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Category Archives: Rationalism

Why every Catholic should watch HBO’s ‘Raised by Wolves’ – National Catholic Reporter

Posted: February 6, 2021 at 7:53 am

"Raised by Wolves," a television series created by Aaron Guzikowski and released on HBO Max last September, initially feels like many other works of science fiction: set in a dystopic future where the Earth is destroyed and competing groups escape to other planets for survival. Yet in just 10 episodes, it becomes clear how deceptively profound the show truly is, and for Catholic viewers especially, there is much for us to contemplate.

The pilot begins following two androids, Mother and Father, who escaped from a war on Earth between atheists and a religious order known as the Mithraics. Mother and Father, reprogrammed and tasked with rebuilding the human race and civilization, now live on the extrasolar planet, Kepler-22b. They left Earth with six embryos, but only one survives. They, along with their last surviving son, Campion, struggle to survive on Kelper, all the while believing they are the planet's only inhabitants. Soon after, however, the Mithraics arrive, along with the violence of the world they thought they left behind.

The Mithraics, based on the first century Roman cult, are a group of warriors and priests who believe in a rigid caste system. They are more militaristic and technologically advanced than the androids or atheist humans. Once they arrive on Kepler-22b, their struggle to survive challenges their faith in ways they are not entirely prepared for. For them, religion is a matter of adhering to their sacred texts, and there is no room for question. Unlike the Christian faiths of our world, they are not contemplative. This is something that is put to the test on the new planet, and although their faith is unreflective, different characters are forced to contemplate and reexamine who they are following, and whether their god Sol's will is always being expressed by the one who is ordained a leader. Androids and humans, on the other hand, want no relationship with any kind of faith tradition, but despite themselves are drawn into areas that rationality cannot explain and they are forced to express a kind of faith and trust both in themselves and each other when facing the unknown.

Violence soon escalates on the new planet over these religious differences, with each side believing their respective opinion concerning belief, rationality and faith the superior one. Each individual character struggles with their own personal understandings of faith. Some are more rigid in their desire to follow the laws of Sol, while others question Sol's will and abandon their faith when given the first opportunity to do so. When Marcus, a former child soldier for the atheists who assumed the identity of a Mithraic soldier, begins to hear the voice of Sol commanding him, he becomes filled with pride. Some look upon this revelation with awe and wonder, but other higher-ranking clerics, filled with jealousy, seek to supplant him.

These people, with their own pasts and hopes and fears, all are in competition with one another and this mysterious new world as they each try to figure out what really matters to them in order to build a future and survive. For the Catholic viewer, this is a worthwhile opportunity to reflect about our own will and faith and how each is expressed in our lives.

This engagement with faith will feel familiar to fans of works like "Alien" and "Blade Runner." Ridley Scott, an executive producer, directed the first two episodes, and like other Scott works, the show encouragers viewers to think more deeply about consciousness, the soul and the role of religion in human life. In "Blade Runner," the idea of androids possessing souls is toyed with, and in "Prometheus" and "Alien Covenant," we see characters attempting to play God and change change creation.

Religious elements are even more fleshed out in "Raised by Wolves" by Scott and Guzikowski, a lapsed Catholic. Many things in the show feel similar to our own world like the war between believers and atheists. In the first episode, Father, realizing that Campion must not be raised alone, signals the Mithraic ship. When Mother finds out, she kills father in a rage. This murder evokes Cain and Abel and instills a sense in us that although the world we are watching on screen is new, the stories and lives of these characters are universal.

The show, which initially presents itself as a series about rational atheism versus blind faith, offers a powerful commentary on the dangers of fanaticism. The beliefs of the Mithraics, humans and androids, no matter how adamantly they believe in their convictions, are insufficient. Each character's rationalism or blind faith is tested, pushed and sometimes broken, and each character, and viewer, is left with more questions than answers.

"Raised by Wolves," which was renewed for a second season several weeks after its premiere, will keep the viewer coming back for more because it is so unlike other shows available on streaming services. It challenges how we think about morality and although this is not explicitly a "Catholic" show, it very much shows an engagement with religious themes and ideas that a Catholic worldview lends itself to understanding, and it does all this without watering down the complexity of the series.

In an era where shows are designed to be consumed as quickly as possible, "Raised by Wolves" challenges us to slow down, chew over every episode and think about how religion informs how we view the world around us.

For Catholic viewers, the show which premiered amid a global COVID-19 pandemic and anti-racism marches all across the United States encourages us to confront our understanding of the Catholic imagination and engage with art that might not seem readily "Catholic" but that nevertheless can offer us glimpses of the truth, for all art touches the sublime in some way or another.

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Early 20th Century Architecture in Havana (Photo Feature) – Havana Times

Posted: February 2, 2021 at 7:08 pm

By Ernesto Gonzalez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES Cuban architecture in the first three decades of the 20th century blended Spanish Baroque and US Rationalism. It was a time when Cubans were searching for their own identity, after years of Spanish colonialism. The countrys architecture was a place of that expression.The influence left behind by Spanish architecture, as well as the architecture that came from the US marked the identity. The former was baroque, ostentatious, full of symbolism, loaded with images. The other, was a lot more rational and focused on functionality.

This Creole style was used to build public buildings, houses, and police stations designed like like medieval castles.

Even the very first phone company that existed in the country, located at the crossroads between Aguila and Dragones streets, which would become the tallest building in the city back in 1922, towering at 62m tall.

In all of the pictures, you will see how thresholds and capitals highlighted with baroque elements, reticulated columns and facades, the ballasts on balconies, round corners, which are the most common features that make this architectural period a fusion of more than one style.

Most of the citys construction took place during this time. These pictures are from the Los Sitios, San Leopoldo, Pueblo Nuevo, La Vibora and Vibora Park neighborhoods. Although you can find buildings with these characteristics pretty much all over the city.

Architecture that marked our identity, is today often a victim of neglect and apathy. Such is visible in some of the pictures.

The privately owned buildings reveal a level of conservation that their owners can afford. In the case of those buildings owned by state institutions, their conservation and maintenance depends on the heritage importance of this building.

See more photo features here on Havana Times.

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The Other Condition: Robert Musil on Theater – Los Angeles Review of Books – lareviewofbooks

Posted: at 7:08 pm

JANUARY 28, 2021

THEATER SYMPTOMS: Plays and Writings on Drama is the mother lode for Robert Musil aficionados, a vital piece of the authors canon. Containing the major play The Utopians, other dramatic material and fragments, and Musils theater criticism, much of it translated into English for the first time, this anthology shows Musil to be a writer of far greater range than is often assumed.

Musil was likely the most sheerly intelligent of modernist writers (which is not to say the most talented). His work entrances with its combination of rigor and passion (precision and soul, as he put it), yet it is also marked by significant lacunae. His magnum opus The Man Without Qualities, two sections of which were published in 1930 and 1933, was left unfinished at the authors death in 1942. How to square that massive achievement with Musils equally brilliant, but radically different, earlier works, such as The Confusions of Young Trless (1906), a novella, or Unions (1911), a collection of stories? Above all, how to reconcile Musils deep engagement with sociological and political theorizing with his spiritual and aesthetic yearnings? Most of Musils contemporaries fell on one side or the other of this dichotomy: Hermann Broch tended toward the sociological, for example, while Thomas Mann embraced the aesthetic. Musil is one of the very few to have attempted to straddle this line, and for that reason alone his work is immensely valuable.

The heart of this new anthology is Musils massive drama The Utopians, only the second English translation and a crucial piece of the Musil oeuvre. Published in 1921, it is a dense, hyper-concentrated work, presenting a handful of characters who are battered by each others intellects and passions (not to mention their own) over the course of a few days. There is the calm professor Thomas, his sensible wife Maria, her flighty sister Regina, and the infatuated rake Anselm, who has seduced Regina away from her husband Josef. The characters combine and recombine, at times seeming closer to archetypes than real persons, yet filled with such emotion that the play never reads as dry. It is, however, overwhelming: without the release valve of the essayistic digressions and relaxed pacing of a novel, The Utopians never lets up in intensity over its 185 dense pages, which would likely take four hours to perform. Thomass dry aloofness and Anselms inflamed capriciousness give shape to their long speeches, but it is Reginas raw desperation (she has never gotten over the suicide of a youthful lover) and Marias enigmatic stoicism that hold the play together.

Like Joyces 1918 play Exiles, The Utopians bears all the markers of a prodigious prose stylist entering a new formal space with drastically different and unfamiliar rules. Unlike Exiles, it is neither early nor slight: Musil was a decade on from the success of Young Trless when he wrote The Utopians and already deep into exploring the landscape that would grow into The Man Without Qualities.

During Musils lifetime, The Utopians was only produced in bastardized and disowned form in 1929. It has since had a handful of more reverent productions. In her superb introduction, editor and translator Genese Grill cites the assessment of Burton Pike, one of Musils most esteemed translators, that The Utopians may one day be considered his finest work. It contains in distilled form, and with the greater strength of a distillation, much of the important elements of [The Man Without Qualities] as well as many of its subordinate concerns. I cannot go as far as Pike does: The Utopians is essential Musil, but it ultimately fails to be dramatic, trying to stretch the form further than it can go, at least on stage, while on the page it lacks the glorious panoramic vision of Musils fiction. Yet The Utopians accomplishes things none of his other works manage to achieve, and thus is entirely worthy of our attention.

Theater Symptoms is also valuable for gathering and translating Musils theoretical writings on theater. These writings make clear that, unlike literature, Viennese theater (and theater more generally) was an industry, shaped around personalities and group events. And this fact explains Musils disappointment, his conviction that contemporary theater failed to realize its potential and was, for the most part, inferior to previous dramatic traditions. In Musils view, the trite statements being made by modern dramatists were ultimately less interesting than the profound processes channeled by the best actors:

Entangled, precisely in the way that the strongest, the least simple-minded intellects among us are, in five-thousand-years of never-ending considerations, at the mercy of countless consequences, the immediate or distant effects of every possible position, sometimes nothing is more redemptive than to bid the intellect be silent and to remember that one, as body, as thing, is as unaccountable, unique, and absolute as a wandering cloud or the arc that has been drawn in the air by a hawk.

Though not as bitter as Thomas Bernhard, whose later attacks on the Austrian theater scene are memorably captured in his 1984 novel Woodcutters, Musil has little patience for the pseudo-profundities and inflated clichs of most of the plays he discusses. More than Bernhard, though, he believes in the immense potential and beauty of the theater as an art form, and the writings collected here thus offer a unique opportunity to see Musils philosophical-spiritual concerns focused on the mass culture of his day.

Though often caricatured as a rationalist, Musil realized the necessity of the spiritual and the power of the ineffable, as Grill has ably discussed in her excellent 2012 monograph The World as Metaphor in Robert Musils The Man Without Qualities: Possibility as Reality. The overwhelming social critique of the first published half of The Man Without Qualities is balanced in its unfinished second half by an increasing attention to what Musil terms the other condition, a hoped-for removal from the overbearing contingencies of our politics and culture, an emancipation from the tired vocabulary and metaphors that bombard us daily. Yet Musil was also deeply skeptical of vacuous cod-Nietzschean mysticism, which rejects rational thought only to make room for its own tyrannical solipsism. This syndrome was best depicted in the absurd prophet Meingast, Musils vicious portrait of charismatic pseudoscientist and antisemite Ludwig Klages. Yet rationalism too frequently ignores the urge to such mysticism, the human instincts and passions that inform it, and portraying this contradiction was Musils most vexing challenge to himself and his readers.

Musil rejects any easy sublimity; the naked Romantic soul had become, for him, a shopworn illusion. Instead, his gestures toward the other condition pick up on hints offered in the greatest art, such as the work of Shakespeare:

The word as formed air: and at the same time, an enormous creative force; this has always been for me the most astonishing aspect of the effect of this great writer. I have the feeling, when I tune my ear to Shakespeare like this I think, one mustnt think now about the thing, but must enter in somewhere through a word [] and then Shakespeares word-world appears, and along with the word, the world.

Musils theater writings reveal his intense engagement with those sub-rational forces that guide us, biologically and spiritually. His capacity to be truly moved is unceasing, as is his insistence that raw dramatic potential should not be cheapened through exploitation of received sentiments and secondhand ideas. From the reviews collected here, we see that the theater of Musils time was predominantly anti-realistic, allegorical, or symbolic, and suffered under the weight of its constant grasp for universals (real or imagined): capitalized concepts like Soul, Love, Death, and Power. (Such concepts are, of course, always capitalized in German.)

Musils willful remoteness, his determination to stand apart from passing trends and certainly from any and all fashion, produces a paradox in his work. While The Man Without Qualities clearly portrays prewar Austria with the benefit of bitter hindsight, the influence of the interwar period is sublimated throughout, rarely manifesting explicitly. This essential anthology surfaces some of the contemporaneity Musil steadfastly attempted to elude, and consequently it offers unique and vital insights into Musils oeuvre.

As with her previous translations of Musils writing (published in two volumes by Contra Mundum in 2015 and 2019), Grill brings great skill and finesse to Musils prose. She is possibly the most graceful English translator Musil has had, her lyrical efforts emphasizing how far from his rationalist caricature the author truly was. In his more theoretical moments, Musils abstract imagery can overwhelm and oppress, but Grill manages to deftly capture his playfulness, particularly in the satirical farce Vinzenz and the Mistress of Important Men (1923), which lacks the philosophical heft of The Utopians but flows better as a drama.

I also must compliment Grills superb, judicious footnotes, which provide contemporary context without overwhelming the reader. Her knowledge of Musils work is magisterial, and her provision of biographical detail is succinct and revealing. Would that all such collections meet the standard Grill sets here, as both translator and editor. She and Contra Mundum deserve the highest plaudits.

David Auerbach is a writer and software engineer. His bookBitwise: A Life in Codewas published by Pantheon, and his book Meganets is forthcoming from PublicAffairs.

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U.S. Premiere of ‘Glasstress’ Showcases The Work of Leading International Artists in Collaboration With Venetian Glass Masters – ArtfixDaily

Posted: at 7:08 pm

Ai Weiwei at the Berengo studio in Venice, next to his glass sculpture Blossom Chandelier. Photo by Karolina Sobel.

Sala Longhi, by Fred Wilson (2011). Glass and wood.

Some of the world's leading contemporary artists have been invited to breathe new life into centuries-old glassmaking in Venice maestros of glassblowing from the legendary Berengo Studio residency help artists manifest their visions.

A new exhibition features 34 artists in the glass collaboration, including Ai Weiwei, Fred Wilson, Joyce J. Scott, Jimmie Durham, Ugo Rondinone, Fiona Banner, Vik Muniz, Monica Bonvicini, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Laure Prouvost, Renate Bertlmann, Thomas Schtte, Loris Graud, and Erwin Wurm. Several represented their countries at the Venice Biennale.

There is every reason this year to have a world view, says Irvin Lippman, the Boca Raton Museum of Arts Executive Director, as South Florida ushers in the new year with the national premiere of Glasstress 2021 Boca Raton.

"Three years in the making, with 2020 being such a challenging year to coordinate an international exhibition of this size and scope, the effort serves as an important reassurance that art is an essential and enduring part of humanity."

"This is also a tribute to the resilience of Venices surviving the floods and continuing to make art through the pandemic, adds Irvin Lippman.

Most of these works in glass have never been seen elsewhere, and were handpicked by Kathleen Goncharov, the Boca Raton Museums Senior Curator who traveled to Italy in 2019.

The new exhibition runs January 27 through September 5, 2021 and the museum will feature online initiatives for virtual viewing. Watch the video here featuring interviews with some of the artists in the new exhibition.

The 34 artists in this new, never before seen edition of Glasstress were all invited by Adriano Berengo to work alongside his master glass artisans at the Berengo Studio on the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon.Watch the new video at

With incredible energy, the Studio has brought a new vision on how to stimulate todays leading artists into thinking how the medium of glass can be made into dramatic and provocative works of contemporary art.

Detail of Glass Big Brother, Song Dong (2015). Glass and metal.

Some of the works were created during the pandemic lockdowns, with artists collaborating remotely via Zoom with their glass artisan partners after initial on-site work at the studio in Venice.

Unlike the past and the present, what comes next for our world presents itself as constant possibility, always transforming as we move forward in time, says Adriano Berengo.This concept of transformation has always held an affinity with glass, a medium which as the name Glasstress suggests exists in a state of constant tension. Life needs tension, it needs energy, and a vibrant exchange of ideas.

The exhibition presents 34 new works that explore some of todays pressing subjects, including human rights, climate change, racial justice, gender issues and politics. The Boca Raton Museum of Art has dedicated more than 6,500 square feet of exhibition space to this collection. A fully illustrated catalogue is also available.

The mission of Glasstress is to restore the visibility and reputation of Murano glass, after decades of closures of ancient, centuries-old glass furnaces. Instead of creating decorative objects with glass, these artists are invited to create original works, often on a massive scale.

The artists collaborate with glass masters whose expertise has been developed over generations in Venice. Most of these artists have never worked with glass, so they unite their artistic ideas with the technical expertise of their skilled collaborators.

We have brought Glasstress to countries around the world for ten years, seeking to expand and enliven international awareness of the variety and richness of contemporary artists using glass in their creative practices, adds Adriano Berengo.

In the past, its place in the art world might have seemed uncertain. But now in this latest edition of Glasstress, the first after a global pandemic, one thing we know for certain: glass endures. Life is fragile, just as glass is fragile, yet in this fragility there is also strength.

The results are breathtaking. The first installation visitors to the Museum will encounter is Sala Longhi by Fred Wilson.He created this series at Berengo Studio after the Biennale exhibited his work about Black residents of Venice from the Renaissance to the present.

This installation features an ornate white chandelier with 29 glass panels that mirror 18th-century Venetian artist Pietro Longhis paintings. Instead of canvases, Wilson shows the viewer only the whites of the eyes of his Black subjects through cutouts in black reflective glass.

Ai Weiwei worked at the Berengo studio in Venice on his glass sculpture Blossom Chandelier. The large-scale installation bursts with unexpected shapes emanating from white glass flowers to surprise the eye: menacing handcuffs, twitter birds, security cameras, and the artists hands flashing his middle finger (the latter is his angry response to the Chinese government that imprisoned him).

This show also unveils the museums new acquisition for its collection, created in the Berengo Studio Glass Big Brother, a sculpture by Song Dong, one of contemporary Chinese arts leading figures.

Certainly, this chandelier sculpture by Song Dong with its glass-blown surveillance cameras, is both poetic and poignant, says Irvin Lippman. It was commissioned by the Museum to hang in our new Wolgin Education Center front windows that face pedestrians walking across Mizner Park.The large-scale ceiling installation is 11 feet long and reaches all the way to the floor. Thirty surveillance cameras are ensconced from top to bottom, looking out at all directions around the chandelier.

The installation Rosemaries Divorce, by Renate Bertlmann, unites aspects from Rosemaries Baby (1983), her multi-part installation about the ambivalent relationship between mother and child, and Discordo Ergo Sum, a field of knife-roses she exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2019.The monstrously enlarged glass pacifier is an image she has used since the mid-1970s referencing sexuality and motherhood. It is flanked by two knife-roses made of deep black glass.

The Italian artist Monica Bonvicinis deeply psychological work addresses themes of sexuality, power, and relationships in male-oriented domains.Her visits to sadomasochist nightclubs with Gay male friends are the inspiration for Bonded.She won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the 1999 Venice Biennale.

DNA HAS NO COLOR is a new statement from Nancy Burson that is a powerful work about the illegitimacy of racism. This is a continuation of the project that Zaha Hadid commissioned Burson to develop for the London Millennium Dome. Burson is known for biology-related work, including her use of cutting edge facial morphing technology for art that shows what individuals would look like as a different race.

The Pandemic Oculus, (2020), is by Tim Tate, whose work explores the worlds of loss, memory, recovery, and hope. As an HIV-positive man, he lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and 1990s, and now through the current pandemic.In the museums exhibition catalogue, the artist states that Pandemic Oculus also honors the many unsung heroes around the world: nurses, teachers, essential employees, grandparents caring for children so that parents can work, and so many more.

Tate is the co-founder of the Washington Glass Studio in Washington, DC. He is also the co-moderator, along with William Warmus, of the 21st Century Glass group on Facebook, which has shared and discussed over 10,000 images of sculptural glass from around the world.

The Pandemic Oculus, Tim Tate (2020), Glass.

Erwin Wurms wry sense of humor permeates his most famous works and has served him well in creating a poignant cultural commentary throughout his career.Wurm produced this triad in cold hard glass at the Berengo Studio. They are smaller versions of the massive bronze sculpture of a hot water bottle with legs, Big Mutter, that he created for the Venice Biennale in 2020.In the exhibition catalogue, the shows curator Kathleen Goncharov describes these mothers as neither warm nor comforting . . . their stubby little legs imply flight when called upon to be caregivers.

At the Berengo Studio, Jimmie Durham created a series of eight giant cougar heads suspended on metal armatures. Caught in suspension as they gaze at one another, their collective roar remains frozen between them.The cougar is one of the most sacred animals in Cherokee mythology, and the influence of Native-American culture vs. Western rationalism is evident in his work.The artists long trajectory includes his work during the civil rights movement and as a political organizer for the American Indian Movement. In 2019, Durham was the recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement award at the 58th Venice Biennale.

In the museums exhibition catalogue, curator Kathleen Goncharov describes Prune Nourry as no stranger to illness . . . her work always dealing with science and bioethics from a feminist perspective, a focus that has intensified since her breast cancer diagnosis in 2018.At the Berengo Studio, she created River Woman, a transparent skeletal sculpture based on an anatomical drawing of the human vascular system.While its form may be human, the arteries resemble rivers, streams and trees that suffer in their own way too, from human abuse rather than disease.

Ugo Rondinone represented his home country in the Swiss Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007).In this work, the twelve glass horses cast in beautiful shades of blue all face different directions, creating delicate light games with their reflections and shadows in continuous motion.In the context of this installation, the reappearing motif of a horse (which has a long tradition in the history of art), evokes alienation and a subversive twist emblematic of Rondinones works.

More info: Visit the Boca Raton Museum of Art website.

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U.S. Premiere of 'Glasstress' Showcases The Work of Leading International Artists in Collaboration With Venetian Glass Masters - ArtfixDaily

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn Takes On The Progressives – The Federalist

Posted: at 7:08 pm

If there is one thing that 2020 has taught me, it is that the real political and cultural divide in our country is not between Republicans and Democrats, or even conservatives and liberals, but between traditionalists and progressives.

At the core of progressivism is not the optimistic American belief that things are improving and that our children can live better lives than we did, but the belief that man is a perfectible product of evolutionary forces. Rather than being made in Gods image and then fallen, progressives believe we must throw off the shackles and prejudices of the past in order to move forward to build utopia.

The traditionalist is not against growth and change, but he recognizes, as Edmund Burke did in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, the danger of trying to remake society and man in the image of a new ideology that radically redefines such words as truth, justice, and equality. The progressive has no qualms about running roughshod over the established beliefs, institutions, and mores of a nation if he can only achieve his goals. At its most extreme, progressivism can justify to itself any present-day atrocity as long as it claims to be helping usher in a future brave new world of absolute egalitarianism.

The genealogy of progressivism runs from Jean-Jacques Rousseaus nave belief in the noble savage to the bloody social engineering of the French Revolution to the deterministic dialectical materialism of Karl Marx, out of which arose the horrors inflicted on their own people by Lenin and Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-Il. According to all these progressive leaders, history was moving unstoppably toward their workers paradise, and anyone who sought to hinder its arrivalby deed, word, or thoughtwas backward, unenlightened, and, to use a cherished word of Marxist elites, atavistic.

Since the true face of progressivism revealed itself in the French Revolution, a number of brave critics have risen up to expose its destructive pretensions and its false view of man. A short list of these critics includes Burke, Alexis Tocqueville, the authors of the Federalist Papers, Cardinal John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, George Orwell, C. S. Lewis, and Pope John Paul II. The critic, however, who saw and understood the dangers most clearly, partly because he suffered greatly at the hands of progressivism run amok, was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Born one year after the Russian Revolution, Solzhenitsyn was raised as a loyal Soviet and even served as an officer in the armyuntil he was arrested in 1945 for saying something negative about Stalin. He spent eight years in the prison camps of the Gulag.

After being released, he lived in exile in Kazakhstan, where he taught physics. He later returned to Russia and published a novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), which he based on his experiences in the Gulag. Although he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1970, when his literary expos, The Gulag Archipelago, appeared in the 1970s, he was forced to flee the country, eventually moving to the United States in 1976.

Hailed as a hero of democracy and freedom, Solzhenitsyn was invited to give the commencement address at Harvard University in 1978. After sincerely praising American freedom, Solzhenitsyn went on to criticize Western secularism, rationalism, and materialism. His address lost him the support of many in the media and academy, but it stands as a bold witness to the poisonous excesses of the progressivist spirit.

Similarly, when he was awarded the Templeton Prize in England in 1983, his speech, which drew a straight line from godlessness to the Gulag, caused him to be further labeled as old-fashioned, out of touch, reactionary, and, yes, atavistic. Solzhenitsyn, ostracized by the liberal thinkers who had once hailed him as a champion of freedom, lived the life of a recluse in Vermont until, remarkably, he was allowed to return to Russia in 1994, where he lived out the remainder of his long life in peace.

Like Ivan Denisovich, all of Solzhenitsyns major novels incorporate autobiographical elements. The three-volume The Gulag Archipelago critiques and exposes both Leninism-Stalinism and Western secular rationalism. Cancer Ward is a profound meditation on death by an author who almost died of cancer.

The First Circle is a conversation between inmates in a Soviet white-collar prison for educated scientists, with one of the characters based on the authors own younger self as he moved from rationalism to religion. The four-volume The Red Wheel is a re-imagining of the Russian Revolution that blends fiction and non-fiction, historical documents and Solzhenitsyns own incisive analysis of how the fated revolution could have been avoided by different choices on the part of free, volitional individuals.

Thankfully for those who are familiar with Ivan Denisovich and the Harvard Address but have yet to work up the energy to read his long, complex, circuitous novels, a collection of essays has appeared that illuminates the many facets of Solzhenitsyn the man, the writer, and the prophet.

Edited by David P. Deavel, co-director of the Terence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, and Jessica Hooten Wilson, Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence at the University of Dallas, Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West explores Solzhenitsyns links to Russian culture, Orthodoxy, politics, and other Soviet writers, as well as the influence that he and his fellow Russians have had on twentieth-century American writers. Although the collection is wide-ranging in its analysis, its especially valuable for illuminating what Solzhenitsyn can teach us about the dangers of progressivism today.

In the opening essay, The Universal Russian Soul, Nathan Nielson, a graduate of St. Johns College, quotes this passage from Solzhenitsyns 1993 speech The Relentless Cult of Novelty: And in one sweeping gesture of vexation, classical Russian literaturewhich never disdained reality and sought the truthis dismissed as next to worthless. Denigrating the past is deemed to be the key to progress. And so it has once again become fashionable in Russia to ridicule, debunk, and toss overboard the great Russian literature, steeped as it is in love and compassion toward all human beings, and especially toward those who suffer.

Needless to say, the fear Solzhenitsyn prophetically expresses here has been realized in increasingly shameless attempts by American universities to ridicule, debunk, and toss overboard our Western heritage as a prelude to building an egalitarian, multicultural society, despite the fact that the legacy they want to jettison has provided the sole foundation for liberal democracy and individual freedom. Solzhenitsyn knew that no stable future could be built on hatred of the past, since hatred of the past inevitably leads to hatred of the self, not to mention hatred of ones neighbor and ones society.

The two essays that follow, The New Middle Ages and The Age of Concentration, are not analyses of Solzhenitsyn, but reflections by a modern Russian novelist, Eugene Vodolazkin, who shares Solzhenitsyns spirit and his mistrust of all progressive attempts to build a perfect society.

It is wrong to think of utopias as harmless dreams, he warns. Combined with the idea of progress, utopian thought is a dream that motivates action. It establishes a goal so lofty that it cannot be reached. The more ideal it becomes, the greater the stubbornness with which it is pursued. There comes a time when blood is spilled. Oceans of blood. In one way or another, all of Solzhenitsyns novels work out just that terrifying cause and effect, ripping away the faade of humanitarianism or revolutionary consciousness or classless equality to reveal the beast within.

In that vein, David Walsh, professor of politics at Catholic University, locates in The Red Wheel a central struggle between those who seek to remake Russia in accordance with their own idea of it and those who seek to submit to the idea of Russia as itself the guiding principle of their action. It is the difference between ideology and truth. The protagonists of ideology are driven by the conviction of the superiority of their conception to all that has existed. The servants of truth subordinate themselves to what is required to bring what is already there more fully into existence.

What is at issue here is not only the destructive nature of ends-justifies-the-means thinking, but the anti-humanistic arrogance that invests Marxist ideology (dialectical materialism, economic determinism, identity politics) with a sacred imprimatur for radically remaking society.

In his analysis of The Gulag Archipelago, Gary Saul Morson, Lawrence B. Dumas Professor of the Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University, considers a question that Solzhenitsyn asks himself: Why do Shakespeares greatest villains kill only a few people while Lenin and Stalin killed millions?

The reason, Morson explains, is that Macbeth and Iago had no ideology. Real people do not resemble the evildoers of mass culture, who delight in cruelty and destruction. No, to do mass evil you have to believe it is good, and it is ideology that supplies this conviction. All of us are capable of small, independent evil acts, but progressivism, by allowing governments to submerge their moral qualms beneath a sea of ideology, unleashes that evil on all of society.

Joseph Pearce, who interviewed Solzhenitsyn in Russia in 1998 and wrote an excellent biography, teases out Solzhenitsyns anti-progressivism by contrasting him with Leo Tolstoy. Unlike Tolstoy, Pearce argues, Solzhenitsyn laments the modern belief in eternal, infinite progress which has practically become a religion, adding that such progressivism was a mistake of the eighteenth century, of the Enlightenment era. Technological progress in the service of philosophical materialism was not true progress at all but, on the contrary, was a threat to civilization. In his novels, Solzhenitsyn drives these points home, not by offering philosophical disquisitions, but by incarnating these ideas in the lives of flesh-and-blood characters.

James F. Pontuso, Patterson Professor of Political Science at Hampden-Sydney College, offers an example of this incarnation. In The First Circle, writes Pontuso, Solzhenitsyn captivatingly captures the allure of ideology in the character of Lev Rubin. Despite all evidence to the contrary, including his own undeserved arrest and imprisonment, Rubin is devoted totally and insensibly to the Communist cause. . . . Rubin fails to acknowledge what he experiences; instead he accepts what he chooses to believe. For him every crime committed in the present is justified by the glorious future of peace, prosperity, and universal brotherhood that Marxs principles purport to bring about.

Such is the power of Marxs progressive ideology that Rubin discounts his personal experience. If such self-deception in the name of ideology sounds unbelievable, just think of the American politicians and media people who, during the summer of 2020, watched businesses being looted and burned but could only see peaceful protests in the name of racial justice and economic equity. They are those who not only live and propagate the lie, but who come to believe it themselves.

Perhaps the best summation of what Solzhenitsyn can teach us about the dangers of progressivism is found in a reconsideration of The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn scholar Daniel J. Mahoney. Central to Solzhenitsyns moral and political vision, he explains, is the nonnegotiable distinction between truth and falsehood. Solzhenitsyns target was precisely the ideological Lie that presented evildoing as a historically necessary stage in the fated progress of the human race. He always asserted that the ideological Lie was worse than violence and physical brutality, ultimately more destructive of the integrity of the human soul.

I can think of no better analysis of the true legacy of 2020: Not the Coronavirus itself, but the way it was used to justify the illegal power grabs of bureaucratic, progressivist elites; not the riots themselves, but the lie they were justified by (that America is riddled with systemic racism); not the attacks on Donald Trump per se, but the fact that his enemies in the government, media, and big corporations were willing to tell any lie to take him down.

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn Takes On The Progressives - The Federalist

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James Butler At the British Museum: Tantra LRB 21 January 2021 – London Review of Books

Posted: January 15, 2021 at 2:19 pm

It began with the beheading of a god. In a dispute over theological primacy, Brahma traditionally identified as the creator insulted Shiva. The offended deity poured all his anger into the creation of a new god, Bhairava, who emerged wreathed in fire and shining like the god of death. He tore off one of Brahmas heads, which immediately attached itself to his hand in the form of a begging bowl made from a divine skull. Rather than seeking vengeance on Bhairava, a penitent Brahma rejoiced: the encounter with divine violence shattered his self-regard, which had grown to eclipse the ultimate truth. He was, suddenly, enlightened.

An 18th-century thangka of the deities Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini.

Near the entrance to the British Museums Tantra exhibition (until 24 January, temporarily closed) sits a late sixth-century stone statue of Bhairava, his eyebrows arched in fury, skull cup in one hand, trident in the other. The statue provides a clue to curatorial intentions. The publicity material for the exhibition states that this is the first historical presentation of Tantric visual culture in Britain. The important word is historical: the works selected and the scrupulous sobriety with which they are treated represent a coded critique of the Hayward Gallery show on the Indian cult of ecstasy in 1971, which, inflected by countercultural predilections and fascinated by sexual deviancy, set the tone for Tantras popular reception in Britain. Imma Ramos, the BMs South Asia curator, is less prescriptive, preferring to talk of Tantra as a body of beliefs and practices above all a form of corporeal spirituality, as well as a countercultural philosophy with a rebellious spirit. Bodies, living and dead, are imagined, deified, worshipped, cultivated as sources of power and dismembered in terrifying rituals of transgression designed to free the mind.

Tantric practice is bewilderingly diverse. It ranges from relatively conventional devotional acts, such as breath control and repetitions of mantras, to the deliberate ritual transgression of dietary, sexual and caste taboos, or direct genital worship. A practitioner, or Tantrika, is directed to meditate in the charnel ground, among decomposing bodies, or to smear themselves with ashes from the crematorium pyre. Elaborate meditative instructions overlay the Tantrikas body with a cartography of channels, whorls and lotuses on which gods sit; Tibetan manuals instruct the practitioner to imagine a vast and ramified symbolic cosmos collapsing into pure light, or their own body flayed alive. Stencilled on a wall in the exhibitions first room is a reminder that Tantra sees the universe as animated by divine female power; female deities predominate, from the sky-dwelling Yoginis, worshipped in open-topped temples one from Odisha is re-created in the exhibition, the light changing overhead, a litany playing on a loop to Kali, a hugely popular goddess uniting maternal and destructive qualities. Motifs repeat through the galleries: the skull cup, originally adopted as a begging bowl and libation vessel by cremation ground mystics, passes from deity to deity, acquiring layers of symbolic meaning. Europeans have been especially intrigued by deliberate transgressions the eating of meat, drinking of wine and, above all, ritual sex but Tantrikas are often warned that this is the fast and dangerous track to enlightenment.

A late 19th-century sculpture of the goddess Kali.

Visitors might still feel the lack of a clear definition. Tantra isnt a religion, but it profoundly transformed two major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. It isnt about sex, but its shot through with sexuality. Its practitioners range from hucksterish wandering mystics to kings, from celibate monks to rock stars. Scholars frequently point to the words etymology it derives from a Sanskrit root meaning to weave to suggest there is something intrinsic about the way Tantra pulls disparate threads together. Some use it strictly to refer to the scriptures called Tantras, a vast corpus mixing divine dialogue, ritual instruction and metaphysical commentary (some of the earliest surviving palm-leaf manuscripts are on display at the BM). Others argue that as a distinctive category, Tantra only really emerges from the interaction between Western observers and Eastern culture. Yet the recurrence of motifs, the constant return to the body throughout the millennium of history condensed by the exhibition, does suggest a clear internal coherence, perhaps defined against a persistent and more orthodox asceticism. One early Tantric text, the Hevajra Tantra, provides a neat definition of the knot at which it worries: By passion the world is bound; by passion too it is released.

Any modern presentation of Tantra must be conscious of the opprobrium and condescension that for centuries characterised its reception. Early British fascination Ramos makes the case that Blake drew on popular illustrations of Kali for his vision of Lucifer gave way to moralising repulsion and evangelical enthusiasm. The Victorian Sanskritist Monier Monier-Williams described Tantra as Hinduisms last and worst stage of medieval development. The instinct to treat it as a kind of degeneration, a lamented supplement to pristine orthodoxy, as one scholar of Buddhism has put it, is still common. Reading the work of early British Indologists, it is hard to avoid the sense that they sought in a strictly Vedic, pre-Tantric Hinduism an Indian analogue to Protestantism, one whose scriptural rationalism had been marred by an accumulation of barbaric ritualism. This impulse has been shared at times by Indian reformers and nationalists: the mid-19th-century Vedic ideologue Dayananda Saraswati launched a bitter attack on the trickery of these stupid popes, Tantrikas who represented everything he thought degenerate about the India of his day. The exhibition prefers to stress the prominence of Kali as a symbol of Indian independence, but also, for Indias colonial governors, as the source of panicked fantasies about the dangers presented by thuggee cults. (The thuggee panic of the 1830s, which attributed a religious motivation to banditry and unrest prompted by colonial exploitation, has had a long cultural afterlife, providing plots for innumerable European potboilers as well as Orientalist films such as Gunga Din and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)

Many of the works that derive from the BMs own collections were locked away in its Secretum for decades, accessible only to those whose gender and class supposedly made them invulnerable to corruption. John Woodroffe (1865-1936) was typical of Britons with a penchant for Tantra: by day a judge on the Calcutta High Court, renowned for his severity, he was by night an ardent Tantrika, publishing translations and introductions under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon. The journey from spiritual emancipation to the politics of liberation isnt inevitable, of course, but one cant help wondering how often the two sides of the self met.

A 19th-century thangka of the deity Narodakini.

The best artefacts in the exhibitions are in the rooms devoted to the arrival of Tantra at the Mughal court and in Tibet. Mughal paintings evoke serene gardens, which lend their transgressor saints a luminous stillness; a scarlet Bhairavi exults on a corpse in a charnel ground, executed in precise and unruffled lines. The human body becomes a garden full of flowers on which deities rest. A Tibetan thangka (painting on silk) depicts an explosion of colour and light: a wrathful deity and his consort, shown in a carnal embrace, hold implements of war and destruction while skeletons dance around them. The sexual posture, were told, represents the union of wisdom with compassion, though when one looks at the thangka its easy to forget. Both the Mughal and Tibetan rooms prompt questions. How did an antinomian, transgressive mysticism find fertile soil at an imperial court? That it provided divine legitimacy for rulers, as well as diversion for aristocrats, doesnt seem sufficient to account for its centuries-long endurance and wide-ranging appeal. Why was it taken up by celibate Tibetan monks, and why do they venerate the mahasiddhas, Tantrikas who gleefully break every monastic rule?

One clue might lie in the way that Tantras key symbols shift endlessly between metaphor and reality: the knives and swords of the Tantric deities are methods of breaking through attachment and delusion, but they are also real knives used to flay corpses. The charnel ground is at once the world of material form, the human body, the oppressed nation and a real crematorium strewn with bones. The skull cup is a begging bowl, or represents non-attachment, or is filled with ecstasy, or with the reasoning mind and its suddenly in front of you, a real skull, of someone who lived like you, and died like you will die. Now drink from it. The effect is vertiginous.

A Yogini from a temple in Hirapur.

After this, the room devoted to 20th-century re-imaginings of Tantra seems tawdry and shallow. It is the most difficult room to make cohere and could be part of another exhibition, about the longer history of the recurrent turn to the East at moments of spiritual crisis. Some of the Indian artists might bristle at their inclusion under the label neo-Tantrism, but their work along with the austere abstractions of Ithell Colquhoun (1906-88) is more compelling than the reduction of spiritual liberation to the suburban transgressions of hashish and fucking, as in some of the more popular consumerist material on display. Its a reminder that the exhibitions subtitle (Enlightenment to Revolution) is composed of concepts as full of shifting meaning as any skull cup. It would be unfashionable very 1971 to ask the more general, transhistorical question that troubled me: what is it about the experience of desire, which can terrify and overwhelm, that leads so many people along the same path, seeking freedom from it and through it? And in a culture which panders to desire above all, what is there left to transgress?

Ramoss curatorial interventions are subtle. Wherever possible she has stressed the agency of or at least reverence for women, though Tantric traditions exist that treat women as convenient tools for male emancipation, to be used and discarded. The strand of 20th-century interest in Tantra evidenced by fascist dilettantes like Julius Evola is mercifully absent. Ramos has been brave in foregrounding heterodoxy and tolerance, illustrating contacts between Muslim mystics and Tantrikas at the Mughal court, quoting in her catalogue essay the 14th-century Kashmiri Tantrika Lal Ded: The lord pervades everywhere,/There is nothing like Hindu or Musalman,/All distinctions melt away. This is not a version of history popular with the current Indian government. The exhibition is attentive to historic anticolonial uses of Tantra, but it would be enlightening to know more about the ways in which these dazzling items came to be in the BMs possession. Of the Odisha temple statues, we are told only that they were dispersed between various collections. Not every taboo, then, is broken.


James Butler At the British Museum: Tantra LRB 21 January 2021 - London Review of Books

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About Tomorrow Remembering Yesterday while Bearing in Mind the Present Day. Part 1 – Georgia Today

Posted: at 2:19 pm


The past year of 2020 was not just another year. Its dramatic nature showed us once again, and quite severely, the full intensity of the challenges that could arise when several large-scale crises occur at once. In fact, in parallel with the distortion of the international political line, economic imbalance and inadequate governance systems, the global pandemic has further exposed old scars and added new, hitherto unknown, traits to the already familiar picture.

The natural result of this process is the study of the risks and dangers posed by the pandemic, their ongoing diagnoses, and the search for effective ways to solve the crisis. Undoubtedly, it is important to deepen academic knowledge while working on the issues raised, but it is much more difficult and takes great responsibility to adapt the relevant knowledge in such a way so that it can help to actually address urgent concrete issues.

From third to first: Time and Necessity

Georgia is facing a multi-component task that needs to be solved. We must analyze with equal accuracy both the dynamics of global and regional trends and the anatomy of domestic challenges and determine the impact of the interrelationship of the first two and their effect on the third. Also, to determine with a minimal margin of error the forms of national consciousness and institutional development corresponding to world events. This task is aggravated by the fact that in parallel with finally overcoming the remaining, so-called Soviet legacy, the urgent objective is to materialize the idea of modern Georgian national-state unity oriented not merely towards tomorrow (time flies fast even without looking back), but the day after tomorrow.

We have mentioned before the uselessness of theoretical exercises detached from practice. However, it is also a fact that the success of any affair is based on understanding its conceptually correct beginnings, substantiating the principles that define the system, and finding the optimal point of intersection between historical memory, current process, and future mosaic. It is only possible with this condition to achieve what we often talk about: the formation of a systemic vision of the countrys development, the consolidation of society around it and, already for this time and generation, performing a modern miracle of our nation jumping from the third world to the first.

Since the purpose of this article is not just a call and a reminder, we will try to point out some essential circumstances or factors without which long-term and consistent state development remains a hostage of routine puzzles, and national energy, talent and resources are consumed to overcome a daily, endless whirlpool of one step forward, two steps back. Overall, we may end up receiving an illusion filled with deceptive victories and ostensible successes achieved in one single circle. Of course, something like this is not in any of our interests: one of the main guarantees of our overall success is natural unity.

The environment that is formed around us

The more modest the role of Georgia in modern global processes, the greater the impact of these processes on the present-day life and development of our country. Such an inverse relationship would not be difficult to explain if not for the rearrangement of international relations from already well-known foundations to new, yet undeveloped and quite complex, risky, and, in many ways, muddy and untested beginnings.

We talked about this process many times over the past year, and in several articles have tried to specify and discuss its signs and peculiarities. Also, we have repeatedly related this process to Georgias agenda, defining as to how certain relationships are connected to key directions and what should be the purposeful response of Georgia; or what type of prevention should be in place to reduce the harmful effects of global trends as much as possible, and how to keep up with positive trends and make the most of any benefits.

The list of issues to be discussed in this regard is extensive. However, for now we will focus on just a few to highlight their natural bond with our country. We think we should unconditionally consider the role and weight of the great powers in the new system of international relations as well as their relationships in the global and regional contexts. Such significant attention to the constellation of the First World carries a simple rationale: regardless of the various teachings, schools, or practical doctrines in international relations, the nature and content of these relationships were based on one simple and unequivocal factor and will remain so in the future. This factor is in the global geopolitical and geo-economic scene of the powerful ones of this world: the power of global and superregional states and their impact on processes and outcomes. Even though it is true that the theorists and practitioners have often colorized different stages of the twentieth and this century with fascinating doctrinal titles, behind them stood the laws of realism imbued by the world of Hobbes. We would not make this discussion any simpler by simply stating that power always rises. Of course, this is not always the case, but for the most part it is. And we must be ready for that, both for the ideology corresponding to Georgian realism and for the correct and adequate adaptation of the national resource to this ideology.

Georgians have many friends and partners in the world today. We have enemies as well as those who envy us: sometimes they are open and sometimes concealed. But whatever the balance or equation of friends and foes, the message of the New World Order is unmistakably read as follows: in advocating our development and interests, we must, first and foremost, rely on ourselves. And whatever is the support of the international system and law, its effectiveness and efficiency must rely on the main foundation Georgian realism, qualified pragmatism and, in terms of values, - rationalism.

Following this introduction, we will briefly review a few sub-items.

New Cold War?

The emergence of a new geopolitical contour in Eurasia is largely driven by the so-called Cold War between the US and China. We do not use the qualifier so-called here randomly. The use of these words is associated with one common mistake: equating their relations with those of the Cold War between the US and the USSR.

If we consider a few fundamental differences between these two confrontations, then we can properly understand the comparison as a mistake. Let us start with the fact that the leading line of the Cold War between the US and the USSR was overwhelmingly revealed in the rivalry between two ideological camps, while the confrontation between the US and China is not as much about ideology as about the distribution of spheres of influence mainly. China believes that the centuries-long era of humiliation is over, and it is time for the world to not only acknowledge their desire to be, but also to at last recognize China as a great state. A number of Chinese initiatives in recent years, both within the country and abroad, have served the purpose of achieving this goal. These initiatives are well known to readers.

Beijings traditional official rhetoric about the non-use of force against other states is noteworthy, as is its involvement in international institutions and various projects. This activity of China became especially noticeable during Trumps presidency, and it has been followed by a reduction in cooperation by the United States in various international formats. Also noteworthy is the extraordinary attention paid to the Chinese model of governance during the pandemic, which has sparked a debate over the effectiveness of liberal and state forms of capitalism.

Without going into the details of drawing a comparison between the systems, this confrontation carries one very practical significance for Georgia: we are in one of the key geographical and geopolitical areas of the Eurasian space, the macro-region of the Black and Caspian Seas. In the context of a new series of large-scale competition of states in the Eurasian space, the growth of different interests in this macro-region is inevitable. This is directly related to the urgency of our state security and public resilience, as well as to the further deepening of our strategic alliances strengthened by the Constitution, so that it acquires new forms and essence. In addition, this line of alliances must somehow, which is utterly difficult!, be drawn in the constant mode of tension management and constant communication with large regional participants.

In short, Georgian realism must, in the shortest period, accommodate the two main tools for managing the coexistence of our national interests with the interests of others in the region, which lies in effective restraint and effective dialogue. We understand that the topic needs to be expanded upon, and it will be the subject of our next discussion. At this stage we will limit ourselves to a brief overview.

More NATO in Georgia and more Georgia in NATO

We all know this phrase by heart and have been hearing it for years now. The real meaning of which, similar to a famous Georgian song, is that the present might not favor us, but the future will belong to us (and not someone else).

Clearly, the process of integration with the Euro-Atlantic Alliance is not static: it is moving forward, acquiring new elements and content. At the same time, the significant and alarming processes around our country and allies is not motionless either they seem to be developing at a faster pace than the intensity of NATO integration statements or even the addition of a few extra elements to the cooperation package. In this sense, despite our Foreign Ministry's promising assessments, we do not think that the summary document of the last NATO summit has created the adequate effect that would be directly proportional to this period and its needs. There is a feeling that the dynamics of our membership in the Alliance has become a subject to the a little later, a little bit less approach, which is detrimental to an overall Western security design in Georgia, the region, and beyond.

In all fairness, it should be noted that the lack of the desired rhythm and pace in the process cannot and should not be attributed to the political will of Brussels alone. Here again we must recall the inverted world left behind by the post-classic Cold War period, and the pandemic made the system of international relations even more unpredictable. The uncertainty of the general environment is compounded by the noticeable fragmentation of a single political line within the alliance itself. To illustrate this point, we will cite as examples the socio-political differences and heterogeneity between NATO countries in Western and Eastern Europe; Turkish peculiarity, to do what will benefit Turkey in the first place; and European strategic autonomy in response to Trumps famous policies. But all of these are clearly detached and far away from solving practical issues in the context of a country whose territory is occupied and its creeping expansion (say, annexation) is not interrupted, and the neighborhood environment requires the introduction of feasible (and not declarative) security mechanisms for the same country. At the end of the day, it is a question of fully considering the interests of a country that has not backed down for a single minute in its contribution to the common good.

Proper attention has been paid to the practical aspects of this particular issue in the past and is still being addressed. Here we just wanted to point out that it is now time for politically courageous decisions and effective steps. In this case as well, there are several options for our country and its allies to consider, starting with the collective and ending with regional or bilateral security systems. We have described them in previous publications. Proper readiness and realism are required to analyze each decision in a timely manner and to implement them without any hesitation. This is necessary for Georgia to have more national and more Black Sea regional stability, and not for the purpose of being perceived as a source of threat in our neighborhood.

As a result of the Russo-Georgia war of 2008 and the annexation of Crimea, Russias exclusivity, in their view, seemed to be unchallenged in their near abroad. But this status was still fragile, which from time to time has been confirmed by Georgian and Ukrainian cases. The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and, as a result, the November 10 agreement of the previous year, shifted Russian interest in the neighborhood to a sort of geopolitical cohabitation. Quite important geographical zones have emerged, where Moscow has to coexist with the interests of other countries or agree on certain cooperative formats concerning such interests.

At the same time, it should be noted that, just like Marquezs Chronicle of a Death Foretold, it is inadmissible to loosen up vigilance in respect to Russias current capabilities. Despite the repeated Foretold Chronicles of the Russian power factor in recent years, its geopolitical decline has become a slow process, and even in death it is impressively revived from time to time, affecting not only the immediate neighborhood but also political events further out. For example, in recent years, Moscows geopolitical stance has been projecting hard and soft power in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa. The manifestation of Russian interventions has been substantially diversified starting with increasing the capabilities of its Expeditionary Armed Forces and continuing with external interventions in the form of a public-private partnership (for example, in some cases the use of forces like the well-known Wagner Group).

From the worlds point of view, one of the most popular research questions has remained as a dilemma since the times of Barack Obama: is Russia a global or regional superpower? This question has been the subject of many interesting papers and public discussions in international relations and in regional intersections, however, we believe that there is still no unequivocal, convincing answer.

But for us, as a country in the immediate neighborhood of Russia, the question of another formulation is much more relevant: is there a small probability beyond public statements that our country will remain the object of some kind of compromise between the West and Russia (deal is certainly not the right word)? Hopefully not. We believe the answer is no. But plausible evidence around the issue requires the effective and timely steps that we have already mentioned in this article. Otherwise, there will still be a high risk that the country will be torn between two major political-normative camps and a gray area will continue to exist for many more years. This, in turn, may at some point lead to strategic uncertainty (internal political turmoil, social stagnation, etc.) and to a negative demonstration effect in the eyes of the world (e.g., limiting transit potential, diminishing investment attractiveness).

Such convincing action and purposefulness towards the ongoing regional processes by both Tbilisi and its allies will ultimately advance our partnership. It will help us to use our unified resources more effectively for restraint, sustainability, and communication. The unity of these components does not only mean raising military standards, per se. Certainly, in the overall picture and specifically in the military one the objective of security is a top priority. However, the result of the Georgian-Western concentrated effort is the depiction of a much bigger and more complex outcome: to make Georgia analogous to West Germany or South Korea in the south of Eurasia. Achieving this high-level task requires solving a number of internal and external factors, institutional development, and perfection. This is how the country should be prepared to function fully in the conditions of long-term (hopefully not so long?) coexistence with an unfavorable environment.

Something that must be done by ourselves

The support of the international community and Georgias allies and partners is tremendous for the final success of the Georgian cause. Certainly, along with this support, there are issues that can only be dealt with and resolved by the citizens of our country.

Within the list of such issues, we must follow the established rule and order to be able to single out the main ones based on which the rest are built. Sure, it is difficult to enumerate all the priorities in one piece as it is a subject of much wider discussion and such discussions are not uncommon in Georgian society nowadays.

But we will be joining those expansive discussions with the present article and draw the readers attention to some still topical, critical issues.

About the role of societal participation

Identifying the right priorities in society and consolidating around them remains a major challenge. We cannot agree with those who claim that Georgian society is too polarized. In our opinion this statement is invalid, because radical polarization also requires at least a few value systems which would lead to a concentration of a certain segment around this or that system. This is especially true when at one stage or another there are no clear outlines of a national or state ideology from either the government or the opposition, and without a clear party system and party programs, party ideologies, and a systematic approach with regards to state-building making the use of such a profound word polarization a nearly hollow sound. Thus, when some marginal or mainstream political groups and the media outlets that support them (there is still a long way before we reach the real media) ennoble certain challenges by garmenting them with the incompatibility of political views, a conflict of systemic views or any other grandiloquent language, it is nothing but the inability to offer a solution for tomorrow and a lack of courage to explain the reasons.

These reasons are probably multifaceted, but their main essence is the ignorance of a significant part of the political class, lack of desire and will to develop their own knowledge and skills, and objective inability to offer new and reasoned solutions. Moreover, looking at the current picture, one gets the impression that our political culture is stuck in the deep past, and there is practically no power and desire of self-renewal and rejuvenation left at the hands of the active figures (those who claim to speak on behalf of society). Without adapting to the modern standards of political life, the qualitative development of the country is practically a doomed attempt.

In such a situation, the main purpose of a healthy, balanced and responsible public discourse is to prepare a proper constructive background for changing political standards. The consequent result of this process is the accumulation of the necessary dose of internal pressure, which leads to the regeneration of the Georgian political field and the establishment of the necessary political signature of the country.

And another point of view: We believe that the contribution of any political power in the development of the country should be determined not by the statistical index of parliamentary mandates, but by the number and scale of state initiatives and the degree of their implementation. Statistics come and go, and in historical memory their duration is short, while initiatives with profound and long-term results carry, in fact, a universal significance.

Robust institutions are the face of the country

When reviewing international challenges, we focused on the role and purpose of the countrys institutional arrangement. In this section, we would like once more to emphasize that, no matter how successful and diverse Georgias foreign cooperation may be, the countrys resilience, strength, and development are nourished by its internal resources, including, above all, a proper state institutional arrangement and the integrity and soundness of public service.

In order to achieve any goal, it is necessary to establish professional public-official standards once and for all, which excludes the selection and promotion of human resources on the basis of political or party affiliation. Today the situation is relatively better in this respect, although it is still sadly far from a public service culture which is based on a prestigious, trustworthy, and real meritocracy. The dominance of those adorned with attributes should end in the country, and the way to govern the nation and, consequently, to responsibilities and obligations should be opened to talented, brilliant, people with genuine intellectual potential. Brain drain from the public service should be replaced by a brain inflow.

Here we would like to note that for the sake of an authentic authority, it would be good if the legal requirement for holding a high state-political position would be defined by service in the countrys armed forces. It is also necessary to think about increasing the prestige of the Georgian National Special Services by recruiting highly-qualified personnel. Also, the new role and purpose of our foreign service and diplomacy needs to be reconsidered, which requires full-fledged and courageous measures in the personnel and structural part. These and other steps will either be planned and implemented as soon as possible or never.

One of the necessary determinants of this whole process is the fact that many state institutions have the need to find themselves again. Some need to be reminded of their immediate functions, while some others, considering the modern reality, need to define new functions and modify existing ones. We think that it is impossible to elaborate further on this issue in this article at this stage but any such detailed breakdown in practice will be made possible only once we are firmly established on several inviolable principles for the service of the country and national affairs.

Georgian soft power myth or reality?

It depends on our ambition as well as on sensible and rational contemporaneity built on ethnocultural and national state heritage. The first is not difficult for us: the culture is historically rich and gives Georgians a deserved sense of pride. The second one is problematic: due to the long break in the line of statehood, besides, due to internal conflicts, external aggression since the restoration of independence as well as great changes in the world in such a brief period of history, the final outline of the modern Georgian state has not yet been completed.

One of the main but not only! conditions for the successful completion of this process is to find the functional purpose of our country and its usefulness in the regional or international arena. The basis for this was founded in the 90s of the last century, although this process later was slowed down. However, it must be renewed and the need for it can be explained by two main arguments: first a state with a functioning purpose is a source of mobilization of its internal resources and their periodic renewal; second international-regional usefulness contributes to the need for external attention and assistance that help mitigate threats and risks.

In addition to the above, success in the external and internal arenas is a matter of dignity not only for Georgian society, but also for our countrys international allies and partners. A successful walk on this path will be the most compelling and convincing answer to the skeptical question: how right were our choices in moving through challenges and setbacks, as well as our reforms and changes? Moreover, the success of the Georgian case will be equal to the effect of the soft power of Georgian origin, which can create a very specific and interesting historical example in the formation of a new order of relations.

By Victor Kipiani, Chairman of Geocase

14 January 2021 17:20

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War of the Worlds: Cancel Culture vs. Western Culture – The Jewish Press –

Posted: at 2:19 pm

{Reposted from the authors blog}

Allan Bloom, author of the Closing of the American Mind,1987, wrote that many of us find our purpose and our intellectual and spiritual connection to the world through the stories and wisdom of the Bible, unlike many people who live with an open-ended future and the lack of a binding past and are in a condition like that of the first men in the state of nature spiritually unclad, unconnected, isolated, with no inherited or unconditional connection with anything or anyone.

The West is at war. A battle between two cultures that are diametrically opposed to each other. I believe this war is only possible because we stopped teaching theJudeo/Christian ethicthat underpins freedom. Niall Ferguson wrote in 2011: Maybe the ultimate threat to the West comes from our own lack of understanding and faith in our own cultural heritage.

The West, promoting freedom, free will, free speech, the knowledge that one is the subject of their destiny because one has the right and the obligation to choose his/her path, and this new culture; Cancel Culture, what writer Wesley Yang refers to as the successor ideology; is a culture that takes us back to a time of an artificially designed hierarchy which promotes the belief that one is the object of ones fate, hampered, held back, by race, colour, creed religion or sexual orientation. A culture that promotes standing on the shoulders of giants, not to rise up and reach for the stars, but bury them in the dust and then blame others for their personal failures.

Cancel culture is the Siamese twin of Progressivism: Given the predilection to progress, the past is viewed as an inferior state of existence with various afflictions that wither away over time.

Cancel culture has no use for the individual. Instead of uniting behind the social contract, the general will and the COMMON good, cancel culture is intent upon dividing us into competing tribes: divide and conquer. Cancel culture did not insidiously infiltrate ours; rather it hit us head-on, without mercy and little resistance.

While western Culture is firmly rooted in the Judeo/Christian ethic, cancel culture is firmly rooted in critical race theory.

Angela Harrisexplains it in her foreword to Critical Race Theory: An Introduction:

Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.

Bari Weisswrites:

Critical race theory says there is no such thing as neutrality, not even in the law, which is why the very notion of colorblindnessthe Kingian dream of judging people not based on the color of their skin but by the content of their charactermust itself be deemed racist. Racism is no longer about individual discrimination. It is about systems that allow for disparate outcomes among racial groups. If everyone doesnt finish the race at the same time, then the course must have been flawed and should be dismantled.

In fact, any feature of human existence that creates disparity of outcomes must be eradicated: The nuclear family, politeness, even rationality itself can be defined as inherently racist or evidence of white supremacy, as a Smithsonian institution suggested this summer. The KIPP charter schools recently eliminated the phrase work hard from its famous motto Work Hard. Be Nice. because the idea of working hard supports the illusion of meritocracy.

The most powerful exponent of this worldview is Ibram X. Kendiwho, it should be noted, now holds Elie Wiesels old chair at Boston Universitybelieves that to be antiracist is to see all cultures in their differences as on the same level, as equals. He writes: When we see cultural difference we are seeing cultural differencenothing more, nothing less. Its hard to imagine that anyone could believe that cultures that condone honor killings of unchaste young women are nothing more, nothing less than culturally different from our own. But whether he believes it or not, its obvious that embracing such relativism is a highly effective tool for ascension and seizing power.

It was Franz Boas, in the early 20thcentury, who brought us the term cultural relativism, suggesting that all cultures are equal. I wrote about this inmy bookBack to the Ethic Reclaiming Western Values.

Cancel culture is in the business of linguistic engineering. What words are correct and others that must be eviscerated. I wrote about the attack on theN-wordmany years ago. It is a derogatory word. Like Mick and Jap and Wop and Kike. But it is one word, 6 letters, with a 400-year history. A history of slavery, civil war, Jim Crow and civil rights. Books that tell the story of slavery are attacked and removed from libraries because of that one word. Yet, it is a word that is thrown about in rap music.

We walk on dangerous ground when we attack language.

Wilhelm von Humboldt said, in the eighteenth century,

Language is, as it were, the external manifestation of the minds of the peoples. Their language is their soul, and their soul is their language.

In the twentieth century, Roland Barthes wrote;

Man does not exist prior to language, either as a species or an individual. We never find a state where man is separated from language, which he then creates in order to express what is taking place within him: it is language which teaches the definition of man, not the reverse.

More recently, poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote: The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

Cancel our words, cancel our stories and we are bereft. Alasdair MacIntyre wrote:

Man is in his actions and practice as well as in his fictions essentially a story telling animal. It is through narratives that we begin to learn who we are and how we are called on to behave. Deprive children of stories you leave them unscripted anxious stutterers and their actions is in their words.

We are colluding in the spread of cancel culture with silence; often out of fear. And that fear could lead to the downfall of our hard fought for way of life. The late, great journalist, George Jonas wroteDont let Western civilization the best and most humane form of civilization developed by mankind to parish by default.

Western culture was born 3000 years ago in a desert in the Middle East. It is based on the teachings of the Hebrew Bible. It is an ideology that demands of us to honour life because ALL life is sacred. ALL LIFE. That all people are born with equal intrinsic value; a worthy ideal. That we have free will: moral agency that demands of us that we choose; and choose wisely from the ethics it bequeaths to us. It is an ethic, a culture that honours the majority whileprotecting the individual.

In every genuine democracy today, majority rule is both endorsed and limited by the supreme law of the constitution, which protects the rights of individuals. Tyranny by minority over the majority is barred, but so is tyranny of the majority against minorities.

This ethic also broke with the understanding of time which was considered circular, no beginning and no end, living life like a hamster in the wheel, ones contributions unimportant to the future. The Bible teaches us that time is linear. That means that each of us matters. Our actions matter. We learn from the past to improve the future and bring about an equitable way of life. History, culture is accumulative. Sigmund Freud wrote that culture is:

the sum of the achievements and institutions which differentiate our lives from those of our animal forbears and served two purposes namely that of protecting humanity against nature and of regulating the relations of humans among themselves.

In his 1927 edition of The History of Philosophy, Will Durant wrote,

history can become philosophy only by being not analytic but synthetic: not shredded history, but wedded history, history in which all phases of life in a given period shall be studied in their correlation in their common response to similar conditions That would be the picture of an age

The Judeo/Christian ethic is the ideal to which we should aspire. It is the ethic that urges us to look at the past and be ableto say:

And while Americas founders were guilty of undeniable hypocrisy, their own moral failings did not invalidate their transformational project. The founding documents were not evil to the core but magnificent, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, because they were a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. In other words: The founders themselves planted the seeds of slaverys destruction. And our second founding fathersabolitionists like Frederick Douglassmade it so. America would never be perfect, but we could always strive toward building a more perfect union.

The fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy implores us to:

Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past.

In this war of the worlds, what will it be? Will we go forward considering the years of the past or will we view the past as an inferior state of existence with various afflictions that wither away over time?

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On the eve of a day of service, thinking about a history of violence – The Times of Israel

Posted: at 2:19 pm

On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the United States Capitol was occupied and violated by a right-wing mob explicitly intent on stopping the machinery of American democracy in order to install their tyrant.

Participants in this profanity have thus far been called a number of things, and the final terminology remains to be settled upon: protestors, a mob, insurrectionists, seditionists; and we must not forget their names to their supporters, who seem impervious to shame: patriots, martyrs, true Americans. Their actions have been called a riot and an attack on the one side, a rally and righteous occupation on the other.

But one word that has not yet, to my knowledge, been applied, one that emerged out of the modern Russian language in the late 19th century to describe scenes similar to what we witnessed in Washington DC in 2021: a pogrom.

On January 11, 2021, Yeshiva Universitys podcast series Crisis and Hope: YU Voices will feature a discussion in recognition of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday a week later. For our topic, my colleagues and I chose a subject somewhat discordant with the normal focus of this day of service: the shared experience of racist and antisemitic violence at the hands of violently prejudiced societies. This experience has formed an important foundation of a shared Black and Jewish history.

While celebrating the work of Dr. King is usually done through service and a focus on change and progress that represent his legacy, we felt it was important to remember the violence that made his work necessary. Like the pairing of Yom Ha-zikaron with Yom Ha-atzmaut, a day of mourning and reflection with a day of redemption and joy, it seemed worthwhile to understand the darkness a bit better before turning to the light. Our guests will be two experts on popular, racist violence in two different settings: Professor Elissa Bemporad of CUNY, an expert in antisemitic violence in the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, and Professor Scott Ellsworth of the University of Michigan, an expert on anti-Black violence in the United States.

As a historian of modern European Jewish history, I am aware that the term pogrom has been used exclusively to describe attacks upon a Jewish minority by a mob composed of the antisemitic majority. Yet on Wednesday the world witnessed scenes that resonated with the very same images of mass violence in Ukraine that are the origin of the term, or the American variation of lynch mobs and redemptionist terrorists that were commonplace before the Civil Rights era (and beyond). But the images are not the only parallel.

Like Russia-Ukraine and the Jim Crow United States in 1921, this paroxysm of violence did not arise out of a vacuum, but out of a structural similarity between American and Russian-Ukrainian society that persists to this day. And the central pillar of this structure is a shared belief in the racial inferiority of others as the foundation of social stability. The risk posed by questioning this social order was and is viewed as so great by supporters that all means, including and especially terrorist violence, were viewed as not just acceptable, but necessary.

As in 1921, the pogrom and sacking of the US capitol building was based on fantasy and pathology. Pogromchiks in Russia-Ukraine believed (and continue to believe) that Jews were an alien race whose aim was no less than the destruction of Russia and the parasitical enslavement of its innocent real citizens. Racist mobs in the United States believed (and continue to believe) the equality of Black citizens under law and in daily reality to be a nefarious threat to the values of true (meaning White) America. Supporting and perpetuating this worldview required in both cases a belief that was at odds with observable reality. It relied upon the persistence of a mythology in place of history, of denial and delusion in the place of reason and rationalism. It opened the doors and then was sustained by conspiracy and revenge.

Most importantly, though, the forces of both east European pogromchiks and middle American lynch mobs emerged, as on January 6, out of societies struggling with monumental change, at moments of progress and enlightenment that threatened to uproot the powerful immoral structures of the past. In Russia and Ukraine, the violence of 1921 exploded in the wake of a revolution that not only preached universal human equality but initially made significant and visible efforts to elevate members of groups including Jews that had been excluded from civic and political participation. In the United States, the horrors of organized terror against Black citizens rose in the wake of, and as a means of enforcing, the dismantling of equal rights and protection under law that had been achieved, albeit imperfectly and incompletely, during Reconstruction. This, too, was the explicit strategy and logic of Wednesdays pogromchiks: terror to stop change, violence to return to a fantasy of greatness that has never existed.

We are at another such moment today. And while the book has not yet been written describing how our society will emerge from this moment, it is worth being hopeful that the shock of this astonishing, historical debasement of our nation will form the crack in our darkness that will prove to be how the light gets in, in the immortal words of Leonard Cohen.

At the same time we must soberly remind ourselves of an important fact: in both Russia-Ukraine and the United States a century ago, this darkness prevailed. It became, and remains, our darkness.

Please join us for a deeper consideration of these and other questions on Monday, January 11, 2021 at 12 noon. The url to attend the virtual symposium is:

Jess Olson is professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York. He has written several articles and two books on Jewish history, culture, Zionism, and religious identity.

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Torah & Rationalism: Understanding Torah and the Mesorah – The Jewish Voice

Posted: November 4, 2020 at 10:48 am

Edited by: Moshe Avraham Landy] (Feldheim, 2020)By: Rabbi Dr. Aharon Chaim HaLevi ZimmermanReviewed by: Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

For the uninitiated, Rabbi Aharon Chaim Zimmerman is known as an eccentric Rosh Yeshiva and Jewish intellectual who flourished in the second half of the twentieth century. Rabbi Zimmerman was born in 1914 into an illustrious rabbinic family, as he was a nephew of Rabbi Baruch Ber Lebowitz (1862-1939)the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Kaminetz and author of Birkas Shmuel. As a young teenager, Rabbi Zimmerman, already recognized as a prodigy, was sent to study under his venerated uncle. Afterwards, he studied under Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik (1879-1941) at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, where he received rabbinic ordination in 1939. At the tender age of 24, Rabbi Zimmerman became the youngest member of the RCA.

He was later tapped to serve as Rosh Yeshiva of the Hebrew Theological College (Skokie Yeshiva) in Chicago until his controversial dismissal in 1964. Subsequently, Rabbi Zimmerman served as Rosh Yeshiva in various other institutes, finally making Aliyah in 1972 and opening a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Rabbi Zimmerman passed away in 1995, but his student Moshe Landy undertook to print some of his Rebbes unpublished works posthumously.

Rabbi Zimmerman penned numerous books and monographs, both in English and Hebrew, on various intricate topicsmostly relating to Halacha and Jewish Philosophy. Many of his Hebrew articles were published in the scholarly rabbinic journal HaPardes (originally edited by Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Pardes, and, from 1947, by Rabbi Simcha Elberg). Most of those articles concern various minutiae in the Halachos regarding ritual sacrifices and related laws of ritual purity/impurity. Rabbi Zimmerman also famously penned an important work entitled Agan HaSahar concerning the placement of the international dateline in Halacha. He also wrote extensively about Zionism and how the ideal Jewish State should be structured. Many of Rabbi Zimmermans English essay were originally published in the Jewish Press and were later culled together and republished as complete books.

Besides Rabbi Zimmermans prowess in Torah Studies and Halacha, he was also quite well-versed in the sciences, including advanced mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Dr. Harry Maryles relates that it was said about Rabbi Zimmerman that he understood quantum theory as well as Niels Bohr did at a time when most of the scientific community had barely even heard of it yet! Nonetheless, this eclectic Torah Scholar focused his energies and devotion to Torah Studies, and viewed that discipline as the most important of all.

This newly-published book represents only a small part of the greater edifice that makes up Rabbi Zimmermans approach to Jewish theology/philosophy. The basic premise of this book is that Halacha and Talmudic study are built on a precise logical system, which is akin to the systems of reasoning behind any of the hard sciences, like mathematics. Rabbi Zimmerman offers a thorough epistemological defense of this staunchly traditionalist view, buttressing his arguments with philosophical terms and ideas.

As mentioned above, Rabbi Zimmerman was quite at home when discussing philosophy. In this book, he cites such classical philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, and Machiavelli to bolster his assertions, while he also references later philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russel, and even Ayn Rand.

Another recurrent theme in Rabbi Zimmermans new book concerns the idea of insiders versus outsiders. In fact, Rabbi Zimmerman treats this idea at greater length in two of his previous books, Torah and Reason (1979) and Torah and Existence (1986). This aspect of Rabbi Zimmermans weltanschauung maintains that the true study of Torah must follow the time-tested traditional methodology of the mesorah, and Torah content can only be assessed through that internal logic. He makes the point that just as other disciplines can only be understood from within their own ontological system, so can Torah only be truly understood by the insider.

To illustrate this point, Rabbi Zimmerman draws an analogy in which he cites the following anecdote: Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky once proclaimed that as intelligent as Albert Einstein might be, he cannot understand the situation of the Jewish people unless he understands two languages that are read from right to leftHebrew and Yiddish. In the same way, Rabbi Zimmerman argued, one who is an outsider to the notion of Torah Study and has not been initiated in its inner logic/methodology cannot grasp the ideas and concepts discussed therein.

The brunt of Rabbi Dr. Zimmermans criticism is levelled against people in the mold of Heinrich Graetz, Leo Strauss, and Gershon Scholem. He polemicizes against these Jewish scholars for imposing their own manmade framework on the Torahs Divine structure, and then framing the Halacha and Jewish tradition through subjective considerations rooted in history, politics, sociology, and the like. Rabbi Zimmerman reserves his harshest condemnations for Levi (Louis) Ginzberg, one of the founders of Conservative Judaism. In fact, a 40-page section of this book is devoted to outing Ginzberg as a plagiarizer and falsifier.

In this work, Rabbi Zimmerman argues time and again how these outsiders and others like them misunderstood the original intent of the traditional rabbinic authorities and misconstrue their words to fit with their own preconceived (biased) notions. Such Jewish scholars often attribute Halachic rulings or positions to the machinations of political/social engineering, instead of to the learned conclusions of applying a traditional methodology of study.

This book, like most of Rabbi Zimmermans previous books, is actually a sort of apologetic defense of traditional Judaism. The drawback of his style is that he often makes very strongly-worded assertions without actually backing them up. In this reviewers opinion, the entire book feels like it consists of off-the-cuff remarks that Rabbi Zimmerman made without meaning to actually get into the topics he broaches. It sometimes feels as if Rabbi Zimmerman could have written an entire chapter to explain just one single sentence in this book. The reader must bear in mind that Rabb Zimmerman did not originally prepare these essays with the intention to create the book at hand, so the ambiguities and vagueness are more the editors doing than the authors.

Furthermore, in this book, Rabbi Zimmerman makes many general, sweeping statements, without going into more detail about how they play out and what exactly he means, or what examples of those ideas we can find. For example, in several chapters throughout this book, Rabbi Zimmerman variously claims that many parts of the Aggadah, Kabbalah, and Rambams philosophy are all just meshalim (parables), but he fails to tell us what the nimshal is. This comes from Rabbi Zimmermans aversion to spoon-feeding his readers/students with information. He instead tries to make certain points, but leaves the reader to do the leg work and work out the exact details. In this way, the assertions he makes are really just starting points from which the reader can begin his own personal exploration and intellectual inquiry into the subject matter.

This reviewer feels that if Rabbi Zimmerman would have buttressed his name-dropping and supped-up appeals to authority with more substantial arguments to prove his points, then this book could be an important guide to understanding Judaism from the inside. Similarly, if this book would have provided more examples of how the Halacha is based on a logical system instead of having us take his word for it, it could have a far greater impact.

In this reviewers final assessment, Rabbi Zimmermans new book is a great introduction to some of the sophisticated ideas behind traditional Judaism, and how it ranks knowledge/rational thought. The editor of this work graciously took the time to locate and provide us with footnotes that contain the exact Hebrew text for most of the sources that Rabbi Zimmerman quotes (as well as Hebrew excurses probably deemed too provocative for the English reader). Indeed, Mr. Landy prepared for publication another small part of Rabbi Zimmermans greater overarching philosophy, and we hope to see more of his unpublished writings see light in the future.

For other reviews of this work that take a different approach, see:

Torah & Rationalism – Writings of the Gaon Rabbenu Aaron Chaim HaLevi Zimmerman zt”l

Torah & Rationalism Writings of the Gaon Rabbenu Aaron Chaim HaLevi Zimmerman ztl

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