizen, which is an outgrowth of the distinction between friend and enemy, Greek (or Roman) and barbarian (which originally meant simply “non-citizen”). No natural distinction is being asserted here, nor are any inherent obligations that other men have toward a given man simply by his status as a man.

  11. Escoffier

    B, regarding Susan’s latest, first, you should be posting more on your own blog!

    Second, and more important, what Susan completely misses is that the war between the sex-pozzies and the neo-puritans is just another intra-feminist squabble, which is to say, just another family fight among various branches of modernity.

    The sex-pozzies are unwittingly students or intellectual descendants of Rousseau. They take for granted the early modern idea that the purpose of life (to the dubious extent that there is a purpose) is to satisfy (wo)man’s wants and desires. That of course pre-dates Rousseau. From him they get the “back-to-nature” strain which holds that what is primal in man is best because it is elemental or “first” as in prior-in-nature-to, hence the most natural. So, all your basic bio urges are the “real” you, the essence of and the reason you exist, so to the extent that you deny or sublimate them, you are denying yourself and your true nature. Remember the analogy that begins the Second Discourse, the ancient statue that has fallen to the bottom of the sea and become encrusted with barnacles and the like. (Machiavelli’s Discourses also begins with an analogy about an ancient statue …) The barnacles are civilization. They are not part of man as man, as such. They are alien additions. The “real” man is the unadorned statue underneath. Civilization is for Rousseau a tragedy, an irreversible one, and one whose worst effects can be mitigated, but a tragedy nonetheless.

    Pretty much all subsequent “back-to-nature” thinking has flowed from this. The sex-pozzies are just one branch on that tree.

    The Dworkin-MacKinnon crowd are basically unwitting Leninists. The impulse is the same: fully rationalize society, rid the world of all injustice and inequality, and the only way to do that is to launch a full-on attack on nature. They are among the most radical of those who see nature as the enemy. Part of this stems from simple biology. Nature places certain risks and burdens on women that it doesn’t place on men, and the RadFem is mighty pissed about the unfairness of this.

    The reason I say “Leninist” is that the world of perfect rationality and equality was, Hegel and Marx promised us, supposed to happen naturally, as a matter of course, as history’s dialectic resolved itself according to an inevitable process. Lenin was the first to figure out that, at the very least, History was moving too slowly and needed a push and at worst would never get there without some significant help. No more waiting! Action now!

    The Action required is, as you point out, not to deny base male desire; quite the contrary, to recognize it for what it is, demonize it, punish it, and outlaw it. Much the way Lenin concluded very early that “class enemies” were not treatable by reeducation but had to be eradicated.

    They won the argument with the neo-Puritans because those promising absolution for self-indulgence always win public arguments with those advocating a return to hair-shirts. Pit Santa Claus against the Old Testament God, in front of an audience of children, and who do you think will win every time?

    A far more sensible way to look at the whole issue is through the lens of Platonic psychology, which divides the soul into spirited, desiring and reasoning parts, in various states of balance depending on the individual, with the best souls always being ruled by the reasoning part, but the desiring part (eros) is never absent. The proper way to deal with it is neither to unleash and indulge it (sex-pozzy) nor to try to kill it (neo-puritan) but to sublimate and channel it into directions that are healthy for individual souls and for society.

  12. ElectricAngel

    Your article caused me to go back to re-read one article that actually changed my mind. You mention Petrarch, and give him a pass on intending to name and “create” the Renaissance. James Franklin is less forgiving. I give you The Renaissance Myth. It was written over 30 years ago, but still holds true.

    Thanks for this overview an enlightening commentary.

    Nova, I’ve been trying to make my way through The Drama of Atheist Humanism. Is it a waste of my time, or does it bear upon the issue in this post?

    1. Escoffier

      OK, I read that. I have three disagreements.

      First, a small one, It’s correct that ancient Greeks (Thales, I think?) first concluded that earth is spherical and Aquinas, citing Aristotle, does indeed affirm this. However, it was a popular myth in the years before Columbus’ expedition that the earth was a flat disc. There are numerous now-forgotten texts that affirm this. So, the author is partly right but partly wrong.

      Second, the author is dead wrong when he says that the years 1453-1564 produced only one intellectual achievement of consequence. Machiavelli’s great works were written circa 1513-1517 and published in 1531/32. These are the beginnings of modernity and they are the most consequential books since the New Testament.

      Third, I find more continuity than the author does in Renaissance art and literature, in particular the “humanist” revival of Cicero. He leaves out Castiglione and while he mentions Erasmus and More, he dismisses them as not really worth noting beyond the fact that we still read them.

      On the whole, I think he’s right that the concept of a “Renaissance” is overplayed. But he also doesn’t mention Burckhardt, THE promoter of the idea in the last 200 years, nor does he mention all the corrective scholarship to Burckhardt, which makes many of the same arguments he makes without giving anyone proper credit.

      1. ElectricAngel

        There are a number of points that are not established in Franklin, but it was breathtaking for me the first time I read if this reason: it directly contradicts the Renaissance Myth. It was later that I found the praise for the High Middle Ages in Belloc.

        I would dispute the support for Machiavelli. Now, I have only read Mandragola and Il Principe, so I cannot comment on the discourses. I studied in the OTHER classical language, the one of independent poleis and federalism, not empire, so I have never been one to fall under the sway of the lust for empire that informs most Rome-praise. (Best book on this is Terry Jones’ Barbarians, which makes the point that the collapse of Rome was not the DEATH of civilization [literally meaning living in cities], but the necessary precursor to its rebirth. The Romans were a nasty, violent, uneducated group of country boys whose organization and Borg-like warmaking brought them conquests of all nearby civilized people and their treasures. If you like martial excellence [and we all do to some extent], you cannot help but admire them.)

        But I re-read the Prince every few years, like Dick Morris. I recall picking it up during the Clinton Administration, and noting HOW MUCH of his advice seemed to align with Clinton administration policy. I also recall how divisive Clinton was, and how he was the most successful Republican in history, delivering the House and Senate to them in 1994, so that they never lost. In short, the cynicism and blatant Machiavellianism did not work in the laboratory of scientific experiment. Go back over history and find the “leaders” who were most under the spell of Niccolo: what were the long-term effects of following them? Did Bismarck’s REALPOLITIK Germany do well without the sorcerer to run it? Or did it lead that nation to ruin, despite the short-term gains?

        In some sense, quoting Farrakhan, Hitler was a great man, but that in the sense of large, not wonderful. For me to consider Machiavelli’s work great, I’d have to see that the fruits of it reflect its underlying truth, the way Newton’s work is clearly great. I don’t see it.

        1. Escoffier

          Well, to be blunt, you are not seeing past the surface of Machiavelli. There is a lot more there than “power politics.” The core of Machiavelli is philosophic. That’s what I am referring to.

          1. ElectricAngel

            I judge him with a very modern concept, utilitarianism. I simply don’t think his advice works on a long-term basis. I’d agree with you that there he is a foundational modern; every time I quote Roissy’s “look at what women DO, not what they SAY” there’s a look back towards Niccolo.

            I consider philosophy to be the search for truth. Does applied Machiavelli lead to long-term political control, as he says is his aim? IF not, we have to question its truth, and thus its value as philosophy. That he was brilliant, of course, is obvious.

          2. Escoffier

            Machiavelli did not consider, in the final analysis, the search for truth. He was the first to re-conceive philosophy as the servant of man’s material wants. He believed that in all the decisive respects, the truth had already been found. He was an amazingly perceptive synthesizer of classical wisdom. Where he disagreed with them was on how (or really whether) that wisdom should be applied in the real world.

            The “tough talk” and “realpolitik” had two fundamental purposes:

            1) To brutalize people away from what he saw as pernicious Christian softness by hitting them over the head with harsh truths; and

            2) To attract readers. Had he just spelled out his aims, his project would have failed. He needed to seduce people to the dark side, as it were, and what better way to do that than by purporting to write a handbook that teaches you how to win in any situation?

  13. Escoffier

    Thanks, I will read that.

    I didn’t cite Petrach re: the “Renaissance.” Rather, I said that he is the writer who, as far as scholarship has found, coined the term “Dark Ages.” (Or maybe “Dark Age,” singular, I can’t remember.) A couple centuries later the early moderns took over and created the whole “worst period EVER in the history of the world” as a way of bashing Christianity. Petrarch’s phrase was quite useful to them. Today, nobody remembers that Petrarch was a talking about a certain epoch in Latin literature. To most people “Dark Ages” refers to the 1,000 or so years between the fall of Rome (at least of the Western empire) to the Italian Renaissance.

    1. ElectricAngel

      One excellent recent book on the matter is “Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited.” I’ll try to summarize where I think the thoughts come from.

      During the English “Reformation,” a lot of people gained a LOT of wealth from seized land of the Catholic Church. They had a great interest in NOT seeing England restored to the Church (in fact, England is the only province of the Roman Empire that went Protestant), and they began the propaganda war to do so. Part of this was the myth of the “black SPaniard,” and the obsession with the Spanish Inquisition, which killed a little over 2000 people over 300 years. The English protestants did that in a good year. It needs no mention that Catholic priests, and those who hid them in “priest holes,” could be subjected to “hanging, drawing, and quartering.” I think the Spanish Inquisition stuff from the English was classic projection.

      The point being, it created an environment of demonization of things Catholic and especially Spanish. Part of that was to diminish the work of the school at Salamanca, and the Scholastics generally.

      If you read Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited, you capture the same sense going on in the years after WW1. 19th-century thought was that there was no real “collapse” of the Roman empire, that living conditions had improved starting with Christianization in the fourth century (reflected in growing populations in Spain, Gaul, etc.) What caused the collapse was the Muslim conquest of the lands of the east, and the severing of trade links. Biggest loss: papyrus, without which business could not cheaply be recorded and transacted. In any case, this view shifted again after WW1 to blame the “barbarian invasions,” the same sort of process of blaming the Germans for the utter destruction of Western Civ that was WW1. Pirenne’s book was an attempt to reopen the issue and show that in fact the 4-7th centuries were NOT in fact dark, and that darkness and cultural collapse really ran from the 8th to the 10th centuries.

      In both cases, English academics and religious served the purposes of the English ruling class. Fortunately, there is enough character in some of the English aristocracy to stand for truth, regardless.

  14. Escoffier

    I would add to that, in the 16th century, Spain was the “super-power” and everyone in England (and most of the rest of Europe) was terrified of them. The Armada was 1588 and only failed because of bad luck, i.e., the weather. Spain eventually controlled not just the Iberian penninsula but the (very rich) low countries, the Kingdom of Naples, and of course vast possessions in the New World and Far East which kicked back a lot of gold …

  15. ElectricAngel

    One could call it the “superpower” of the 16th century, but that was more likely the Ottomans, who barely lost at Vienna. The HR Emperor was unable to suppress the Prot uprisings because of the threat of Islamic conquest; recall the loss of Hungary at Mohacs.

    Look, I grew up steeped in the anti-Spanish mythology. In fact, the true villain of the era was England. Spain and Venice and Germany were tied up fighting the Turks and protecting Christendom, while England used that threat to profit. Born, geologically, on third base and thought they hit a triple: they devoted NO resources to fighting Turkey or barbary pirates, and used the cover provided by resurgent Catholics in Spain and the south to plunder the new world. It’s really despicable; I think this when I see Mexican immigrants working in the USA, and how Indian they look (and how many they are.) The Spanish might have enslaved and exploited their Indians, but they certainly didn’t kill them off and remove them from sight the way the USA did; thus our concern about genocide everywhere else.

    At base: the Protestant English upper class was a gang of thieves, writ large, that was desperate to hold on to its ill-gotten gains, and used all manner of propaganda to do so. That Spain was brutal at times is without dispute; that Spain’s policy was largely influenced and restrained by the Church is also without dispute. There was no restraint from a monarch-owned Church on English conduct; ask any Irishman about Cromwell.

  16. Escoffier

    I don’t see how you can say that England was the true villian of the era, if by era you mean the 16th century. England was doing some nasty things at home but so was everyone. But England at that time was militarily weak and had one overseas posession (Ireland) and no empire. They had absolutely no ability to project power into Anatolia or the Eastern Med.

    Not really sure what you are getting at beyond that.

    1. ElectricAngel

      Side issue, and sorry for the digression. The main point: the “Renaissance” is propaganda, as is all the huffing about the “Spanish Inquisition.” Buying into this propaganda, and not seeing the benefits of the social and economic capital built during the era of the High Middle Ages, means we are caught in a modern frame of reference.

      That propaganda was used to cover misdeeds. I don’t think the Spanish conquistadores lied about or projected what they were doing. The English let someone else do the heavy fighting and dying, and not only were not grateful, but did all they could to seize Catholic and Spanish possessions, and then claimed “tu quoque” (but even more) to cover it up. That’s weaselcraft on a major scale; letting someone else do the heavy work of defending your homeland against Islamic conquest while undermining them militarily and morally.

      1. Escoffier

        I’m still not seeing it. I mean, I can’t think of any Spanish colonies or territoreis that England took over. France was Spain’s true enemy. England took FRENCH possessions to be sure, but English enmity with France goes back to 1066 at least.

        I agree that the Inquisition is overblown, the reasons for that have to do with contemporary politics. But then again, to my way of thinking, tyranny over the mind is th worse form there is, so I don’t have much of a soft spot for it either.

        1. ElectricAngel

          Jamaica, for one. You can also look at the encouragement of piracy by England against Spanish galleons as another act of aggression.

          Lastly, look at a map of Spanish colonial possessions in the Nw World. About the year 1790, you could have traveled from Tierra del Fuego to Port Angeles Washington, a distance of over 10,000 miles, and not touched non-Spanish soil. You could have started at Miami, FL, gone along the coast to New Orleans, up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and arrived at the same location, again on Spanish crown lands. I’d guess that 2/3rd of the contiguous US states were part of Spain at one point; the foundation of Georgia in 1733 was meant to encroach on lands that had been claimed by Spain. So, until Anglo-Saxon culture makes an explicit statement of its own value and right to survive, I can observe the Reconquista in the US Southwest as restoration of lands that England targeted, and not to be worried about.

          I guess the point about the Spanish Inquisition that backs your original article is this: it was not a Church organization, but an arm of the Spanish state. Just as Walsingham was an arm not of the English church, but the English state. This conflation of state and church is again a “modern” phenomenon, and has left no check on the predations of the state in the form of the Pope. It’s a fundamental error in the organization of society that flows from the modern idea.

          What do you think of Moldbug’s concept of “the Cathedral?”

  17. Escoffier

    I referenced that above, I think that post is dead on. And not only that, it’s by design. See this comment:


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  19. Johnycomelately

    Wow, speechless.

    I can’t say anything to do this post justice, breathtaking.

    Escoffier, where’s the book?

    This is up there with Seraphim (Eugene) Rose’s Nihilism and Joseph Farrell’s God History and Dialectic.

    Might I ask whether your train of thought was influenced by anyone or did you come to this condensed Opus Magnus through your own intuition?

  20. Escoffier

    The book was already written by others, I am summarizing.

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