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dimanche, 09 août 2020

Family Systems & History


Family Systems & History

Emmanuel Todd
Lineages of Modernity: A History of Humanity from the Stone Age to Homo Americanus
Cambridge, England, and Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2019

9781509534470_medium.jpgMuch of today’s dominant globalist ideology derives from development theory, a body of thought which shares with Marxism the view that economic relations are the basis of social life and sees the races of mankind as fundamentally equivalent beneath the superficial cultural differences which have arisen over history. Human societies everywhere naturally develop from the hunter-gatherer stage to pastoralism, then to settled agriculture, and eventually to modern industrial civilization and “democracy” — the final stage, or at least the highest yet attained. Francis Fukuyama aptly characterized the development theorists’ dream as “getting to Denmark” — a world wherein all nations gradually converge on the model of a prosperous, stable, secure nation of the northern European type. But development occurs at different tempos in different places, with the result that some countries remain “undeveloped” (or, more euphemistically, still “developing”) while others have already reached the highest stage. Those in the vanguard of progress, mainly European-descended peoples, can help the rest develop by means of expertly managed international programs. Not the least important function of development theory, accordingly, is to justify prestige and rewards for a class of globe-trotting program administrators. Yet the world stubbornly refuses to evolve as globalist ideology foresees; plenty of differences remain intractable.

Emmanuel Todd is an anthropologist and demographer who focuses on family systems, an unusual but sometimes enlightening perspective to bring to historical and political questions. In the early 1980s, for example, he pointed out the connection between Leninist communism and a particular kind of peasant family pattern:

. . . a form that combined a father with his married sons, authoritarian as regards the relations between parents and children, egalitarian in the relations between brothers. Authority and equality, indeed, represent the hard core of communist ideology, and the coincidence between family and ideology was not difficult to explain. It resulted from a sequence at once historical and anthropological: urbanization and literacy broke down the communal peasant family; the latter, once it has disintegrated, releases into general social life its values of authority and equality; individuals emancipated from paternal constraint seek a substitute for their family servitude in fidelity to a single party, in integration by the centralized economy.

Todd found this pattern not only in Russia, China, and Vietnam, but also in Serbia (the backbone of Yugoslav communism) and north-central Italy (the region which voted heavily communist in the 1970s). In countries with different family systems — including Poland, the Czech lands, Slovenia and most of Croatia — communism is only likely to prevail for as long as it is imposed by an outside power. I thought I knew a fair amount about communism, but this was new to me.

Deep History

Todd advocates a three-level perspective on the history of nations, with change proceeding at a different pace on each level. At the conscious level we find war, politics, and economic policy. History often proceeds very quickly at this top level. At the subconscious level we find major educational changes such as the spread of basic literacy, which began in Germany with the Protestant Reformation and which Todd expects to reach its completion around the world within the next generation, i.e., over a period of about five hundred years. At the deepest, unconscious level we find religion and family structures, which change even more slowly. The economistic thinking characteristic of globalist ideology mistakes the most superficial level for the most fundamental.

unnamedtoddorsystfam.jpgIn previous works, Todd has demonstrated that even in fully secularized societies, the religious beliefs of the past continue to influence thinking on an unconscious level. He has, for example, described a “zombie Catholicism” which must be taken into account if one wishes to understand social behavior in the French provinces today. In this work, he finds an analogous “zombie Protestantism” useful for understanding the educational and economic effectiveness of Scandinavia. Furthermore, as he notes,

It is usually difficult to completely separate family systems from religious systems. Religion generally has something to say about sexuality and marriage, the status of women, the authority of parents, and the equality or inequality of brothers.

Regarding family structure, Todd proposes a model of historical development according to which families tend to become increasingly patrilineal over time,

from the undifferentiated nuclear family (level 0 patrilineality) to the stem family (level 1 patrilineality), then from the stem family to the exogamous communitarian family (level 2 patrilineality), and finally to the endogamous communitarian family (level 3 patrilineality).

It is important to understand that this is not simply a development from worse to better. The higher levels must, indeed, have some advantage over the lower; otherwise, it would be difficult to explain why they developed. But Todd stresses that the more primitive types also have advantages that get sacrificed along the way. The modern economic powerhouses treated as universally normative by development theorists, for example, tend to have what are historically and anthropologically more “primitive” family patterns, while the communitarian family practicing cousin marriage and sequestering its women is the most complex and sophisticated arrangement. Globalists mystified that economically backward Islamic societies do not simply abandon cousin marriage and embrace “modern, progressive” sexual and family norms are in effect expecting several thousand years of historical development to go suddenly into reverse.

The Original Human Family

Early on, Todd offers a description of the original anthropological system of humanity, the “undifferentiated nuclear family,” as an ideal type:

The family is nuclear, albeit without dogmatism — young couples or elderly parents can be temporarily added to it. Women’s status is high. The kinship system is bilateral, giving the mother’s and father’s kin equal places in the child’s world. Marriage is exogamous, but again without dogmatism [i.e., there is no formal prohibition against consanguineous marriage]. Divorce is possible. Polygyny too, and sometimes even, although more rarely, polyandry. Interactions between the families of brothers and sisters are frequent and structure local groups. No relationship is completely stable. Families and individuals can separate and regroup. There are two levels of aggregation above the family:

1. Several nuclear families, most often related, constitute a mobile group.

2. These groups exchange spouses with each other within a territory comprising perhaps a thousand individuals.

Such a primordial human society is fairly tolerant of occasional homosexual or other non-reproductive sexual behavior, but this remains marginal.

Todd’s general descriptor for such flexible arrangements is “undifferentiated.” As he notes, anthropologists have used this term “to describe kinship systems that are neither patrilineal nor matrilineal, but leave individuals free to use paternal and maternal filiations pragmatically.” Todd himself extends the concept “to all elements of the family structure that have not been polarized in the course of history by a stable dichotomous choice.” Todd believes the original undifferentiated family type was universal among Homo sapiens before the rise of cities and writing in ancient Sumer about 5000 years ago.

A family system is undifferentiated in regard to co-residence of generations, e.g., where it occurs temporarily according to convenience without being evaluated either positively (as in the Russian or Chinese peasant family) or negatively (as often in the Anglo-Saxon world). Undifferentiated inheritance is regulated neither in an egalitarian nor an inegalitarian (e.g., with primogeniture) spirit. Polygyny below about the ten percent threshold may be considered undifferentiated; both socially enforced monogamy and polygyny above fifteen percent indicate differentiation. Both the formal prohibition against cousin marriage (as in Christendom) and cousin marriage as a normative ideal (as in the Arab-Persian world) indicate differentiation.

Reading History in Space

If we look at a map of Eurasian family patterns today, we find that the more central regions display greater patrilineal development, while simpler systems (which also involve a higher status for women) survive on the peripheries. To explain this, the author appeals to a once commonplace linguistic and anthropological interpretive principle that fell out of fashion with the rise of structuralism after the Second World War: the conservatism of peripheral areas.

This powerful explanatory hypothesis makes it possible to read history in space: the most archaic forms (linguistic, architectural, culinary or family) survive on the periphery of cultural spaces. . . . If a characteristic A distinguishes several pockets placed on the periphery of a characteristic B that covers a continuous central space, we can suppose that A represents the ancient characteristic, and B a central innovation that has spread to the periphery without completely submerging it. The greater the number of residual pockets, the more certain we can be of our interpretation.

This is what we find with family patterns on the Eurasian landmass. The Arab-Persian world, Northern India, and China are the classic settings of the Communitarian Family. Northwest Russia shows this type as well, albeit without endogamy and only dating back to the seventeenth century.


The nuclear family model survives in much of Western Europe. In Northeast Asia, it can still be found among relict native Siberian populations such as the Chukchi, as well as the Ainu of northern Japan. On the fringes of South Asia, it survives in Sri Lanka and among the natives of the Andaman Islands as well as the Christians of Southwest India. And it characterizes much of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippine Islands. As Todd remarks: “Geography here provides us with the key to history. We can read the effects of time directly in space; we can see the patrilineal shift transforming the shape of the family, moving in waves toward a periphery that is never reached.”

The Differentiated Nuclear Family: England

It is important to note, however, that the nuclear family, where it has survived, has not remained undifferentiated; it now represents a “stable dichotomous choice.” In Europe, as Todd writes, the primordial patterns were “regulated rather than abolished by the Christian conception of sex and marriage.” In Christian England, e.g., undifferentiated de facto monogamy (with polygyny at the margins) was replaced by socially enforced and indissoluble monogamy: the covenantal marriage. Consanguineous marriage was not tolerated; neither were homosexuality or other nonreproductive forms of sex.

Lateral bonds between adult siblings lost all economic functionality. The three-generation household came to be frowned upon: young couples were required to establish their own households at marriage. This had the disadvantage of making it harder to care for the elderly and infirm. To meet the difficulty, the English Poor Laws of 1598 and 1601 required parishes to levy taxes for their support.

A sample of twenty communities, a picture of which can be formed from the parish register and the poor register combined, means we can study 110,000 pensions payments between 1660 and 1740. Statistical analysis reveals that 5 per cent of the population received a weekly pension, a figure that rose to 8 or 9 per cent in the city and 40-45 per cent for the over-sixties. For the latter, the average level of pension corresponded to the wages of a farm worker.

As the author notes, these facts contradict the “textbook commonplace” that Bismarck’s Germany pioneered social security.

Parents were left free to bequeath their property as they saw fit, a system neither egalitarian nor distinctly inegalitarian. English society also came to be characterized by extreme mobility: “Children moved as servants between large farms while still very young. Even the sons of better-off peasants were sent elsewhere as servants under the practice of ‘sending out.’”

Todd calls this system the absolute nuclear family; it was fully formed (=differentiated) by about the mid-seventeenth century. Apart from England, something broadly similar is found in Denmark, Southeast Norway (the Oslofjord), the Protestant and coastal parts of the Netherlands, as well as Upper Brittany in France.

Chaucer’s England was a land of about three million souls on the edge of a Eurasian continent with a population of about 300 million. Many historians have wondered that so tiny a country on the fringe of civilization went on to shape the modern world more than any other. Todd eventually came to the conclusion that England’s peripheral location and the anthropological backwardness that went with it were the secret of its success:

Its dynamism, and even more so that of [its offspring] America, is the dynamism of the original Homo sapiens. Elsewhere, successive civilizations have had time to imprison themselves in complex constructions that are liable to paralyze human creativity.

Encouraging the autonomy of children, the absolute nuclear family fosters individualism and allows major breaks between generations. These were anthropological preconditions for the industrial revolution, which uprooted much of the English peasantry within just a few decades. So there is a definite association between economic progress and anthropological “backwardness.” Todd devotes a chapter to demonstrating that democracy (or, perhaps better, participatory government) is primordial as well: “the rise of complex family forms corresponds to the rise of authoritarian political forms.”

The Stem Family and Literacy: Germany

Given the advantages of the nuclear family, one may ask why it was ever superseded. The answer is that in the preindustrial world wealth derives mostly from the possession of land, and as population increases, land eventually becomes scarce. If a farmer has many children and divides his land between them, the plots will eventually become too small to support new families. To avoid such a result, primogeniture is instituted:

Male primogeniture makes it possible to transmit real estate without dividing it. The emergence of a densely settled rural world crowned by a political system that controls the whole of the regional space, is the basic condition for it to emerge. As long as there are new lands to be conquered, the emigration of children when they reach adulthood renders the privilege of the eldest useless. When land becomes scarce, this privilege may appear. The stem family then develops as a logical consequence of primogeniture: the choice of a single heir gradually leads to the co-residence of two adult generations.


Primogeniture and the stem family represent the first stage of patrilineality and, as compared to the nuclear family, tend to promote the values of authority and inequality. Younger sons must find their own way in the world.

Historically, this pattern first emerged from the undifferentiated nuclear family in Sumer not long after the invention of writing in 3300 BC. Skipping over antiquity, primogeniture arose in European history toward the end of the Carolingian period, with the founding of France’s Capetian monarchy among its first consequences. The institution subsequently spread through Europe’s aristocracy from the eleventh century. It arrived in England with the Conquest, but there remained the preserve of aristocrats. Yet primogeniture also emerged independently in peasant communities in Germany and Southern France beginning in the thirteenth century, also from a scarcity of land. Todd mentions that the German aristocracy distinguished itself from commoners by their practice of egalitarian inheritance — the reverse of the pattern in England.

The stem family was an essential component of a triple revolution that began in Germany and which, in Todd’s view, represents that nation’s single most important contribution to European and world civilization. The other two components of this revolution were Protestantism and universal literacy.

The author points out a commonality between primogeniture and writing: they both serve the purpose of transmission:

Writing is, in essence, a knowledge-fixing technique that allows human society to escape the uncertainty of oral transmission of memory. Primogeniture, with the stem family that ultimately stems from it, is also a technique of transmission: it transmits the monarchical state, the fief, peasant farming, the artisan’s stall and, at a deeper level, all the techniques that accompany these elements of social structures.

The gradual development of the stem family in Germany can be traced in the historical record between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. In about 1454, printing with moveable type was invented by the German Gutenberg, leading to a drastic reduction in the cost of reproducing texts. After 1517, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation which, from the beginning, “sought to establish, for each human being, a personal dialogue with God, without the mediation of the priest.” This meant that responsibility for religious instruction passed to fathers:

Luther’s Little Catechism, the first vehicle of the Protestant educational offensive, displays, right from the start, an unambiguous patriarchal familialism: “The Ten Commandments or the Decalogue, Such as a father of a family must teach them with simplicity to his children and his servants.” It is easy to see how the father’s authority would be reinforced by his new religious role in the family.

Todd even asserts a fundamental connection between the stem family and the specifically theological content of Protestantism:

The mechanism that leads from family organization to religious system is simple; primogeniture comes with a high level of authority in the father; it defines a son who is chosen and other children who are rejected. In such a domestic context, a theological system that affirms that the Everlasting predestines a minority to salvation and the rest of humankind to damnation can appear quite simply as normal. It should be noted that when Protestantism spread from stem-family areas toward regions where the absolute nuclear family dominated, its dogma of predestination eventually collapsed.

As is well-known, the reformation focused on making the Bible available to ordinary people in their national vernaculars. At first, this occurred principally through church services and sermons, but in the course of the seventeenth century, literacy and Bible reading began gaining ground among the masses. By 1700, an estimated 35-45 percent of the population of Protestant Europe could read. This was something new in world history: in the Graeco-Roman world, according to the most careful modern estimates, male literacy rarely exceeded twenty percent anywhere.

The Great European Mental Transformation

One of Todd’s best chapters is devoted to “The Great European Mental Transformation” which resulted from the spread of literacy:

We would be wrong to see learning to read as merely the acquisition of a technique. We are now beginning to measure the enlargement of the brain function induced by an intensive and early use of reading. Reading creates a new person. It changes one’s relationship to the world. It allows a more complex inner life and achieves a transformation of the personality.

According to sociologist David Riesman (The Lonely Crowd, 1950), reading provides the old human personality regulated by custom with a new type of internal guidance system; he may have been getting at something like the anthropological distinction between shame and guilt cultures. More specifically, Riesman writes: “The inner-directed man often develops a character structure which drives him to work longer hours and to live on lower budgets of leisure and laxity than would have been deemed possible before.” Hence, the Protestant work ethic. The spread of literacy also coincided with a significant fall in private violence.

Such self-discipline also carried over into the realm of sex. Historical research into marriage in Protestant countries during the early modern period reveals both a notable increase in age at first marriage and a larger number of permanently unmarried people. In the author’s view, it was Protestantism that finally fulfilled “the old project of sexual abstinence developed more than a thousand years [before] by the Fathers of the Church.” In the Middle Ages, disciplined celibate religiosity had been the preserve of monastic specialists — religious virtuosos, as Max Weber called them — while the surrounding society remained “bawdy and violent.” Protestantism did not so much abolish the priesthood as clericalize the laity. An important result was lowered population pressure which, combined with the industrial revolution, allowed for an unprecedented accumulation of wealth and rise in living standards.


Todd speaks of a Protestant personality profile: “turned in on itself, predisposed by its morality (sexual or otherwise) to feelings of guilt, to leading an honest and upright life, an essentially active life turned towards study and work.” But he also notes that the Protestant surplus of interiority was compensated by a greater community and state hold over the individual: “The concrete life of Protestant communities, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century at least, also displays an incredible strengthening of the local group and its ability to control the lives of individuals. The Reformation resulted in a reinforced surveillance of manners.” These are the “moral communities” which Kevin MacDonald has written about as substitutes for the kinship group in individualistic societies.

This era was also characterized by such negative phenomena as religious hatreds, the rise of absolutism, and a recrudescence of war: “the price to be paid for the internal pacification of behavior was a collective reorientation of violence.” Stem family Protestant countries in which younger sons had to fend for themselves pioneered standing armies and militarism. Louis XIV is generally considered a warlike king, but at their height in 1710, his forces enrolled only 1.5 percent of Catholic France’s population. Around the same time, the Swedish Empire of Charles XII was employing 7.7 percent of its population in the military. By 1760, 7.1 percent of Prussia, that “army with a country attached,” was in uniform. Hesse, whose soldiers made up the bulk of British forces during the American War of Independence, practiced a mercenary militarism with the goal of increasing state revenue; by 1782 they had matched the Swedish figure of 7.7 percent of the population under arms. In some stem family Protestant countries, younger sons were automatically enlisted upon coming of age.

It remains to speak of the relation of the stem family to the industrial revolution which, as we have seen, was pioneered by a nation with an absolute nuclear family. Firstly, we should mention that literacy is the single most important factor in industrialization, and we have seen that the ideal of universal literacy was one third of a revolution whose other aspects were the stem family and Protestantism.

But the stem family, being essentially a system of transmission, also has a certain conservative tendency. We find such areas resisting industrialism for a time:

A society based on the accumulation of what has been acquired is endowed with the capacity for making any progress that does not entail a radical change in its methods and objectives. For example, it will be more difficult to transform rural people into urban people, artisans into factory workers, or nobles into entrepreneurs. The uprooting and transformation of all these actors can only be brought about under external pressure, and at the cost of great pain.

Of course, the rise of Britain did put pressure on other European nations. The most important stem family nation, Germany, experienced a delayed and highly disruptive transition to industrial capitalism. Once that transformation had occurred, however, the stem family acted as an accelerant: by the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany had actually overtaken Great Britain economically. We might also mention that Japan, a stem family society on the opposite side of Eurasia, went through a similar process during the Meiji period.

Secularization and Ideological Crisis

Another central tendency of the modern era on which light can be shed by the study of family structures and the spread of literacy is secularization. At first, of course, the Protestant Reformation amounted to a religious revival, as did the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Todd, however, interprets puritanism — a kind of radicalized Protestantism — as a “stiffening of the faith” which marks “a step on the path to secularization.”

It was the Paris Basin of Northern France which witnessed “the first religious collapse of a ‘sociological’ magnitude.” Between 1730 and 1740, the recruitment of priests collapsed. Subsequently, both religious observance and the birth rate declined among the masses of Northern France. This process was complete well before the French Revolution.

The family structure of the Paris Basin is an egalitarian variant of the nuclear family wherein parents are expected to divide their property equally between all children. Unlike in the stem family areas,

there was no strong image of the father to prop up the image of God; and there was no inequality between children to justify inequality between the priest and the ordinary person. In such an environment, the shock of rationalism was not cushioned by a deeply rooted belief. In fact, the principle of equality. . . seemed destined to call into question the belief in a superior being of any kind — father, king, or God.

The French Revolution was the result of a long development involving the spread of literacy, secularization, and falling birth rates, as France’s Annales historical school has uncovered.

Although France was the most historically important center of this first wave of secularization, it also affected other areas with a similar family structure:

In Southern Europe, with its egalitarian nuclear families, literacy at this time affected only the urban world, which around the middle of the eighteenth century lay outside the grip of the Church. Because the cities were feeding the countryside with a flow of religious personal, which then dried up, [not only] the Paris Basin [but also] Andalusia and southern Italy entered this new phase . . . [of] secularization.

The apostasy of these egalitarian areas strongly affected the Catholicism which survived into the nineteenth century, largely dependent on stem family regions: the church became a bastion of hierarchy and respect for every sort of authority. As the author notes, this mentality is far removed from that of early Christianity in the Late Roman Empire.

The second round of European secularization occurred in the Protestant lands beginning in the late nineteenth century:

In Calvinist and Lutheran Europe, secularization did not begin until the publication of The Origin of Species. The subsequent collapse was a brutal affair in a world heavily dependent on a literal interpretation of the Bible. Between 1870 and 1930, throughout Northwest and Northern Europe, the recruitment of Protestant pastors collapsed. Secularization was finally hitting the most educated part of the continent. It opened up a phase of maximum ideological instability.

Generalizing from the work of the Annales school, Todd proposes a regular pattern of historical development running from literacy to secularization to a declining birth rate to an ideological crisis and revolution. The ideological crisis which followed the collapse of Protestantism in Germany was not, however, the rise of socialism, heir apparent of France’s revolution:

Socialism took an essentially reformist and reasonable form . . . in Protestant Europe. It was the rise of nationalism that eventually dragged the continent into the conflagration of the First World War. It is obvious that the epicenter of the ideological and mental crisis lay in Germany.

National Socialism was also, in Todd’s view, a consequence of the crisis of German Protestantism. Support for the NSDAP always remained weak in Catholic areas of Germany, despite the party’s Bavarian origins. The author dismisses explanations that focus excessively on the Great Depression as a product of superficial economistic thinking. The deeply authoritarian yet non-egalitarian character of National Socialist ideology Todd explains by Germany’s stem family structure, so different from the egalitarian nuclear family system of Northern France (as well as the egalitarian communal family of Russia).


The Memory of Places

The family forms Todd discusses all arose before industrialization, and in a sense clearly belong to the past: there are no more three-generation households in Berlin today than there are in London; fathers do not co-reside with the families of all their grown sons in today’s Moscow any more than in the US. Nuclear households characterize these formerly stem- and communal-family areas no less than the Anglo-Saxon world. Might this represent a “convergence” such as globalists dream of?

Todd does not believe so. He stresses the distinction between

the family system — i.e., a set of values organizing the relationships between men and women, between parents and children, between brothers and sister — and the domestic group as can be seen in the census. It is quite conceivable that a system of values may survive the disintegration of the domestic group in which it was embodied in the peasant era. The nuclearization of households does not necessarily imply that of mentalities.

Mentalities can prove astonishingly stable even amid radical social change. An important example is the persistence of regional cultures. In 2013, Todd and the demographer and historian Hervé Le Bras collaborated on a book documenting

the perpetuation, across 550,000 square kilometers of France, of different systems of customs and manners in most recent times. Despite the acceleration of internal migration, despite the disappearance of complex households and the collapse of Catholicism, regional heterogeneity persists. Homogenization, via television, the TGV express train, and the Internet has not prevented the persistence of diverse cultures, stimulated rather than erased by economic globalization. And all this has happened within a single nation, unified by administration and language.

51hbtsbneql-sx323-bo1-204-203-200.jpgTodd calls this phenomenon the “memory of places.” His explanation for it is that even values weakly held at the individual level and transmitted through the most casual mimetic processes can produce extremely strong, resilient, and sustainable belief systems at the group level. Such an interpretation also helps us to understand the persistence of national temperaments without our having to assume that everyone is the incarnation of an immutable national archetype or Volksgeist.

The author offers an amusing illustration of how notions weakly held at the individual level can persist in groups: in the 1990s, he found it easy to convince people privately of the absurdity of the project for a single European currency.

But the belief in the inevitability of the euro was invulnerable at the collective level. The weak belief was already carried by a sufficiently broad group, and the individual, convinced for a while, returned to his or her belief at the same time as to his or her milieu after the conversation.

Stem Family Regions Today: The Case of Germany

Todd uses the concept of the memory of places to explain certain aspects of postwar German economic behavior which cannot be accounted for by economic theory itself. German consumers are more likely than those of the English-speaking world to prefer domestic products. German managers are less interested in short-term profit maximization than the long-term viability of their companies. Germany maintains a trade surplus while Anglo-Saxon countries cheerfully heap up debt. And more than other Western nations, the German economy relies on

small and medium-sized companies that dominate a narrow niche of global production, and prefer to develop their product or their range rather than to diversify. These companies are often located in areas that cannot be described as urban, and they continue, where possible, to prefer family transmission. They preserve the memory of primogeniture.

In the generation since reunification,

Germany has rebuilt its eastern area ruined by communism; it has reorganized Eastern Europe, putting to work the active populations brought up under the old popular democracies; in the West, it has conducted a real industrial blitzkrieg against the weaker nations trapped in the euro; it is proposing a partnership with China and posing as the economic rival of the United States.

All of this testifies to a continued German national consciousness and capacity for collective action, traceable to the stem-family mentality. This is all the more remarkable in that it can never be mentioned. Officially and publicly, the country operates on the assumption that the concept of nationhood was first introduced to the world by Adolf Hitler in 1933, so that any explicit national considerations are sufficient to mark one out as a “Nazi.” What we observe in Germany is a “zombie nationalism,” continuing at an unconscious level in spite of the country’s strict anti-national orthodoxy.

But all is not well in Germany. Todd observes that the birth rate in nuclear family regions of the West has remained reasonably close to replacement level at around 1.9 children per woman. In stem family areas it trends considerably lower, and is down to 1.4 in Germany. Todd ascribes this demographic disaster to

a mismatch between stem-family values and the ultra-individualism that has come from the West. In Germany, there is a widespread feeling that caring for a child full time is a moral obligation for the mother. Such a conception is not very compatible with the notion of a career. The level of state childcare provision is therefore low in the Federal Republic. But institutions here are simply reflecting mentalities.

German women have, indeed, increasingly opted for careers since the Second World War, but are more likely to remain entirely childless than their counterparts in France and the Anglosphere.

The eastward expansion of the EU and the recent departure of the United Kingdom have resulted in an EU dominated by its stem family areas — which include Germany, of course, but also the 47 percent share of the stem family population which lies outside the German-speaking world. This has given today’s EU a distinctly more inegalitarian and authoritarian cast than its founders intended:


A hierarchy of nations, more or less rich, more or less powerful, more or less dominated, has appeared. Nothing about this system is an accident. The political, economic, and social system that has developed in Europe with its hierarchy of peoples, its economic inequalities, and its absence of representative democracy, is the normal form to which the stem family must give birth.

Communitarian Family Regions: Russia and Belarus

Besides nuclear and stem family forms, three regions in Europe developed exogamous communitarian families in which adult brothers and their families co-reside with the family patriarch. Such a system represents the second level of patrilineal development in Todd’s scheme. One such region is North Central Italy, including Tuscany, Umbria, and Emilia-Romagna where, as we have mentioned, support for the Italian Communist Party used to be quite high. A second communitarian family zone stretches from the Balkans into central Europe, including Bulgaria, Albania, most of the non-Catholic constituents of the former Yugoslavia, as well as Slovakia and parts of Hungary. Todd says relatively little about this area.

The third communitarian family region includes Northwest Russia, Belarus, and the Baltic States. This area developed the communitarian family relatively recently, between the seventeenth century and the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Todd suggests the system may have been “born of a confrontation between the Germanic stem family and Mongolian patrilineal organization.” It is unusual among communitarian regions in maintaining a relatively high status for women (such as is not found in the Balkans, for example). The communitarian family system of Northwest Russia was historically important in providing a sociological basis for Russian communism, as explained near the beginning of this review. In the 1917 elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Bolshevik Party gained only 24 percent of the vote over the whole of the Russian Empire, but achieved over 50 percent support in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Belarus. In Livonia, a region that included parts of today’s Latvia and Estonia, its share of the vote rose to 71 percent.

Even today, after all the upheavals of the twentieth century, this family background can explain certain aspects of political behavior which mystify outsiders:

The permanence of communitarian values obviously explains the emergence, after the disorder of the 1990s and 2000s, of a stable authoritarian democracy, combining elections and an unanimist vote. Indeed, there is nothing in the electoral process to prevent Vladimir Putin being indefinitely re-elected to head the system. Control of the media is not the fundamental cause of permanence in power; authoritarianism is rooted in the people, and draws on communitarian values that are constantly being reproduced by the memory of places.

The memory of places [also] provides us with the fascinating example of Belarus that today is more attached than Russia to authoritarianism. Pres. Lukashenko is now the only “old-fashioned” dictator on the European continent, but the citizens of Belarus seem perfectly happy with the situation — and their society is functioning quite satisfactorily.

Putin’s Russia has instituted a protectionist regime to allow the reconstruction of the country’s industrial base. This amounts, as the author explains, to a “refusal of the Russian ruling class to see the people sold off as a cheap labor force to globalized capitalism,” and this is something the West’s neo-liberal elites cannot forgive. Poor as it is, Russia “remains a counter-model in a world that has moved towards a fierce ultra-individualism.” It also preserves a strong national consciousness without any of the embarrassment that affects Germany:

The values that have emerged from the communitarian family ensure the persistence of an integrated concept of the nation. The almost familial, concept of the people [narod] that characterizes Russia prevents Moscow from fantasizing about the dissolution of nations. In a world where most nations are small and militarily insignificant, the allure of the Russian approach is obvious, and very exasperating for the American geopoliticians who still think in terms of being all-powerful.

The best proof of the essential healthiness of today’s Russia can be found in demographic statistics. We may note here that Todd first gained notoriety back in the mid-1970s for predicting the impending collapse of Soviet communism on the basis of its rising infant mortality rate, something that had escaped everyone else’s attention. After reaching 22 per 1000 live births in the 1990s, infant mortality began to sink sharply around 2003 and now stands at 7 per 1000 (in Belarus, the figure is 3.6, comparable to Western Europe). Russia has recently experienced a drop of 53 percent in the suicide rate (2001-2014), 71 percent in the homicide rate (2003-2014), and 78 percent in the alcohol poisoning rate (2003-2014).

1 Y-qRe_VX7w-lQzvmd8TyYQ.jpeg

A revealing large focus of anti-Russian agitation in the West today involves Russia’s so-called homophobia. Todd suggests the West may be shifting away from the nuclear family model in favor of an extreme individualism in which people are conceived of as monads “detached from the conjugal family [and] ideally embodied by the homosexual of either sex” (for whom a redefined “marriage” is now understood as a right rather than, as traditionally for men and women, a duty). Russia, meanwhile, after undergoing a disastrous fall in its birth rate during the late 1980s and 1990s, has rebounded to 1.8 children per woman, well above the European average. In 2008, the Russian Orthodox Church even introduced a new holiday, the “Day of Family, Love, and Faithfulness,” as a celebration of natural procreation. No wonder the West hates them!

Russia fills an important role on the international stage today by offering an alternative to the Anglosphere’s combination of globalism, liberal economics, and maladaptively exaggerated individualism: it stands for a multipolar world of independent sovereign nations.

Mass Immigration and the Clash of Family Systems

Europe, then, is characterized by three fundamental family types: nuclear, stem, and exogamous communitarian. But let us recall that Todd distinguishes a fourth type: the endogamous communitarian family. This variant idealizes cousin marriage and frequently involves polygyny and purdah, or the systematic sequestration of women. Until very recently, such practices were entirely absent from Europe; today, of course, mass immigration has introduced them. Todd, although a man of the Left, is sensible enough to describe this development as “a bridge too far.” “The memory of places requires limited flows of migrants for it to function,” he cautions; “The arrival in just a few months of a block of immigrants is a quite different phenomenon.”

p1.jpgOf Angela Merkel’s lawless decision to open Germany’s borders in the summer of 2015, he observes:

With the family reunifications that will follow, we can predict with absolute certainty the stabilization and growth of a separate population living in parallel with the [pre-existing] Turkish group. We must therefore imagine a Germany increasingly concerned about its internal stability and cohesion. The real risk is that of the internal hardening of a German society in which anxiety leads to a policing of the different ways of life.

To us, the real risk would seem to be something a great deal worse than this, and affecting not only Germany but our entire civilization.

Biology Denial

Thus far, we have had little but praise for Todd’s vision of a deep level of history where “anthropological substrata impose their values without the knowledge of the actors.” Yet we must note one essential limitation: he refuses to descend from the anthropological to the biological level. Early on, he claims that genetic analysis “in most cases . . .  does not go much further than the examination of trivial phenotypic differences such as skin color or facial features.” It is tempting to counter that picking up a book such as The Bell Curve might have relieved the author of such a misapprehension. Alas, he reports: “I read this book when it first came out, and it sickened me.” Elsewhere he refers to IQ researchers as “ideologues.”

This blindness is all the odder in that biology represents, even more than anthropology, a deep, unconscious level of history whose study can bring to light otherwise invisible constraints under which the games of international relations and economic policy are played out. It would seem to be the next logical step on the path Todd has taken throughout his professional life.

In practice, the errors into which the author’s refusal to confront biological reality leads him seem mainly to affect his interpretation of very recent history, particularly 1) the higher education revolution since the Second World War, and 2) the third and final wave of secularization affecting areas where Catholicism remained strong until the 1960s.

The Secondary and Higher Education Revolutions: America

The popular spread of literacy which began in Protestant Germany can be seen in retrospect as a first educational revolution. In twentieth-century America, it was followed by what Todd considers a second and third educational revolution involving secondary and higher education respectively.

In 1900, ten percent of young Americans attended high school; six percent graduated.  By 1940, 70 percent of Americans were attending high school and fully half of them completing it. Todd believes this rapid expansion of secondary education revolution was in part responsible for the New Deal and declining economic inequality between the 1920 and 1970s. The expansion continued after the war until, by the 1960s, “dropouts” (a term coined at this time) came to be seen as failures. The US was the undisputed leader of the movement to universalize secondary education: in the mid-1950s, when 80 percent of American 15-19 year olds were in education, the corresponding figures for Britain, France and West Germany hovered between 15 and 20 percent. Todd comments:

The second educational revolution was driven by an ideology of a democratic and egalitarian hue. American education was liberal, open, and concerned with the development of the individual as much as the acquisition of knowledge. This educational system showed absolutely no interest in elitist performance. It enabled the assimilation of immigrants [and] thus contributed to the emergence of an America that was not just prosperous but also culturally homogeneous.

In its egalitarian and homogenizing effects, this revolution was similar to the first educational revolution universalizing basic literacy.

The third educational revolution involved higher or tertiary education. Although historically it followed closely upon the expansion of secondary education and was motivated by the same ideals, Todd treats it as a separate phenomenon because of its association with inequality and social stratification.

On the eve of the Second World War, 7.5 percent of America’s men and 5 percent of its women earned Bachelor’s degrees. Following the war and passage of the GI Bill, higher education began expanding rapidly. Within a generation, by 1975, 27 percent of men and 22.5 percent of women were completing college. “Once these levels had been attained,” the author writes, “the model of ever-increasing education for all—applicable almost perfectly to primary and more or less to secondary education — lost its validity.” Higher education plateaued in the 1970s and 80s, and Todd recognizes that this “did not result from any restriction by the host system but from the fact that an intellectual ceiling had been reached.” Rather, “higher education is, by its nature, stratified.”

Misreading Contemporary Inequality: Higher Education and Neo-Liberalism

So far, so good. To a biological realist, it is obvious that the indefinite expansion of education was always a utopian project bound to crash into the wall of natural and inherited capacities, intelligence in particular. Todd’s reference to an “intellectual ceiling” seems to imply a recognition of this. Yet he then turns around and treats so knowledgeable authority on intelligence as Richard Herrnstein as an “ideologue . . . embarked on the theoretical shaping of a new inegalitarian creed” meant to justify social and economic inequality!

It may be that Todd accepts intellectual differences at the individual level but not the group level, or it may be that he simply has no consistent position; his statements remain ambiguous or contradictory. But he clearly affirms that the higher education revolution has produced inequality rather than merely revealing it; one of his chapter subsections is actually entitled “Academia: a machine to manufacture inequality.”

Each institution of higher education assigns each student a place in the social hierarchy. Knowledge is of course transmitted there, and research carried out. However, since studies are now longer than required for the acquisition of knowledge or the identification of aptitude for research, it is clear that the hierarchization of society has become the primary goal.

And he maintains that the rise in economic inequality since the 1980s has been a consequence of this educational system, although all he demonstrates is that, historically, one followed the other; in other words, he may be guilty of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. I share Todd’s disdain for an economic system that has “forced American workers to compete with Third World workers who were paid twenty or thirty times less,” even as CEO salaries at Fortune 500 companies have risen from 20 times that of the average worker in 1950 to 204 times in 2013. But the natural inequalities increasingly revealed in educational achievement were just as real before this change in policy came about, and will remain with us under any possible educational or economic system.


Todd makes the valid point that the American revolution in higher education, which has since spread throughout the West,

impose[s] on the participants an attitude of submission to authority [and] nourishes a higher class which, because it is selected by merit, thinks of itself [as] intellectually and morally superior. This superiority is a collective illusion: the homogeneity and conformism engendered by the mechanism of selection produces the ultimate paradox of a ‘world above’ subject to intellectual introversion, unsuited to individual thought.

But the illusion is not that differences in natural aptitude for higher education exist; it is that today’s hypertrophy of professional and technical training is equivalent to an increase in education as such. I can only shake my head over the presumption of equivalence between the number of years people now spend in school and their intellectual and (especially) moral development. It should be obvious that neither the individual nor society gains much from any increase in the number of doctorates awarded in “early childhood education” or “resentment studies,” but such bogus programs of study were a nearly inevitable consequence of trying to expand higher education past the point of diminishing returns determined by the fixed factor of inherited natural aptitude.

In such an academic environment, the ideal of liberal education — i.e., the cultivation of the mind for its own sake — cannot survive. And it is a proper liberal education, especially, which can teach intellectual humility to the highly intelligent. Hence the degeneration of higher education into the combination of professional training and political indoctrination we see today. And hence our current elite consisting of admittedly high-IQ persons who mistake their cleverness and academic qualification for breadth of mind, depth of insight, and even moral superiority.

Our political and social elites badly need replacing, and our bloated and corrupt academy badly needs both extensive pruning and qualitative curricular change. But Todd does not succeed in demonstrating that the higher education revolution is responsible for the harmful effects of neo-liberal economic policies.

The Third Ideological Crisis of Secularization: Is Le Pen a Nazi?

In the 1960s, Catholicism began to collapse in the areas — mainly stem family areas — of Europe where it had survived the first two waves of secularization. Much of the mentality and many social practices associated with Catholic Christianity remain strong in such areas, and this is the context in which Todd developed his concept of “zombie Catholicism.” But specifically religious belief and practice is nearly as vestigial there today as in other parts of Europe. And we may recall that Todd has asserted a natural pattern of development leading from literacy, to secularization, to a declining birthrate and ideological crisis. “Zombie Catholic” areas, like other stem family areas, have been especially hard hit by recent demographic collapse. Can we expect an ideological crisis in these areas as well?

This is not a question of merely theoretical interest, for we may recall that the first wave of secularization was associated with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, while the second wave was associated with two world wars and German National Socialism.

Todd’s treatment of this theme is coy and extremely compressed, being mostly limited to a couple of sentences. But they are revealing:

Since the mid-1960s, the zones of Catholicism have been living through the final stage of European secularization. And again, the metaphysical emptiness this entails is leading, against a backdrop of economic instability, to great anxiety and to the identifying of scapegoats.


Now, the Left’s favored way of explaining opposition to replacement-level immigration is to interpret it as a “scapegoating” of immigrants driven by economic and other anxieties on the part of irrational bigots. Todd’s free use of the cant expression “Islamophobia” suggests sympathy for this view as well. He appears to be suggesting that the identitarian movement which has arisen in Europe in response to the threat of demographic replacement represents the ideological crisis of the third wave of secularization. This would seem to imply that he considers its destructive potential comparable to that of the French Revolution and the World Wars.

By characterizing the ideological crisis of the second (Protestant) wave of secularization as a “rise of nationalism,” Todd also suggests a historical analogy between the rise of Hitler and today’s “nationalist” opposition to multiculturalism and the Great Replacement. But nationalism is a highly ambiguous term that has meant widely differing things in various historical situations. Today’s nationalism is largely a defensive response to an aggressive globalism that threatens the continued survival of any recognizably Western civilization. It would be either stupid or dishonest to equate it with Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland. I cannot help but think that Todd’s Jewish identity has influenced him to seek historical analogies where none exist.

Todd thus follows a pattern I have observed in a depressing number of scholars: he is a learned and original interpreter of the past who quickly turns into a cliché-ridden progressive journalist the moment he turns his attention away from his area of specialization toward questions of contemporary politics.

This does not, of course, negate the value of his scholarly work or diminish the truth of his book’s principal message: mankind is not converging; history is continuing, and its deeper levels will always generate differences in mentality and social behavior that may lead to conflict. As he puts it in the conclusion of his study: “We urgently need to accept the divergence of nations resulting from the differentiation of family systems, if we have the peace of the world at heart.”

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Julius Evola: The Philosopher & Magician in War: 1943-1945


Julius Evola:
The Philosopher & Magician in War: 1943-1945

ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

Gianfranco de Turris
Julius Evola: The Philosopher and Magician in War: 1943–1945
Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2020

julius-evola-9781620558065_hr.jpgThis English translation of Gianfranco de Turris’s Julius Evola: Un filosofo in guerra 1943–1945 has come along at just the right time, for it shows us how a great man coped both with societal collapse and with personal tragedy. As the title implies, the book focuses on Evola’s activities during the last two years of the Second World War. However, de Turris goes considerably beyond that time frame, dealing with much that happened to Evola after the war, up until about 1950.

De Turris’s main objectives in this work are to solve a number of mysteries about Evola’s activities at the end of the war, and in the post-war years, and to respond to the philosopher’s critics. Because, until now, so little has been known about these years in Evola’s life, they have been the object of a great deal of speculation, especially on the part of hostile, Left-wing writers. De Turris has uncovered fascinating new information about Evola’s activities and provided definitive answers to a great many lingering questions.

The book begins with an episode that will doubtless be the focus of most critical reviews: Evola’s journey to Hitler’s headquarters in August–September 1943. As the war dragged on, public opinion in Italy had begun to turn against Mussolini, especially after Rome was bombed by the Allies for the first time on the 19th of July. Several members of the government had turned against Mussolini, and the Duce felt compelled to summon the Fascist Grand Council for the first time since the beginning of the war. This turned out to be a mistake, for it passed a motion of no confidence in Mussolini, effectively giving King Victor Emmanuel the power to dismiss him. Mussolini, however, behaved as if nothing of significance had occurred. He appeared for an audience at the royal palace the next day, prepared to brief the King on recent events. Instead, the King had Mussolini arrested and imprisoned in a hotel atop Gran Sasso mountain, the highest peak in the Apennines.

The story of Mussolini’s daring rescue (on the 12th of September) by German commandos flying gliders, led by the legendary Otto Skorzeny, is one of the most famous episodes of the war. Mussolini was immediately flown to Munich and then to Hitler’s HQ (“Wolf’s Lair”) in East Prussia. When he arrived on the 14th of September, Julius Evola had already been there for several days. The philosopher was part of a delegation chosen by the Germans to help advise them on what course to take in Italy. The delegation also included the Duce’s son, Vittorio.

Their journey from Italy was undertaken at considerable risk. The plane carrying Evola narrowly escaped interception by Allied aircraft. On the ground, Evola and others were disguised for part of their journey in Waffen SS caps and coats. Once the philosopher had arrived at Wolf’s Lair, he and the other members of the delegation were received by Joachim von Ribbentrop who communicated to them Hitler’s wish that “the Fascists who remained faithful to their belief and to the Duce were to immediately initiate an appeal to the Italian people announcing the constitution of a counter-government that confirmed loyalty to the Axis according to the commitment first declared and then not maintained by the King” (quoting Evola’s account, p. 20).

Believe it or not, this is one of the less interesting parts of de Turris’s book. Far more interesting is what happens to Evola later. Those already familiar with the details of Evola’s life will know what is coming: his flight from Rome, his injury in Vienna, and his long recovery in the years immediately following the war. This part of the book is more interesting not just because it fills in many blanks in Evola’s biography, but because it reveals a more “human” side to the philosopher. I apologize if this seems a somewhat maudlin way to speak of a man like Evola, but I can think of no alternative.

Those who have read Evola extensively know that the philosopher can often seem as remote as the peaks he climbed in his youth. In de Turris’s account, however, we find an Evola who is initially depressed and dispirited by the outcome of the war, and by his injury. He struggles to make sense out of why these things have occurred, and he struggles to define what his mission must be in the post-war situation. Eventually, he emerges triumphant, but it is instructive to see not only how he overcomes his struggles, but that he struggles. In facing our current situation, in which the Western world (especially the US) seems to be falling down around our ears, Evola’s example gives us strength. We see that even Evola, even this “differentiated type” (to use his terminology) had to struggle with adversity — but that he overcame.


On June 4, 1944, the Allies captured Rome. One of the first things their agents did, just hours after entering the city, was to pay Julius Evola a call. Allied intelligence had learned that Evola’s name was on a list of intended agents of a German-led “Post-Occupational Network” for espionage and sabotage (his codename was “Maria”). They showed up at Evola’s apartment, no doubt with the intention of arresting and interrogating him. However, Evola’s elderly mother detained them at the entrance, while the philosopher slipped unnoticed out a side door. The one thing he took with him was a suitcase containing the materials that would eventually become the three-volume Introduction to Magic (Introduzione alla magia).

Evola then embarked on a long and arduous journey. On foot, he made his way out of the city and located the retreating German troops. They gave him shelter, and eventually, he wound up in Vienna, where he lived under an assumed name. Exactly why Evola headed for Vienna has been something of a mystery, and de Turris spends a good deal of time on it. Incredibly, it appears that Evola went to Vienna to undertake research on Freemasonry at the request of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst; the “Security Service” of the SS)! The SD’s “Office VII” had been engaged in Freemasonic studies, and they were not going to interrupt it for a small thing like the apocalypse.

Evola later told an associate that the SD had assigned him the task of “a purification work and ‘return to the origin’ of the Freemasonic rituals found during the war by the German troops in various countries” (p. 158). Evola was not sure exactly why the SD was interested in this. Had they sent him in search of the Ark of the Covenant, it would hardly be more surprising. In case it is not obvious what Freemasonry had to be “purified” of, Evola actually makes this clear in his autobiography The Path of Cinnabar (Il cammino del cinabro): “[Freemasonry] initially had an initiatic character but later, in parallel with its politicization, had moved to obey and subject itself to anti-traditional influences. The final outcome was to act out the part as one of the main secret forces of world subversion, even before the French Revolution, and then in general solidarity with the revolution of the Third State [sic]” (quoted in de Turris, p. 159; The translator means “Third Estate,” which, in the French Ancien Régime, was made up of the peasants and bourgeoisie).

Luftangriffe.jpgOn January 21, 1945, Evola decided to take a walk through the streets of Vienna during an aerial bombardment by the Americans (and not the Soviets, as has been erroneously claimed). While he was in the vicinity of Schwarzenbergplatz, a bomb fell nearby, throwing Evola several feet and knocking him unconscious. He was found and taken to a military hospital. When the philosopher awoke hours later, the first thing he did was to ask what had become of his monocle. Once the doctors had finished looking him over, the news was not good. Evola was found to have a contusion of the spinal cord which left him with complete paralysis from the waist down. As Mircea Eliade notoriously said, the injury was roughly at the level of “the third chakra.” It resulted in Evola being categorized as a “100-percent war invalid,” which afforded him the small pension he received for the rest of his life.

Why did Evola go for a walk during a bombing raid? Eliade erroneously claimed that Evola “went to fight on the barricades against the Soviet Russian advance on Vienna” (p. 128). Evola provides an answer himself, in a hitherto unpublished letter to the wife of the Austrian conservative philosopher Othmar Spann:

. . . I would always challenge destiny, so to speak. And from here originate my acts of folly on the glaciers and mountains: hence the principle of my not caring or having any concern about the aerial bombardments. And the same goes for when I was in Vienna when the situation had exacerbated to the point of severe danger. . . . In the end I was caught by a carpet bombing in Schwarzenberg. [p. 125]

But when Evola went out walking that fateful day, he had expected that his destiny would be either to live or to die. He was not expecting that he might be destined to live out the rest of his days as a cripple. This turn of events seems to have utterly perplexed the philosopher, and he struggled to make sense of why this had happened to him, and at that point in his life. Matters were complicated by Evola’s belief, stated years later in The Path of Cinnabar, that “there is no significant event in existence that was not wanted by us before birth” (quoted in de Turris, p. 169).

In the same letter to Erika Spann, Evola writes: “What is not clear to me is the purpose of the whole thing: I had in fact the idea — the belief if you want to call it, naïve — that one either dies or reawakens. The meaning of what has happened to me is one of confusion: neither one nor the other motive” (p. 170). De Turris refers to the “incomprehension and disillusionment” Evola experienced “at the outcome and aftermath of the war” (p. 54). The philosopher had been struggling to understand the cataclysm that had engulfed Europe and destroyed Fascism and National Socialism, concerning which he had cautiously nurtured certain hopes. Now, additionally, he had to make sense of why fate had chosen to permanently cripple this Western kshatriya, this man of action. It is difficult to imagine the desolation and inner turmoil Evola had to endure in the years immediately following the war. Again quoting the letter to Frau Spann: “In this world today — in this world of ruins — I have nothing to do or look for. Even if tomorrow everything magically returns to its place, I would be here without a goal in life, empty. All the more so in this condition and in this clinic” (pp. 199-200).

AK-OÖ-Bad-Ischl-Kur-Erholungsheim-Salzkammergut.jpgEvola was eventually transferred to a hospital in Bad Ischl, where he received better treatment. De Turris offers a rather harrowing account of the various operations and therapies used to treat Evola, mostly without success. Despite his condition, while at Bad Ischl, Evola actually traveled to Budapest, where he remained for a couple of months before returning to Austria. Little is known about what Evola was doing in Budapest or who helped him get there (though we now know the address at which he was living). De Turris argues persuasively that Evola went there to be treated by the famous Hungarian neurologist, András Pető, who had some success in the treatment of paralysis using unconventional methods. Unfortunately, he was not able to help Evola.

From the beginning, Evola had entertained the possibility that his paralysis was “psychic” in nature. He was encouraged in this belief by René Guénon, with whom he continued to correspond from his hospital bed in Bad Ischl. Guénon wrote to him:

According to what you tell me, it would seem that what really prevents you from recovering is more of a psychic nature than physical; if this is so the only solution without doubt would be to provoke a contrary reaction that comes forth from your own self. . . . Besides, it isn’t at all impossible that something might have taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the lesion to act against you; but it’s not at all clear by whom and why this may have occurred. [p. 148]

In fact, there does seem to be something mysterious about Evola’s condition. In 1952, he was visited in his apartment by several associates, including the anthroposophists Massimo Scaligero and Giovanni Colazza. During this visit, the men saw Evola move his legs – something that, given his paralysis, should have been completely impossible. After leaving Evola’s presence, they were naturally eager to discuss this. It was reported that Colazza said to Scaligero, “Of course he could! But he doesn’t! He does not want to do it” (p. 197).

Setting this mystery aside, Evola appears to have become reconciled to his condition by reminding himself that, after all, the body is but a temporary vehicle for the spirit. In a letter to a friend, he states that “in regard to my situation — even if I had to remain forever like this, which is not excluded — it spiritually does not signify anything more for me than if my car had a flat tire” (p. 168). Another friend, a Catholic priest, naïvely suggested that Evola travel to Lourdes in hopes of a miracle cure at the Sanctuary of our Lady. Evola responded with kindness and patience, saying, “I have already told you how little this thing means to me . . . The basic premise, which is that of an ardent desire for a healing, is first of all lacking. If grace were to be asked for, it would rather be to understand the spiritual meaning as to why this has happened — whether it remains this way or not; even more so, to understand the reason for my continuing to live” (pp. 168-69).

Julius Evola.jpgAnd, in time, Evola does seem to have come to some understanding of why fate had dealt him this hand, though he never made public these very personal reflections. On the eve of the philosopher’s return to Italy in August 1948, his doctor at Bad Ischl reported that “the general state of the patient has improved considerably in these last days, the initial depressions have become lighter, the irascibility and the problems of relationship with the nursing staff and patients have declined markedly” (p. 176). Indeed, one imagines that Evola was not an ideal patient. He wrote to Erika Spann of the “spirit-infested atmosphere of the diseases of these patients” (p. 193; italics in original).

What undoubtedly lifted Evola’s spirits is that he had at last defined what was to be his post-war mission. In The Path of Cinnabar, he writes that

The movement in the post-war period should have taken the form of a party and performed a function analogous to that which the Italian Social Movement [MSI] had conceived for itself, but with a more precise traditional orientation, belonging to the Right, without unilateral references to Fascism and with a precise discrimination between the positive aspects of Fascism and the negative ones. [Quoted in de Turris, p. 54]

Concerning this, de Turris comments that “all of his [post-war] publishing activities and book-writing projects were specifically oriented in this direction” (p. 54). In 1949, Evola began writing again, initially under the penname “Arthos.” He wrote in bed, in pencil, with a lap desk placed before him, or he used a typewriter, seated at his desk in front of the window. His French biographer, Jean-Paul Lippi, referred to him as “an immobile warrior.”

Around this time, Evola learned that he had become an idol of Right-wing youth in Italy. In September 1950, he addressed the National Youth Assembly of the MSI in Bologna. The inclusion of Evola seems to have been last-minute. The organizers heard that the philosopher was staying at a nearby hospital and paid him an impromptu visit. One of the men present offers this moving account of what happened next:

We introduced ourselves and invited him to attend the assembly. He made himself immediately available and expressed great interest. He asked us if he could have the time only to change and shave. I remember that in his haste he had a small cut on his cheek. We carried him in our arms and placed him in the German military truck. Upon entering the assembly hall he was warmly welcomed by our group and since Evola was unknown to me as a thinker, Enzo Erra introduced him as a heroic invalid of the Italian Social Republic. On stage, while I was supporting him, I noticed that he was pleasantly surprised and moved by the welcome of hundreds of young people. He silently fixed his attention and listened intently to the various interventions, and at the end of the proceedings we took him back to the hospital. It was at that moment that we had the idea of asking him to write a booklet that would be a guide, and that was how the Orientamenti was born. The next day we accompanied him to a small mountain hotel in the Apennines. [p. 207]

unnamedcivilta.jpgJulius Evola was back. Indeed, he wrote some of his most important books in the post-war years: Men Among the Ruins, The Metaphysics of Sex, Ride the Tiger, The Path of Cinnabar, Meditations on the Peaks, and others. Arguably, he enjoyed far more influence after the war than he ever did before. Disturbed by his influence on the youth, Italian authorities arrested Evola in May 1951 and put him on trial for “glorifying Fascism.” He was acquitted — something that would be unimaginable in today’s world, given its unironic concern with “social justice.”

This book is required reading for admirers of Evola, and students of traditionalism generally. It should also be read by Leftist critics of Evola — though it will not be, or, if it is, the contents will be distorted and misrepresented. You see, de Turris does almost too thorough a job of demolishing Evola’s detractors. One wishes, in fact, that he had spent a little less time jousting with these people, as they all come off as dishonest lightweights. Still, I suppose it is necessary. And “jousting” is an appropriate term, as de Turris’s defense of his mentor is gallant and virile in the best tradition of the “aristocrats of the soul.” He has learned from a master, and in his voice we sometimes hear an echo of Evola’s own. De Turris is well-qualified to tell Evola’s story: he knew the philosopher personally, and is the executor of his estate.

Among the fine features of this volume are two interesting appendices. The first consists of illustrations, some of which are fascinating. One is a reproduction of the top of a cigar box signed by the men present at Wolf’s Lair, including Evola, Vittorio Mussolini, and others. The second appendix consists of hitherto-unpublished translations of several articles Evola wrote in 1943 for La Stampa, the daily newspaper in Turin. I will close with a quote from one of these, which is not only prescient, given Evola’s fate after 1943, but also particularly relevant to the situation in which we now find ourselves:

From one day to another, and even from one hour to another, an individual can lose his home to a bombardment: that which has been loved the most and to which one was most attached, the very object of one’s most spontaneous feelings. . . . It has become blatantly clear . . . as a living fact accompanied with a feeling of liberation: all that is destructive and tragic can have value to inspire. This is not about sensitivity or badly understood Stoicism. Quite the contrary: it is a question of knowing and nurturing a sense of detachment from oneself, people, and things, which should instill calm, unparalleled security, and even . . . indomitability. . . . A radical breakdown of the “bourgeois” that exists in every person is possible in these devastating times. . . . [To] make once more essential and important what should always be in a normal existence: the relationship between life and more than life . . . During these hours of trials and tribulations the discovery of the path, where these values are positively experienced and translated into pure strength for as many people as possible, is undoubtedly one of the main tasks of the political-spiritual elite of our nation. [pp. 261–62]

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The Prison Plays of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


The Prison Plays of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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Known mostly as a novelist, memoirist, and historian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had actually completed four plays before his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was published in 1962. He composed his first two, Victory Celebrations and Prisoners, while a zek in the Soviet Gulag system in 1952. These Solzhenitsyn composed in verse and memorized before burning since prisoners were forbidden to own even scraps of paper. His third play, the title of which is most commonly translated into English as The Love-Girl and the Innocent, he composed outside of the gulag in 1954 while recovering from cancer. In writing Love-Girl, he rejoiced in his ability to actually type and hide his manuscript, rather than keep it all bottled up in his head. [1] [1] Solzhenitsyn composed his final play, Candle in the Wind, in 1960 in an earnest attempt to become a Soviet playwright. Where his earlier plays exposed the evil and corruption of the gulag system — and beyond that, impugned the Soviet Union for its unworkable Marxist-Leninist ideology, disastrous collectivization policies, totalitarian government, and ubiquitous cult of personality in Stalinism — Candle in the Wind avoided politics altogether. It takes place in an unspecified international setting and focuses on the dangerous effects of untrammeled technological progress on the human soul. Of all his plays, Candle in the Wind has the least relevance to the political Right. It also cannot be classified as a prison play, despite how its main character had recently been released from prison.

It would be fair to describe Solzhenitsyn’s first two prison plays as “apprentice works,” in the words of his biographer Michael Scammell. [2] [2] And this is not just in comparison to Solzhenitsyn’s most famous and successful volumes such as One Day and the sprawling Gulag Archipelago. Victory Celebrations and Prisoners do come across as uneven and amateurish. Excessive dialogue makes the reading tedious at times. Solzhenitsyn always had the historian’s impulse to explain and the prophet’s impulse to warn, and seemed to doggedly follow both impulses while writing these plays. As a result, purely narrative elements such as plot and character tend to suffer. Further, many of the themes appearing in his prison plays resurface in more complete form in both One Day and Gulag as well as in his other early novels Cancer Ward and In the First Circle.


Regardless, it is in his three prison plays where Solzhenitsyn’s conservative, Christian, ethnonationalist, and anti-Leftist outlook appears as firm as it does in his later works. It’s as if the man never changed, other than spending the last forty-eight years of his life not writing plays. Even if he had stopped writing altogether by 1960, his prison plays still would have had value to the Right for their keen perception of human nature under the most trying circumstances as well as for their conveyance of the cruelties and absurdities brought about by an oppressive communist ideology that is wholly at odds with human nature. That Solzhenitsyn had produced works that were much greater than these three plays later in his career is no reason for any student of the Right to exclude them from study.

Victory Celebrations

Burdened with a loose plot, excessive dialogue, and an awkwardly large cast of characters, Victory Celebrations (also called Feast of the Conquerors) takes place during the last days of World War II in which a Soviet artillery battalion prepares a lavish victory banquet in the Prussian mansion they had just captured. The play switches back and forth from the minor characters opining their various frustrations with the Soviet regime to what could be a political — potentially deadly — love triangle. This relationship is the heart of the play and produces its only real suspense, brief and poignant as it is.

Galina, a Russian girl living in Vienna, had traveled to Prussia to be with her fiancé who is fighting with the doomed Russian Liberation Army (a force of disgruntled Red Army POWs and anti-Soviet, pro-White Russian émigrés whom had been conscripted by the Germans). Before the story begins, however, she is captured by the battalion and convinces them that she had been a prisoner of the Germans working as a slave girl. Believing her, they invite her to take part in the upcoming celebration.

Counter-intelligence officer Gridnev, however, sees through her and suspects that she is a spy. Any Russian person who has had exposure to the enemy must be held suspect, and Gridnev quickly threatens her with imprisonment if she does not confess all. But Galina is also beautiful, and Gridnev soon finds himself falling in love (or lust) with her. This causes him to append a promise to his threats — if she sleeps with him, he’ll protect her.

While agonizing over this dilemma, Galina meets Captain Nerzhin, a childhood friend of hers. To him, she tells the truth. Nerzhin, being an honest and honorable soldier, empathizes and sees the justice in her position. How could not when Galina delivers a speech such as this?

The U.S.S.R.! It’s impenetrable forest! A forest. It has no laws. All it has is power — power to arrest and torture, with or without laws. Denunciations, spies, filling in of forms, banquets and prizewinners, Magnitogorsk and birch-bark shoes. A land of miracles! A land of worn-out, frightened, bedraggled people, while all those leaders on their rostrums. . . each one’s a hog. The foreign tourists who see nothing but well organized collective farms, Potyemkin style. The school-children who denounce their parents, like that boy Morozov. Behind black leather doors there are traps rather than rooms. Along the rivers Vychegda and Kama there are camps five times the size of France. Wherever you look you see epaulettes with that poisonous blue strip; you see widows, whose husbands are still alive. . .

Now Nerzhin faces a dilemma of his own: shepherding this woman to her fiancé just as Soviet forces are about to crush the Russian Liberation Army will not only be physically dangerous but will make himself vulnerable to a charge of treason. Can he trust anyone in his battalion? Yes, his fellows may see through the corruption and hypocrisy of the Soviet authorities or find fault with Marxism. For example, one tells the harrowing story of how a series of unjust NKVD arrests nearly wiped out an entire town. Another relays the humorous story of how, as an art student, his instructors imagined they saw a swastika in his painting. Despite this, these men wish to survive in the current system, as absurd as it is. They just don’t want to think about it, and thus choose to bow to evil.

Major Vanin says it best:

Thinking is the last thing you want to do. There is authority. There are orders. No one grows fat from thinking. You’ll get your fingers burnt from thinking. The less you know, the better you sleep. When ordered to turn that steering wheel, you turn it.

But with Galina, there is clearly so much more. During her dialogue with Nerzhin, she keeps distinguishing “us” from “them,” and soon a leitmotiv evolves involving loyalty. Galina expresses loyalty to the Russian people and never doubts herself. Nerzhin professes loyalty to the Russian nation — or, at the very least, its military. Meanwhile, Gridnev expresses loyalty to the current Russian government and its inhuman machinations as laid down by the genocidal Stalin. Of course, Gridnev never strays far from his own selfish designs.

Contemporary Soviet audiences, likely still bruising from the Second World War, would most likely have reacted negatively to the Galina character simply for her traitorous support of the RLA. Nevertheless, later audiences, even Russian ones, carry less baggage and will likely see her as the most sympathetic character in the play. At one point, she rejects the terms “Comrade” and “Citizen” and avers that the more traditional courtesy titles of “Sir” and “Madam” are more civilized. She had studied music in Vienna and remains in thrall of great Germanic classical composers such as Mozart and Haydn despite her love of Russia. Clearly, she represents the world that preceded the Soviets. She is the only tragic character in the story, since she symbolizes Solzhenitsyn’s own ethnonationalism, but only under a cloud of death or unspeakable oppression. She’s also the only character moved enough by romantic love to put herself at great risk — even if all it will amount to is her dying by her lover’s side in a hail of artillery fire.


Solzhenitsyn could express his sympathy for this heartbreaking character (and presage the stirring ending of his story Matryona’s House) no better than in the admiring words of Nerzhin:

“I’ve no fears for the fate of Russia while there are women like you.”


Originally titled Decembrists Without December, Prisoners suffers to a greater extent than Victory Celebrations from a thin, meandering plot, a bloated dramatis personae, and excessive dialogue. It lacks even the scraps of narrative formalism found in the earlier play, and instead resembles the dialogues of Plato for of its reliance upon dialectic. The events take place in a gulag wherein the mostly-male cast discuss the absurdities of Soviet oppression, argue the merits and demerits of communism, and endure ludicrous interrogations from counter-intelligence officers. Most of the characters were based on people Solzhenitsyn himself knew. Further, several of the characters appear in later, more famous works, such as Vorotyntsev (The Red Wheel), Rubin (In the First Circle), and Pavel Gai (The Love-Girl and the Innocent).

While much weaker than Victory Celebrations in terms of plot, character, and resolution, Prisoners far surpasses it in astute political commentary as well as in philosophical and historical discourse. In its many debates, Solzhenitsyn does not always demonize the representatives of the Soviet system and sometimes puts wise, thoughtful, or otherwise honest words in their mouths. This leads to some fascinating reading (as opposed to what would seem like tedious chatting onstage). On the whole, however, Prisoners devastates the Soviet Union in a way that would have invited much more than mere censure in that repressive regime. Solzhenitsyn had to keep the play close to his chest for many years, and revealed its existence only after his exile in the West during the 1970s. Had the KGB ever acquired the play, it is likely there would not have been an exile for Solzhenitsyn at all.

Due to the narrative’s unmoored rambling, examples of Solzhenitsyn’s incisive observations can appear with little context and in list form. The relevance to the broader struggle of the Right in all cases should become clear.

We clutch at life with convulsive intensity — that’s how we get caught. We want to go on living at any, any price. We accept all the degrading conditions, and this way we save — not ourselves — we save the persecutor. But he who doesn’t value his life is unconquerable, untouchable. There are such people! And if you become one of them, then it’s not you but your persecutor who’ll tremble!

Far too many on the Right today meekly accept the degrading, second-class citizenship imposed upon us by the racial egalitarian Left. If more of us could value our lives a little less and the Truth a little more, perhaps this unnatural state of affairs could be overturned.

Here, now, we’re all traitors to our country. Cut down the raspberries — mow down the blackcurrants. But that’s not what I got arrested for. I got arrested for infringing on the regulations. I issued extra bread to the collective farm women. Without it, they would have died before the spring. I wasn’t doing it for my own good — I had enough food at home.


Aside from revealing the murderous lack of concern that the Soviet authorities had for their own people, this passage reveals how the Left does not merely value some lives over others but becomes by policy quite hostile to those lives it values least. In today’s struggles, whites in the West who act in their racial interests are meeting with increasing hostility from our Leftist elites, while these same elites actively encourage non-whites to act in their racial interests.

Of course, Solzhenitsyn’s proud ethnonationalism (as expressed by his angst-filled love for Russia) shines through the text as well.

They are ringing the bell. They are ringing for Vespers. . . O Russia, can this ever come back again? Will you ever be yourself? I have lived on your soil for twenty-six years, I spoke Russian, listened to Russian, but never knew what you were, my country! . . .

In some cases, the dialogue becomes downright witty. Take, for example, the absurd interrogation scene between intelligence officer Mymra and Sergeant Klimov, who had been captured in battle by the Germans:

Mymra: Prisoner Klimov. You are here to answer questions, not to ask them. You could be locked up in a cell for refusing to answer questions. Personally, we are ready to die for our leader. Question three: what was your aim when you gave yourself up? Why didn’t you shoot yourself?

Klimov: I was waiting to see if the Divisional Commander would shoot himself first. However, he managed to escape to Moscow by ‘plane out of the encirclement and then got promoted.

Mymra (writing down): Answer. I gave myself up, my aim being to betray my socialist country. . .

Klimov: We-ell, well. You can put it like that…

The Rubin character in Prisoners is no different than his namesake in In the First Circle — a friendly, erudite apologist for communism, and clearly Jewish. Just as in the novel, Prisoner’s Rubin insists that he’d been incarcerated by mistake and that, regardless of his personal circumstances, he remains a true believer in the Soviet system. At one point, in the middle of the play, he is beset upon by his angry co-inmates who challenge him to defend Soviet atrocities such as blockading Ukraine and starving millions into submission. Rubin explains that the great socialist revolutions and slave rebellions of the past had failed because they showed too much leniency towards their former oppressors. They doubted the justice of their cause. He then praises the Soviet Revolution as the product of “unconquerable” science and laments that it has had only twenty-five years to produce results.

. . . you unhappy, miserable little people, whose petty lives have been squeezed by the Revolution, all you can do is distort its very essence, you slander its grand, bright march forward, you pour slops over the purple vestments of humanity’s highest dreams!


Rubin fixates upon the same wide, historical vista that all Leftists do when they wish to explain away failure or atrocity. Conservative debunking of this arrogant folly is as old as Edmund Burke. In Solzhenitsyn’s case, however, he depicts it with almost cringe-worthy realism when he humanizes Rubin as a reasonable and enthusiastic, if misguided, adherent of the Left. We actually grow to like Rubin, especially at the end of the play when he leads a choir of zeks in song as Vorotyntsev contemplates his fate with the others.

The most memorable scene in Prisoners occurs towards the end when Vorotyntsev debates a dying counter-intelligence officer named Rublyov. In this debate we have perhaps Solzhenitsyn’s most eloquent affirmation of the Right as a way of life, and not just as a reaction to the totalitarian Left. Vorotyntsev claims to have fought in five wars on the side of Monarchy or Reaction — all of which were ultimately lost: the Russian-Japanese War, World War I, the Russian Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, World War II (on the side of the Russian Liberation Army). When Rublyov taunts him for this colossal losing streak, Vorotyntsev speaks of “some divine and limitless plan for Russia which unfolds itself slowly while our lives are so brief” and then responds that he never wavered in his fight against the Left because he felt the truth was always on his side. All that Rublyov ever had on his side was ideology. He explains:

You persecuted our monarchy, and look at the filth you established instead. You promised paradise on earth, and gave us Counter-Intelligence. What is especially cheering is that the more your ideas degenerate, the more obviously all your ideology collapses, the more hysterically you cling to it.

When Rublyov accuses the Right of having its own executioners, Vorotyntsev responds, “not the same quantity. Not the same quality,” and proceeds to compare the twenty thousand political prisoners of the Tsar to the twenty million political prisoners of the Soviets.

The horror is that you grieve over the fate of a few hundred Party dogmatists, but you care nothing about twelve million hapless peasants, ruined and exiled in the Tundra. The flower, the spirit of an annihilated nation do not exude curses on your conscience.

In this, Vorotyntsev makes the crucial point of the Right’s moral superiority to the Left. Note his similarity to Rubin in positing a plan as broad as history. For Rubin, however, it is Man’s plan, an atheist’s plan. It is hubris in action, a contrivance of pride. For Vorotyntsev, on the other hand, it is God’s plan — not something he can begin to understand. All he can do is to live according to Truth as he sees it and according to his nature as a human being.

It’s hard to find a more stark distinction between Left and Right than this.

The Love-Girl and the Innocent

Of Solzhenitsyn’s prison plays, The Love-Girl and the Innocent works best. This perhaps explains why it has been staged most often and continues to be put on today. Notably, the BBC produced a television adaptation of Love-Girl in 1973. Love-Girl resembles most closely what most people expect when they read or see a play: Four acts; a beginning, middle, and end; three-dimensional, evolving characters; and a plot filled with conflict, action, and suspense. We could quibble with some of Solzhenitsyn’s authorial choices, such as making the lead character Nerzhin too passive towards the end, employing too many characters (again), or his general lack of focus regarding some of the plot. Nevertheless, that Solzhenitsyn manages to pursue many of the profound themes from Victory Celebrations and Prisoners to their poignant conclusions in Love-Girl as well as explore new ones that would reach their apotheosis in later works such as Gulag Archipelago makes Love-Girl and the Innocent, in this reviewer’s opinion, the first of Solzhenitsyn’s great narrative works.


As in Victory Celebrations, we have a potentially deadly love triangle — but one that achieves greater meaning since the audience can now experience the love and all its wide-ranging consequences. In Victory Celebrations, the story takes place during a lull in the action, with all the real action having already happened or will happen in the near future. The battalion had just captured a mansion and plans to advance on the RLA’s position the next day. By the play’s end, Galina’s fate swings between Gridnev’s protection and Nerzhin’s. Will she become Gridnev’s mistress? Will she be shot or be incarcerated in a gulag? Will Nerzhin take her to her fiancé before the Soviet forces attack? Will she even survive? Note also how this love triangle is not entirely real since Nerzhin, despite his demonstrable affection for Galina, can only serve as a stand-in for her fiancé.

In Love-Girl, all the appropriate action happens on stage and in the here and now. There are no stand-ins. It takes place in a gulag in 1945 where the love is real, agonizing, and immediate. It is also multifaceted, since there are technically two love triangles occurring simultaneously. The “love-girl” of the title is a beautiful and compassionate female inmate named Lyuba, while the “innocent” is Rodion Nemov, an officer recently taken in from the front who is committed to behaving as honorably as possible while in the gulag. The third point in the triangle is Timofey Mereshchun, the prison’s fat, repulsive doctor who promises Lyuba privileges and protection in return for sex. He also has the power to send her off to camps in much harsher climates where her chances of survival would become drastically reduced.

The other love triangle involves another beautiful female inmate named Granya. She is a former Red Army sniper incarcerated not for political reasons, like many of the others, but because she murdered her husband while on furlough after finding him in flagrante delicto with another woman. It’s as if Solzhenitsyn could not decide which woman he was in love with more while writing the play. The men vying for Granya’s affections are an honest and feisty bricklaying foreman named Pavel Gai (first seen in Prisoners) and the corrupt and cruel camp commandant Boris Khomich.

Aside from Solzhenitsyn’s now-familiar themes of ethnonationalism, ethno-loyalty, exposing Soviet atrocities, and impugning communist ideology, Love-Girl also introduces the theme of honor vs. corruption. When the play begins, Nemov is responsible for increasing efficiency in prison work. And he does a fine job, noting how the camp authorities could increase productivity by easing up on the harsh exploitation of the prisoners and cutting much of the self-serving and politically-appointed administrative personnel. He quickly runs afoul of the shady and perfidious ruling class of the camp, however, when he demands that the bookkeeper Solomon turn over a recent shipment of boots to the workers rather than divvy them up among his cronies.


Solomon, along with Mereshchun and Khomich, take their revenge soon after when they manipulate the drunken and irresponsible camp commandant Ovchukhov into transferring Nemov to general work duties while replacing him with the depraved Khomich. In the battle between honor and corruption, honor never has a chance. And, as if to infuriate the audience even further, Solzhenitsyn reveals how Khomich has a few ideas for the commandant, all of which involve increasing the corruption in the camp and turning the screws harder on the prisoners. These ideas include:

  • Issuing the minimum bread guarantee after 101 percent work fulfillment, instead of 100 percent.
  • Forcing the workers to over-fulfill their work requirements to have an extra bowl of porridge.
  • Not allowing prisoners to receive parcels from the post office unless they have fulfilled 120 percent of their work norms.
  • Not allowing men and women to meet unless they have fulfilled 150 percent of their work norms.
  • Building a grand house for Commandant Ovchukhov in time for the anniversary of the October Revolution.

Khomich puts it succinctly and smugly: “They’ll realize: either work like an ox or drop dead.”

The Love-Girl and the Innocent is also notable because of how Solzhenitsyn employs its Jewish characters. Prisoners’ Rubin certainly defends the Soviet orthodoxy and the atrocities it entailed. But at least he’s honest, thoughtful, and friendly about it — which certainly counterbalances some of the audience’s negative feelings for him. Love-Girl’s Jews, however, are not only ugly, corrupt, and cruel, they’re stereotypical as well.

Scammell, in summarizing Jewish-Soviet émigré Mark Perakh’s analysis [3] [5] of Solzhenitsyn’s supposed anti-Semitism, writes:

It was in certain of Solzhenitsyn’s other works, however, the Perhakh found the most to criticize, notably in Solzhenitsyn’s early play The Tenderfoot and the Tart. [4] [6] Again, the three Jews in the play — Arnold Gurvich, Boris Khomich, and the bookkeeper named Solomon — were all representatives of evil, but this time grossly and disgustingly so, and Solomon was the very incarnation of the greedy, crafty, influential “court Jew,” manipulating the “simple” Russian camp commandant and oozing guile and corruption. As it happened, Solomon was modeled on the real-life prototype of Isaak Bershader, [5] [7] whom Solzhenitsyn had met at Kaluga Gate and later described at length in volume 3 of The Gulag Archipelago. . . [6] [8]


Solzhenitsyn’s habit during his early period was to include characters based on people he personally knew. In this reviewer’s opinion, he often did so to the detriment of the work itself. Why include such a bewildering array of characters in his already wordy volumes when he could have condensed them into fewer characters for more pithy and forceful results? In some cases, Solzhenitsyn didn’t even bother to change his characters’ names: for example, the fervent Christian Evgeny Divnich (Prisoners) and the Belgian theater director Camille Gontoir (Love-Girl).

Thus, when Solzhenitsyn portrays gulag Jews doing evil things in recognizably Jewish ways, it’s probably because he was being true to what he witnessed in the gulag. It was not Solzhenitsyn’s style to invent a Shylock or Fagin out of thin air just to annoy Jewish people, just as he did not employ anti-Russian stereotypes for the sake of stereotyping. He portrays the Russian thieves in Love-Girl as particularly vile. And the simple-minded, corrupt, and drunken commandant Ovchukhov is no better. There should be no doubt that prisoner Solzhenitsyn had known and dealt with the flesh-and-blood prototypes of many of the characters appearing in his plays.

Regardless, that Solzhenitsyn refused to self-censor his negative Jewish characters while also refusing to include positive ones for the sake of political correctness should tell us something about the ethnocentric line he drew between Russians and Jews. He did not consider Jews as Russians, and he did not care if certain Jews got upset over this. If being labeled an anti-Semite by some is the price to pay for his honesty, his rejection of civic nationalism, and his profound love for his nation and his people, then so be it. [7] [9]

There is quite a bit in The Love-Girl and the Innocent that will resonate with the Right. It was probably unintended by Solzhenitsyn that such a meta-analysis of the Jewish Question would do so as well.

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[1] [12] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Oak and the Calf. New York: Harper & Row, 1975, p. 4.

[2] [13] Michael Scammell, Solzhenitsyn: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1984, p. 330.

[3] [14] Scammell writes of Perakh’s analysis (page 960):

Perakh’s article, a kind of summa of those that had gone before, had appeared in Russian in the émigré magazine Vrennia i My (Time and We) in February 1976 before being published in English in Midstream.

[4] [15] The Love-Girl and the Innocent appears under several titles in English. These include The Tenderfoot and the Tart (as preferred by Scammell), The Greenhorn and the Camp-Whore, and The Paragon and the Paramour. Scammell (on page 217) has this to say about it:

The question of what to call this play in English is problematical. Solzhenitsyn’s Russian title Olen’ I shalashovka is based on camp slang. Olen’ (literally “deer”) means a camp novice, and shalashovka (derived from shalash, meaning a rough hunter’s cabin or bivouac) means a woman prisoner who agrees to sleep with a trusty or with trusties in exchange for food and privileges—not quite a whore, more a tart or tramp. The published English title The Love-Girl and the Innocent seems to me to catch none of this raciness.

[5] [16] I believe that both Scammell and Solzhenitsyn biographer D.M. Thomas overlooked something regarding Solzhenitsyn’s basing of Solomon on Bershader in Love-Girl. It seems to me that Solzhenitsyn based both the bookkeeper Solomon and the doctor Mereshchun on Bershader. The connection with Solomon is based on their shared profession (bookkeeping) and the fact that they were both corrupt, cunning, manipulative trusties in the gulag. But Solomon only appears in two scenes in Love-Girl and has nothing to do with any of the female inmates (Thomas falsely claims that Solomon was “adept at corrupting women prisoners”). The episode with Bershader in The Gulag Archipelago depicts him laying siege to and ultimately corrupting a beautiful and virtuous Russian woman prisoner, which Solomon does not do. Bershader is also described by Solzhenitsyn as “a fat, dirty old stock clerk” who is “nauseating in appearance.” Solzhenitsyn first describes Solomon, on the other hand, as carrying himself “with great dignity” and looking “sharp by camp standards.” Later, he describes Solomon as “very neatly dressed.”

On the other hand, Mereshchun is described as a “fat, thick-set fellow,” which is more in keeping with Bershader’s appearance. Further, Mereshchun enthusiastically corrupts the female inmates. In fact, in his first line of dialogue, he announces: “I cannot sleep without a woman.” After being reminded that he had kicked his last woman out of bed, he responds, “I’d had enough of her, the shit bag.” Clearly, Mereshchun is as revolting as Bershader. He also engages in the same exploitive behavior with women. Could Mereshchun also have been based on Bershader?

In a curious moment in Love-Girl, Solzhenitsyn describes how Mereshchun immediately strikes up a friendship with Khomich the moment he meets him. It was as if they recognized and understood each other without the need of a formal introduction. Could it be that in Solzhenitsyn’s mind they were both Jewish? It’s hard to say. Mereshchun is an odd name, but it could be a Russianized Jewish one, and in the Soviet Union during that time, doctors were disproportionately Jewish. On the other hand, few Russian Jews would be named Timofey. Perhaps Solzhenitsyn meant for this character to have enigmatic origins.

M. Thomas, Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in his Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, p. 492.

[6] [17] Scammell, pp. 960-961.

[7] [18] Thomas (page 490) conveys an astonishingly hysterical example of gentile-bashing from Jewish writer Lev Navrozov who really did not like Solzhenitsyn:

An émigré from 1972, Navrozov denounced Solzhenitsyn’s “xenophobic trash.” He is “a Soviet small-town provincial who doesn’t know any language except his semiliterate Russian and fantasizes in his xenophobic insulation”; August 1914 was as intellectually shabby as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion — but that turn-of-the-century forgery, purporting to show that the Jews were plotting world domination, was actually “superior” in its language to the Solzhenitsyn. . . . His style shows a “comical ineptness”; Navrozov writes that when Ivan Denisovich appeared, he thought its author might develop into a minor novelist, but Khrushchev’s use of him to strike the Stalinists, and his subsequent persecution, made him strut like a bearded Tolstoy, so “this semiliterate provincial, who has finally found his vocation — anti-Semitic hackwork — has been sensationalized into an intellectual colossus. . .


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