Moral evasions and intellectual dead-ends.
One thing is absolutely definite: not everything that enters our ears penetrates our consciousness. Anything too far out of tune with our attitude is lost, either in the ears themselves or somewhere beyond, but it is lost. (A. Solzhenitsyn 1973: 194)
Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. (C.S. Lewis: Magician's Nephew)
Paul Gosselin (2019)
Brutal History Lessons
For those who saw it with their own eyes or knew those that had, World War II and the Holocaust raised massive questions that demanded an answer. WHY did all this happen? Such moral questions are off the scale of everyday life issues and not easily sorted out. Yet what happens when you get a typical Western intellectual reflecting on such matters while still securely restrained by his Enlightenment intellectual straightjacket? Regarding 20th century atrocities, in his essay Grammars of Creation British literary critic George Steiner observed (2001: 4):
When, however, allowance is made for selective nostalgia and illusion, the truth persists: for the whole of Europe and Russia, this century became a time out of hell. Historians estimate at more than seventy million the number of men, women and children done to death by warfare, starvation, deportation, political murder and disease between August 1914 and 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans. There have been hideous visitations of pestilence, famine and slaughter before. The collapse of humaneness in the twentieth century has specific enigmas. It arises not from riders on the distant steppe or barbarians at the gates. National Socialism, Fascism, Stalinism (though, in this latter instance, more opaquely) spring from within the context, the locale, the administrative-social instruments of the high places of civilization, of education, of scientific progress and humanizing deployment, be it Christian or Enlightened. I do not want to enter into the vexed, in some manner demeaning, debates over the uniqueness of the Shoah ('holocaust' is a noble, technical Greek designation for religious sacrifice, not a name proper for controlled insanity and the 'wind out of blackness'). But it does look as if the Nazi extermination of European Jewry is a 'singularity', not so much in respect of scale - Stalinism killed far more - but motivation. Here a category of human persons, down to infancy, were proclaimed guilty of being. Their crime was existence, was the mere claim to life.
Just after the quote above, Steiner goes on to note that the 20th century European disaster included another peculiar feature; it caused an actual regression of civilization. The Enlightenment had confidently predicted the end of torture by legal authorities and decreed that the revival of censorship, book-burnings and that even the burning of dissidents or heretics was inconceivable. The nineteenth-century took for granted that the development of education, accumulating scientific knowledge and increased opportunities to travel would bring an inevitable improvement of public and private morality as well as greater tolerance of political views. Steiner concedes each of these hopes proved false. By itself the First World War produced a shock, a great disillusionment for the generation experienced it, but this would prove to be a small matter considering what was to come… Steiner goes on to point out that higher education has actually shown itself unable to nurture compassion or resistance to the logic of hatred and is shocked to see that a culture as refined and as advanced in artistic, scientific and intellectual terms as that of Germany collaborated so readily and actively with the sadist ideology of the Nazi State. 20th century European history demonstrates that technocratic engineering may efficiently assist or remain coldly indifferent to brutal inhumanity. The 20th century obscenely and brutally mocked the grandiose dreams of the Enlightenment.
It should be noted that while Steiner himself is of Jewish origin, yet despite examining the horrors of the Holocaust he fails to connect the dots back to the Enlightenment (which had also deeply penetrated 19th and 20th century Jewish thinking). Why is that? Where does this leave him? Well, inevitably the horrors of the 20th century find themselves “shrouded in mystery"... As a result, Steiner talks about the enigma of the collapse of humaneness in the twentieth century. Now we have a puzzle, a logical dead-end here. The picture is out of focus. What could be the cause? Part of the problem is that if one is trapped in the Enlightenment straitjacket, there is no conceivable, rational explanation for such horrors… This is as far as Steiner and many others can go. Facing the hard question, moderns will often grasp for any explanation, which is typically the proper moment to trot out the pathetic “Hitler was a madman/moral monster” meme. Needless to say, this is better than just throwing one’s hands up in the air. It does the job, it explains everything…
When Steiner alludes to the enigma [of 20th century evil], quite possibly he is echoing thoughts expressed years before by French novelist François Mauriac in his foreword to Elie Wiesel’s novel Night (1958/2006: xvii-xviii):
… nothing I had witnessed during that dark period had marked me as deeply as the image of cattle cars filled with Jewish children at the Austerlitz train station… … At that time, we knew nothing about the Nazis' extermination methods. And who could have imagined such things! But these lambs torn from their mothers, that was an outrage far beyond anything we would have thought possible. I believe that on that day, I first became aware of the mystery of the iniquity whose exposure marked the end of an era and the beginning of another. The dream conceived by Western man in the Eighteenth-century, whose dawn he thought he had glimpsed in 1789, and which until August 2, 1914, had become stronger with the advent of the Enlightenment and scientific discoveries that dream finally vanished for me before those trainloads of small children.
What then could be the source or cause of this mystery of iniquity? Why should its explanation be mysterious or veiled? Perhaps if certain taboos or blinders were discarded a rational explanation could be attained? What if one were to go back in time and reassess the ideologico-religious roots of Western civilization? What if when the Enlightenment severed Western links to the Judeo-Christian cosmology it got rid of the Great Busybody (God), but at the same time also got rid of the basis for man's unique value, individual beings created in God's image, the imago dei? What if once this link was broken (previously) "unthinkable" horrors and nightmares then became possible, ready to appear as actual reality? Perhaps on such matters, a Russian such as Dostoyevsky would have bluntly responded: “Enough nonsense about mysteries and enigmas! Take your blinkers off! If God is dead, then anything is permitted, anything is possible! Get that into your thick skulls!”
Another Modern intellectual confronted (and somewhat unhinged) by the horrors of WWII was the English writer HG Wells. Writing the in the last days of this war, in an aptly titled pamphlet titled Mind at the End of its Tether, Wells was clearly in shock after witnessing the brutal spectacle of this war. One allusive sentence indicates Wells had some awareness of the Holocaust. While confronted with the horrific failure of the Enlightenment worldview to produce it’s confidently predicted Utopia, Wells offers an escape from serious thinking about the ideological cause of such events that is both original and odd. His conclusion? Forget Utopia. Forget never-ending Progress. Wells prophecies that Man is inevitably destined for annihilation, extinction, to be replaced by some more cooperative and gentler species. The End... There is an implicit moral judgement here as Wells’ verdict implies humans are simply unworthy of survival. Now why should a modern thinker such as Wells go moral on us all of a sudden? This is rather strange. Years later we find an echo of such thinking in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galápagos. Such a conclusion is perhaps more excusable with Vonnegut as, in contrast to Wells, as a soldier, Vonnegut had seen with his own eyes a significant portion of the horrors of WWII.
Like Steiner, the Franco-American historian Jacques Barzun stalls and gets no further in his understanding of the brutal events of the 20th century. Noting the parallels of brutality in Nazi German and Communist Russia (under Stalin) Barzun observes (2000: 748):
Their nations are more permanently associated in history by their use of massacre as state policy. What distinguishes from other mass killings the two egregious examples of the 20C, the Russian of the kulaks (enriched farmers) and the German of Jews, Gypsies, and others marked for destruction by their beliefs, is that they were deliberate and systematic, and in the German, abetted by science. In neither instance was it the soldiers' frenzy in victory or the populace avenging against their neighbors some old grievance. (…) The modern attempts at genocide were ignobly intellectual: the kulaks' existence contradicted the theory of Communism, and the German victims were "racially harmful" to the nation. Granted the mix of other objectives for the Germans a scapegoat, for the Russians, money and land, and for both a unifying effect the blot remains that a pair of ideas, long matured and held as true by millions outside the scene of their application, should have produced a special kind of sophisticated crime.
Barzun’s worldview being, for the most part, moulded by the Enlightenment shuts down any chance of following the ideological dots of these events back to their source… One well-known escapee from the Enlightenment straitjacket is the Russian writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn estimated that under the Soviet regime in total 66 million individuals were killed in purges under Lenin and Stalin, especially (from 1917 to 1956) in the infamous prison camp system described in The Gulag Archipelago. And this is solely in the USSR… In his Templeton address Solzhenitsyn mused about the origin of the huge catastrophe that visited Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution and found nothing more profound to say than quoting the wisdom of old folks (1983):
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
One striking thing about this comment is that Solzhenitsyn had a background in mathematics and must have been aware that if you eliminate a critical factor in an equation, then the end result will be radically different. So men did not "forget" God, rather they eliminated Him from the equation...
Convenient Hand-Waving Techniques…
Among most Enlightenment devotees (Moderns) and ‘progressives’ (Postmoderns) the usual strategy to escape the implications of the massive moral and ideologico-religious questions raised by 20th century events, is to ignore them or make vague allusions to “mystery”. But when this wears thin, there is another amusing (and effective) option, the "Hitler was a good Christian" meme.
When Moderns and Postmoderns make the claim that “Hitler was a good Christian", as a rule they conveniently “forget” to define their terms. As a result when it is subjected to a close analysis this claim is exposed as bogus and empty. And this raises a further question, as one has to wonder if it is reasonable for individuals who reject Christianity to set themselves up as authorities, determining who is a “good Christian”? Seems a bit odd doesn’t it? In any case, this is a matter to be sorted out before any intelligent discussion takes place.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves as we have forgotten the preliminary question: WHO gets to define who is a “good Christian”? Well it just happens that the explicit teaching of Jesus of Nazareth do of course. As a result any close examination of the demands made on a Christian by the New Testament and comparing that to Hitler’s behaviour, well Hitler fails spectacularly. Perhaps he treated his dog kindly, but if you define a Christian as someone who FOLLOWS Christ's teachings (that is puts them into practice), then from that point on, there is no way to claim Hitler was a "good Christian" without perverting both Christ's message and the entire New Testament.
Western thinkers, reflecting on 20th century atrocities, persistently resist the urge to connect ideological dots and, constrained by their Enlightenment straightjackets, will predictably restrict the repercussions of the Enlightenment to what we now think. This is of course the standard Modern line. While both Communism and Nazism were the direct ideological by-products of the Enlightenment view, Moderns and Postmoderns would much prefer people not reflect too deeply about the genealogy of ideas... This can be compared to bastard children of illustrious European family lines, who “act up” then find themselves disowned. Which of course changes nothing for all those who lost family in the Holocaust or in the Gulag.
In my view the primary function of the "Hitler was a good Christian" meme is to shield Enlightenment derived ideologies from serious questions about the repercussions of this worldview. On this issue it is both instructive and critical to view Enlightenment derived ideologies as religions. And since we are discussing religion, this brings in a side issue. If the Jewish and Christian religions both have a concept of repentance, which involves self-questioning, holding one’s beliefs and behaviour up to a clear standard (the Ten Commandments), is should be noted that there is no such concept to be found in the Modern religion or the Postmodern religion . This is no small matter.
This explains why Enlightenment or Postmodern devotees find nonsense memes like Hitler or Stalin were "Good Christians" necessary (and so useful). Any persistent thinking about Hitler's or Stalin’s behaviour could potentially take us back to the worldview[13a] that spawned them. But this is an impossible situation for Enlightenment or Postmodern devotees and thus their need for a quick "escape hatch" from any such VERY serious thinking. Now the Hitler was a "Good Christian" rhetorical conjuring trick also has a very amusing side effect as it allows Moderns and Postmoderns to guilt-monger Christians. That’s a win-win situation no matter how you look at it, isn’t it??
Now one can be pretty sure American science writer Michael Shermer was NOT thinking about the causes of 20th century atrocities or about Modern smoke screens such as the “Hitler was a Good Christian” meme when he typed the lines below, but they are heavy with irony (2011):
I conclude [that this fallacious reasoning] must be a product of a brain unsatisfied with doubt; as nature abhors a vacuum, so, too, does the brain abhor no explanation. It therefore fills in one, no matter how unlikely.
Now if a Western intellectual were to actually begin seriously questioning the Enlightenment worldview, this line of questioning would eventually lead to examining its origins myth and foundation, the Theory of Evolution. Of course while in the last generation growing dissatisfaction with Evolution has been expressed in writing, Modern elites have been very careful to circle the wagons and (very effectively) protect Evolution’s ideologico-religious monopoly in education. While there is a lively debate about origins elsewhere, in education there is no debate to speak of.
That said, from time to time, massive social upheavals force the mind to reflect on this matter. Writing while the battles of WWII were still undecided (1944), Sir Arthur Keith, the British evolutionist and anthropologist, observed (1947 : 230):
The German Fuhrer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution... To see evolutionary measures and tribal morality being applied vigorously to the affairs of a great modern nation, we must turn again to Germany of 1942. We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produces the only real basis for a national policy... The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and people were organized slaughter, which has drenched Europe in blood... Such conduct is highly immoral as measured by every scale of ethics, yet Germany justifies it; it is consonant with tribal or evolutionary morality. Germany has reverted to the tribal past, and is demonstrating to the world, in their naked ferocity, the methods of evolution.
Hitler motivated by Darwin? But of course after WWII Western elites under Enlightenment influence could take this no further. As a result Keith’s musings were quickly forgotten. After WWII, evolutionary racism in anthropology was quietly pushed out of view and anthropologists and other social scientists rushed to line up to sign UN declarations of universal human rights. Pre-WWII evolutionists in Anthropology that had previously promoted scientific racism were now conveniently discounted as NON-legitimate Darwinians… While previously they had enjoyed the limelight, now they were no longer invited to speak at conferences, their funding dried up and their article submissions remained ignored. Clearly, they had mis-used and misunderstood Darwin… All is well… Nothing to see here, keep going…
But time goes on and some explanations just don’t seem to fit. The American sociologist Philip S. Gorski, writing in a research journal seems to have made an unusual admission regarding the causality of 20th century events, but immediately showing himself a True Believer, eschews any further serious thinking (1990: 304):
Looking back over history - Auschwitz, Stalin, and the approaching ecological calamity - we find it hard to escape the conclusion that something is fundamentally amiss in the Enlightenment project. Are genocide, terror, and the destruction of nature the inevitable by-products of cultural differentiation? Is the only solution regression to the simpler, more holistic viewpoint of premodern times? Alluring though this conclusion may be, I believe it is wrong. We should not forget the amazing gains in knowledge and in civilization that the Enlightenment ushered in.
So basically, Gorski goes an inch further than Steiner and DOES recognize that the ideological dots from the Holocaust (and the Gulag and the Laogai…) DO point back to the Enlightenment, but since Gorski’s Enlightenment straightjacket is securely in place, he cannot look at this hard fact for very long. Still that's probably the most lucid analysis you'll ever get from an Enlightenment devotee or a Postmodern. Seriously questioning the core beliefs of the Enlightenment? Impossible... The source of the moral dilemma is always (conveniently) Somewhere Else. And all those glorious contributions that Gorski believes come from the Enlightenment; I suspect that if one were to closely look at the historical evidence to sort things out, chances are the actual result would be overwhelmingly against the Enlightenment.
Now all this reminds me of George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, where he exposed the mandatory mental conditioning within his brutal dystopian world, a mental conditioning that efficiently cuts off certain lines of questioning (1949/1984: 174-175):
The first and simplest stage in the discipline, which can be taught even to young children, is called, in Newspeak, crimestop. Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.
But stupidity is not enough. On the contrary, orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one's own mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body. Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the Party is not infallible, there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts.
Was Orwell onto something? But of course there could be no connection between thought control in Oceania and mental conditioning in the Modern or Postmodern West… Perish the thought…
Oh, I was almost forgetting Gorski’s line about rejection of the Enlightenment being out of the question if we remember “the amazing gains in knowledge and in civilization that the Enlightenment ushered in”. What a fabulous line… This is of course conveniently done by conflating science and the Enlightenment belief system, without providing any convincing evidence to accept such conflation... Regarding the conflation of science and the Enlightenment worldview, this is a classical and VERY effective propaganda mechanism shielding the Enlightenment worldview from embarrassing comparisons and critiques. As a result, any critique of the Enlightenment worldview amounts to the rejection of science! “So you want to take us back to the Stone Age (or worse, the Dark Ages)? Heresy.
But getting back to 20th century atrocities, another issue is that by the early 20th century, Enlightenment influence in the West produced an enlightened, progressive elite sure of its right to direct and mould the masses. This in turn fostered a strong current throughout the West that in the 1930s admired scientific racism, eugenics, fascism and Nazism in particular. One example is the well-known American poet, literary critic and anti-Semite Ezra Pound (1885-1972). Because of his pro-fascist broadcasts during WWII, in 1945 Pound was arrested for treason. And in 1939 when the SS St-Louis ocean liner, filled with Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, attempted to land in North America, they found themselves dealing with Cuban, American and Canadian bureaucrats just as convinced of the inferiority of Jews as were the Nazis. Turning back to Europe, passengers ended up disembarking in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, and France. Historians estimate that approximately a quarter of them were caught in Nazi roundups of Jews and died in death camps during World War II. Among progressives  of the 1930s, anti-Semites and Nazi sympathisers (individuals and corporations) could be found in all Western nations.
Britain: William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw), the Mitford sisters, Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII)
France: Alexis Carrel, novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline, politician Charles Maurras
United States: Madison Grant (1865 1937), Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Kennedy (JFK's father), Charles Lindbergh, John Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon, DuPont, General Motors, Standard Oil (now Exxon), Ford, ITT, Allen Dulles (later head of the CIA), Prescott Bush, National City Bank, and General Electric.
Regarding US corporations, as the investigative journalist Edwin Black has carefully documented (2001), during the 1930s a subsidiary of IBM would provide Nazi Germany with computer technology and census management software that would make the Nazi Final Solution run far more efficiently. After WWII, Albert Camus made the following grim, cynical observations regarding the fruit bourn by the Enlightenment in the West (1951: 177):
All modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the State. 1789 brings Napoleon; 1848, Napoleon III; 1917, Stalin; the Italian disturbances of the twenties, Mussolini; the Weimar Republic, Hitler. These revolutions, particularly after the First World War had liquidated the vestiges of divine right, still proposed, with increasing audacity, to build the city of humanity and of authentic freedom. … The prophetic dream of Marx and the over-inspired predictions of Hegel or of Nietzsche ended by conjuring up, after the city of God had been razed to the ground, a rational or irrational State, which in both cases, however, was founded on terror.
It is a known fact that in his public speeches Hitler exploited anti-Semitism existing among German Christians (both Catholics and Protestants) and used religious language to do so, but the "Hitler was a good Christian" meme typically overlooks a piece of evidence, that is that Hitler ruthlessly attacked any Christian group opposing his political objectives. Hitler's true view of Christianity (and its fundamental incompatibility with Nazism) appears clearly in his private conversations published under the title: Table-Talks (1944/1973: 51, October 10th, 1941):
War has returned to its primitive form. The war of people against people is giving place to another war a war for the possession of the great spaces. Originally war was nothing but a struggle for pasture-grounds. Today war is nothing but a struggle for the riches of nature. By virtue of an inherent law, these riches belong to him who conquers them. The great migrations set out from the East. With us begins the ebb, from West to East. That's in accordance with the laws of nature. By means of the struggle, the elites are continually renewed. The law of selection justifies the incessant struggle by allowing the survival of the fittest. Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.
In this regard, Hitler echoed attitudes previously expressed by Nietzsche in his essay Antichrist (1889) where he stated that Christianity is the religion of the weak and sick. Here is a comment by Hitler (drawn from his Table Talks 27th Aug. 1942) which further contradicts the Modern "Hitler was a Good Christian" meme.
If at Poitiers, Charles Martel hadn't won: Although we had to accept the Jewish world - Christianity (namely) is so dismal - then we all would be Mohammedans, this teaching which rewards heroism: The fighter alone is able to possess the seventh heaven! Germani would have conquered the world with it, only Christianity has detained us in doing so.
Here is a different source regarding Hitler’s religious views. In his diaries, Joseph Goebbels discussed Hitler’s true perspective (1945/1982: 77):
The Führer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian. He views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race. This can be seen in the similarity of their religious rites. Both (Judaism and Christianity) (…) in the end they will be destroyed. The Führer is a convinced vegetarian on principle.
While in public speeches Hitler had no objection to exploiting Christian rhetoric when he felt this could serve his own political purposes, in private he clearly had no respect for Christianity. Before the full implications of Hitler's views had begun to sink in amongst Western elites, even some atheists freely admitted this. An interesting observation from the French atheist and writer Albert Camus, appears in his book The Rebel (1951: 178):
As for Hitler, his professed religion unhesitatingly juxtaposed the God-Providence and Valhalla. Actually his god was an argument at the end of a political meeting and a manner of reaching an impressive climax at the end of speeches.
So even a French atheist like Camus (a Modern) thought all Hitler’s “God-Talk” was no more than rhetorical posturing… Seeing Camus was not in Hitler’s inner circle, this piece of evidence could conceivably be discounted as the subjective impression of a misinformed outsider, but there are other sources confirming this view. Albert Speer was clearly in Hitler’s inner circle and confirms Camus’ statement about Hitler’s two-faced approach regarding Christianity, observing (1970: 95-96):
Around 1937, when Hitler heard that at the instigation of the party and the SS vast numbers of his followers had left the church because it was obstinately opposing his plans, he nevertheless ordered his chief associates, above all Goering and Goebbels, to remain members of the church. He too would remain a member of the Catholic Church he said, although he had no real attachment to it. And in fact, he remained in the church until his suicide.
Zombie Questions That Refuse to Die…
Even well into the 21st century, echoes of 20th century atrocities still linger in the collective consciousness of the West. Clearly not all dead issues want to stay in the grave… One recent case of a weak attempt to examine evolution’s implications was put forward by Holly Dunsworth, a well-meaning professor of Anthropology, who posted an article entitled “It is unethical to teach evolution without confronting racism and sexism”. In this article Dunsworth recognized the crimes associated with evolution in the 20th century and, with the best of intentions, calls for a more humane form of evolution. In other words, a makeover for a more user-friendly evolution… After all, applying “Survival of the Fittest” to real societies is a rather unpleasant idea.
Unsurprisingly, there was a significant (and immediate) backlash to Dunsworth’s article, as even timid questioning of Enlightenment dogma (and its materialistic origins myth) is NOT tolerated. There was no lack of Enlightenment devotees put Dunsworth “in her place.” For example, objecting to Dunsworth’s social justice shtick, American biologist Jerry Coyne retorted Evolution doesn’t need a makeover and (2018):
If Dunsworth wants human evolution to catch on in America, she’d be better off loosening the grip of religion than instantiating her human-cantered social justice course on evolution.
So as far as Coyne is concerned, case closed… But getting back to the unpleasant idea of applying Darwinian “Survival of the Fittest” to real societies this is something that gives pause even to the high priest of New Atheism, Richard Dawkins, who in interview conceded (Dawkins 2000):
There have in the past been attempts to base a morality on evolution. I don't want to have anything to do with that. The kind of world that a Darwinian, going back to survival of the fittest now, and nature red in tooth and claw, I think nature really is red in tooth and claw. I think if you look out at the way wild nature is, out there in the bush, in the prairie, it is extremely ruthless, extremely unpleasant, it’s exactly the kind of world that I would not wish to live in. And so, any kind of politics that is based upon Darwinism for me would be bad politics, it would be immoral. Putting it another way, I’m a passionate Darwinian when it comes to science, when it comes to explaining the world, but I’m a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality and politics.
The expression “cognitive dissonance” does come to mind here… The sensitive issue of the moral/social implications of Darwinism is significant primarily because of Evolution’s massive mythical and ideological role in the West. This is an issue that I’ve devoted more detailed attention to in Flight volume 2, but it could be briefly pointed out here that for a while pre-Darwinian Enlightenment devotees found themselves in an uncomfortable, that is mythologically untethered position, as Dawkins observes in The Blind Watchmaker, eventually all this got sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction (1986: 5-6):
An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
“An intellectually fulfilled atheist”? What an odd thing to say… This, of course, highlights the perhaps novel idea of the primarily ideological role played by what is called the Theory of Evolution. Things fall into place when one considers that people don’t get too excited about scientific concepts such as whether light is a corpuscle or a wave. Few lose any sleep about such matters. Scientists debate the issues in their journals and life goes on. But to seriously question the materialistic origins myth (Evolution) we then find ordinary people (with no reputation or career at stake) WILL get excited. And they get excited for EXACTLY the same reason religious people get excited when their core religious beliefs are challenged. Here’s a recent case in the field of anthropology where discoveries in palaeontology have raised small questions regarding the influence of Darwinism on our views of the ancient man known as Neanderthal. Science writer Megan Gannon notes (2018):
Anthropologists' early perception of Neanderthals was partly rooted in racist ideology that one's intelligence or humanity could be assessed from skull shape, said João Zilhão, a professor (…) at the University of Barcelona. Many of those scientists also shared a view that evolution was all about progress, and that ancestral human species like Neanderthals were necessarily much more "primitive" than humans are today. Those assumptions have been discredited (if not hard to shake from Western science and pop culture). Humbling new discoveries over the past few decades have helped to rehabilitate Neanderthals' reputation as people who were a lot like us.
Paul Gosselin is an independent researcher specializing in ideologies, belief systems and religions. He holds a Masters in Social Anthropology and is the author of the Flight From the Absolute series (Volume I and Volume II), has done years of investigation into postmodernism. He has lived in Nova Scotia, California, Vancouver Island and currently resides in Quebec.
Many of us today still have 1 to 2 percent Neanderthal DNA, findings that suggest that modern humans who encountered these individuals saw them as people, too.
Above Gannon conveniently blames racist ideology for the bias against Neanderthals rather than the evolutionist origins myth and the Enlightenment mantra which postulates that the simple/primitive must come before the more evolved/advanced/complex/civilized. As a result of this mantra, Ancient Man had to be primitive/unsophisticated/dumb… So, when Modern intellectuals are forced by the data to revise their view of Neanderthals, any serious questions about errors resulting from evolutionary dogma are VERY quietly set aside (and, hopefully, forgotten).
Those who have read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Brother’s Karamazov know the classic line: “If God is dead, all is permitted!” It is unlikely that Dostoevsky had sorted out what this (ultimately) all meant, but the 20th century has provided us with a brutal object lesson about what can happen when “all is permitted”. Since Dostoyevsky made this statement, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and many others influenced by the Modern belief system have taken upon themselves to fill in the blanks. It’s all in the history books… Hopefully we’ve learned something, especially in view of (historian) George Santayana's comment: “those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.
While 20th century wars were primarily territorial, postmodern aggression seem to be primarily moral and cultural, with the end result a terraforming of civilisation. The postmodern sexual jihad is already upon us. But now the question before us is: “What fruit will the postmodern belief system bear when it comes into full, unchecked power?” What then? Well there’s urban legend about an old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times!” God have mercy on our souls, we may indeed find out just what that means…
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Jews and the Enlightenment Worldview
Since I have previously alluded to the penetration of the Enlightenment worldview among European Jews, perhaps I may be so rash as to propose a hypothesis, by means of a historical analogy, regarding some of the causes of this ideologico-religious sea-change.
Over the millennia, the Jewish people have faced many forms of persecution. In the Tanakh, the books of Exodus and Esther provide the first examples of attempted genocide of the Jewish people. In Exodus we see a shrewd attempt under Pharaoh that appears to be genocide by deliberately cutting the male line of inheritance through which passed the Abrahamic promises. This attempt, had it succeeded, would have inevitably lead to cultural and religious assimilation (and leaving Pharaoh with a more docile slave population). The children of Israel also found themselves persecuted under the Persian, Greek and Roman empires and, of course, in the Christian era, by Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians.
The 1st century Jewish historian Josephus describes, in his Antiquities of the Jews, persecution suffered by the Jews under the Greek ruler Antiochus IV, which directly targeted Judaic belief and ritual (Book XII: chap 5):
And when the king had built an idol altar upon God's altar, he slew swine upon it, and so offered a sacrifice neither according to the law, nor the Jewish religious worship in that country. He also compelled them to forsake the worship which they paid their own God, and to adore those whom he took to be gods; and made them build temples, and raise idol altars in every city and village, and offer swine upon them every day. He also commanded them not to circumcise their sons, and threatened to punish any that should be found to have transgressed his injunction. He also appointed overseers, who should compel them to do what he commanded. And indeed many Jews there were who complied with the king's commands, either voluntarily, or out of fear of the penalty that was denounced. But the best men, and those of the noblest souls, did not regard him, but did pay a greater respect to the customs of their country than concern as to the punishment which he threatened to the disobedient; on which account they every day underwent great miseries and bitter torments; for they were whipped with rods, and their bodies were torn to pieces, and were crucified, while they were still alive, and breathed. They also strangled those women and their sons whom they had circumcised, as the king had appointed, hanging their sons about their necks as they were upon the crosses. And if there were any sacred book of the law found, it was destroyed, and those with whom they were found miserably perished also.
My premise here is that there may be a parallel between the Jewish experience of persecution in Christian Europe and that of the Huguenots, that is the French Protestants who, in the early Reformation period for the most part held to Calvinistic doctrine. For about two hundred sixty years the Huguenots were the subject of fierce persecution in France and the source of this persecution was a long-standing alliance between the French State (represented by the King) and the Catholic Church. To escape persecution many Huguenots left for exile (to Switzerland, Germany, England, South Africa and the US), but away from urban centres, some Huguenots did remain in France. While many English Protestant dissenters fled to the colonies in America, this was not an option for the French Huguenots as around 1615 they had seen to it that Huguenots were excluded from New France. Like the Jews, the Huguenots experienced persecution, massacres, and discrimination in their public and professional life along with exile. In the 16th century, some were burned at the stake.
In 1534 the Affair des Placards was the result of French Protestants placing posters in various public places in France questioning Catholic doctrine, particularly the eucharistic doctrine of transubstantiation. One of these posters ended up on the door of the king’s bedchamber. Six Protestants would be executed as a result of this outrage. Shortly afterwards, John Calvin would leave France for exile in Switzerland. By 1570 a significant number of the French nobility had nonetheless converted to Protestantism and some of these were close to the crown. Sensing a possible shift in power, and a destabilisation of the entrenched alliance between the French State and the Catholic Church, the Guise family launched a pre-emptive strike, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in August 1572. In the middle of the night, the Huguenot nobility, who had come to Paris to attend the King’s marriage, were dragged out of their rooms and put to the sword in the streets. They were then fed to the fishes of the Seine River… Most of the Huguenot elite would die in this massacre and while previously the Huguenots had proudly asserted their loyalty to the King, afterwards Huguenot intellectuals would concede the legitimacy of eliminating a derelict king who had disobeyed God and initiated (or permitted) such slaughter. The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre would spread from Paris to many other cities and up to 30,000 may have perished in all of France. These early persecutions of the Huguenots were notably described by Agrippa d’Aubigné, a soldier and right-hand man of Henry IV, King of France, in his epic poem Les Tragiques published in 1616.
In 1681, the Huguenots would be subject to another form of persecution known as the dragonnades. By law, Huguenot landlords were forced to quarter the king’s soldiers (known as dragons) in their own homes, and while these soldiers were residing in these Protestants homes, they could lawfully appropriate for their own use anything they saw, including the owner's daughter. It is estimated that the dragonnades resulted in 400,000 forced conversions. By the 18th century, even attempting exile was fraught with danger, as the French crown had decreed the immigration of Huguenots to be illegal. Men apprehended could be sent to the galleys (slaves for life) and women sent to prison for 30-40 years. Marie Durand (1711-1776), imprisoned at the Tower of Constance for 38 years, is a well-known example. During WWII some of these French Protestants, with their own vivid memories of persecution, helped Jews hide and survive the Holocaust.
Seeing the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and exile had eliminated much of the Huguenot elite it then comes to no surprise that by the 18th century Protestants remaining in France found themselves in a position of both intellectual and political vulnerability and grasping for influential support. In this context it is understandable that French Protestants soon came to view Enlightenment thinkers as "natural allies" because:
1) they attacked the institution of the King and
2) they attacked the Catholic Church.
The deism of the immature phase of the Enlightenment may have been sufficient to allay most French Protestant’s initial reservations about their “allies”. But that French Protestants came to rely on Enlightenment thinkers and look to them for political and intellectual support, may be compared to Israel of ancient times leaning on Egypt for help in troubled times. Nothing good ever came of it. In point of fact, in my view it is useful to regard the Enlightenment as primarily an ideologico-religious belief system, a belief system in competition with the Bible, a sacred text the Huguenot held to above all… Under the Enlightenment the ultimate epistemological question: “Where is Truth?” would be answered, “It is found in Science (=materialistic reason).” Enlightenment thinkers were certainly groping to set up a complete worldview that could compete with Christianity and they were well aware that the issue of origins was critical and as a result early on they invested much energy in attacking the credibilty of the book of Genesis. But early Enlightenment thinkers for the most part were “prudent” and denied the intention of setting up a new religion and proceeded to obscure the stakes and promoted their views as philosophy or, later, as objective science (thus protecting them from criticism and comparison). For Huguenots the promise held out by the Enlightenment meant the possible overthrow of their centuries-old enemies coupled with a lessening in tension, a breaking out their position of social and professional marginalisation and a sea-change in attitudes towards religion. All of this may have rendered the Huguenots rather vulnerable to the premises and promises of the Enlightenment worldview.
In the years before the Reformation, there was an unspoken, yet palpable tension between the freedom promised in the Gospels and the real situation in most of Christian Europe. Freedom of expression and of consciousness and religious practice were generally restricted to that permitted by the State-Church alliance. In the centuries before the Reformation, dissident voices had been systematically ghettoized, exiled or eliminated by the Inquisition. Early Reformers set fire to this dry tinder. Enlightenment thinkers also capitalized on this tension and attacked the State-Church alliance, promising to deliver Liberté, Fraternité et Égalité  and free the marginalized from their ghettos. Such a proposal was very tempting. For many Huguenots, the offer was too good to refuse. Perhaps only those who have suffered grinding persecution over generations can understand the power of such a temptation…
While the Huguenots had resisted the pressures of persecution by the State-Church alliance for generations, when the Enlightenment came on the scene, Huguenot capacity to resist seems to have come to a low ebb. The Swiss Protestant historian Jean-Marc Berthoud studying the life of Huguenot preacher Antoine Court (1695-1760), founder of the French Seminary at Lausanne, observed the growing influence of the Enlightenment even in a Protestant theological seminary (1993):
What was most lacking at the Seminary, however, was a combative spirit against the errors of the Enlightenment. There was a lack of understanding that the great battle of the faith that Huguenots now faced was a rationalism that had no respect for God nor his Word. (...) But Antoine Court's lack of a doctrinal and philosophical combativeness, comparable to that of the great Albert de Haller, made him blind to the dangers that threatened his work. Around 1750, during his lifetime, some seminary students who were fond of what were called Societies of Thought, and, emulating the spirit of the times, formed a Masonic lodge. This secret society would go on to set roots and grow.
In the end, the intellectual servility of French Protestants in the face of Enlightenment propaganda would be almost complete. There is little cultural evidence of any critical distance... As a result, by the early 19th century educated French Protestants, even clergy, tended to be deeply influenced by Enlightenment beliefs. This contrasts greatly with the situation in Anglo-Protestant circles where we find a long tradition critical of Enlightenment thought. While the French tend to pride themselves on their attitude critique, among French Protestants, submission to this worldview has been excessively widespread and servile. For years I searched in vain for exceptions to this rule of intellectual compromise, but I could find little evidence of such. Among Anglo-Protestants, creationism and the Intelligent Design movement, are significant expressions of this intellectual tradition critical of the Enlightenment worldview.
One of the most pathetic examples of the consequences of the capitulation of French Protestants to the Enlightenment belief system is the case of the Monod family. The patriarch of the family, Jean Monod (1765-1836), was a renowned Protestant pastor and preacher in his own generation, but his descendants overwhelmingly abandoned his faith, converting to the Enlightenment worldview. Among these is the famous geneticist, Nobel Prize winner and atheist Jacques Monod (author of Chance and Necessity - 1970)... An early case is Geoffroy Vallée (1535-1574), atheist and libertine of probable Calvinist origin along with the well-known French Swiss Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), son of a Huguenot refugee.
In the following generation we meet Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817) who was a French diplomat and politician of Huguenot origin eventually settling in the United States. The French Revolutionary figure and Freemason, Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), was from a Huguenot family. A further example would be that of another son of a Protestant pastor, the philosopher and encyclopaedist Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), who drifted for many years between Protestantism and Catholicism, to finally settle down (as would many educated French Protestants) to become an Enlightenment devotee. French revolutionary and politician Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) was from a Swiss Huguenot family.
Much the same could be said of the French palaeontologist Georges Cuvier (1768-1832) who, despite being from a Protestant background, was strongly influenced by the Enlightenment thinker count de Buffon and in 1835, would go so far as to publish Buffon's complete works. Similarly, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, son of an Alsatian Lutheran pastor, who, though he refrained from publicly cutting links with Protestantism, his concept of the “Historical Jesus” would be heavily influenced by German Higher Criticism views of the Bible.
And the Jews... ?
The idea that regarding Enlightenment influence there might be a parallel between the experience of European Jews and that of the Huguenots first occurred to me while reading Solzhenitsyn's two volume series Two Hundred Years Together/ Dvesti Let Vmeste (particularly vol. 1). In this study, Solzhenitsyn describes the initial penetration of the Enlightenment worldview among 19th century Russian Jews (an event which occurred earlier in Western Europe). This appears to be a conversion process quite comparable to that experienced by many educated Huguenots. Lurking in the background is the fact that both groups were persecuted and marginalized for a long time by a Church-State alliance (mostly the Catholic church in Europe, and the Orthodox church in Russia) and when Enlightenment thinkers began to attack the power and prestige of this Church-State alliance, Jews as well as Huguenots soon came to regard Enlightenment proponents as allies and dropped their critical guard in the face of this new ideologico-religious system. Reflecting on such the development of Anti-Semitism in her Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt claims that amongst European Jews a racial concept of Jewishness appeared (1976: xi-xii)
For this hiatus lasted through nearly two centuries, from the fifteenth to the end of the sixteenth, during which Jewish-Gentile relations were at an all-time low, Jewish “indifference to conditions and events in the outside world” was at an all-time high, and Judaism became “more than ever a closed system of thought.” It was at this time that Jews, without any outside interference, began to think “that the difference between Jewry and the nations was fundamentally not one of creed and faith, but one of inner nature” and that the ancient dichotomy between Jews and Gentiles was “more likely to be racial in origin rather than a matter of doctrinal dissension.” This shift in evaluating the alien character of the Jewish people, which became common among non-Jews only much later in the Age of Enlightenment, is clearly the condition sine qua non for the birth of antisemitism, and it is of some importance to note that it occurred in Jewish self-interpretation first and at about the time when European Christendom split up into those ethnic groups which then came politically into their own in the system of modern nation-states.
I wonder how Arendt might have reacted to the suggestion that this change in Jewish views of their identity may in fact have not be self-contained, that is "without any outside interference", but rather due to the influence of the Renaissance, influence that would be recycled and taken over by the Enlightenment, But in Russia, all this came later... As the Enlightenment worldview penetrated among Russian Jews, Solzhenitsyn observes this paved the way for the participation of several Jews, entirely won over by the Enlightenment, in the founding of the Soviet regime, eventually to be followed by Stalin’s purges and the cruelty and insanity of the Gulag.
Here are a few notable examples of European Jews won over to the Enlightenment, some becoming active proponents.
The Dutch-Jewish philosopher of Sephardi origin Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) is considered a founder of the Enlightenment along with René Descartes.
The German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (17291786) was a significant contributor to the Haskalah, or 'Jewish Enlightenment'.
German Jewish scholar Leopold Zunz (1794-1886), founder of the Verein für Kultur und Wissenschaft der Juden (Society for the Culture and Science of the Jews).
Karl Marx (1818-1883) was from a line of rabbis though for professional reasons his father had converted to the Lutheran Church (to work as a lawyer).
The Father of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was born into a Viennese Jewish family already influenced by Enlightenment ideas.
A pioneering sociologist, Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) was from a long line of rabbis.
The German-American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942) of Jewish lineage and opponent of scientific racism.
French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941), had Polish Jews on his father’s side and English Jews on his mother’s.
Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was the daughter of Jewish merchants living in Poland and would go on to be a Communist activist and Marxist theorist.
French sociologist Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) was from a Jewish background.
Jewish philosopher and religious thinker Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a promoter of religious existentialism.
Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) was of Jewish background and like some Jews converting to the Enlightenment worldview, he became an energetic and ruthless proponent.
The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was from a Jewish background.
György Lukács (1885-1971), the Hungarian Marxist philosopher and supporter of Stalin, from a Jewish background.
The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was from a Jewish background and much influenced by Bertrand Russell.
Hungarian chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) of Jewish descent (rabbis on his mother’s side).
The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) also known as the Father of Structuralism comes from a line of Alsatian Jews.
American sci-fi novelist, professor of biochemistry and signer of the Humanist Manifesto II, Issac Asimov (1920-1992) comes from a line of Russian Jews.
Comic book legend Stan Lee (Stanley Martin Lieber, 1922-2018) from a line of Romanian Jews settling in New York.
American novelist, Norman Mailer (1923-2007) from a Jewish background.
Renowned linguist and intellectual, Noam Chomsky (1928-) of Russian Jewish parents
The French postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) was from a Sephardic Jewish background.
American palaeontologist, vocal evolutionist and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the son of Jewish immigrants.
On an individual basis one should expect to find gradations of Enlightenment influence. With some Jews, we see a total rejection of both Judaic doctrine and ritual. With others one may encounter an intellectual outlook dominated by the Enlightenment side by side with a residual (or occasional) fascination with Judaic ritual, moral ethics or symbolism. For most of these, being a Jew amounts to little more than a matter of cultural belonging, a shared history. The physicist and developer of the Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is probably a fairly representative example of many modern educated Jews in whom we find residual traces of Judaic influence dominated by an Enlightenment worldview. In an interview with George Sylvester Viereck, Einstein stated his own views thusly (1929: 7):
Do you believe in God? "I'm not an atheist. I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws."
Is this a Jewish concept of God? "I am a determinist. I do not believe in free will. Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine. In that respect I am not a Jew."
Is this Spinoza's God? "I am fascinated by Spinoza's pantheism, but I admire even more his contribution to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, and not two separate things."
Do you believe in immortality? "No. And one life is enough for me."
There is another point of contact between both Huguenots and French Jews and the Enlightenment. In 1762 much attention in France was focussed on the Calas Affaire. This was a famous court case involving Jean Calas, a Huguenot merchant from Toulouse. Calas’ son Marc-Antoine had been found dead and Calas was subsequently accused of murdering his son to avoid his possible conversion to catholicism. After a biased and bungled court case Jean Calas ended up publically executed by the breaking wheel, then strangled and his body incinerated shortly afterwards. A few years later Voltaire would get involved in this case claiming this was a miscarriage of justice and arguing for Calas’ rehabilitation. With Voltaire’s involvement, the crown declared Calas innocent of all charges in 1766.
Among French Jews there is a parallel case, that of the Dreyfus Affaire. Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was a Jewish military officer from Alsace. In 1894 a French military tribunal charged him with espionage for Germany. After a guilty sentence was pronounced, Dreyfus was deported and incarcerated at l'île du Diable/Devil's Island, Guyana. Later on French military intelligence intercepted a communiqué from Ferdinand Esterhazy who would turn out to be the real spy. At this point the writer and French journalist Émile Zola became involved, particularly after publishing a famous letter addressed to President Felix Faure entitled « J'accuse…! » [I accuse…!] in the January 13th, 1898 issue of the l’Aurore newspaper, a letter in which Zola asserted Dreyfus’ innocence. Another French writer, Charles Péguy would also join the dreyfusards, the defenders or Dreyfus. In 1899 Dreyfus would appear before a second military tribunal. Though the original charges had been dropped, Dreyfus was again found guilty of treason. Ten days later, Dreyfus would be granted a presidential pardon. As was the case in the Calas Affaire, both Zola and Péguy were deeply influenced by Enlightenment thinking. In both cases, Huguenot and Jew suffered much injustice before their Enlightenment advocates took any action, but the long-term effect seems to have been to consolidate the appeal of the Enlightenment worldview for both French Protestants and European Jews. Thus while the legal gains foi these groups in these cases turned out to be largely symbolic, in marketing terms the endeavour seems to have been quite successful...
One important vector for introducing Enlightenment influence among Jews was the Reform Judaism movement. Discussing 19th European Jews, Hannah Arendt describes the net result (1951/1976: 73-74):
Not only was the Jewish intelligentsia caught up in the general secularization process, which in the nineteenth century had already lost the revolutionary appeal of the Enlightenment along with the confidence in an independent, self-reliant humanity and therefore remained without any protection against transformation of formerly genuine religious beliefs into superstitions. The Jewish intelligentsia was exposed also to the influences of the Jewish reformers who wanted to change a national religion into a religious denomination. To do so, they had to transform the two basic elements of Jewish pietythe Messianic hope and the faith in Israel's chosenness, and they deleted from Jewish prayerbooks the visions of an ultimate restoration of Zion, along with the pious anticipation of the day at the end of days when the segregation of the Jewish people from the nations of the earth would come to an end. Without the Messianic hope, the idea of chosenness meant eternal segregation; without faith in chosenness, which charged one specific people with the redemption of the world, Messianic hope evaporated into the dim cloud of general philanthropy and universalism which became so characteristic of specifically Jewish political enthusiasm.
Even today, among Jews of various political persuasions, Enlightenment influence is still strong and deep-rooted. I suspect that as a rule of the thumb, on an individual basis the more years spent in the education system, the deeper the Enlightenment influence in a person’s thinking. In the 21st century, the Enlightenment worldview still has very deep roots in mainstream Jewish media. And, as is the case with the French generally, a wide majority of Jews gravitate to the left on the political scale.
And today in Israel, while Orthodox Jews maintain some influence in the political system, I strongly suspect that intellectually, culturally or in the education system they have marginal influence. The (perhaps incorrect) impression I have is that in Israel, Orthodox Jews political influence is mostly restricted to maintaining their rights to practice their religion and to some influence on public holidays, the management of holy sites and the question of immigration (WHO is a Jew?). I suspect that in education and in Jewish mainstream media, the influence of Orthodox Jews is negligible...
Arendt, Hannah (1951/1976) The Origins of Totalitarianism. Harvest Book New York 576 p.
Barabanov, Evgeny (1974/1981) The Schism Between the Church and the World. pp. 172-193 in Solzhenitsyn et al. From Under the Rubble. Regnery Gateway Chicago IL 308 p.
Barzun, Jacques (2000) From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. HarperCollins New York xxii-877 p.
Berthoud, Jean-Marc (1993) Antoine Court (1695-1760) et la formation des pasteurs du Désert. Samizdat
Berthoud, Jean-Marc (2018) L’Histoire alliancielle de l’Eglise dans le monde: Le temps des Pères et l’âge de la foi. Tome 1. Éd. Messages 688 p.
Berthoud, Jean-Marc (2018) L’Histoire alliancielle de l’Eglise dans le monde: L’aboutissement Thomiste, l’automne du Moyen Âge, le renouveau de la Réforme. Tome 2. Éd. Messages 734 p.
D’Aubigné, Agrippa (1616) Les Tragiques. [Ebook]
Josephus (93/1737) The Antiquities of the Jews. (William Whiston Translator)
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Gosselin, Paul (2012) Flight From the Absolute: Cynical Observations on the Postmodern West. Volume I Samizdat Québec ix - 412 p.
Gosselin, Paul (2013) Flight From the Absolute: Cynical Observations on the Postmodern West. Volume II Samizdat Québec xiii 566 p.
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Pascal, Blaise (1670/1908) Pensées. JM Dent & Sons London (William Finlayson Trotter, trans. Everyman's library. Theology and philosophy no. 874) xix-297 p.
Skell, Philip & Luskin, Casey (2007) Interview with National Academy of Sciences Member Philip Skell, Part Three. (Podcast : ID the Future) November 28, 2007
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander (2008) Dvesti Let Vmeste/Two Hundred Years Together. (Russian edition in 2 Volumes) Vagrius 1120 p.
Viereck, George Sylvester (1929) What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview. The Saturday Evening Post, Oct. 26, , p. 17
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. (1985/88) Galápagos: a novel. Laurel/Dell NewYork 295 p.
Wells, HG (1945) Mind at the End of its Tether. Heinemann London 34 p.
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 - The scale of this war caused those who survived it to call it “The Great War”, a war on an unprecedented (global) scale. Some who experienced it thought it inconceivable that there be another war like it and called it (optimistically) "The war to end all wars"…
 - Be sure to harp on emotional words…
 - (Wells 1945: section I) " The severer our thinking, the plainer it is that the dust-carts of Time trundle that dust off to the incinerator and there make an end to it.’
 - And where does Wells get this morality?
 - See The Gulag Archipelago II, p. 10. (1975). That said, as a rule Enlightenment devotees reject “body counts” as a method for evaluating the effects of a worldview. Thus, comparing those killed by the Inquisition or religious wars in Europe to those killed by the Terreur (French Revolution, 1789-1793), the Vendée War (1793-1796), WWI, WWII, Holocaust, those mowed down by the Soviet Gulag, the Ukrainian famine (or Holodomor, 1932-33, on order of Stalin), Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the Laogai will be considered “wrong-headed” (that is, not producing the expected, desired results). Some may even go so far as to make the additional absurd claim that the two World Wars were “religious wars”... Perhaps this is a case of desperate cases demanding desperate (irrational) solutions…
 - One variation on this theme is the less common « Stalin was a good Christian » (in reference to a brief stint of theological training Stalin did at a seminary in Tiflis in 1894). Michael Shermer uses this convenient trope (2017).
 - When I allude to the "Enlightenment" here, I am primarily thinking of the mature phase of the Enlightenment, famously expressed in Nietzsche's "God is dead!” statement, and not the initial (immature) phase of the Enlightenment, the long-forgotten deism of Descartes, Voltaire or Benjamin Franklin now only found (and artificially maintained) in theology departments or at BioLogos. Generally speaking, both modernism (the multitude of ideologies derived from the Enlightenment) and postmodernism should be understood as reactions to the Judeo-Christian heritage. In this context, Postmoderns behaviour indicates they generally view Islam as an ideological co-belligerent. This also explains the renaissance of anti-Semitism in the tolerant Postmodern West. Thus the BDS movement amounts to old anti-Semitism with a makeover, (wearing a political mask).
 - Rather than acknowledging that the Nazis, followers of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. all justified what they were doing by referring to Enlightenment concepts such as the “Survival of the Fittest”, the "Wave of the Future" or "the March of History."
 - And each with their own Darwinian dogma variously applied, the one postulating an unforgiving struggle for survival among social classes, the other with a struggle for survival among races.
 - This should give pause to Postmodern thinkers presently in favour. The moral winds of the West may again change direction and those today in the spotlight may find themselves (tomorrow) vilified, pariahs, disowned.
 - That is, in most cases, materialistic belief systems. I am of course using a wide definition of the term “religion” here. While this approach may seem, at best, odd if not nonsensical the full argument appears in chapters 1-3 of my Flight From the Absolute, volume I.
 - That is, the multitude of intellectual movements, philosophies and political ideologies that are derived from the Enlightenment.
 - And of course the Postmodern belief system has it’s own guilt-mongering Apocalypse: Climate Change (forget Global Warming, that claim was too specific...). After all, solemnly declaiming: “The End of the World is Near!” has always proven an effective tool to herd the masses in the right direction… The Postmodern Climate Apocalypse has opened the door to a wildly lucrative “save your soul” scam (though it’s more of the “Save the Planet” variety) which involves both voluntary and forced charity donations (the multitude of Green and Carbon taxes). While the science behind this scenario is open to doubt, there is NO doubt that a critical mass of holier-than-thou True Believers in the Postmodern Climate Apocalypse has been achieved. The indulgence scam run by the medieval Catholic Church doesn’t hold a candle to this ever-expanding religious business. Sadly this decidedly puts cynical old me in the category of “reprobate denier” rather than that of a morally pure “true believer”. Rather shameful admittedly, but that’s just the way it is…
[13a] - And in this regard here a few interesting tidbits. Allow me to backtrack a little. Taking into account that the Enlightenment worldview was fundamentally a reaction to the Judeo-Christian worldview explains a few things. Once one accepts this fundamental fact, then other things fall into place. Discussing the ideological bent of the early Enlightenment devotees, that is the French Encyclopaedists (such as Diderot and d'Alembert), the philosopher and historian, René Hubert (1885-1954) observes that the rejection by Enlightenment devotees of the Judeo-Christian worldview also resulted in the relativisation and marginalisation of any Jewish contribution to civilisation. From then on, it is but one small step to despising and hating the Bearers of the Ten Commandments. The seeds of anti-Semitism had been sown. Hubert notes (1923: 42):
While the traditional [Biblical] chronology was questioned, the idea of a supernatural mission entrusted to the Hebrew people was indirectly, but very skilfully rejected. The most zealous commentators of the Bible wanted to find in the sacred book a true compendium of human knowledge. The Encyclopaedists, on the other hand, strove to show that the development of civilization owed nothing, in any field, to the children of Israel. First of all, the original centre of intellectual and moral activity of men, the cradle of science and philosophy, could no longer be Judea, but Egypt. Secondly, the ancient Hebrews would be generally portrayed [by the Encyclopaedists] as a rough, brutal, unrefined and uneducated people, lacking even in morals. The constant humiliation of the Israelites is, among the philosophers, the counterpart or corollary of the perpetual exaltation of the Egyptians.*
Unsurprisingly, this anti-Semitic trend reappears in other early Enlightenment devotees. Voltaire, for example, in his article on "Tolerance" (such irony…) in the Philosophical Dictionary (1756) writes "It is with regret that I speak of the Jews: this nation is, in many respects, the most detestable that has ever defiled the earth."* Typically this comment does not appear in abridged English translations, but the original French text of the Dictionnaire is available online at: www.lechasseurabstrait.com/revue/spip.php?article7930
It is curious to note that the French 1817 edition of the same Philosophical Dictionary (published by Théodore Desoer) "forgot" to put in the section that includes this comment…
 - Now the reverse is NOT true. Attempts to guilt-monger Moderns or Postmoderns about the implications of their worldview are, as a rule, futile… Irrécevable as the French would say.
 - Here is a list of 17 US court cases related to criticism of evolution in education. Evolutionists won them all…
Tungate, Mel (2005) Federal Court Decisions Involving Evolution and the First Amendment.
 - Keith’s Evolution and Ethics is a collection of previously published essays…
 - The reference to tribalism seems little more than a red herring here… A while ago as I was waiting in a dentist's office I picked a copy of a French history magazine (named simply "L’Histoire" no 408, fév. 2015). It was a special issue, with an article by Fuat Dündar (2009) the Armenian genocide in 1915. One interesting tidbit that I wasn't aware of was that the Holocaust was NOT the first attempt to apply Darwinian principles to real societies. This was also the case with the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey. The issue pointed out that one of the leading intellectuals of the Young Turks (the political movement that deposed the last Caliph) was heavily influenced by Darwinian principles, particularly in the writings of Yusuf Akçura in his 1904 book Three Policies where the concepts of natural selection and struggle for survival were proposed in exactly the same terms as the Nazis later exploited...
 - As a rule, only read by other Postmoderns?
 - Whether Gorski personally identifies with the Enlightenment or with Postmodern worldview is largely irrelevant at this point.
 - A good starting point would be to read some of the works by historians of science Hooykaas (1972), Jaki (1974) and Stark (2003).
 - This is one reason why philosophers of science operating within Enlightenment presuppositions will consistently avoid exploring the question: “Is science limited?” One exception to this rule is, Karl Popper. See chap 6 of Flight From the Absolute, volume 2 on this. While Popper eventually faced great pressure to recant his previous line of questioning regarding Evolution, as I demonstrate in this chapter, I believe there is good reason to believe Popper never fully accepted orthodox Enlightenment view of Evolution. And while Popper was in many ways influenced by the Enlightenment, his own research often lead him to question much highly-regarded Enlightenment dogmas of his own generation (criticising Freud, Marx and Darwin). One unintended result of Popper’s research on the “demarcation problem” (definition of science) was to directly attack the conflation of the Enlightenment belief system and Science at its very cosmological root, the theory of Evolution. This challenge could NOT be left unanswered and pressure was (successfully) applied to get Popper to recant. This was not a trivial academic matter to be left for Ivory Tower armchair philosophers to play with.
 - In his Darwin, Marx, Wagner French-American historian Jacques Barzun documents the deep cultural roots that the “Struggle for Survival” concept (typically linked to the concept of Race) had sunk in Western thinking even by the late 19th century (1941/1981: 92-93):
War became the symbol, the image, the inducement, the reason, and the language of all human doings on the planet. No one who has not waded through some sizable part of the literature of the period 1870-1914 has any conception of the extent to which it is one long call for blood, nor of the variety of parties, classes, nations, and races whose blood was separately and contradictorily clamored for by the enlightened citizens of the ancient civilization of Europe. […] the militarists of the second half of the century poeticized war and luxuriated in the prospect of it. With relative impunity for themselves, they took it for granted that all struggles in life must be struggles for life, and the death of the loser its "natural" goal.
 - Western progressives would split down the middle. Quite a few would follow Marx and then go on to become fawning and faithful admirers of Stalin. Others would succumb to the temptation of fascism.
 - Grant was an American lawyer and eugenicist who wrote The Passing of the Great Race, a book admired by Adolf Hitler.
 - Ford’s anti-Semitic writing was much admired by Hitler (mentioned in Mein Kampf). The Ford Company did good business in Nazi Germany…
 - Head of Alcoa, banker, Secretary of Treasury and owned or had interests in many corporations including Westinghouse Electric and Gulf Oil.
 - Montréal journalist and politician, Arcand was the head of the National Unity Party of Canada and proclaimed himself the “Canadian Führer”.
 - Director of the Immigration Branch under Canadian prime minster Mackenzie King.
 - While the dots certainly point in this direction, it is unlikely Camus would go so far himself…
 - Most notably the German Confessing Church headed by Karl Barth and Hans Asmussen would be targeted by Hitler. Among members of the Confessing Church, in the last days of WWII Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer would be sentenced to hanging. Just to get a glimpse of the man, just two days after Hitler’s accession to power in 1933, Bonheoffer delivered a radio address in which he attacked Hitler and the Führer cult.
 - Here is the original German text
Hätte bei Poitiers nicht Karl Martell gesiegt: Haben wir schon die jüdische Welt auf uns genommen das Christentum ist so etwas Fades -, so hätten wir viel eher noch den Mohammedanismus übernommen, diese Lehre der Belohnung des Heldentums: Der Kämpfer allein hat den siebenten Himmel! Die Germanen hätten die Welt damit erobert, nur durch das Christentum sind wir davon abgehalten worden.
source: Adolf Hitler, Deutscher Kanzler (NSDAP), 27. Aug. 1942
(Werner Jochmann, Adolf Hitler. Monologe im Führerhauptquartier 1941-1944. Aufgezeichnet von Heinrich Heim.“, S. 370)
 - This may recall Darwin’s musings in his diary about the pros and cons of marriage, in which he coldly observed that a wife “would be better than a dog”.
 - Which is often defined as:
The mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a person’s belief clashes with evidence perceived by the person. When confronted with facts that contradict beliefs, ideals, and values, people will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.
 - As opposed to the rather nebulous contribution made by Evolution to empirical science. While Newton’s classical physics made a significant contribution to launching satellites and getting us to the Moon (and back), what has the Theory of Evolution enabled? This is a matter rarely broached by scientists, but Adam S. Wilkins, the editor of the prestigious BioEssays journal once tellingly observed (2000: 1051):
The subject of evolution occupies a special, and paradoxical, place within biology as a whole. While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that 'nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution', most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas. 'Evolution' would appear to be the indispensible unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one.
Reacting to Wilkins’ comments, the American biochemist Philip Skell doubles down and paints a bleak picture of Evolution’s contribution to science (2005: 10):
I would tend to agree [with Wilkins]. Certainly, my own research with antibiotics during World War II received no guidance from insights provided by Darwinian evolution. Nor did Alexander Fleming's discovery of bacterial inhibition by penicillin. I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.
I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; the development of new surgeries; and others. I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin's theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.
 - Which had hardened into evolutionary dogma by the late 19th century and remained dominant well into the 20th century.
 - Terraforming is a concept drawn from sci-fi literature which involves a hypothetical planetary engineering process, that is the total conversion of ecosystems and environments of another planet, thus rendering it capable of supporting biological organisms from Earth (especially humans). As a side effect, this usually involves the elimination of any previous life forms.
 - Swiss historian Jean-Marc Berthoud estimates persecutions of the Huguenots began around 1525 (Luther’s doctrine had begun to reach France in the 1520s, John Calvin would come later) up until the Édit de Tolérance (or Versailles Edict) decreed by Louis XVI in 1787. Of course during this time period, there were interludes of relative quiet.
 - And such a Church-State alliance was also a long-standing tradition among Orthodox Christians. Russian art historian Eugeny Barabanov describes this phenomenon as follows (1974/1981: 178-179):
Of course the union of the Church and state under Constantine, and the Church-state symphony, whose ideologist and legislator was Justinian, differ sharply from the contemporary state of affairs. The Byzantine state considered itself a Christian state, and the emperors, when they subordinated the Church to their needs, nevertheless regarded themselves as instruments of God’s will. The organism of the Church did not so much suffer from the external force of the state as secretly go along with it, from inside, in a process of identifying the Church with the empire, of erasing the borders between Church and State, of affirming their close (too close!) unity. It was in this false perspective of an ostensibly self-evident “symphony” that the historical fate of the Russian Orthodox Church developed until the 1917 revolution. And when tsarism fell, the Church suddenly found itself face to face with a hostile, atheistic state, which applied rather different methods from those of the Christian Emperors.
Since the fall of Communism in Russia there are murmurings in Russia (laws forbidding sects) of a temptation to return to the pre-Revolutionary State-Church arrangement.
 - New France (now Québec) could have been a haven for Huguenots (as was New England for dissenting Protestants from England), but the Jesuits would see to it that Huguenots were excluded and rooted out.
 - Mostly Lutheran at that point in time.
 - 9,000 lines long.
 - In the Gard department of southern France.
 - This was the case in the town of Chambon-sur-Lignon, which may have saved an estimated 3,000-5,000 Jews from the Holocaust, mostly children.
 - Especially its political power, which they coveted...
 - In thinkers such as Montaigne, Descartes, Voltaire or Benjamin Franklin.
 - Though the Catholic Blaise Pascal saw through such smokescreens and cynically observed regarding Descartes’ deism (1670/1908: section II, 77): “I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God.”
 - See Isaiah chaps. 30-31
 - To many readers this claim may appear at best odd if not nonsensical, but the full argument is to be found in my Flight From the Absolute series as well as initially in my French 1986 work.
 - Long before Darwin, we find a string of thinkers who attempted to develop an alternative (materialistic) origins myth, that is an alternative to the narrative found in Genesis. Among these precursors, we find Pierre Louis Maupertuis (1698-1759), the count de Buffon (1707-1788), Erasmus Darwin (17311802), and Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829). Earlier Enlightenment thinkers were generally content with comments slowly eroding the prestige or authority of the Book of Genesis.
 - If not hypocritical, but perhaps early Enlightenment thinkers may be forgiven for such duplicity as for some of these, the Inquisition was not just a historical footnote.
 - Such would be the fate suffered by the pre-Reformation (12th century) Vaudois (followers of Pierre Valdo, also known as the Pauvres de Lyon) who translated the Bible in common language and rejected the priesthood, and found themselves forced to flee France and Northern Italy to find refuge the Swiss Alps. Many Vaudois would be the targets of massacres in the 1488 crusade directed against them by King Charles VIII of France. Among Jews, the Inquisition may have opened a furrow where the seeds of the Enlightenment would grow. For example, Israeli historian Yirmiyahu Yovel, has shown (1989) that the effects of the forced conversion of Jews to the Roman Catholic Faith lead to the scepticism, hypercritical rationalism and ultimately to materialism in Spinoza.
 - Though the Anabaptist Protestants were the first to reject this alliance and paid heavily with persecution from both Protestants and Catholics.
 - Though the original slogan added “ou la mort!”… [or death]
 - Author’s translation.
 - On political issues, Edmund Burke is one example. That said, England had it’s share of Enlightenment thinkers as well, men such as Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Jeremy Bentham.
 - As far as I can tell barely a handful of French Protestant thinkers rejected the lure of the Enlightenment. Among them there is: David Renaud Boullier (1699-1759), whose book bears the title: Lettres critiques sur les lettres philosophiques de M. de Voltaire [Critical Letters on the Philosophical Letters of M. Voltaire - 1753], along with the works by the Swiss Protestant Alexandre Vinet (1747-1847) and the Swiss novelist Urban Olivier (1810-1888) who from time to time attacked Enlightenment concepts. That said, the heirs of the Enlightenment made sure these men (and their works) were “properly buried” and forgotten… And of course one can take into account that Freemasons were involved with promoting Enlightenment ideas. Among pre-Darwininian evolutionists we find the Freemason, the count de Buffon (1707-1788). Erasmus Darwin, Charles’s grandfather, was an early promoter of evolutionary ideas and notable Freemason (Edinburg Canongate Lodge).
 - Unsurprisingly, movements challenging the materialistic origins myth quickly find themselves designated as “intolerable heretics” in the eyes of the new State-Church alliance (this Church now is either of the Modern or Postmodern tendency/denomination). And its Inquisitors are active and effective. In Europe, the EU delegate, Guy Lengagne, authored an official 16-page report entitled The Dangers of Creationism in Education. Understandably, for the wider public’s safety contagious infections of unapproved memes must to be contained. Reflecting on the effects of modern Inquisitors activities, the American chemist and pioneering carbene researcher Philip Skell, mused in interview (2007):
The academic community is incredibly intolerant of anyone not paying loyalty to Darwinian ideas, and have no hesitation in railroading such an individual out of the community, having them fired, and making life generally miserable for such a person. So for a young person to let his professors know that he might be skeptical of Darwinism… even such a mild disowning of the Darwinian point of view is considered so dangerous among many of the professional biologists that such a person is railroaded out of the profession. The best advice I can give them is until this climate changes… that a young prospective scientist in the biosciences keep that entirely to themselves and make it something which is not known to the academic structure on which they depend both for their education for their degrees and for recommendation to positions in the future.
Regarding origins, feigning belief may be the only way to avoid the professional ghetto… One should keep in mind that standing before the Inquisition, Galileo at least did not have to stoop so low and openly mocked the heliocentrists and got away with it.
 - We reject the concept that abandoning Judaism or Christianity and adopting the Enlightenment worldview should be described as a “loss of faith” and this supposedly neutral process be labelled secularization. The unasked question: “What is the final destination, the end result faith ?”remains…
 - His son would found the well-known DuPont chemical company.
 - Which basically amounts to Enlightenment thinking repackaged for theologians or, looked at from another angle, forcing the Bible onto the Procrustean bed of Enlightenment thinking and lopping off anything that doesn’t fit. Not much is left once this process is complete, except perhaps "uplifting moral language" (Marx’s "opium of the people")...
 - That said, both the Tanakh and the New Testament make a significant distinction between the sufferings of the righteous and sufferings of those under the judgement of God… Classic expressions of these are found in the book of Job, Psalm 44 and Deuteronomy 28. King David knew both sides of this coin…
 - Biographies of Boas indicate that while his grandparents were observant Jews, his parents had already embraced Enlightenment values.
 - Influenced by the works of Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
 - As was the case with Karl Marx, Wittgenstein’s grandfather, Moses Meier, converted to Protestantism.
 - While influenced by Enlightenment ideas, in terms of philosophy, Polanyi came to reject one of its epistemological offshoots, positivism.
 - Also hinting at his debt to the influence of Spinoza.
 - Zola perhaps more deeply than Péguy who later on would become critical of some Enlightenment views.
 - Though this may be subject to change as much of the political Left in the West dabbles more and more openly with anti-Semitism…