Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mathematical Fortune-Telling

Mathematical Fortune-Telling

By Julie J. Rehmeyer

Predicting the future is not very hard, according to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita: a little mathematics is all you need. Figuring out how to manipulate a situation to achieve specific aims is a bit less straightforward, but Bueno de Mesquita says his mathematical tools can usually do that, too.

The New York University political science professor has developed a computerized game theory model that predicts the future of many business and political negotiations and also figures out ways to influence the outcome. Two independent evaluations, one by academics and one by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, have both shown that about 90 percent of his predictions have been accurate. Most recently, he has used his mathematical tools to offer approaches for handling the growing nuclear crisis with Iran.

Bueno de Mesquita provides the computer tools, but he relies on political or business experts to identify specific issues, their possible outcomes, and the key players. He asks experts narrow, carefully delineated questions about which outcome each player would prefer, how important the issue is to each player, and how much influence each player can exert. But he does not ask about the history of the conflict, the cultural norms of the area, or what the experts think will happen.

With careful interviewing, Bueno de Mesquita finds that he can get experts to agree on what information the model needs as input, even when the experts disagree sharply on expected outcomes. Once, after generating a report for the CIA using information from the agency's experts, he had his students assemble the same information from news reports. "Over 90 percent of them came up with the same results as I got [when I was] locked in a lead-lined vault at the CIA headquarters," Bueno de Mesquita says. "It's basic information that experts agree on and that you can even find in The Economist."


Bruce Bueno de Mesquita has led a shift in political science toward quantitative models. Analyses of his model of political decision-making show that it has a 90 percent accuracy rate.
Courtesy of Bueno de Mesquita

The elements of the model are players standing in for the real-life people who influence a negotiation or decision. At each round of the game, players make proposals to one or more of the other players and reject or accept proposals made to them. Through this process, the players learn about one another and adapt their future proposals accordingly. Each player incurs a small cost for making a proposal. Once the accepted proposals are good enough that no player is willing to go to the trouble to make another proposal, the game ends. The accepted proposals are the predicted outcome.

To accommodate the vagaries of human nature, the players are cursed with divided souls. Although all the players want to get their own preferred policies adopted, they also want personal glory. Some players are policy-wonks who care only a little about glory, while others resemble egomaniacs for whom policies are secondary. Only the players themselves know how much they care about each of those goals. An important aspect of the negotiation process is that by seeing which proposals are accepted or rejected, players are able to figure out more about how much other players care about getting their preferred policy or getting the glory.

The details of his study of negotiation options with Iran are classified, but Bueno de Mesquita says that the broad outline is that there is nothing the United States can do to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear energy for civilian power generation. The more aggressively the U.S. responds to Iran, he says, the more likely it is that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. The upshot of the study, Bueno de Mesquita argues, is that the international community needs to find out if there is a way to monitor civilian nuclear energy projects in Iran thoroughly enough to ensure that Iran is not developing weapons.

One of his most famous past predictions also concerned Iran. In 1984, the model predicted that when Ayatollah Khomeini died, an ayatollah named Hojatolislam Khameini and a little-known cleric named Hasheimi Rafsanjani would rise to succeed Khomeini as leaders of Iran. At the time, most experts considered that outcome exceedingly unlikely, since Khomeini had designated a different person as his successor. But in fact, when Khomeini died five years later, Rafsanjani and Khameini succeeded him.

Bueno de Mesquita says he also predicted that Andropov would succeed Brezhnev long before experts considered it likely. He foresaw that China would reclaim Hong Kong 12 years before it happened, and he predicted that France would narrowly pass the European Union's Maastricht Treaty.

Former CIA analyst Stanley Feder says that he has used Bueno de Mesquita's model well over a thousand times since the early 1980s to make predictions about specific policies. Like others, he has found it to be more than 90 percent accurate. In situations where predictions of the model differed from experts' predictions, the model always turned out to be correct.

"I'm always stunned that it works so well," Bueno de Mesquita says. "This 90 percent is not my assessment."

The main reason that the model generates more reliable predictions than experts do is that "the computer doesn't get bored, it doesn't get tired, and it doesn't forget," he says. In the analysis of nuclear technology development in Iran, for example, experts identified 80 relevant players. Because no individual can keep track of all the possible interactions between so many players, human analysts focus on five or six key players. The lesser players may not have a lot of power, Buena de Mesquita says, but they tend to be knowledgeable enough to influence how key decision-makers understand the issues. His model can keep track of those influences when a human can't.

"Given expert input of data for the variables for such a model, it would not surprise me in the least to see that it would perform well," says Branislav L. Slantchev, a political scientist and game theorist at the University of California at San Diego. Predictions based on game theory can fail in a context where people don't act rationally, but in Buena de Mesquita's work, Slantchev says, rational action mostly means that the players are promoting their own perceived interests as best they can, something humans tend to do.

However, he points out that the model relies on having a considerable amount of expert input. "Honestly, if you had all this information," Slantchev says, "you should be able to predict fairly well how the issue would be resolved." The main reason that the model does this better than experts is that it "strips ideological blindfolds, cultural prejudice, and normative commitments that very often color the view of experts."

Buena de Mesquita offers his services through Mesquita & Roundell, a company he founded that uses his model to advise businesses and governments. "It's pretty exciting when you sit down with a client," he says, "and you know that they're making decisions involving life and death questions or billions of dollars, and at the end of the day they are relying on a body of equations."


Bueno de Mesquita, B. 1997. A decision making model: Its structure and form. International Interactions 23:233-251.

McGurn, W. 1996. We warned you. Far Eastern Economic Review 159(June 13):68.

Further Readings:

Lerner, M.A.M. 2007. The new Nostradamus. Good Magazine (Oct. 1). Available at

The New Nostradamus: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita


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The New Nostradamus

The New Nostradamus

Can a fringe branch of mathematics forecast the future? A special adviser to the CIA, Fortune 500 companies, and the U.S. Department of Defense certainly thinks so.

If you listen to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and a lot of people don’t, he’ll claim that mathematics can tell you the future. In fact, the professor says that a computer model he built and has perfected over the last 25 years can predict the outcome of virtually any international conflict, provided the basic input is accurate. What’s more, his predictions are alarmingly specific. His fans include at least one current presidential hopeful, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. Naturally, there is also no shortage of people less fond of his work. “Some people think Bruce is the most brilliant foreign policy analyst there is,” says one colleague. “Others think he’s a quack.”

Today, on a rare sunny summer day in San Francisco, Bueno de Mesquita appears to be neither. He’s relaxing in his stately home, answering my questions with exceeding politesse. Sunlight streams through the tall windows, the melodic sound of a French horn echoing from somewhere upstairs; his daughter, a musician in a symphony orchestra, is practicing for an upcoming recital. It’s all so complacent and genteel, which is exactly what Bueno de Mesquita isn’t. As if on cue, a question sets him off. “I found it to be offensive,” he says about a colleague’s critique of his work. “This is absolutely, totally, and utterly false,” he says about the attack of another.

The criticism rankles him, because, to his mind, the proof is right there on the page. “I’ve published a lot of forecasting papers over the years,” he says. “Papers that are about things that had not yet happened when the paper was published but would happen within some reasonable amount of time. There’s a track record that I can point to.” And indeed there is. Bueno de Mesquita has made a slew of uncannily accurate predictions—more than 2,000, on subjects ranging from the terrorist threat to America to the peace process in Northern Ireland—that would seem to prove him right.

“The days of the digital watch are numbered,” quipped Tom Stoppard. After spending a few hours with Bueno de Mesquita, you might come to believe that so is everything else. Numbered as in “mathematics”—more precisely, game theory, an esoteric branch of mathematics used to analyze interaction. “Game theory is math for how people behave strategically,” Bueno de Mesquita says.

Bueno de Mesquita has big ideas, and he’s more than happy to put his career on the line for them. Back in March 2004, when al-Qaeda bombed a Madrid train station, influencing the course of Spain’s general election three days later, a lot of U.S. security folks were nervous. Worried that al-Qaeda might try something similar here in the run-up to the November, 2004, presidential elections, the Pentagon hired Bueno de Mesquita to run some data through his forecasting model to tell them what to expect. The results were unequivocal. “I said there would be no homeland attack. I also indicated that bin Laden’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, would resurface around Thanksgiving, 2004,” he says. Just after the elections in November that year, Zawahiri released a new videotape. Bueno de Mesquita was right on both counts. “One of the things government needs most is advice that’s not wishy-washy. I try to be as precise as I can.”

For the record, this man is not some lunatic soothsayer sequestered in a musty, forgotten basement office. He is the chairman of New York University’s Department of Politics, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, and the author of many weighty academic tomes. He regularly consults with the CIA and the Department of Defense—most recently on such hot-button topics as Iran and North Korea—and has a new book coming out in the fall that he cowrote with his pal Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His curriculum vitae, which details his various Ph.Ds, academic appointments, editorial-board memberships, writings, honors, awards, and grants, runs 17 small-font pages long.

He is wildly controversial, though. As one of the foremost scholars of game theory—or “rational choice,” as its political-science practitioners prefer to call it—Bueno de Mesquita is at the center of a raging hullabaloo that has taken over some of the most prestigious halls of learning in this country. Exclusive, highly complex mathematically, and messianic in its certainty of universal truths, rational-choice theory is not only changing the way political science is taught, but the way it’s defined.

To verify the accuracy of his model, the CIA set up a kind of forecasting face-off that pit predictions from his model against those of Langley’s more traditional in-house intelligence analysts and area specialists. “We tested Bueno de Mesquita’s model on scores of issues that were conducted in real time—that is, the forecasts were made before the events actually happened,” says Stanley Feder, a former high-level CIA analyst. “We found the model to be accurate 90 percent of the time,” he wrote. Another study evaluating Bueno de Mesquita’s real-time forecasts of 21 policy decisions in the European community concluded that “the probability that the predicted outcome was what indeed occurred was an astounding 97 percent.” What’s more, Bueno de Mesquita’s forecasts were much more detailed than those of the more traditional analysts. “The real issue is the specificity of the accuracy,” says Feder. “We found that DI (Directorate of National Intelligence) analyses, even when they were right, were vague compared to the model’s forecasts. To use an archery metaphor, if you hit the target, that’s great. But if you hit the bull’s eye—that’s amazing.”

How does Bueno de Mesquita do this? With mathematics. “You start with a set of assumptions, as you do with anything, but you do it in a formal, mathematical way,” he says. “You break them down as equations and work from there to see what follows logically from those assumptions.” The assumptions he’s talking about concern each actor’s motives. You configure those motives into equations that are, essentially, statements of logic based on a predictive theory of how people with those motives will behave. From there, you start building your mathematical model. You determine whether the predictive theory holds true by plugging in data, which are numbers derived from scales of preferences that you ascribe to each actor based on the various choices they face.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma, a basic in game theory, explains it well: Two burglars are apprehended near the scene of a crime and are interrogated separately by the police. The police know these two goons did it, but they don’t know how, so they offer each one a deal. If they both confess and cooperate, they’ll both get a minor sentence of five years. If neither man confesses, they’ll both only get one year (for having been caught with some of the stolen loot on them). But, and here’s where it gets interesting, if one confesses and the other doesn’t, the one who confesses walks out scot-free while the other will do 10 years. What will they do? Will they trust each other and do what’s obviously in their best interest, which is not confess? Based on game theory’s assumptions about human nature, the math derived from this dilemma tells you squarely that the two goons will turn each other in.

“In the foreboding world view of rational choice, everyone is a raging dirtbag.”

Which illustrates the next incontrovertible fact about game theory: In the foreboding world view of rational choice, everyone is a raging dirtbag. Bueno de Mesquita points to dictatorships to prove his point: “If you liberate people from the constraint of having to satisfy other people in order to advance themselves, people don’t do good things.” When analyzing a problem in international relations, Bueno de Mesquita doesn’t give a whit about the local culture, history, economy, or any of the other considerations that more traditional political scientists weigh. In fact, rational choicers like Bueno de Mesquita tend to view such traditional approaches with a condescension bordering on disdain. “One is the study of politics as an expression of personal opinion as opposed to political science,” he says dryly. His only concern is with what the political actors want, what they say they want (often two very different things), and how each of their various options will affect their career advancement. He feeds this data into his computer model and out pop the answers.

Though controversial in the academic world, Bueno de Mesquita and his model have proven quite popular in the private sector. In addition to his teaching responsibilities and consulting for the government, he also runs a successful private business, Mesquita & Roundell, with offices in Rockefeller Center. Advising some of the top companies in the country, he earns a tidy sum: Mesquita & Roundell’s minimum fee is $50,000 for a project that includes two issues. Most projects involve multiple issues. “I’m not selling my wisdom,” he says. “I’m selling a tool that can help them get better results. That tool is the model.”

“In the private sector, we deal with three areas: litigation, mergers and acquisitions, and regulation,” he says. “On average in litigation, we produce a settlement that is 40 percent better than what the attorneys think is the best that can be achieved.” While Bueno de Mesquita’s present client list is confidential, past clients include Union Carbide, which needed a little help in structuring its defense after its 1984 chemical-plant disaster in Bhopal, India, claimed the lives of an estimated 22,000 people; the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen; and British Aerospace during its merger with GEC-Marconi.

But there are limits to what his company will do. For example, Bueno de Mesquita may already know, but he won’t say who’ll succeed George W. Bush in the White House. “We have a corporate policy that we will not, on a commercial basis, use the model in campaigns,” he says. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to manipulate the democratic process. We won’t take a client who wants to manipulate U.S. government policy, even if we agree with the manipulation. And we won’t take a foreign client whose objectives are contrary to the objectives of the United States government.”

There’s also the book he’s written with Condoleezza Rice and two other authors, The Strategy of Campaigning, which comes out in the fall. Given the Bush administration’s heavy ideological bent—which would seem to represent everything a rationalist like Bueno de Mesquita opposes—how does he justify putting his name on the same dust jacket as Rice’s? Bueno de Mesquita repositions himself in his chair. “The central question in this book is a question that Condi raised before she came to Washington,” he says. (So is her name there just to sell books? “We are making a concerted effort not to play up the fact that the Secretary of State is a co-author,” he later adds.)

Meanwhile, he has just launched and is the director of NYU’s Alexander Hamilton Center. “The mission for the center is the application of logic and evidence to solving fundamental policy problems. Not to a bipartisan solution, but to a nonpartisan solution.” In his continuing work for the CIA and the Defense Department, one of his most recent assignments has been North Korea and its nuclear program. His analysis starts from the premise that what Kim Jong Il cares most about is his political survival. As Bueno de Mesquita sees it, the principal reason for his nuclear program is to deter the United States from taking him out, by raising the costs of doing so. “The solution, then, lies in a mechanism that guarantees us that he not use these weapons and guarantees him that we not interfere with his political survival,” he says.

“They said my work was evil, offensive, that it should be suppressed. It was a very difficult time in my career.
—Bruce Bueno de Mesquita”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the recent agreement that the United States reached with the government of Pyongyang closely resembles the one that Bueno de Mesquita’s model suggested: Kim agrees to dismantle his existing nuclear weapons but not his existing nuclear capability. “He puts it in mothballs with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors on site 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And in exchange, we provide him with $1.2 billion a year, which we label ‘foreign aid,’ of course.” The “foreign-aid” figure published in the newspapers was $400 million, which concerns Bueno de Mesquita. “I read that and I said, I hope that’s not the deal because it’s not enough money. He needs $1.2 billion, approximately, to sustain the loyalty of his cronies in the military and so forth. It’s unpleasant, this is a nasty man, but we’re stuck with it. The nice part of the deal is that it’s self-enforcing. Each side has a reason to credibly commit to their part of the deal.”

Recently, he’s applied his science to come up with some novel ideas on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In my view, it is a mistake to look for strategies that build mutual trust because it ain’t going to happen. Neither side has any reason to trust the other, for good reason,” he says. “Land for peace is an inherently flawed concept because it has a fundamental commitment problem. If I give you land on your promise of peace in the future, after you have the land, as the Israelis well know, it is very costly to take it back if you renege. You have an incentive to say, ‘You made a good step, it’s a gesture in the right direction, but I thought you were giving me more than this. I can’t give you peace just for this, it’s not enough.’ Conversely, if we have peace for land—you disarm, put down your weapons, and get rid of the threats to me and I will then give you the land—the reverse is true: I have no commitment to follow through. Once you’ve laid down your weapons, you have no threat.”

Bueno de Mesquita’s answer to this dilemma, which he discussed with the former Israeli prime minister and recently elected Labor leader Ehud Barak, is a formula that guarantees mutual incentives to cooperate. “In a peaceful world, what do the Palestinians anticipate will be their main source of economic viability? Tourism. This is what their own documents say. And, of course, the Israelis make a lot of money from tourism, and that revenue is very easy to track. As a starting point requiring no trust, no mutual cooperation, I would suggest that all tourist revenue be [divided by] a fixed formula based on the current population of the region, which is roughly 40 percent Palestinian, 60 percent Israeli. The money would go automatically to each side. Now, when there is violence, tourists don’t come. So the tourist revenue is automatically responsive to the level of violence on either side for both sides. You have an accounting firm that both sides agree to, you let the U.N. do it, whatever. It’s completely self-enforcing, it requires no cooperation except the initial agreement by the Israelis that they are going to turn this part of the revenue over, on a fixed formula based on population, to some international agency, and that’s that.”

His first foray into forecasting controversy took place in 1984, when he published an article in PS, the flagship journal of the American Political Science Association, predicting who would succeed Iran’s ruling Ayatollah Khomeini upon his death. He had developed a rudimentary forecasting model that was different from anything anyone had seen before in that it was not designed around one particular foreign-policy problem, but could be applied to any international conflict. “It was the first attempt at a general mathematical model of international conflict,” he says. His model predicted that upon Khomeini’s death, an ayatollah named Hojatolislam Khamenei and an obscure junior cleric named Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani would emerge to lead the country together. At the time, Rafsanjani was so little known that his name had yet to appear in the New York Times.

Even more improbably, Khomeini had already designated his successor, and it was neither Ayatollah Khamenei nor Rafsanjani. Khomeini’s stature among Iran’s ruling clerics made it inconceivable that they would defy their leader’s choice. At the APSA meeting subsequent to the article’s publication, Bueno de Mesquita was roundly denounced as a quack by the Iran experts—a charlatan peddling voodoo mathematics. “They said I was an idiot, basically. They said my work was evil, offensive, that it should be suppressed,” he recalls. “It was a very difficult time in my career.” Five years later, when Khomeini died, lo and behold, Iran’s fractious ruling clerics chose Ayatollah Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani to jointly lead the country. At the next APSA meeting, the man who had been Bueno de Mesquita’s most vocal detractor raised his hand and publicly apologized to him.

Bueno de Mesquita had arrived, and so, too, had rational-choice theory. Rational choicers began sprouting up in political-science departments around the country and, say their critics, strangling anyone and anything in their way. By 2000, according to one estimate, some 40 percent of all articles published in the prestigious American Political Science Review were rational-choice themed. Increasingly, graduate students in political science viewed a fluency in formal mathematic modeling as a prerequisite for career advancement. And the leaps in technology taking place only fueled rational choice’s advance: faster, more powerful computers allowed rational choicers to build bigger, ever more complex models that could be applied to ever more complex situations. And, naturally enough, an intellectual counteroffensive was launched.

It began in 1994 when two Yale political-science professors, Donald Green and Ian Shapiro, published their book, Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory, which disputed much of the scientific underpinnings that rational choice claimed for itself. In essence, the authors said that when rational choice was actually put to the practical test, much of it simply didn’t work. This was followed by a 1999 (lightning speed in academia) article by Stephen M. Walt in the journal International Security called “Rigor or Rigor Mortis?” Walt, a political-science professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, conceded some value to formal modeling but ultimately likened rational choice to a “cult of irrelevance” that stifled creativity and had little practical value in actual policy formulation. Most vexing, Walt accused rational choicers of regarding nonrational choice theorists such as himself as “methodological Luddites whose opposition rests largely on ignorance.”

“We found that [national intelligence] analyses, even when they were right, were vague compared to [Bueno de Mesquita’s] forecasts. If you hit the target, that’s great. But if you hit the bull’s eye—that’s amazing.
—Stanley Feder, former CIA analyst”

Since no one snaps a towel back harder than a scorned academic, Bueno de Mesquita and several of his rational-choice cohorts immediately mounted a blistering counter-counteroffensive, firing off a series of lengthy rebuttals to Walt’s piece that deconstructed his criticism, questioned his facts, and cited what was in their view Walt’s muddled logic as a prime example of why rational choice was so desperately needed in the field. “In the piece that Steve Walt wrote, in which he acknowledged that logical consistency was important, he also argued that it was overrated, that it stifled creativity. To me this is a bizarre idea,” says Bueno de Mesquita, “because really what that statement means to me is, if you relax logical consistency, you can say whatever you feel like and therefore you are back to a world in which the study of politics is the expression of personal opinion instead of being political science. It’s the art of politics or the articulation of beliefs, which is what dominates much of advising to government. It’s rhetoric.”

The brouhaha culminated at a raucous APSA meeting in 2001 at San Francisco’s Hilton Hotel with the open revolt of a group of major-league political scientists who, one by one, took to the podium to rail against rational choice and its encroaching methodological orthodoxy. Dubbed the “Perestroika Movement” by its anonymous founder (apparently, rational-choice folk are a powerful and vindictive lot), the dissident group vowed to take a stand against “the domination of mathematical approaches to the discipline.” There is a “hegemonic threat out there,” warned John J. Mearsheimer, a noted professor of international relations at the University of Chicago. “This is about the mathematicization of political science,” he said. “I’m in favor of filling the zoo with all kinds of animals. But I’m concerned about them running us out of the business or making us marginal.” Ultimately, the Perestroikans did win some concessions: a new editor of the APSR who vowed to make the flagship journal more hospitable to mathematics-free articles and a pledge from the APSA to open up its method of appointing officers. “The APSA had become dominated by those practicing so-called rigorous analyses,” says Walt. “Now the pendulum has swung back a bit.”

For Bueno de Mesquita, getting his methodology accepted by the policy-making establishment remains somewhat of an uphill slog. The most pointed criticism of rational choice has been that, unlike with more traditional political scientists, very little cross-pollination takes place between rational-choice academics and government policy-makers. Bueno de Mesquita says it’s just a matter of time before that changes. “Because people who are in a position to appoint people weren’t trained in this way, they don’t feel as comfortable as with people who were trained in what I would describe as a less rigorous form of study of politics. And, so, the folks who do more rigorous work typically don’t get invited in,” he says. Of course, the same was true of economics 40 years ago when nontechnical types like John Kenneth Galbraith dominated the field. Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman changed all that, and Bueno de Mesquita sees himself playing the same role for politics.

Bueno de Mesquita remains unfazed, ever certain that rational choice will ultimately prevail. “When I moved to Rochester in 1973, if you wanted to be trained in this kind of political science, you could go to Rochester, period,” he says. “Ten years later, you could go to Rochester, Caltech, and Washington University in St. Louis. If you asked me today, you could go to the places I just mentioned, and you could go to NYU, you could go to Stanford—there’s a long list of places you could go. Except, of course, Harvard. But it will happen there, too. I’m on their syllabus.”

Back to the Future

A sample of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s wilder—and most accurate—predictions

Forecasted the second Intifada and the death of the Mideast peace process, two years before it happened.

Defied Russia specialists by predicting who would succeed Brezhnev. “The model identified Andropov, who nobody at the time even considered a possibility,” he says.

Predicted that Daniel Ortega and the Sandanistas would be voted out of office in Nicaragua, two years before it happened.

Four months before Tiananmen Square, said China’s hardliners would crack down harshly on dissidents.

Predicted France’s hair’s-breadth passage of the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty.

Predicted the exact implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Britain and the IRA.

Predicted China’s reclaiming of Hong Kong and the exact manner the handover would take place, 12 years before it happened.

Friday, May 9, 2008

What is Perenialism?

These questions and answers are intended to give a brief overview of the founders and followers of Perennialism, their main teachings, and principal manifestations. There is no intent on the part of the authors of the Le Floch Report to make judgments on the subjective intent of anyone named here. The Le Floch Report is concerned with the principles! With this in mind we must remember the words of Father Le Floch “What the world needs is not men of sincerity but men of truth.”
J. Christopher Pryor and Jeanette M. Pryor

1. What is Perennialism?

Perennialism is primarily the belief that mankind possesses a body of spiritual truths, known as “perennial wisdom.” (Sophia Perennis) These truths are handed down by the various “traditional religions” such as Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and even some ancient rites of Free-Masonry. The Perennialists distinguish between the exoteric (external, material) aspects of the “religions” and their esoteric (hidden, inner) meanings. For example, each “faith” has its own specific dogmas and rituals (exoteric) while all, according to the Perennialists, hold in common the deeper meanings hidden in those dogmas and rituals.

Those who adhere to these “faiths” can, through specific ascetic processes, arrive at the knowledge of the “perennial wisdom” and a state of enlightened consciousness. This state is for the “initiated”, hence the term “Gnosticism” is often used to define Perennialism.

Perennialism was a reaction against the rational, materialist spirit of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. Its founders rejected modern Western Civilization because of its departure from the traditional paths that led to “wisdom and enlightenment.” Thus, the central focus of Perennialism is a fierce adherence to natural, human traditions and a bitter rejection of “modernity,” all the Perennialists perceive to flow from the “modern spirit.”

2. Who were the “Fathers” of Perennialism?

Rene Guenon was a French scholar of the early twentieth century. Rene was born to Catholic parents, but early in his youth he abandoned his Faith and turned to the study of the occult which was then in vogue in Paris. Rene became in turn a Free-Mason, an adept of Hinduism, and, finally, a Sufi-Muslim. Guenon wrote prolifically about his Perennialist theories and his most important book was “Crisis of the Modern Word.”

The two other authors who contributed most significantly to the formulation of Perennialist thinking were Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Frithjof Schuon. Coomaraswamy, an expert on Hindu art, was primarily interested in the role of art and craftsmanship in culture and their relation to industrialized labor. Frithjof Schuon was responsible for giving to Rene Guenon’s philosophical theories the more formal structure of a religious movement. Schuon was a convert to Islam.

3. Who was the “Father of Political Perennialism” and some of the authors who influenced him?

The Father of Poltical Perennialism was Baron Julius Evola.

4. What are the main tenets of Perennialism?

The main tenets of Perennialism are:

a. Love of “Tradition” – Perennialists believe there is an original source of knowledge (Sophia Perennis) which is esoteric and attainable by observing the customs found in “traditional” religions and cultures. This love of “tradition” is the reason for their disdain for modernity.

b. Hatred of Modernity – The Perennialists, in an effort to counter the modern philosophies, place an exaggerated importance on human custom or “Tradition”. This tendency is sometimes carried out to such an extent that the Perrenialists will oppose modern technology, medicine, universal literacy, etc. merely because these things are new and the product of human reason as opposed to being the product of traditional customs. For the Church’s teaching on modern inventions such as radio, telelvision and motion pictures read Miranda Prorsus.

c. History is a Series of Cycles – History is considered as succession of cycles. Each cycle begins with the spreading of a new “ideal for civilization.” As the ideal becomes embodied in the culture, it losese its original purity, and the culture begins to decay. In order for a new cycle to begin, the old order of civilization must then disintegrate. This prepares the way for the next rebirth. Julius Evola remarked to his students concerning the modern world, ‘I am not talking about restoring society, I am talking about blowing everything up.’ This typifies the hope many Perennialists have, that the current decaying society will not be repaired but that an absolute cataclysm will bring it to an end.

d. Crisis Mentality – The crisis mentality flows from the idea that society is now at the end of a cycle of decay which will lead to ultimate destruction before the next rebirth. Perrenialists appear almost gleeful in expectation during events such as the 9-11 terrorist attacks or the recent riots in France.

e. The “New Man” – Each subsequent cycle begins with a new concept which is typified by the “New Man” who embodies this new salvific ideal.

f. Exaltation of the Male Gender – The Perenialists, under the guise of rectifying modern feminism, raise the masculine gender to an exalted level and subsequently diminish the female nature to a subhuman level, sometimes going so far as to deny the intellectual nature of women. A concept of women and their relation to men is promoted which is akin to Islamic slavery and has nothing to do with the ideal presented by the Catholic Church; an ideal which has its origin in the exalted dignity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For the Church’s view on this topic see: Casti Connubi

5. Why are Traditional Catholics attracted to Perennialism?

Traditional Catholics may be attracted to Perennialism because they oppose some of the same errors as the Perennialists such as Modernism, Feminism, Materialism, and the effects of unchecked and excessive Industrialization. However, the analysis of and the solutions provided for these problems proposed by the Catholic Church are completely different then the analysis and solutions proposed by the Perennialists. For the Church’s teaching on the restoration of Society read Our Apostolic Mandate.

6. How is Perennialism distinguished from “Traditional Catholicism?”

Catholics believe that the Faith and Sacraments provided by Our Lord Jesus Christ as well as the mediation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary will transform society. The Perennialists believe that the modern world is beyond saving; that its destruction must be hastened through revolution, “Fleeing to the Fields,” or a divine chastisement. After the fall of the modern governments, it is believed by some that truly virile men will rise up and restore civilization through their methods of education, the application of Distributism, and man’s proximity to the land. Some Catholics tainted with Perennialism go so far in their beliefs that they, at times, will distort the Faith in order to serve these political agendas.

7. What are examples of Perennialst thought found within the Traditional Catholic Movement?

It must be remembered that, as there are various degrees of Modernism and Liberalism, there are also various degrees of Perennialism. Some who are infected with this ideology may only show some of the following traits while others might show them all.

Some examples of Perrenialist thought within Traditional Catholic circles are:

a. Rejection of Technology – Many Perennialist Catholics abhor technology and scientific advances. Unfortunately, when they wish to spread their own ideas, they do not reject the computers upon which they write, the printing presses they use or the electronic devices that tape their conferences. Most Perennialists make their writings against the use of the internet and computers readily available online!

b. Rejection of Cities as Evil or Unnatural – Perrenialists argue that getting “back to the land” is the thing (“sine qua non”) without which a return to Catholicism is impossible.

c. Love of Crisis and a Longing for the Destruction of the Modern World – Perennialists at times exibit an almost gleeful expectation of cataclysm. This was seen in their reaction to the 9-11 tragedy, the Columbine Shootings, and the French riots.

d. Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Semitism – Examples of this are: “The Jews perpetrated the 9-11 Terrorist Attacks, the Holocaust never occurred, no one was ever killed in a gas chamber, the Jews have omnipotent control over all sectors of modern life, the Jews run all the banks and control all sectors of global politics and government.”

e. Racism – Some Perrenialists in Traditional Catholic circles accept the Evolian Aryan view that the white race is a master race chosen by God to lead and direct the other races towards Christendom.

f. The Exaltation of Men and the Depreciation of Woman – Perennialists in Traditional circles exaggerate their response against feminism to the point that they suggest that ideas, schooling, and even the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius are not for women. The world is seen as the “brotherhood of men” in which women are merely “mindless generatives.”

8. Who were some important figures influenced by Perennialist thought? Is Perennialism synonymous with Fascism?

Some figures influenced by Perennialist thought or whose writings predispose Catholics to similar views were Eric Gill, Roberto Fiore, Derek Holland, and E.F. Schumacher. Although many Perennialists have been Fascists, the ideology of Fascism is not always equivalent to Perennialsm. Perennialism is an erroneous ideology aside from the fact that some Perennialists were Fascists. There have been many “honest” Perennialists who were wrong despite thier sincerity and pious lives.

9. What connection does Derek Holland have to Traditional Catholicism?

Derek Holland became friends with Roberto Fiore who was a student of Julius Evola. Holland adapted many of the ideologies put forth by Julius Evola and presented them in a manner meant for consumption by Traditional Catholics. His two main works designed to do this are The Political Soldier and Catholic Action, Uses Abuses, Excuses. Furthermore, Derek Holland is the co-founder of IHS Press with John Sharpe. IHS Press presents Distributism and the Back-to-the-Land Movement, two ideologies that apply Perennialist principles to economics. Books published by IHS Press often present Distributism as “THE Social Teaching of the Church” and insist that it is “the condition sine qua non” for the restoration of a Christian Civilization.

10. Who is Rama Coomaraswamy and how is he connected to Traditional Catholicicsm?

Rama Coomaraswamy is the son of Ananda Coomaraswamy (one of the founding fathers of Perennialism). He converted to Catholicism because there was not enough of a Hindu presence in the United States for him to practice his traditions. He recounted that he found living outside a Traditional Religion repugnant and so became a Catholic, since, according to Rama, Catholicism fit perfectly with his beliefs as a Hindu. He later taught at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary for five years and left with the sede-vacantists who were expelled by His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Rama Coomaraswamy and Derek Holland are two poignant examples of how Perennialists and their ideologies are becoming associated with Traditional Catholicism.

(Dr. Rama Coomaraswamy has responded to the Le Floch Report.)

11. How is Dr. Peter Chojnowski connected to Derek Holland and IHS Press?

Dr. Peter Chojnowski is a public supporter of John Sharpe, who is a co-founder with Derek Holland of IHS Press. He has written extensively (i.e. book reviews and prefaces) for IHS Press whose books mostly center around the ideologies of Distributism. Many of these false ideas and principles are laid out in Derek Holland’s (a/k/a Liam Connolly) book Catholic Action, Uses, Abuses, Excuses. While living in St. Mary’s and teaching at St. Mary’s Academy and College, Dr. Chojnowski attempted to implement a plan very similar to that put forth in Holland’s book. He and his “Group of 8”, as he called it, attempted to devise their own currency, called “Bellocs” and a bartering system within the town. He claimed during a round table discussion entitled: A Look at the Present: How to Rebuild a Catholic Society in Pseudo Judeo/Christian America that everything was going according to plan until there was “a clerical intervention” which destroyed the project. The Traditional Catholics of St. Mary’s are indebted to that “clerical intervention”.



Few Traditional Catholics have ever heard of Baron Julius Evola, an Italian aristocrat born in 1898. They would be surprised to know that many theories of this revolutionary philosopher are embraced and disseminated, albeit clothed in “proper Catholic terminology,” by Traditional Catholic Perennialists. Unlike his friends and fellow perennialists Rene Guenon and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Evola was not primarily interested in the “ancient religious wisdom” of the Sophia Perennis. He did adopt the Perennialist system of rejecting modern civilization in favor of the traditions of the past, but Evola was concerned with ideas that would inspire a social revolution. The main aspects of his philosophy that are gaining ground among Catholics are his belief in the supremacy of the Aryan Race, his vision of the world as the domain of active male virtue (the brotherhood of men), and his belief that women are but aimless generatives who achieve significance solely by their participation in the projects of men. After a rapid glance at Evola’s life and activity, it will be most helpful to summarize his “worldview” and trace the pathway it has traveled and the alterations it has undergone to seduce Traditionalists, particularly those in the United States.

Evola had much in common with his french friend and mentor, Rene Guenon. Both were born to Catholic parents and abandoned the Faith early in life to embrace the occult. In 1927 Julius founded the “Ur Group” to study the esoteric and traditional writings of various oriental civilizations; particularly those influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. He wrote prolifically and hoped that his pagan Perennialism (which we shall examine at length) would influence the rise of fascism in Italy. Unfortunately for him, Mussolini recognized that refusing some reference to Christianity would be political suicide and so Evola did not exercise any real influence in pre-War Italy. His writings were well received in Germany and he went to work with Hitler. He spent a great deal of time during the War studying the archives of Masonry that were seized by the Reich.

Following the war Evola returned in mourning to his native Italy, devastated by the collapse of the fascist regimes. His Men Among Ruins, and Ride the Tiger bear witness to his profound loathing of the “triumph of the democracies” and the influence of “American egalitarianism” in Europe. He buried himself in seclusion while continuing to write until his death in 1974.

The dominating principle of Evola’s thinking was the “superiority of the Aryan race.” According to Evola, this race was set apart primarily by its “transcendent aspirations to a high state of spiritual enlightenment” which kept its members removed, as far as possible, from materialism. For Evola, the Perennial Wisdom was precisely the body of knowledge that enabled the Aryan men to attain, through an ascetic process, the “Awakened” state of self-mastery and discipline that would separate them from the corruption of the world. This process is detailed in his analysis of early Buddhist texts The Doctrine of the Awakening. Evola believed this spiritual superiority was the cause of the differences in races and actually emanated from the original Aryans to generate their physical distinction from the “lower races.”

Evola postulated that the ancient Aryans conquered much of the world and established ordered civilizations in which the “Awakened Ones” would hold the dominant place and be served by the inferiors. He believed that the true homeland of the race is what is now Europe and that the racial high point, that which must be resurrected, was the Patriarchal Roman Empire.

The “racism” of Julius Evola was deeply anti-Christian. In his estimation, Christianity was a Semitic derivative and was essentially anti-Aryan. The introduction of such Semitic cults and cultures was the seed of corruption that brought down the Roman Empire. In the Jewish race, Evola saw the perpetrators of a world-wide plot to destroy the rightful domination of white Aryan males over Jews, the ‘bond races’ and women. Like other Perennialists, He believed that the modern world with all its disorder was due to a rejection of the past. For Evola, this modern world was specifically the triumph of Semitic inspired egalitarianism of races and genders that destroyed the order of the pagan Roman Empire.

In his studies of the ancient Aryan civilizations, Evola was, above all, seeking for the superior characteristics of the Aryan male as well as the specific organization of social life that created and supported such superiority. These, he believed were the ‘traditional reservoirs of vitality that would bring sanity to the world.’ Since Evola held that all life was a metaphysical battle of man over the influences of the world that would debase him through self-seeking and material comfort, it was evident that civil life must be modeled upon the military state, inspired by the warrior spirit. ‘This state would mold young men to be the one thing society needed more than anything else in the modern world…Aryan men.’ He saw the chief elements and virtues sustaining the race as militaristic hierarchy, authority, discipline, and loyalty to the common seeking of Awakening.

Evola’s vision of the Aryan empire rested heavily upon his concept of the “opposing natures” of men and women. Evola believed that the world was primarily the arena in which men achieved spiritual victory over self to become one with the “Absolute Power.” Society is not based on the family, but rather it is a place in which men interact and dominate the forces of material chaos. In this brotherhood of men, women are not logical, intellectual beings, but are “aimless generatives” whose sole function is to emit Aryan males or more “emitters of Aryan males.” The making of Aryan men was to be in the hands of men. Women can, in Evola’s world, attain to a certain actualization of their potential, but only by participating in a male directive that brings order to the universe. The “aimless generatives,” however, are not autonomous, rational individuals capable of individual “spiritual potential.”

Evola’s theory of the roles of men and women are of tremendous significance; in his own “worldview” and in their present influence on Traditional Catholic families infected by his errors. His chief sources of inspiration on these subjects were Johann Jakob Bachofen and a rather demented Austrian who committed suicide, Otto Weininger. The Le Floch Report will examine these “gender theories” and their “Catholic” adaptations in its next installment of “The History of Perennialism.”

The Evolian worldview has inspired many since the Second World War. His fascist writings inspired a host of “third way” activists including Roberto Fiore and Derek Holland, the co-founder of John Sharpe’s IHS Press. Holland’s book The Political Soldier clothes the anti-Semitic racism and male-militarism in terms palatable to Catholics, but differs little in substance from the writings of Evola himself.

Conservative politics in France are influenced by the philosophy and organizations of the New Right. This movement is inspired by activist admirer of Evola, Alain de Benoist. The war between true Traditional Catholics and those who wish to join forces with this Perennialist-inspired political activism rages on. In 2004 these sinister influences led in part to several priests and some faithful disassociating themselves from the Society of St. Pius X in France. This is why it is crucial to understand these false ideas and to be able to identify their manifestations.

Jeanette M. Pryor
February 11, 2006


Our Lord Jesus Christ is the solution to all problems! – His Excellency Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

Many Traditional Catholics have been exposed to practical applications of Perennialism without realizing that these “strange ideas” actually stem from a form of naturalism originating with French philosopher, Rene Guenon. Shortly after Guenon introduced his theories, his close friend, Baron Julius Evola, adapted them to his own political ideology, equating Perennial Wisdom with Aryan mysticism.

The “Evolian” form of Perennialism has penetrated Traditional Catholic circles in the United States after undergoing superficial modifications which clothe its principles in Catholic terminology. It is, nevertheless, of great benefit to understand the thinking of Rene Guenon, whose ideas give to all Perennialists their chief inspiration and, more particularly, guided Julius Evola.

Rene Guenon was born to a Catholic family in France in 1886. While studying at the university in Paris, he was introduced to the then fashionable world of the occult. His mentor introduced him to Freemasonry and he became a life-long member of a lodge. Later, when his interest in the occult dwindled, he studied Hinduism and, finally, “converted” to Sufi-Islam. He moved to Egypt and dedicated his time to writing about Perennialist themes until his death in 1951.

The Philosophy of Guenon

The starting point of Guenon’s philosophy was that there is a body of ‘human wisdom’ found in the central, hidden meaning of ancient “traditional” religions. The different “creeds” are but varying expressions of this collection of universal spiritual truths. He asserted that the exterior elements of religion such as dogmas and rituals (which he called the ‘exoteric’) were the pathways that would lead to a state of “enlightenment” in which the hidden, mysterious meaning of all religions is understood and assimilated. This was the “esoteric” or internal aspect of the ‘faiths.’
Rene Guenon borrowed from Hindu teaching the belief that human history is a succession of cycles. Each cycle starts with a new ideal; with people who live according to this new ideal. As time passes, the fervor of those living the ideal wanes and a period of degradation commences. The end of the cycle is the total disintegration of the now old system and the start of the next new cycle. It is always on the ruins of the old that the new is built.

Rene Guenon postulated that, since the age of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, mankind has entered a period of heightened crisis. This is because the material and rational spirit of the age have driven man away from the traditions of cult and culture that formerly led him to the quest of “wisdom.”

Hatred of Modernity and The Crisis Mentality

Two main dispositions result from Guenon’s basic principles. One can be called a “crisis mentality,” or the belief in and anticipation of impending total social collapse that will usher in the next cycle; a cycle characterized by the return to ancient traditions. The second consequence of Rene’s theories is a bitter rejection of all that is seen to emanate from the “Modern World” and appears to alienate men from from their “traditional, natural” way of existence.

While the “ecumenical” aspect of Guenon’s religious invention has little appeal for Traditional Catholics, his insistence on the retention of traditions, his relish for social disintegration, and his repugnance for anything flowing from modernity are rampant in the writings of Catholic authors inspired by Guenon’s theories.

A Counterfeit Tradition

This counterfeit “love of tradition” is the portal by which all Perennialism enters among Catholics. Adhering to the Supernatural Tradition revealed by Our Lord through His Church is the only true source of salvation and the unique principle of order in the temporal domain. Catholic Perennialists ascribe to purely human, natural traditions an importance they do not merit. For example, while few would dispute the potential benefits of living in a rural setting, learning wood carving, making fresh bread, or singing folk songs, Catholic Perennialists elevate such natural activities to an almost supernatural level. They speak of the ‘sacralization’ of daily life’ and insist that modern life has so removed man from his nature that he must first return to “natural, traditional” behaviors before he will be fit to receive grace. ‘Sacralization’ is not to be confused with the Catholic habit of sanctifying human activities by performing them for the glory of God in union with Our Lord. Rather, it is considering the activities as having a sacred, almost sacramental character in themselves and, therefore, capable of elevating man to God. This naturalism is poisonous for the Faith since it diminishes the total, universal importance of being united to Our Lord Jesus Christ in order that our lives have any value whatsoever. The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ alone heals the wounds of Original Sin in our souls and, consequently, paves the way to the only ordered civilization possible; one based on Christian Virtues.

Guenon’s Crisis Mentality Adopted by Some Catholics

Guenon’s belief that our era would come to an end with the destruction of the present “system” is found among some Traditional Catholics who harbor a certain morbid fascination with natural or social disasters or any news that indicates social disintegration. An old French priest once said that to hear Catholics gleefully speak of the “coming chastisement” (the Catholic version of the “necessary” meltdown of civilization) ‘one would think they expect to be standing in the middle of Armageddon under an umbrella while they comfortably observe the mass extinction of their fellow men.’

To think with the mind of the Church, one can do no better than to turn to the approved apparitions at Fatima in which Our Heavenly Mother did indeed, with great sadness, warn of coming, universal upheaval. She stated clearly, however, that these would all be the result of sin. Our Blessed Mother insisted, not that the cataclysms were natural regenerative parts of the cyclical ages of mankind, but that they were solely due to man’s offenses against Our Lord and Herself. Most importantly, Our Lady promised that if “people would turn away from their sins, and embrace the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, there would be peace.” The Children of Fatima embarked on lives of penance and devotion to the Immaculate Heart; particularly by the continuous recitation of their Rosary. They were tireless in their efforts to avert the punishments of God from their fellow men. The children believed that devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and its logical social consequences were the unique means to bring about the tranquility of order in the Church and Civil Society.

Guenon vs the Popes

The most common manifestation of Guenon’s philosophy among Traditional Catholics is the rejection of so-called “products of the Modern Spirit.” From wholesale rejection of technology to a pseudo Islamic/Aryan view of the role of women in the family and in society, Catholics are presented with a plethora of private opinions that are contradicted by the writings of the Popes and Saints and belied by nearly two thousand years of Church practice.

It will probably come as a great shock to many Catholics that Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical in 1957 entitled Miranda Prorsus, On the Communications Field; Motion Pictres, Radio, and Television, in which he hailed radio, television, and motion pictures as “gifts of God” and applied principles set forth by St. Thomas Aquinas which should govern their use for the glory of God. While the Pope clearly understood the potential ill effects of the abuse of these “wonderful tools,” he never spoke of them as intrinsically evil or as capable of altering human nature.

One Catholic Perennialist asserted that the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary following the Consecration of Russia would ‘last only about twenty-five years because that is how long it would take mankind to reinvent the computer.’ Such Catholics who follow Guenon’s spirit in his disdain for modern technology are not thinking with the mind of the Church. They choose to ignore the simple, common-sense guidelines set forth by the Pope and the Common Doctor of the Church and publish personal opinion because it supports their vision of the next age of man.


It is important to remember that Rene Guenon’s original principles have undergone some superficial adaptations before reaching the average Traditional Catholic. Still, there is a great danger that his general principles will continue to influence Catholics by their being presented as a necessary part of the Faith and Catholic life. Perennialism diminishes the deep conviction of the absolute need for Our Lord and His Church; not just for salvation, but even for any hope of redressing the disorder resulting from abandonment of His Social Royalty. By waiting for a chastisement to end the current “social chaos,” Catholics lose their missionary spirit inspired by Supernatural fraternal charity. Finally, by the rejection of the reality of the time and material circumstances in which God has placed them, Catholics infected with Guenon’s principles deny the fundamental truth that they, in the words of Rev. Father Phillipe Pazat must “Restore All things in Christ, not destroy all things.”

Jeanette M. Pryor
January 28, 2006



Jeanette M. Pryor
April 1, 2006

In the article Rene Lefebvre and the Holocaust, the Le Floch Report asked the question, “Why do certain Perennialist Catholics deny the Holocaust, and to what end?” We could just as rightly ask this question for any number of conspiracy theories. A problem arises when the Perennialist gurus assert that all of history is a large conspiracy and only the enlightened (the gurus themselves) can truly understand reality.

Many Perennialists in the U.S. believe in all of the following:

1. The United States’ entrance into World War I had nothing to do with the German attacks on shipping or the famous communiqué to Mexico offering it the southern U.S. states if it attacked the U.S. from the south. Our entrance into the War was caused by the Govenment’s desire to help the needs of the “International Bankers.”

2. President Roosevelt arranged for or knew of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in advance. He wanted as many Americans to die as possible in order to force Congress to declare war on Japan.

3. The Holocaust was either entirely fabricated or at least the manner of the slaughter was not as the historians and eye-witnesses say.

4. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated because he was trying to rule the country without aid from the Jews and the International Bankers. Lee Harvey Oswald was innocent.

5. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by the International Bankers because he was getting too powerful.

6. Robert Kennedy was assassinated by the International Bankers.

7. The fire that was started in Waco was set by the U.S. Government and not the pedophile David Koresh who claimed to be Our Lord.

8. The bombing of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma was perpetrated by the U.S. Government and not Timothy McVeigh.

9. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were perpetrated by the U.S Government on orders from Israel. The Arabs had nothing to do with it.

The final end of the leaders of this historic revisionist movement is Revolution; the destruction of the natural and Supernatural orders established by Our Lord. How exactly is this Revolution brought about? By the fostering of a Gnostic mindset among Traditional Catholics.

The Gnostic/Perennialist Mindset

The term “Gnostic” refers to “secret or hidden” knowledge. The Perennialist authors, through their writings and conferences, lead their “students” to the belief that they are everywhere surrounded by lies and deception; that they are the victims of an organized campaign of disinformation affecting every level of social activity. At the same time, the “gurus” offer an alternative social doctrine; one that is hidden from the masses of the duped sheep that simply swallow without question what is fed to them by the “vile media.”

In the case of the Traditional Perennialists, one often encounters, as the fundamental truth of the Gnostic world-view, the belief that the Jewish People are bent on the domination of all non-Jews. Every world event is to be viewed in relation to this fact. Yet, we must not be fooled. The triumph of this world view is not the ultimate end. Rather, the end is to destroy the Catholic’s sense of duty to his Church and legitimate civil authority.

The Gnostic gurus use several methods to slowly indoctrinate their followers. The first is “Historical Revision.” Historical Revision is the substituting of “pseudo-history” for true History. It is not the legitimate re-examination of once held beliefs about historical fact based on newly found, authentic evidence. Rather, Historical Revision is simply asserting that which supports the philosophical opinions of the Pseudo Historian whose world view is contradicted by actual history. In the book Denying History Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman provide in great detail, the strict criteria by which any historical assertion is tested before it is generally accepted to be accurate. Examples used by these authors, are the Jewish Holocaust and the Japanese attack of the Chinese at Nangking. The authors explain that we can be certain that the Holocaust, complete with the gas chambers, Nazi intent to commit genocide, and the astronomical final number of victims are all substantiated by the “convergence of evidence.” “Convergent evidence” is defined as the concurrence of several independent sources and kinds of evidence all leading to only one possible conclusion. The independent sources of evidence include, but are not limited to, written documents, ye witness testimony, photographs, the camps themselves, and inferential evidence. (Denying History, page 35)

The Guru Attempts to Frustrate the Intellect’s Ability to Abstract Truth from Sensible Objects and Evidence

In order for anyone to deny that the Holocaust did in fact occur in the manner depicted in the “official” version, one must deny a sum of “convergent evidence” that points to the only logical conclusion available to a rational, honest intellect. While any historical occurrence may present minor or isolated inconsistencies, in the case of the Holocaust, the points mentioned above, those that are precisely denied by Holocaust deniers, are attested to by multiple independent sources of evidence. It is only the absolute inconsistency of the Holocaust with the theory of “Jewish world dominance” that necessitates and justifies the intellectual rejection of such a preponderance of credible evidence on the part of the Gnostics.

Men do obtain knowledge through their own sensory experience and also by the testimony of credible witnesses. In the case, not only of the Holocaust, but of all the erroneous pseudo-historical assertions we listed concerning Timothy McVeigh, Pearl Harbor etc., the “gurus” reject mountains of sensory evidence (artifacts in museums, photographs, the still-standing Camps etc.) and also the testimony of hundreds of thousands of eye-witnesses. The “gurus” first assert that the “official story” is not really what happened. In “Denying History, the authors explain that one of the most ingenious tactics of the deniers is to accept that the fact of the Holocaust is true while questioning the “official version.” They will admit that there were millions of Jewish people killed, but just not in the gas chambers. This is but one example. The goal here of eroding the confidence of the student in those supporting the “official story” is more important than denying the Holocaust. So long as the Gnostic spirit of “knowing the secret, hidden and true story” is maintained, the deniers are content since they have succeeded in their goal.

The Guru Presents Himself as the Enlightened Bearer of Truth

Having discredited the “official story,” the “Gnostic master” will then assert, often with absolutely no credible or serious sources of information, his own “Gnostic version” of the historical fact or motivation behind the headlines. “No Jews died in gas chambers, Roosevelt organized the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all the planes involved in 9-11 were drones, the World Trade Centers could never have fallen without some help from explosives placed inside etc.” When sources are cited, they will often appear, at first glance, to be credible. These “experts” or, even better “secret sources in the government not at liberty to speak publicly” will give conclusive proof of the “Gnostic version.” Upon submission to standard criteria of peer review, the “Gnostic experts and proof” have no sound basis.

Along with Historical Revision, the Gnostic Masters teach a universal distrust of all information communicated by the “media.” That the nightly news or news papers are, in general, heavily tainted with a liberal bias is not open for doubt. But the disbelief in the “main-stream media” must, if one is to be a “thinker” extend to those things which are often attested to by common eye-witnesses, photographs, films…evidence of the occurrence of simple facts.

After years of hearing major historical events “deconstructed” according to the method and principles of the Gnostic master, the “basic default reaction” of the now “Gnostic Catholic” when confronted with any “official version” is one of disbelief and distrust of the “system; the establishment.” He has learned the “truth” that all is organized to further the dominion of the Jews over the world.

By Placing Himself as the Only Bearer of Truth, The Guru Moves His followers to Revolution against the Natural Organizations in Society, Such as the Family, State, and Church.

In the mind of the “Gnostic disciple,” the fruit of this “education” is distrust in authority; in the civil institutions established by God and upheld, even when they are not ideal, by the constant teaching of Holy Mother Church. The mind is now cut off from common sources of information; even its own senses and the words of honest witnesses. Within the soul grows in an attitude of paranoia and detachment from reality; from belonging to the world in which it lives. Gradually, a deep antagonism against the “establishment, the system, the government” takes root and festers in the mind and heart of the man who sees every aspect of civil society (particularly politics and economics,) as secretly controlled by the Jews. He has less and less of a Catholic rejection of Revolution and begins to think and speak of “correcting, changing, doing away with the “system.”

The insinuations of the Master are that the true Catholic will see himself as a “Political Soldier,” a type of civil Knight to whom the work of restoring the social orderfalls by necessity. These Revolutionary principles and attitudes will easily give place to the works of Revolution. “Intention shows itself in act.”

The relationship of the “Gnostic guru” to his disciples is of principle importance. By cutting the minds of his “disciples” off from the outside world, the truth about history and the present social order in which the “disciple” lives, the guru has established himself as the real “master;” the only source of “right thinking” and “proper world-view.” The “guru” is now in total control of the students and is able to direct them in the accomplishment of the final goal which is the destruction of the civil social or economic order.

The Gurus Discredit the Legitimate Authority By Suggesting It Has Been Taken Hostage by the Jews

It is in this work of the Revolution that one understands the obsession of the “Gnostic Masters” with the Jews. If, as the Gnostics assert, the Jews have taken over every civil government and are accomplishing the establishing of the new Jewish World Order, then the Catholic will falsely believe himself to be justified in overthrowing, by Revolution, all the civil institutions he is subject to. This goes against the teaching of the Church which advocates the establishment of the Reign of Christ through the extension of Sactifying Grace and the organic reflection in the Social Order of the subjection of souls to Christ. (See the Encyclicals On the Christian Constitution of States and On the Kingship of Christ on ourLinks page.) The great Catholic Empires and States were brought about by the conversion of souls to the service of Christ and the influence of the Divine Life of Christ circulating in the souls of Catholics who knew themselves to be subject to all authority. This life of Sanctifying Grace in individuals blossomed into the official Catholic State whose laws and constitutions decreed the absolute domination over every aspect of civil life by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Answer

A Catholic State is attainable even in our own age through the Faith and the Missionary Spirit such as that which animated Archbishop Lefebvre and his loyal sons and daughters in the SSPX. A Catholic State is never the fruit of a Gnostic inspired Revolution. None of the activist works, such as Neo Conned, the ideas surrounding the Political Soldier or the Distributist movement in general, are free of a Revolutionary spirit aimed at destroying the proper and Catholic obedience due to lawful authority.

It behooves Catholics to examine very carefully the effects in their own surroundings of the growing “Gnostic” influences. It is, once again, to the Popes that we must turn to have a proper understanding of the “forces at work” in the world’s politics. Time and again the Popes warned, not of “the Jews,” but of the Freemasons. Their erroneous doctrine and malicious plots of the Masons against Catholic States are outlined in the great encyclicals. These Encyclicals, and not the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” formed the basis of the Archbishop’s courses on the Church Magisterium which were given to every priest and sister of the Society of St. Pius the X in order that they would understand the modern world as the Popes did. Our Lady of Fatima warned, not of the errors of the Jews, spreading throughout the world, but of the Revolutionary principles of Russia.

Our Lord and Our Lady Will Be Victorious!

The final lesson one must learn about the “Gnostic Guru Masters,” is that they extinguish everywhere the joy flowing from the virtue of Supernatural Hope and the Missionary Spirit of the Church. In all their speeches, conferences and writings, they offer nothing but a depressing sense of the futility of any resistance to the “omni-present, omni-potent Jewish influence in the world.” They relish the impending doom, the imminent economic depression which nothing the little band of “enlightened” does can change. They demonstrate no real faith in the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.

The Popes and Our Lady of Fatima not only pointed to the real enemies of Christendom, They also gave concrete and practical works that every Catholic can do to defeat these enemies. The Popes made it clear that Masonry would lose its power if the heads of State and the members of the family fulfilled their duties; one of which is proper submission to all lawful authority. The practices of the Five First Saturdays, the Daily Rosary and the wearing of the Scapular are simple actions to which Our Lady attached the complete re-ordering of Civil Society through the conversion of Russia. It is in this Roman Catholic world view, expressed by Our Lady and the Roman Pontiffs that the Glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Tranquility of Order in Society are to be sought and found, not in the depressing and unsubstantiated opinions of those who seek only to gain power and control over those they should be leading to the Truth.



The Le Floch Report has discussed the Perennialist ideology and many of its material manifestations. These manifestations such as the rejection of technology, the treatment of women as mindless, and the concept that Catholics must return to the land, all give the impression that Perennialism is the opposite of Modernism. In fact, the two ideologies are so similar that much of the encyclical Pascendi can be applied to the Perennialists as well as to the Modernists.

The Modernists

Pope Pius X began his encyclical Pascendi with a description of the Modernists which is perfectly applicable to Catholic Perrenialists.

Though they express astonishment themselves, no one can justly be surprised that We number such men among the enemies of the Church, if, leaving out of consideration the internal disposition of soul, of which God alone is the judge, he is acquainted with their tenets, their manner of speech, their conduct. Nor indeed will he err in accounting them the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church. For as We have said, they put their designs for her ruin into operation not from without but from within; hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain, the more intimate is their knowledge of her. Moreover they lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fires. And having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth from which they hold their hand, none that they do not strive to corrupt. Further, none is more skilful, none more astute than they, in the employment of a thousand noxious arts; for they double the parts of rationalist and Catholic, and this so craftily that they easily lead the unwary into error; and since audacity is their chief characteristic, there is no conclusion of any kind from which they shrink or which they do not thrust forward with pertinacity and assurance. To this must be added the fact, which indeed is well calculated to deceive souls, that they lead a life of the greatest activity, of assiduous and ardent application to every branch of learning, and that they possess, as a rule, a reputation for the strictest morality. Finally, and this almost destroys all hope of cure, their very doctrines have given such a bent to their minds, that they disdain all authority and brook no restraint; and relying upon a false conscience, they attempt to ascribe to a love of truth that which is in reality the result of pride and obstinacy.

The real similarities and differences between Modernism and Perennialism can be easily seen when one reads through Pascendi and compares the two ideologies.

Agnosticism, Vital Immanence, and the Evolution of Doctrine: The Modernist

As St. Pius X explained in paragraph 6 of Pascendi, the Modernists do not believe that the intellect can obtain certain knowledge concerning immaterial things through the use of reason. The Modernists believe that the mind can only grasp “phenomena” (the materially sensible). Since the Modernists do not believe the reason can grasp true understanding from the outside world, the idea that Our Lord could have truly revealed religious truth to the Apostles is thrown into doubt. This agnostic approach caused a problem for the Modernists because they claimed to be fervent Catholics. It became necessary for them to explain their religious “faith.” This conflict lead to the concepts of Vital Immanence and the Evolution of Doctrine.

In paragraphs 8 to 11 Pope Pius X explained that the Modernists believed that religious knowledge was not revealed from the outside world to the reason but rather came from within, this concept is called Vital Immanence. The Modernists did not say that no revelation was made to the Apostles, rather they argued that this revelation was much more vague and simple than it is today. These vague and simple truths were accepted by the early Christians (and people of other faiths.) As time went on, the inner need for some contact with the divine lead people to further develop and express their beliefs concerning the simple truths which were at one time revealed. This development of doctrine throughout history constitutes the concept of the Evolution of Doctrine. This evolution has continued since the origin of the Church and is always improving and making “progress.”

Agnosticism, Vital Immanece, and the Evolution of Doctrine: The Perennialist

The Perennialists also have an agnostic approach to knowledge of immaterial things. They believe that it is pointless to apply one’s reason to find it. They believe that rational debate and argumentation which has been the hallmark of the West is an actual degradation of Society. This mentality goes to such an extent that they reject as evil the human reason’s attempt to understand the natural order as typified by modern science. Perennialists do not believe that knowledge of immaterial or spiritual things is impossible but rather that it can be found in the traditions of all faiths which have come in contact with the perennial wisdom sophia perennis. The cultures which had the original revelation have passed it down through the ages and it is through these traditions that spiritual truth can be found.

The Perennialists, like the Modernists, do not believe that the reason is a tool used to find immaterial or spiritual knowledge from the outside world. The Perennialists even go further than the Modernists, by rejecting as evil the mind’s attempt to grasp material or scientific knowledge from the outside world. The Perennialists have their own version of Vital Immanence. Where the Modernists believe that the need for the divine and an understanding of the Divine come from inside the individual person, the Perennialists believe that religious truth is found in the entire culture which expresses and lives the sophia perennis. In short, a sort of Collective Vital Immanence is created. The Perennialists also believe that the sophia perennis was originally the same in all cultures and the manner in which different cultures expressed these truths accounts for the different doctrines that various religions and cultures maintain.

The Nature of Doctrine

In Chapter 12 of Pascendi the Holy Father explained how Agnosticism, Vital Immanence and Doctrinal Evolution all lead to a false concept of what doctrines were. Modernists believed that people, moved by an internal yearning for the divine (Vital Immanence) formulated doctrines and dogmas as expressions of their understanding of the original, simple revelation. Doctrines were, in effect, nothing more than symbolic expressions of the original truth. In short, dogmas are symbols of truth and not objective truth itself.

The idea that dogmas are merely symbols of the original revelation distilled and expressed through a living culture is also a major tenet of Perennialism. Perennialists hold that there are exoteric and esoteric teachings. The exoteric teachings are equivalent to doctrines and are particular to a given religion, such as the teaching that God the Father sent His Son to the world. An esoteric teaching is the “meaning” of the doctrine and is part of the original teaching or the sophia perennis. The Perennialist might attribute to the Incarnation the “meaning” of divine influence upon the world.

The Love of Novelty

St. Pius X in paragraph 48 and throughout the encyclical in general, explained how the Modernists often looked for a novel or new approach to circumstances or difficulties found within Catholic life. They would often do this by looking to some material action performed by early Christians who were closer to the source of the true revelation. This can be seen in the introduction of the New Mass. During the changes it was often argued, “In the early Church, the Mass was always in the vernacular”, or “In the early Church there were always Deaconesses” etc. On the surface, this aspect appears to be the opposite of that of the Perennialists. Is it not true that the Perennialists of the SSJ want to go back to the medieval village and the Distributists want to go back to the land? This appears to be the opposite of the love of novelty.

Although the material actions of the Perennialists may be different, their approach is as novel as the Modernists. The Perennialists, as the Modernists before them, wish Catholics to look to some previous cultural practice in order to cure the modern world. The Perennialists and the Modernists created their own version of what the early Church was, in order to disconnect Catholics from the teaching of the Popes and eventually from Our Lord Himself. The Perennialists are doing the same thing today. They wish to distract Catholics from the Faith, the great encyclicals and Fatima, all of which will truly repair the world. In the place of Our Lord, Our Lady and the Popes, the Perennialists present us with a return to the land, Distributism, or the medieval village.


This article has only scratched the surface of the commonality between Modernism and Perennialism. It is necessary to read Pascendi until it “seeps into one’s blood.” The Masons and the enemies of the Church were nearly completely successful with making Protestants out of practicing Catholics. There is no reason to think they would change their tactics now.

J. Christopher Pryor
February 18, 2006

Thursday, May 8, 2008

3 Articles/Interviews with Wolfgang Smith

I'm going to include three batches of material by/regarding Wolfgang Smith's ideas on bifurcation, aka reductionism. That's my primary interest here, although he also mentions evolution. Since he does mention evolution, let me just state where I'm coming from on that score.

1. I don't know whether evolution is true or not. In some form or other it sounds somewhat plausible, but I can also see the difficulties. Any form of evolution that denies finality seems to me to be nonsensical on its face.

2. Whether or not evolution in some form is true doesn't affect my theism, as far as I can tell.

That said:

1. An Interview with Wolfgang Smith
on Science and Philosophy

Biographical Data

Wolfgang Smith graduated at age 18 from Cornell University with a B.A. in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Two years later he took an M.S. in theoretical physics at Purdue University, following which he joined the aerodynamics group at Bell Aircraft Corporation. He was the first to investigate the effect of a foreign gas on aerodynamic heating, and his papers on the effect of diffusion fields provided the key to the solution of the re-entry problem for space flight. After receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics from Columbia University, Dr. Smith held professorial positions at M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and Oregon State University till his retirement in 1992. He has published extensively on mathematical topics relating to algebraic and differential topology.

From the start, however, Smith has evinced a dominant interest in metaphysics and theology. Early in life he acquired a taste for Plato and the Neoplatonists, and sojourned in India to gain acquaintance with the Vedantic tradition. Later he devoted himself to the study of theology, and began his career as a Catholic metaphysical author. Besides contributing numerous articles to scholarly journals, Dr. Smith has authored three books: Cosmos and Transcendence (1984), Teilhardism and the New Religion (1988), and The Quantum Enigma (1995).

Inner Explorations: Tell us what motivated you to write on philosophical subjects.

Wolfgang Smith: More than anything else, it was the recognition that science is a doubled-edged sword. On the one hand there is scientific truth, a bona fide knowledge of a special kind; but that knowledge is accompanied in practice by a syndrome of philosophic assumptions which are generally mistaken for scientific truths. It became clear to me, moreover, in light of the metaphysical traditions, that these scientistic beliefs (as I call them) tend to be spurious, and deleterious to our spiritual well-being. I became convinced, in fact, that the spiritual and moral decline of modern civilization--our estrangement from spiritual reality--is due in no small measure to the scientistic world-view which has been foisted upon us in the name of science. I therefore made it my business to detect and expose the principal scientistic dogmas affecting contemporary civilization.

IE: Can you give an example of a prominent scientistic belief?

WS: As a major example I would mention the Darwinian theory of evolution, which (contrary to official belief) is not in fact a scientific hypothesis corroborated by empirical facts, but a philosophic tenet masquerading in scientific garb. As one molecular biologist has put it, Darwinism is ultimately "no more and no less than the great cosmogenetic myth of the twentieth century." The genre of scientistic myth, however, is not limited to the sphere of biology; it is to be found even in the physical domain. When it comes to psychology and the social sciences, moreover, it appears that myth actually predominates. I have explained and documented these contentions in my first book.

IE: You allude to the philosophic traditions; could you tell us more about that.

WS: Early in life I came to the conclusion that the major pre-modern schools of philosophy exhibit a remarkable unity. It is almost as if they were dialects of a single primordial tongue, or pictures of a single subject taken from different points of vantage. One needs of course to get beyond the surface, beyond the outer forms, to detect that kinship and compatibility. And so I discovered, in what I term the great traditions, a standard of philosophic truth. There are truths about God, man, and the universe, I found, which have been known since the dawn of human history. It is we, generally speaking, who have forgotten these truths! My writing, thus, has a double thrust: the conquest, first of all, of scientistic illusions, complemented by a recovery of metaphysical truth--a glimpse into this forgotten realm.

IE: In your most recent book you deal with the enigmas of quantum theory. Can you tell us what you have done?

WS: Since 1927 physicists and philosophers have debated the nature of physical reality on the quantum level in an effort to resolve certain apparent paradoxes. The latest physics seems not to fit the accustomed world picture. From the outset I suspected that the problem lies in a deviation from the perennial philosophic norm; but what precisely was the offending postulate? And by what tenet must it be replaced? And how can physics be re-interpreted, following upon such metaphysical rectification? These are the questions which intrigued me; and the answers presented themselves in due course. The offending dogma, I found, is an assumption, introduced by René Descartes, which underlies our customary interpretation of physics. That postulate, however, has become so ingrained in the contemporary scientific mentality that it has been consistently overlooked even by theorists intent upon the resolution of the quantum enigma. Yet it turns out (as I have shown) that the paradoxes in question disappear of their own accord the moment physics is re-interpreted on a traditional metaphysical basis.

IE: Is this book accessible to the general reader, and how has it been received in the scholarly world?

WS: Yes, like all my books, The Quantum Enigma is indeed accessible to the general educated reader. I have made sure of that. As to its reception so far, I am pleased to note that the book has sparked considerable interest in philosophic circles, for example, among Thomists, who are very pleased. There are signs today of a reaction, not only to scientistic dogmatism, but to postmodernist deconstruction as well. The time is ripe for a return to the metaphysical traditions, even though the mainstream institutions of learning will presumably continue to pursue their anti-traditional course for some time to come. The advantage today lies with small as opposed to large-scale intellectual communities.

IE: What advice do you have for the seeker of truth?

WS: Know from the start that all truth derives from the Word of God and thus partakes of the sacred. Cultivate purity, knowing that this constitutes a precondition to the reception of truth. Learn once more to revere what is worthy of reverence. Cast off the profane and irreverent persona of the modern intellectual, and cultivate the spirit of discipleship. Learn to receive the gift of faith; know that faith is the seed of wisdom.

2. Jacques Maritain Center: Thomistic Institute
From Schrödinger's Cat to Thomistic Ontology
by Wolfgang Smith
Abstract of a lecture to be given at the Thomistic Institute,
University of Notre Dame, on July 20, 1998.
The full text is scheduled for publication in The Thomist.

It has often been stated that the discoveries of quantum theory conflict with the philosophical premises underlying the pre-quantum scientific world-view; and yet, as Wolfgang Smith observes, it appears that the most basic philosophic premise behind that world-view has become ingrained in the scientific mentality to the point where it is no longer recognized as a philosophic assumption void of scientific support. Smith identifies this premise as the Cartesian subjectivization of the sensible or so-called secondary qualities, resulting in what Whitehead has termed "bifurcation." Basing himself upon his book The Quantum Enigma (Sugden, 1995), he shows not only that bifurcation can be jettisoned -- without in any way affecting the actual modus operandi of physics -- but that this step, in and by itself, eliminates the quantum paradoxes which have perplexed physicists since 1927, when the celebrated Bohr-Einstein debate first began. As Smith explains, non-bifurcation entails the distinction between two objective ontological domains: the corporeal, which we can perceive, and the physical, which we measure and observe by way of scientific instruments. Every corporeal object X, moreover, is associated with a corresponding physical object SX, from which it derives its quantitative attributes. And yet the two objects are altogether different, one can almost say: worlds apart. In the bifurcationist perspective, however, the two are implicitly identified. The prevailing scientific outlook is thus reductionist: it reduces the corporeal to the physical (the grey stone or red apple to an aggregate of molecules). And therein, according to Smith, lies the fundamental fallacy of the contemporaty world-view, which turns out also to be the source of quantum paradox. In the second part of the paper -- after pointing out that the Aristotelian / lThomistic philosophy is stringently non-bifurcationist -- Smith goes on to show that the results of physics, when interpreted on a non-bifurcationist basis, can be readily integrated into the Thomistic ontology, with the result that one is able to understand the nature and limitations of modern physics from a metaphysical point of view. In this perspective it becomes apparent that the factor distinguishing X from SX can be none other than the so-called substantial form of X, rejected by Galileo and Descartes. In light of these considerations, Smith concludes that the findings of quantum theory actually mandate a return to the pre- Cartesian ontology. The resultant rediscovery of "essence" -- beginning in the inorganic realm -- reverses the reductionism which for so long has dominated Western scientific thought, and opens the door to a deeper understanding of Nature.

Now for the really long one.

3. The plague of scientistic belief

By Wolfgang Smith

Nothing strikes the contemporary mind as more certain and authoritative than the findings of physics, astronomy, chemistry, and, of late, molecular biology. These are the “hard” sciences of the present age, which, by empirical means, of a scope and accuracy that stagger the imagination, have put us in touch with fundamental realities that could not even have been conceived in bygone days. Moreover, this group of sciences has been in a sense “visibly validated,” for all to see, by the technological miracles which now surround us on all sides; how, then, can one doubt—much less deny—its findings? In truth, one cannot; quantum particles and fields, galaxies and quasars, molecules and the genetic code—all these are undeniable facts, which must henceforth be reckoned with.

We must remember, however, that facts and their interpretation are not the same thing. And since, subjectively, facts are invariably associated with an interpretation of some kind, it comes about that science as a rule presents us with two disparate factors: with positive findings, on the one hand, plus an underlying philosophy in terms of which the formulation and disclosure of these discoveries are framed. In its actuality science is never the kind of purely empirical enterprise it is generally reputed to be, which is to say that ontological as well as epistemological presuppositions do inevitably play an essential role. What is more, these various philosophical articles of belief are rarely if ever examined or subjected to critical scrutiny by the scientific community. They are the foundational ideas one absorbs, as if by osmosis, in the course of one’s scientific education; they pertain, one might almost say, to the scientific unconscious. And when it happens that one or the other of these ingrained philosophical dogmas does emerge into the light of day as a subject of discourse, the typical response on the part of scientists is to point immediately, by way of validation, to the success of the scientific enterprise: “It works!” one is told in effect. And yet in reality no philosophical belief has ever been validated by an empirical finding; the fact is that verification as well as falsification through empirical means apply to scientific as opposed to philosophical propositions. The separation between these two domains, however, is rarely attempted by scientists; only in times of extreme crisis, when the foundations of a science seem to be crumbling, does one encounter serious thought concerning questions of this kind, and even then such inquiries are pursued only by an adventurous few; it takes an Einstein or a Heisenberg to descend, as it were, to the foundational level, where philosophical axioms begin to come into view. What the rank and file absorb from these founders, moreover, pertains mainly to the technical aspect of the enterprise: one accepts the equations of relativity or the formalism of matrix mechanics, while all but ignoring the philosophical side of the coin. It is safe to say that the men and women who engage in the day-to-day business of scientific research tend not to be overly interested in philosophical subtleties; and so they incline to retain the philosophical axioms to which they have become accustomed over the years, and which could only be recognized as such, and dislodged, through serious and concentrated inquiry. It thus comes about that in the minds of scientists today, good science and inferior philosophy coexist and are in fact inextricably intertwined; as John Haught of Georgetown University has recently pointed out, “Some of the most prominent scientists are literally unable to separate science from their materialist metaphysics.”

This said, I can proceed to state my primary thesis: I contend that by virtue of the aforesaid confusion scientists have promulgated philosophic opinions of the most dubious kind as established scientific truths, and in the name of science have thrust upon an awed and credulous public a shallow world-view for which in reality there is not a shred of scientific support. Having gained the trust and admiration of society through the technological wonders which they have engineered, I maintain that scientists as a class have usurped their authority by predisposing the public against the high truths of religion. I am not suggesting, to be sure, that they have consciously deceived others, but rather contend that they have themselves been misled as a rule in matters pertaining to philosophy, metaphysics, and religion. Meanwhile the fact remains that these “blind guides” are exerting an inestimable influence upon education and public belief, with disastrous consequences to human welfare, both here and hereafter.

I will apply the term “scientistic belief” to designate philosophical opinions that masquerade as scientific truths. Let me give two examples. As my first I will take the tenet of universal mechanism, or what could equally well be termed the axiom of physical determinism. The idea is simple: The tenet affirms that the external universe consists of matter whose motion is determined by the interaction of its parts. Given the initial configuration or state of this matter, and having once ascertained the laws which determine the effect of these interactions upon the resultant motion, one is supposedly able in principle to calculate the future evolution of the universe, down to the minutest detail. The cosmos is thus conceived as a kind of gigantic clockwork, in which part interacts with part to determine the movement of the whole. One knows that this idea began to take shape in the sixteenth century and has played a decisive role in the evolution of modern science. By the time of the Enlightenment, in fact, it had come to be almost universally regarded as an established scientific truth. Thus Hermann von Helmholtz, for instance, one of the leading scientists of the nineteenth century, could say with serene assurance: “The final goal of all natural science is to reduce itself to mechanics (sich in Mechanik aufzulösen).” With the advent of quantum theory, however, the picture has changed; for it turns out that the new physics is not compatible with the mechanistic premise. Yet, despite the fact of quantum indeterminism, not a few eminent scientists continue to champion the mechanistic tenet. Albert Einstein himself, as one knows, so far from admitting that the discoveries of quantum physics have overthrown the classical postulate, argued precisely in the opposite direction: it is the principle of determinism, he said in effect, that invalidates quantum mechanics as a fundamental theory. This illustrates quite clearly the philosophical and indeed a priori character of the tenet in question, and the fact that propositions of this kind can neither be verified nor falsified by empirical findings. This fact, however, remains generally unrecognized, with the result that the postulate of universal mechanism has retained to this day its status as a major article of scientistic belief.

My second example pertains to a more fundamental stratum of philosophical thought, and is consequently still more far-reaching in its implications: “physical reductionism,” let us call it (for reasons which will presently become clear). The thesis hinges upon an epistemological assumption, an idealist postulate, one could say, which affirms that the act of sense perception terminates, not in an external object as we commonly believe, but in a subjective representation of some kind. According to this view, the red apple which we perceive exists somehow in our mind or consciousness; it is a subjective image, a fantasy which mankind has all along mistaken for an external object. Thus thought René Descartes, to whom we owe the philosophical foundations of modern science. Descartes sought to correct what he took to be the mistaken notions of mankind concerning perceptible entities by distinguishing between the external object, which he termed res extensa, and its subjective representation existing in the mind or so-called res cogitans. What was previously conceived as a single object (and what in daily life is invariably regarded as such) has therefore become split in two; as Whitehead has put it: “Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture and the other is the dream.”1 It is to be noted that this Cartesian differentiation between the “conjecture” and the “dream” goes not only against the common intuitions of mankind, but is equally at odds with the great philosophical traditions, including especially the Thomistic, where the opposition becomes as it were diametrical. Now, it is this questionable Cartesian doctrine—which Whitehead refers to as “bifurcation”—that has served from the start as the fundamental plank of physics, or better said, of the scientistic world-view in terms of which we habitually interpret the results of physics. And once again we find that the two disparate factors—the operational facts of physics and their customary interpretation—have become in effect identified, which is to say that the tenet of bifurcation does indeed function as a scientistic belief.

I would like to emphasize that in addition to the fact that bifurcation contradicts the most basic human intuitions as well as the most venerable philosophical traditions, there is also not a shred of empirical evidence in support of this heterodox position. Nor can there be, as follows from the fact that physics can be perfectly well interpreted on a non-bifurcationist basis, as I have shown in a recent monograph.2 It turns out, moreover, that the moment one does interpret physics in non-bifurcationist terms, the so-called quantum paradoxes—which have prompted physicists to invent the most bizarre ontologies—vanish of their own accord. It seems that quantum physics has thus implicitly sided with the pre-Cartesian world-view.

It remains to explain why I have referred to bifurcation as “physical reductionism.” The reason becomes clear the moment we return to the bedrock of the perennial Weltanschauung. The red apple we perceive belongs then once more to the external world; it constitutes a corporeal object, I will say, meaning thereby that it can be perceived. The “molecular” apple, on the other hand, with which the physicist is concerned, is bereft of sensible qualities, and is consequently imperceptible. It constitutes what I term a physical object, as distinguished from a corporeal. From a bifurcationist point of view, however, the physical object is all that exists in the external world. The corporeal, thus, is conceived in effect to be “nothing but” the physical. The red apple—which, from an orthodox point of view, exists!—is thus in effect “reduced” to the physical: it is identified with the “molecular” apple, as conceived by the physicist. The tenet of bifurcation, therefore, implies what I term physical reductionism; and the converse, to be sure, is equally apparent.

In both of these two forms, the Cartesian thesis has been for centuries presupposed without question by scientists and the educated public. It has become ingrained in the scientific mind to the point where even the anomalies of quantum physics have failed to arouse suspicion. As one philosopher of science has recently admitted in private: “Those who work on the physicist’s plane find it almost impossible to eliminate the bifurcationism implicit in their work.” Now, this uncritical and habitual acceptance of the Cartesian thesis by “those who work on the physicist’s plane” effectively obscures its philosophical status; and as is the case with all scientistic beliefs, the tenet thus becomes science by association, as one might say.

One could argue that bifurcation—or, equivalently, physical reductionism—constitutes in fact the most basic contemporary scientistic belief, the tenet which all other scientistic beliefs implicitly presuppose. Take, for instance, the idea of universal mechanism: does it not hinge upon bifurcation? In a remarkable passage, amply worth quoting, Descartes himself admits as much:

We can easily conceive how the motion of one body can be caused by that of another, and diversified by the size, figure and situation of its parts, but we are wholly unable to conceive how these same things can produce something else of a nature entirely different from themselves, as for example, those substantial forms and real qualities which many philosophers suppose to be in bodies.3

The philosophers alluded to, of course, are the Scholastics, whom Descartes opposes radically. What the French savant tells us—with admirable clarity!—is that not until the universe has been reduced to the status of “quantified matter” does the idea of universal mechanism become conceivable. And is this not, finally, the reason why Galileo and Descartes saw fit to ban “those substantial forms and real qualities” from the external world? Was not the bifurcation postulate introduced precisely to render thinkable a “totalist” physics based upon mechanical principles?

The two examples may suffice to introduce the general phenomenon which I have termed scientistic belief. It hardly needs pointing out, moreover, that if physics, the most exact of the natural sciences, is thus associated with scientistic—and indeed, from a traditional point of view, illusory!—notions, what can one expect in the case of less rigorous disciplines, such as evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, and psychology, not to speak of the so-called social sciences.4 The unappreciated fact is that science in its actuality bestows both truth and error: not only enlightenment, but benightedness as well. One could even argue that so far as the general public is concerned, it is the second of these effects that predominates; the truths of hard science, after all, are mainly accessible to the expert, the scientifically proficient. This holds especially in the case of fundamental physics; by the time a fact of quantum theory, for instance, has been popularized, what remains is mainly a scientistic notion. One could put it this way: As science evolves, its actual insights become more and more abstract, more and more mathematical, and thus denuded of sensible imagery; these insights thus become a kind of esoteric knowledge, to which only the “initiated” have access. Moreover, what is validated by empirical findings, and also, in a way, by the miracles of technology, is precisely that kernel of esoteric insight, and not the outer shell of scientistic beliefs, which the public at large mistakes for enlightenment.

I would like now to consider the implications of these facts—of this cultural phenomenon—with reference to religion and the spiritual life. As has already been noted, I perceive the impact of scientistic belief upon the religious domain as adverse in the extreme. I should add that the problem has been greatly exacerbated by the fact that theologians and pastors as a rule are ill-equipped to deal with questions of this kind, and all too often have themselves been swayed by scientistic claims.

What does it matter, some will say; what if we are perhaps mistaken about the nature of causality, or about the terminus of sense perception, or even about the much-debated question of evolution—so long as we stand on the side of truth in matters of religion. I would point out that the question is not quite so simple. We must not forget that religion—so long as it has not degenerated into a social convention or mere sentimentality—demands the whole man; holiness and wholeness are inseparable. Does not the “first and greatest” commandment enjoin that “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”? What we think about the world—our Weltanschauung —cannot legitimately be excluded from the domain of religion. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes in the Summa Contra Gentiles (Bk. II, ch. 3): “It is absolutely false to maintain, with reference to the truths of our faith, that what we believe regarding the creation is of no consequence, so long as one has an exact conception concerning God; because an error regarding the nature of creation always gives rise to a false idea about God.” I would add that I perceive the contemporary penchant for accommodating the teachings of Christianity to the so-called truths of science as a striking confirmation of this Thomistic principle: a case, almost invariably, of scientistic errors begetting flawed theological ideas.5

In a word, what we think about the universe does matter in our religious and spiritual life. And moreover, with due allowance for what might be termed “invincible ignorance,” we are responsible for the opinions we hold in this seemingly secular domain. “With all thy mind”: these four words should suffice to apprise us of this fact.

I will go so far as to contend that religion goes astray the moment it relinquishes its just rights in the so-called natural domain nowadays occupied by science. I believe that the contemporary crisis of faith and the ongoing de-Christianization of Western society have much to do with the fact that for centuries the material world has been left to the mercy of the scientists. This has of course been said many times before (but not nearly often enough!). Theodore Roszak, for instance, has put it exceptionally well: “Science is our religion,” he observed, “because we cannot, most of us, with any living conviction see around it.”6 And one might add that perhaps only those who already have at least a touch of authentic religion do in fact stand a chance of “seeing around it with any living conviction.” So too the name of Oskar Milosz (1877-1939) comes to mind, a European writer who had this to say: “Unless a man’s concept of the physical universe accords with reality, his spiritual life will be crippled at its roots, with devastating consequences for every other aspect of his life.”7 It could not have been better said! As regards the implications of the scientistic world-view for the life of the Church, let me quote from a recent book by the French philosopher Jean Borella: “The truth is that the Catholic Church has been confronted by the most formidable problem a religion can encounter: the scientistic disappearance (disparition scientifique) of the universe of symbolic forms which enable it to express and manifest itself, that is to say, which permit it to exist.” And he goes on to say: “That destruction has been effected by Galilean physics, not, as one generally claims, because it has deprived man of his central position—which, for St. Thomas Aquinas is cosmologically the least noble and the lowest—but because it reduces bodies, material substance, to the purely geometric, thus making it at one stroke scientifically impossible (or devoid of meaning) that the world can serve as a medium for the manifestation of God. The theophanic capacity of the world is denied.”8 Let us be clear about it: Borella is pointing the finger squarely at what I have termed physical reductionism: “le problème le plus redoubtable qu’une religion puisse rencontrer,” he calls it. What he terms a “reduction to the purely geometric” corresponds precisely to what I call the reduction of the corporeal to the physical: it is this scientistic contention that would obliterate “the theophanic capacity of the world.”

It is of course to be understood that the “symbolic forms” to which Borella refers are not, as some might think, subjective images or ideas which in days gone by men had projected upon the external universe, until, that is, science came to apprise us of the truth. The very opposite is in fact the case: The “forms” in question are objectively real and indeed essential to the universe. We may conceive of them as “forms” in the Aristotelian and Scholastic sense, or Platonically, as eternal archetypes reflected on the plane of corporeal existence. In either case they constitute the very essence of corporeal being. Remove these “symbolic forms,” and the universe ceases to exist; for it is these “forms,” precisely, that anchor the cosmos to God.

It is needless to point out that science has not in reality destroyed these forms, or caused their disappearance; however, the scientistic negation of corporeal being entails a denial of the substantial forms or essences which constitute that order of being, and of the sensible qualities by which these forms or essences manifest themselves to man. The scientistically prepared mind, therefore, has become increasingly insensitive to what Borella terms “the universe of symbolic forms,” to the point where that universe has become for it all but invisible. It is in that sense that the “theophanic capacity of the world” has been diminished to an unprecedented degree.

The consequences, however, of that diminution cannot but be tragic in the extreme. In his denial of essences, scientistic man has destroyed the very basis of the spiritual life. As Borella points out, he has obliterated the domain “that enables the Church to express and manifest itself,” and hence “permits it to exist.” The refutation of scientistic belief, therefore, is not an optional matter for the Church, something from which she can afford to abstain; it is rather a matter of urgent necessity, a question ultimately of survival.

It may be well, finally, to reflect anew upon what St. Paul has to say concerning “the theophanic capacity of the world” in his letter to the Romans. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen,” he declares, “being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” To which he adds: “So they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:20-22). I need hardly point out the striking relevance of these words to all that we have discussed. The “things that are made” are doubtless corporeal natures, the objects that man can perceive; and what about “the invisible things of him”: are these not precisely eternal essences, ideas or archetypes? So long as man’s heart has not been “darkened,” the sensory perception of “things that are made” will awaken in him an intellectual perception—a “recollection,” as Plato says—of the eternal things which the former reflect or embody. St. Paul alludes to a time or a state when man “knew God,” a reference, first of all, to the condition of Adam before the fall, when human nature was as yet undefiled by original sin. One needs to realize, however, that the fall of Adam has been repeated on a lesser scale down through the ages, in an unending series of “betrayals,” large and small. Even today, at this late stage of history, we are, each of us, endowed with a certain “knowledge of God” to which we can freely respond in various ways. And that is precisely why we, too, are “without excuse,” and why, to some degree at least, we are responsible for the opinions we hold concerning the cosmos. Everyone perceives the universe in accordance with his spiritual state: the “pure in heart” perceive it without fail as a theophany; and for the rest of us, whose “foolish hearts are darkened,” the theophanic capacity of the universe is reduced in proportion to this darkening.

I would like however to emphasize that this correspondence between our spiritual state and our Weltanschauung applies in both directions, which is to say that not only does our spiritual state affect the way we view the external world, but conversely, our views concerning the universe react invariably upon that state. This is in fact my central point: Cosmology matters, it has a decisive impact upon our spiritual condition. Even what we think about the purely physical world turns out to be crucial; for indeed, “unless a man’s concept of the physical universe accords with reality, his spiritual life will be crippled at its roots. . . .”

This brings us at last to the pastoral question: what can be done pastorally to counteract the scientistic influence? The major problem, clearly, is to inform the pastors themselves: to alert them, first of all, to the fact that there is a crucial distinction to be made between science and scientism, and then to the fact that scientistic belief is antagonistic to our spiritual well-being. This however will not be easy to get across, for it offends against the prevailing trend, both in civil society and within the Church. It is only by an act of grace, I surmise, that any of us are able to muster the discernment, and indeed the sheer boldness, to cast off the scientistic Weltanschauung and recover a Christian world-view. And this task, this imperative, I say, is at bottom spiritual. It is to be accomplished, thus, not simply by reading books, or through a process of reasoning, but above all through faith and prayer. The dictum credo ut intelligam applies to us still, and perhaps even more urgently than in the comparatively innocent days of Augustine or Anselm. It is needful that we be touched and enlivened by the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth, who “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). In our struggle to transcend the scientistic outlook, we are dealing, moreover, not simply with a belief system of human contrivance, but with something more formidable by far; for here too, in the final count, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). How could it be otherwise when it is “the theophanic capacity of the world” that stands at issue: the very thing “which enables the Church to express and manifest itself, that is to say, which permits it to exist.” If the cosmos were indeed what scientism affirms it to be, our Catholic faith would be a mockery, and our sacred liturgy—the well-spring of the Church itself—an empty charade. This fact cannot be ignored with impunity.

1 The Concept of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 30. Despite his eminence as a philosopher and the fact that, along with Bertrand Russel, he is the father of mathematical logic, Whitehead’s strictures against the Cartesian axioms have aroused little response from the scientific community.
2 The Quantum Enigma (Peru, Illinois: Sherwood Sugden, 1995). A useful summary of the book with commentary has been given by William A. Wallace in “Thomism and the Quantum Enigma,” The Thomist 61 (1997), pp. 455-467. See also Wolfgang Smith, “From Schrödinger’s Cat to Thomistic Ontology,” The Thomist 63 (1999), pp. 49-63.
3 Cited in E. A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Principles of Modern Physical Science (New York: Humanities Press, 1951), p. 112.
4 See Cosmos and Transcendence (Peru, Illinois: Sherwood Sugden, 1984), a work in which I have sought to unmask the major articles of scientistic belief and delineate their impact upon contemporary society.
5 The paramount instance of scientistic theology is doubtless given by the far-flung speculations of Teilhard de Chardin. See my monograph, Teilhardism and the New Religion (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1988), where I have dealt with this question at length.
6 Where the Wasteland Ends (Garden City: Doubleday, 1973), p. 124.
7 Cited in Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Religion and the Order of Nature (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 153. Concerning Oskar Milosz, see Philip Sherrard, Human Image: World Image (Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1992), pp. 131-146.
8 Le sens du surnaturel (Geneva: Editions Ad Solem, 1996), p. 74. See also the English translation: The Sense of the Supernatural (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998).

Dr. Wolfgang Smith received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Colombia University and has held faculty positions at M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and Oregon State University. In addition to his technical publications he has authored three books and numerous articles on inter-disciplinary subjects.