IPA TV

Fighting for Freedom – Lessons from History

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14 July 2022

On 30 June 2022, IPA Executive Director John Roskam sat down with Daniel J Mahoney, Professor of Political Science at Assumption College to discuss the nature of truth and goodness, how our institutions fail to teach the lessons of 20th century totalitarianism to young people in the West, the state of democracy today and what can we – as individuals – do to resist the slide of the West towards totalitarianism.

Below is a transcript of the interview.


John Roskam:

Hello. Welcome to this edition of IPA Encounters. My name is John Roskam. I’m the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs and I’m speaking to you from The Baillieu Myer Media Studio at the IPA offices in Melbourne. Today, our special guest on this edition of IPA Encounters is Professor Daniel J. Mahoney. Daniel is the Professor Emeritus at Assumption University. He’s a senior fellow at the RealClearFoundation and a Senior Writer at Law & Liberty. I’m delighted for the Institute of Public Affairs to introduce Daniel to an Australian audience.

Daniel has written extensively about the issues that face us today about freedom of speech, about freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. He has written about statesmanship, French political thought, the art and political writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, conservatism and politics. He’s written many articles and many books. Some of his most recent books include The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order, The Other Solzhenitsyn, The Ideal of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity, which was a best seller. And last month, Daniel had published The Statesman as Thinker: Portraits of Greatness, Courage and Moderation.

I’ve read it. It’s a wonderful book and it will soon be available in Australia as a hard cover. In The Statesman as Thinker, Daniel discusses the life and work and eternal meaning of Cicero, Edmund Burke, de Tocqueville, Lincoln, Churchill, de Gaulle, and Vaclav Havel. As it happens, The Statesman as Thinker is published by our friends at Encounter Books, and you might remember that a little earlier this year, we spoke to Batya Ungar-Sargon whose Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy is also published by Encounter Books.

Daniel, it is wonderful to have you with an Australian audience of IPA members. Today, we are speaking to you live. As I said, I’m in Melbourne, you are in New England. Congratulations on Tthe Statesman as Thinker. To begin, can I ask you to talk a little about what you were trying to achieve by writing the book?

Daniel Mahoney:

In my previous book, The Idol of Our Age, I had spoken about how modern thought in general, but certainly late modern thought. It’s informed by ideology and political correctness. Really aims to negate, to tear down, to deny human greatness. And I had a formulation that in the light modern world heroes and saints stand or fold together. In other words, of course, there’s some tension between the greatness of a great saint and the greatness of a great statesman, the kinds of figures who are highlighted by Plutarch in his famous lives that I highlight in this book. There’s some tension there, but they both represent the highest possibilities of the human soul. I do think there’s a tendency in democracy toward, we could call it dogmatic or doctrinaire egalitarianism, a certain suspicion of human greatness. I think that’s been aided and abetted by certain trends in the schools that do their best to tear down our common history.

It’s one thing to say that great men and women are not necessarily saints. Whenever you write sympathetically about the greatness of a great person, people will say you’re engaging in hagiography. That means the lives of the saints, but there really are great people, and there really are the virtues that the ancient spoke about. Courage, temperance, prudence, and justice that are embodied in the lives of flawed, but great human beings. And I would add that even free political communities need the talents and contributions of such statesman.

In my book, I aim to highlight those virtues at work. One of the recent reviews of my book was entitled ‘Profiles and Virtue’. And I don’t mean by virtues of funny daddy notion. Those very concrete qualities of soul that are admirable in themselves. You mentioned some of the figures I treat. One figure from the ancient world, Cicero, the rest are all figures in the modern world or the modern democratic world, but all of them, I think in some important ways, were countercultural.

Burke was the great critic of this ideological virus that came upon the world with the French revolution, de Tocqueville was a friend, but also a stern critic of the excesses of democracy. Churchill and de Gaulle are quite interesting figures because in a way they’re both conservative figures and aristocratic figures, who nonetheless use their talents and abilities, rhetorical, and otherwise at the service of defending constitutional democracy against totalitarianism. But it’s very interesting. If you look at the wartime speeches of Churchill and de Gaulle, they never said the war was about human rights or democracy. They said we were defending Christian civilization against Nazi barbers.

Who would speak that way today? Because they think they understood that Western Civilisation was broader and deeper than human rights or electoral democracy. And I think they knew that 20th century totalitarianism in its communist and Nazi forms was an assault on the human person and democracy in and of itself.

If you say human beings have rights, it’s sort of an empty concept. Rights are very important, but who is this person who has rights? And I think it’s our Christian and classical past that gives us a fuller explanation of the human person and of the ends and purposes of human freedom. And I think we see that a figuring Vaclav Havel. He grew up in a bourgeois family in Czechoslovakia, couldn’t go to the university because he and his family were class enemies and he was a dramatist who in a way recovered a kind of older wisdom in his struggle against totalitarianism.

I remember in 1990, The New Republic, which was then a great magazine, liberal, but a great magazine. I ran a review essay by Richard Rorty, the progressive philosopher, of books by Václav Havel, and Jan Patočka, the Czech philosopher who was an inspiration for Havel.

Rorty said, “These are obviously great men who fought tyranny, but when they speak about the imperative of living in truth, they don’t seem to mean it as a metaphor or a figure of speech.” In other words, the distinction between truth and falsehood and good and evil were very meaningful to Havel and other of the Czech dissidents and certainly to great anti-communist figures like Miłosz in Poland or Solzhenitsyn in Russia, so isn’t that interesting that a man, a postmodern philosopher, relativistic philosopher, who was the darling of our intellectual elites, Richard Rorty really could only see in the word truth, a fiction or a vast of metaphor. The idea that there was some truth to which we ought to pay advance, or that distinction between truth and falsehood was necessary for our freedom and our dignity completely alien to the Western intellectual class today.

John Roskam:

Why?

Daniel Mahoney:

Many of the writings I’ve written on anti-totalitarian figures, and now this book, in way they’re acts of recovery. They’re recovering a framework where the virtues, the cardinal virtues, the moral intellectual virtues, and a framework where the primordial and age old distinctions between truth and falsehood and good and evil are meaningful.

John Roskam:

Why have we lost that distinction between good and evil, between truth and falsehood? And just before we came on, we were talking about the appeal of Solzhenitsyn to a modern audience. Is it because he does identify good and evil, right and wrong, and that’s something our relative modern worldview is missing?

Daniel Mahoney:

There’s a kind of facile anti-totalitarianism. We can associate with a figure like Isaiah Berlin. There’s a very common view that says, well, the lesson to be learned from totalitarianism is we ought to avoid every form of monism. And that means relativism is the proper response to totalitarianism. The totalitarians wanted to push some absolute etiology, the proper responses, pluralism that slides into relativism.

John Roskam:

Don’t judge.

Daniel Mahoney:

That was in Solzhenitsyn’s response or Havel’s response. Solzhenitsyn famously said that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. So the drama of good and evil is sempiternal with the human condition and no ideology. All these ideologies say that if only we eliminate the Jews as the Nazis did, or the kulaks and the bourgeoisie as communist did, or the woke today, eliminate these oppressors, they know with absolute certainty who the oppressors are. There’s not good and evil that’s intrinsic to the human heart, mind, and soul. There are exploiter classes, or suspect racists, or suspect groups. It’s an ideological mannequin, you sweep them out of the way and the human condition has been solved. Well, Solzhenitsyn says no, and he said a wonderful line in The Gulag Archipelago, “Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped at a dozen corpses, because they had no ideology”. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were devoured by their consciences, but they still had some notion of right and wrong that they violated, but that ate away at them.

But Solzhenitsyn says these ideologies really preach the obsolescence of the age, old distinctions between true and the falls and good and evil. And they, they localise evil in certain groups rather than seeing the propensity to evil as something rooted in human imperfection or using the language of scripture fallen man and that anthropology is utterly and totally false. So Solzhenitsyn didn’t find totalitarianism in the name of post-modern relativism or denouncing monism, he appealed to the old verities. Again, he’s very critical of Manichaeism, the idea of if we only get rid of the communists, well, everything will be fine. No, Edmund Burke says in the Reflections on the Revolution in France from 1790, we should never ignore the inventiveness of wickedness. In other words, some terrible ideological plague will go away and there will be another one. Who would’ve guessed in 1989, that we would be living with the scourge of wokeness, and I have written extensively on the fact, I don’t think we’d be living with the woke scourge, if we had done something to pass on the real lessons of the ideological age, to the next generation.

John Roskam:

Could you talk about that because you speak very powerfully in the book about passing on our traditions. Even as you were just speaking, you mentioned Shakespeare, you mentioned Burke, you mentioned scriptures, the Bible, very few of those things are being talked about, discussed, taught to our young people, either in schools or universities. Can I ask you what happened?

Daniel Mahoney:

Well, I think that I wrote a piece in January at Law & Liberty on Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, and there’s a character in The Possessed who belongs to the revolutionary nihilistic sect that ends up blowing up the governor’s mansion, and wreaking havoc, and Dostoevsky says that if these people ever come to power, 100 million people will perish, but there’s a character in The Possessed who says, “Our job is to cut off Shakespeare’s tongue and to poke out Cicero’s eyes.” In other words, to war with human greatness, this idea that the great figures of the past are only epiphenomenal reflections of their race or their local experience, that the only way to approach the books of the past is to deconstruct them and to show the violence, the racism, the exploitation inherent in what the Pomos call logocentrism and reason itself.

This is pure and unadulterated nihilism, but I would say it’s not just academic doctrines of the last 40 and 50 years, or that ultimately owe a lot to Marx and Nietzsche, I would say this spirit of revolutionary negation or the late great Roger Scruton called ‘the culture of repudiation’. This deep seeded maniacal desire to repudiate the past the wisdom of the past, to think that the greatest and freest and most self-critical societies in human history have, have only to offer oppression, exploitation, racism, classism, et cetera. This is the doctrine, and I speak with absolute. No, absolutely no hyperbole with a few exceptions dominates either explicitly or implicitly, the teaching of the young from kindergarten to graduate school.

John Roskam:

How do we change that? Are our schools and universities, especially higher education beyond redemption? Do we need to do something different? Do we need to start parallel institutions? And when I say we, I talk about those committed to the ideals and foundations of Western Civilisation as you’ve been discussing.

Daniel Mahoney:

I wrote an essay for Real Clear in, I think September, October, you can find in on RealClearPolitics, September, October 2021, I believe on the need for Parallel Polis, and I got the idea from Vaclav Benda, Czech Catholic dissident, but writing under very different circumstances under this sort of decaying, totalitarianism of Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 80s, he said, look, Halo was right, the first task, and it’s our task too, is to not live by lies. Don’t mimic the ideological slogans. Don’t be a coward. Don’t go along. Don’t allow the ideologues to run rough shot over yourself, over your schools, over your children. But Benda added, that’s not enough that has to be followed by a self-conscious effort to build alternative institutions. Of course, she was writing in a society. And at a time when an ideological party state had a monopoly were fake trade unions, fake universities, the communist party dominating everything, half the priests were STB agents and all of this so that’s a very different situation.

But I would say when it comes to something like higher education, I do not see how the woke, the ideological activists, the race class, gender fanatics, I do not see how they will seek control of the departments. They dominate Jordan Peterson calls it DEI officially in the United States. It’s DEI diversity, inclusion, equity. They’ve taken that beautiful word from Aristotle about fairness, balance, justice, corrective and turned it into an invitation to egalitarian fanaticism. I just don’t see how history departments in the United States will not hire anyone with a sympathetic view, a critical, but sympathetic view, meaning a view that rejects self-loathing as the alpha and omega of historical studies. They just won’t hire them. It’s all history from below, which means no emphasis on political intellectual, military, diplomatic history, political science, my discipline is a little bit better, but it’s much harder for people like myself to get hired today. And institutions have, especially in the United States, succumbed to the new racialism very, very quickly.

John Roskam:

Do you want to talk about that? Because you write you’ve written powerfully about the new racialism and the idea that we are not identified as individuals by our character, but we are simply put into category boxes?

Daniel Mahoney:

Well Martin Luther King was a complicated guy and he had his more moderate and his more revolutionary periods, but in his most famous speech at the mall in Washington, D.C. on November 19th 1963, it’s a hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s great Gettysburg address. And he said, “I have a dream that people in the future will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin”. If you said that in American public school or university today, you would be immediately branded a racist because the new ideology connected to critical race theory sees the very ideal of judging people by the content of their character as racist, because systemic racism, white privilege, this is the same language the communist used about the kulaks. The Russian word kulak means fist.

And it was used by Lenin and Stalin just to mean anyone who was more industrious, probably more talented and smarter, had gotten where they were because of exploitation. And eventually it wasn’t just in Ukraine, as everyone thinks today, there was a famine in Russia, in the 1920s associated with war communism that took five million lives. A third of the population of Kazakhstan, probably four to five, six million Ukraine, several millions in the north caucuses and the Volga region. The peasantry was decimated in this effort to destroy the privilege of the kulaks, the same ideological mentality. Obviously we haven’t arrived at mass terror, but as the former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice just said at an American television, what good does it do anyone to tell five year old white boys that they are intrinsically racist and sexist, or to use philosophical language that they’re ontologically guilty.

There was a woman who grew up in Birmingham in the deep south, in the days of Jim Crow. And she doesn’t think saying all white people are evil is the way to establish a decent democratic society. I would say is one of a line from W. H. Auden from a poem in 1925 that goes something like this, “Come fix your eye upon me. I thirst for accusation.” There is a group of people in Western societies it’s most pronounced most psychotic, if I can put it that way intense in the United States today, but this pathological self-loathing that informs the culture of repudiation that has taken a very racialist form in the United States. It is tied to guilt. PT Bower wrote an essay in 1976 called ‘Western Guilt and Third World Poverty’, that all the problems in the underdeveloped world were caused by the British empire or the French Empire.

It’s nonsense. There’s no empirical evidence for this, but this self-loathing, cannot be a principle that sustains a civilisation and no one will fight and die for a country if they’re taught that country is essentially and permanently culpable guilty of the worst crimes imaginable. In the United States, the number of slaves expanded considerably because slaves had partners and husbands and wives and had children. In a place like Brazil, they were so exploited and died that they just shipped in more slaves. The Arab slave trade was much more extensive and much more cruel than the Atlantic slave trade and yet I think young people in the United States are absolutely convinced that slavery is something that only existed in the United States, that it was not an ubiquitous historical phenomenon. And the fact that all the founding fathers opposed it in principle, not one of the leading American founding fathers defended slavery as a moral good. As Abraham Lincoln famously put it, “They wanted to put it on the road to eventual extinction.” but that isn’t taught.

Washington freed all the slaves in his will and provided for their education and financial provision for 30 years. But we have this, movement in the states to rename schools, to tear down statues, to teach young people a really distorted account. And I think the worst part of it is not just disparaging the founding fathers, or even Lincoln, who as the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas once said “loathed slavery with every bit of his being”. The worst part is this mannequin racial ideology teaches that Blacks and other people of color are hapless victims. They have no agency, civic or moral. Well, by the way, under Jim Crow, under bad conditions, there was a thriving Black middle class and a thriving church. And until the 1950s, 85% of Black Americans were born in intact families.

Now, 84% of African Americans are born from single mothers. The Black family is collapsed that single fact has much more to do with the pathologies of the inner city than the crimes of slavery and we’re not allowed to talk about it because it doesn’t fit the tent. It doesn’t fit the narrative. Recently, the French minister of education to his credit spent a lot of time in France. And he said, we’ve got to watch out for this American crap, this wokeness it’ll destroy the French educational system. The dishonesty there was, and I don’t know if it was deliberate dishonesty, but this racialised ideology in the United States took Foucault and Derrida and French postmodernism, adopted it, it became the dominant ideology in the humanities, and we added our element of white guilt and racialism, but it all began in Paris in 1968.

So the French have to take a certain responsibility for unleashing this scourge on the Western democratic world. We used to be able to say about the United States, certainly when I started teaching in 1986, there really was something like American exceptionalism. We did not particularly have a self-loathing intellectual class, like in Europe. While we certainly had fellow traveling intellectuals, we weren’t like France or half the intelligentsia in the 30s, 40s, and 50s was pro-communist. Americans on the whole were patriotic and religious people. We didn’t have extremist political parties, and the democratic party today has a wing, maybe the dominant wing that just wants to expunge the memory of Western Civilisation. The Republicans have their problems too, but they don’t want to do that.

This was unthinkable to me the thought that America could go from being the most evident example of what Eric Voegelin in the political philosopher called ‘modernity with restraint’, a kind of modern democracy that still had links to the old traditions. During the American revolution we didn’t have a year zero. We didn’t begin 1787 as year zero. We didn’t break with the continuity of Western civilization, but I think our elites today are really interested in something like year zero. They want a progressive postmodern democracy founded on guilt, founded on pathological self-hatred that breaks once and for all, with the broader civilisational heritage of the West.

John Roskam:

We’ll go to questions in a moment and we’ve received many dozens. If you’re watching this wonderful discussion and I don’t get to ask your question, please accept my apologies, because we’ve received so many, but Daniel, just before we go to questions, and there were many about the United States. I just want to touch on something that you were just talking about, which you’ve written about, which is that this nihilism is an organising principle of the left and they’ve encouraged it, but you’ve said the right, however defined has sat back in stunned silence. And I think you use the word stunned as this has happened around us and around them. So I’m going to ask you a political question about the response of the centre-right to what you have just outlined as an assault on every one of our fundamental values. Has the right been missing? Why has its response been arguably non-existent and will it ever change? Will the right understand the war on culture that’s being waged?

Daniel Mahoney:

I think it is starting to change in the United States. I think people are waking up, not just conservatives, but I think parents are waking up. One of the few benefits of COVID, and there were a few benefits for us and less for you.

John Roskam:

Well, many in Australia.

Daniel Mahoney:

I used to think that Australians were freedom loving people, but I don’t think that way anymore after seeing some heavy-handed policies that I would’ve thought were thinkable in a rule of law state, but in any case, people began to see what their kids were being taught as they were at home. This pathological self-hatred, this racialism, this contempt for our national traditions, this open hostility to religion. And in America, the transgender praise, the pushing gender ideology in a fanatical way, the idea that human biology doesn’t matter, sexual binary doesn’t matter. That is 153 genders and counting. It’s probably 183. It’s absurd.

It’s the imposition of an ideological surreality. What Eric Voegelin called the second reality on the real world. It’s been going on for a long time in our schools and I think a lot of people didn’t notice. I also think that centre-right politicians tend to go to elite institutions. They imbibe more of this than they probably realize. They’re always worried about not being sufficiently up to date. So there’s a kind of conservatism that thinks, we’re going to do the same thing that they’re doing, but we’re just going to do it a few years after them, or a little bit more slowly.

There’s a false cult of expertise with the Greeks called Phronesis Prudence. Prudence doesn’t mean restraint or tepidness. It’s the high moral and intellectual virtue of practical judgment and practical wisdom. We saw during COVID just because you have a degree in immunology or science doesn’t mean you have any practical wisdom for reflecting on the common good and how to adjudicate the mixture of rights and responsibilities and health concerns that confront a democrat, of course, citizens and statesmen want to pay attention to the science, but science in and of itself determines nothing. So there’s that. I also think the guilt, I think in Australia can take the forms of a certain of rewriting of history regarding Aboriginal peoples. You see a lot of that in our Northern neighbor, Canada there’s a romanticism of the other, a term that is central to postmodern language and ideology.

The other can do no wrong, but we are only a source of exploitation and injustice. You put all that together but the sheer fact is when you had that incident in Minneapolis in late May 2020, George Floyd being killed. Now, there is no evidence, there’s the three policemen, two of them were minorities, one of them just seemed to be a bully. I don’t think they were trying to kill the guy. He was on fentanyl. He was out of control. He was resisting, but the cop was too harsh with him, the guy died. There’s not an iota of evidence that race had anything to do with it. And within two and a half seconds, an elite consensus developed that this was evidence of police brutality. The United States, something like 10 to 15 unarmed Blacks are killed a year by the police, that doesn’t mean they’re innocent.

They could be risking a or a resisting arrest or running away from the police or hiding this kind of thing. Or they can think they have a gun because they act like they have a gun. Well a recent poll says 15,000 or the typical American thinks that 15,000 unarmed Blacks are killed by the police every year. This rhetoric we’ve made tremendous progress in the United States when it comes to race. We have a system of affirmative action that is crowding out the place of Asian Americans at elite institutions and this kind of thing. Affirmative action has not been very helpful for Black Americans. It’s created certain stigmas that the impression that some people get ahead, not because of their talent, but because of these established programs, but all that said, these are all issues that can be reasonably discussed, within a minute and a half a consensus developed that America, which had made tremendous progress in the area of race was dominated by something called systematic racism, that the police were agents of death, that the police needed to be defunded.

Now, we had massive increases in murder in Minneapolis, in Seattle, in Portland assault on police stations, federal buildings, Atlanta, New York City, progressive politicians literally began to defund and cut back on the police. And of course the first victims or minorities. BLM, which is a Marxist and Maoist organization dedicated to the revolutionary transformation of the United States. It’s anti-Christian it favors the abolition of what they call the patriarchal family. Corporate America gave them tens of millions of dollars, which they’ve misspent and all of this. And the founders built all sorts of houses, classic oligarchic stuff like the Santa Anas and Nicaragua. Literally the society went crazy. It went crazy and it became impossible, or at least very difficult for people to say while Black lives matter, all lives matter was immediately judged racist. To say that America’s not a systematically racist country was deemed racist to say, BLM is a Marxist organisation, anti-Christian and anti-American to the core became evidence of racism, et cetera.

I would say it was something like a collective nervous breakdown. Chris Caldwell, the political writer suggests that maybe without COVID, it wouldn’t have been so bad because as he said, the most coercive instrument of social control in democratic societies, namely Twitter and other forms of social media became the dominant mode of communication during COVID and social media is a very powerful instrument for cancellation and coercion. And I think a lot of that happened. And in other words, adults started behaving like teenagers. They were living online, they were canceling each other. There was this sort of fanaticism and collective hysteria. It was all quite terrible, but I want to insist as somebody who’s been in higher education for 40 years. These trends are not new. They’ve been here for an awful long time and going back to the centre-right, I blame people on the centre-right for an economism and libertarianism. They, always in the United States, send their kids to elite schools. It doesn’t matter. We’ll credential them. They’ll go out in the world and make money. They graduate and then, Gramsci style, they colonize the institutions of civil society and this has unfolded over 50 years. I just think we reached a critical mass a few years ago, where it became so palpable. It was impossible not to notice.

John Roskam:

I’ll go to questions from members and what I’ve done is I’ve combined some themes, and I’m going to start with something that you just touched on the role of experts. We saw that played out during COVID and of course, on IPA Encounters I have spoken to people like Jonathan Sumption and Toby Young who have discussed this. Can I ask you, how did it come to be that the public handed over so much power, not to politicians, but to experts? Does that say something about the future of democracy?

Daniel Mahoney:

I think in the Western world for several centuries now, going back to the Enlightenment, science has had undue prestige. Look, science has allowed us to extend our lives to 80 in advanced societies, cure diseases, the air condition is blowing on me on a 95-degree day. Penicillin, we all know a vaccine for polio. These are all good things, but science is also an instrument of death and destruction, there would be no thermonuclear weapons without modern scientific technology. Totalitarianism wouldn’t have had many of its principle experts and, the long and short of it, scientists have no special expertise to address questions of the common good or politics. Most academics and scientists have silly political views. Why that is the case is another matter, Raymond Aron wrote a book in the 1950s called The Opium of the Intellectuals. The propensity of Western intellectuals to succumb to secular religions like Marxism, but wokery is just another form of secular religion.

So why scientists should somehow have special authority in self-governing constitutional orders is a big question. And I’m enough of a populist, I certainly see limits to populism, but I see a healthy populism, which is based on distrust of intellectuals and experts. And we can go too far in that direction, because we need good expertise at the surface of practical judgment. In other words, not as an in and itself, but something that I think one thing that happened in our universities is humanistic liberal education died and humanities have been colonised by postmodernism by various forms of elite nihilism. They no longer provide, in America, 15% of college students, 30 years ago were English majors.

The humanities are dying. They don’t blame it on the market and capitalism. Why do you want to take an English course? If they don’t teach Shakespeare, the best you might get a course is on like who won the book or prize and it’s all race, class and gender. You’ve heard it once. You’ve heard it forever. And so they’re putting themselves out of business, but the humanities no longer can make a claim to inspire moral seriousness and practical judgment.

What substitutes for that is ideology and accompanied by this sort of faux cult of scientific expertise. I’m startled again, I’ve observed of Australia from a distance, but it startles me to see, let’s say a conservative or conservative liberal party think it has to get on the same bag bandwagon with the climate fanaticism. Again, a prudent attentiveness to climate issues is one thing, but climate as a secular religion is another matter altogether. And I think in our post-Christian societies, we’re just extremely vulnerable toward wave after wave, after wave of ill-founded secular religion, Paul Johnson wrote in 1988, he said, count on it. That the arguments for collectivism and societal regimentation will look less and less red and more and more green.

John Roskam:

Our next discussion Daniel will be on climate change in religion.

Daniel Mahoney:

Yes, yes. And again every time we have a heat wave in the United States, the journalists go on and on about it being caused by climate change and but that’s another matter, but I do think the appeal to expertise look, self-government depends upon a certain confidence that free people have in the common sense and form practical judgment of self-governing citizens. And when we defer to intellectuals and scientists and faux experts who have no special claim to practical judgment, we are in effect abandoning our responsibility as citizens.

John Roskam:

And a follow up question to that from a number of IPA members was along the lines of, can you ask Daniel whether his faith in democracy in Western developed countries was shaken or challenged by the response of most of the public to unheard of utterly illiberal restrictions that contravene basically every aspect of the rule of law?

Listen, I’ve never had that much faith in democracy. I believe in self-government. I believe in the rule of law, I believe in constitutionalism, I think there’s a real precious and cherished things. Democracy as a religion has always been a problem. But yes, my faith is challenged in that certainly conservative minded people in the United States used to have a certain confidence in the silent majority, in the good sense of ordinary people. I don’t have that confidence. I certainly have confidence that ordinary people when not corrupted by ideology have their heads on their shoulders, better than what some call the intellectualoids but look more and more people go to universities, they get advanced degrees in things like sociology and climate change and psychology and all this. I’m not sure it’s improving the quality of their lives or our society, but I think we have more and more people who are sort of demi-intellectuals or have imbibed those categories.

I think with the death of God, to use a Nietzsche phrase, doesn’t mean God is dead and doesn’t mean Christianity is completely gone, but it means as a living presence in our lives, people are much more vulnerable to these pseudo religions to these intellectual fans. And yes, it is shocking that historic liberties could be traded away at a glance. By the way, I might get myself in trouble because I’m speaking to a Australian audience, but I just finished reading the second volume of Cardinal Pell’s prison writings. I’m shocked what happened to Cardinal Pell.

John Roskam:

So are many Australians.

Daniel Mahoney:

That the state officials, the police, the journalists, the anti-Christian atomist that this could all come together and an honorable man could be treated that way. It’s fanaticism, it’s unthinkable in a decent rule of law society. So yes, we have to really worry.

John Roskam:

Where does common sense live Daniel now? With who?

Daniel Mahoney:

Well, this is the tricky business. I think there are some writers and thinkers who embody the perspective of common sense. I think one reason why Jordan Peterson is as popular as he is despite his Jung-ism and his somewhat convoluted readings of myths and his mythic reading of the Bible and all that, when push comes to shove. He’s a man who speaks about old verities with somewhat new semantics. He asks of people that they look reality in the face that they toughen up, that they act decently, that they take responsibility, that they stop seeing themselves as innocent victims and start seeing themselves as moral agents. I think the late Roger Scruton represented that same kind of wisdom.

I do think there’s a handful of journals in the Western world where that perspective is still represented. I write for some of them, but the church used to be a vehicle for, or a repository of, what the Catholic church used to call right reason, but liberationism, progressivism, the late Jacques Maritain, the French philosopher, Christian Democrat, a bit of a liberal Catholic, but at the end of his life he said in a book called The Peasant of the Garonne, I wanted a dialogue with the modern world. They didn’t want us to kneel before the world so the churches are in trouble. They no longer have confidence in their own wisdom. I think we have a Pope who more or less thinks that the church has to catch up with the zeitgeist and that’s, well, it raises some fundamental questions about what the church of Rome stands for.

That was the sort of spiritual bulwark for non-Catholics too, of the civilisational resources of the Western world. So it is a meaningful question. I think we need to form a kind of international and what I mean by that is people from different countries, east and west, those of us who are committed to a living vibrant tradition of wisdom to civilised norms, to the search for truth to free will moral, agency civic freedom, not to be confused with this realistic desire to do whatever you want. I think we have to come together. I’m very struck by a major development of my lifetime. Despite the left’s constant enunciation of nationalism, most people who, who believe in the national forum, self-governing nations instead of a world state or increasingly regulative and bullying international organizations, most Patriots, I know, are quite sympathetic to people of other countries being Patriots of their own countries.

I think there’s a lot of ordinary people who still believe in the vitality and integrity of self-government at the national level. And I think there’s certainly a big, there’s a lot of room for people in what Churchill call the English speaking democracies: Australia, the United States, Canada, maybe a lost cause, Britain. I think we have to come together and we have to sort of pull together our resources, and I don’t think it’s this culture of repudiation is a global phenomenon. I think it’s we have to connect with each other and do what we can to bring about a kind of civic and civilisational renewal.

John Roskam:

We have just under 10 minutes, a very common question to you Daniel was about the future of the United States. Are you optimistic about the United States and its future?

Daniel Mahoney:

I’m never optimistic, but I’m not a pessimist. We’ll quote Churchill here, “Never despair. Despair does you no good. It zaps you of energy and moral integrity. You fight the good fight. If need be, you go down with flags flying and guns blazing.” but we haven’t reached that point yet.

John Roskam:

Why does it look from the outside as if America nearly has reached that point?

Daniel Mahoney:

I do think elections matter in the United States. I don’t know if you noticed from abroad if it’s reported in the press, but it looks like the democratic party could collapse in November. Support for Biden is plummeting, its administration has turned out to be so ideological on climate change, and gender ideology, on abortion fanaticism, on woke culture, this unrelenting campaign to ideologise the armed forces, the right pronouns, transgender, this and that. And, of course, the green ideology has led to their closing refineries.

The first act of the administration was to cut off the new Keystone pipeline from Canada. We were energy sufficient two or three years ago. There’s been a 40% increase in the price of gasoline. There’s inflation at 9%, but if you count food and gas, it’s at 50%. So what strikes me is the governing left in this country does not have the normal instincts of political self-preservation, in the past they would’ve moved to the center and they would’ve said, hey, look, if we continue down this path, there’s going to be a massive revolt and they’re not changing because I think the American left is highly ideologized.

So I do think the Republicans will win massively, not like in previous elections picking up 30 or 40 seats, there’s going to be a dramatic political transformation. Why I’m not so hopeful or not completely hopeful and certainly not optimistic, is look the right in America, the Senate right has been winning elections off and on for a long time. And the drift toward nihilism the corruption of the schools, the corruption of the culture. Where did this transgenderism come from? There was a recent report of a school in Pennsylvania, public school where 40% of the young women in ninth and 10th grade identified as boys. This isn’t normal patterns of sexual dysphoria, which is a very tiny group of people. This is a kind of contagion and it’s actively being encouraged as the educational policy of many states and certainly of the federal government under this administration.

I’m very happy for these ideologues to be kicked out of office, throw the rascals out as we say, but I do think what’s needed, and it’s connected to winning elections, but it’s much deeper. It’s not just electoral politics. It’s a concerted effort at civilisational renewal. I’m not sure the conservative parties in the Western world are quite the stupid parties that John Stuart Mill spoke about, but a lot of practical politicians on the centre-right, just want to stay away from the important questions with a 10-foot pole.

John Roskam:

That’s the case in Australia. Can I ask you Daniel final two questions, very common, very important question for IPA members. What can individuals do about this? How are they empowered to do something?

Daniel Mahoney:

Well, I would say, just being involved in an organization like yours is a great step, because I have so many friends and family who feel isolated, cut-off, disempowered. I do think the truth is liberating. Secondly, get involved, write letters, go to the school board meetings, speak up, show some civic and moral courage, read, educate yourself. I think with the help of IPA, I have a feeling, many of your members are already doing that. I would say avoid passivity, and I think one of the major problems, certainly in the United States, is there are good people in law firms, in university departments, and corporate boardrooms who keep their mouth shut, who allow the radicals to dominate the conversation. So I think we have to make every effort to overcome that kind of debilitating passivity.

I would add, never lie, this is what Solzhenitsyn advised in a different climate under totalitarianism, but do not repeat falsehoods. Do not repeat slogans. Don’t talk about systematic racism, if you don’t believe it. Don’t contribute to the reigning superstitions. We have to show courage. I do think Solzhenitsyn ended his Nobel lecture by quoting an old Russian proverb, “One word of truth, outweighs the world.” So we should never underestimate the liberating character of truth telling, but above all, do not participate in the lie. Do not, in order to get along in the office or at the school board meeting or your neighbors, nod your head in agreement to nonsense. That would be an excellent start for all of us.

John Roskam:

We’ve had a wonderful discussion and I’m going to ask a final question. A little earlier, Daniel, you said you are not necessarily an optimist, so I’m not going to ask you whether you are optimistic for the future, but I am going to ask you, are you hopeful for the future? And if you are, why?

Daniel Mahoney:

Well, let’s be hopeful, because hopeful depends on our agency. I’ll get a little theological here, but St. Thomas Aquinas says somewhere that human freedom is part of God’s providence. Think about that. We have a certain freedom to make things happen and I think as long as we have moral free will and civic freedom, there’s reasons to be hopeful that we can make a difference, but we can only make a difference if we educate the young. One of my pet peeves has been the fact that the whole experience of totalitarianism in the 20th century, the lessons were not passed on to the young. As I said before, I don’t think we would’ve had wokeness, if we really knew what totalitarianism was, it’s structured, it’s logic.

So yes, I’m hopeful if we do the things that are necessary, if we display the courage and insight necessary to move forward, but it’s up to us, but it’s not going to happen through divine intervention. We have to exercise our free will in order to restore the moral of civic order. So I’m not an optimist, but I’m not a radical pessimist either, because I have confidence that free men and women are capable of acting in accord with good sense, and in accordance with what a decent human order requires and people get sick of nonsense and that we got to count on that, then after a while enough people will say enough is enough.

John Roskam:

Daniel, thank you for a wonderful edition of IPA Encounters. Congratulations on The Statesman as Thinker. It has been very special to introduce you to an Australian audience, to IPA members here in this country, and it might be that before too long, we see you in person in Australia.

Daniel Mahoney:

Well, that’d be wonderful.

John Roskam:

Thank you for your time and thank you for what you do.

Daniel Mahoney:

Like I said, we English speaking democracies, the sound ones among us, we need to stick together. Thank you, John.

This transcript of IPA Encounters from 30 June 2022 with Daniel Mahoney has been edited for clarity.

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