Alvaro Peñas interviews David Engels. Engels is a Belgian historian who is currently working on the Zachodni Institute in Poznan, Poland. He is a specialist in Ancient History, especially Roman and Seleucid, and is also a leading thinker of European conservatism who has been dealing with identity issues for more than a decade. Engels became known for his book “On the path towards Empire”, that compares the crisis of the EU with the fall of the Roman Republic in the first century BC.
Western societies have enthusiastically embraced moral relativism and the culture of death (abortion, euthanasia, etc.), which, in addition to low birth rate, can only lead to collective suicide. How is this blindness possible? Why has the liberal European right accepted and even promoted this agenda?
The answer was already found by Chesterton, who considered most of the “values” of the modern liberal societies as Christian values gone “unhinged”. Indeed, the slow death of Christianity has not completely erased its values, but it has bereft them of their transcendent anchoring, so that values such as “compassion”, “tolerance”, “justice” or “equality” have ceased to be coherent building blocks of a greater construction, but have started to compete with each other while posing themselves as “absolute”. This could only lead to absurdities and disaster, even more so after the major traumatism of totalitarianism. Thus, out of good intentions, the West has embraced a culture of death while being persuaded to have become a champion of the morally “good”, as all virtues, emptied of their real meaning, have become synonyms of their exact contrary. Tolerance has led to exclusion, healthcare to abortion, dignity to euthanasia, self-realisation to cultural demographic suicide, antifascism to a new totalitarianism, equality to exclusive quotas, antiracism to flagrantly racist identity politics, etc.
You wrote that “the European Union has united Europe but has abolished the West”. Have we been materially united at the expense of our souls?
Absolutely. Already at the beginning, the European institutions favoured economic before political or cultural cooperation. Some founding fathers probably were convinced that the Christian roots of the West were strong and long-lasting enough to serve as civilisational foundation of a unified Europe even without being explicitly prescribed. Others thought that, after the catastrophe of nationalism, the unification needed to be implemented indirectly, through the slow economic and institutional necessities of the “méthode Monnet”. Unfortunately, though very gradually, it became obvious that this cultural vacuum that might have been intended as a form of voluntary neutrality was slowly filled by another spirit, i.e. universalism. Year by year, the European institutions became more influenced and dominated by an ideology, that wants to replace the typical identity of the West by a multicultural mishmash, which focuses solely on human values without taking in account the specific importance of Western traditions, an ideology that has only the alleged interests of “humanity” in mind and acts to the detriment of Europe. Step by step, “political correctness” has become the leading ideology of the European Union, and the stronger it becomes, the more it shows its true face. Today, the EU does not stand for the courageous defence of the European civilisation, but rather for values such as anti-Christian laicity, LGBTQ interests, feminism, antifa, gender theory, climate paranoia, technocracy, social engineering, transhumanism, digital totalitarianism etc.
Is the image of Notre Dame on fire the symbol of what awaits Europe?
Indeed, I fear so, though it is difficult to say to what degree the present cultural decline and ideological radicalisation of Europe will lead to a full-fledged crisis or to a slow, decades-long downward spiral. Nevertheless, it is sure that the material as well as immaterial symbols of old Europe will be increasingly attacked in the name of “progress”, “tolerance”, “historical responsibility” or the “fight against radicalism”, and we have to expect not only a continued dismantling of our patrimonial, most of all spiritual legacy, but also an ever-stronger attack against tradition and historical pride. Spengler, one of my most important historical mentors, has clearly shown that all civilisations, the West included, mortal and would sooner or later decline and die. But he would never have imagined that this decline would be triggered by inner treason and self-hate much more than by outward pressure.
In France the military, and even some politicians, are warning of the danger of an ethnic war, a possibility you have pointed out in your books. Have we reached this point of decay in Western societies?
Yes, we have. For years by now, France is at the brink of disaster; everyone speaks about the impending institutional division of the country along ethnic lines; and sooner or later, there will be indeed major civil unrest: the yellow vest movement as well as the near-daily conflagrations in the important French metropolises show how critical the situation is. Unfortunately, the State is not prepared for such a major civic conflict. On the one hand, the government of Emmanuel Macron firmly defends multiculturalism, tolerance and laicity; on the other hand, large parts of the French army and police forces are already islamised and must be considered as unreliable in case of ethnic conflict. And once France will dive into chaos, the impact on the economic and thus also political stability of the entire European Union will be immense, as I have tried to show in many of the papers published some weeks ago in my Spanish collection of essays “El ultimo occidental”.
Houllebecq, in his novel “Submission”, sees a future in which France becomes an Islamic country. Do you think something like this could happen? That in the face of the loss of values in the West there are Europeans who embrace values so different from our own identity.
The greatest strength of the Islamic minorities is not (only) their growing number, it is also their cultural cohesion and their pride in their identity, while most autochthonous Europeans are deeply destabilised by decades of ideological formatting and have grown to consider their own culture as something to be collectively ashamed of because of its (allegedly) numerous crimes. For the moment, conversion to Islam is still a marginal phenomenon, but once the State loses control of the situation, it could quickly become a much larger evolution, as it is to be expected that Islamic parallel societies and institutions will replace the failing French State and become a figure of authority for entire geographic segments of the population. Also, it is important to note that we do not need a Muslim “majority” for France or Belgium to become Muslim countries: History has shown how even tiny Muslim minorities can influence and dominate entire societies when they are in a situation of power and initiative. And given the degree of self-hate imposed on the West by its current woke elites as well as the self-destruction of the Christian churches, ever more endeavouring to please the doctrine of political correctness, it can be expected that many autochthonous Europeans will not want to defend a political and cultural system that has lost its attractiveness as well as its credibility.
Poland, Hungary and other Central and Eastern European countries are offering resistance to this progressive totalitarianism. Do you think their example can serve as a moral beacon to Western Europe?
At least, I hope so. But in order to do so, Poland and Hungary must succeed to make their message reach the average citizen, which is a big problem. On the one hand, most people in the West are dependent on politically correct media in order to gain the information they need. On the other hand, the Visegrad states still hesitate to launch major media offensives as they fear the possible retaliation by the respective authorities, mostly Brussels and Berlin. However, should they succeed in directly communicating with the citizens, they could become an important asset in the battle for a new conservatism that would want to transcend mere national boundaries and fight for a new form of European unification that would defend our identity and our interests instead of diluting and selling them out.
The violence of Strajk Kobiet (Polish pro-abortion movement), its attacks on churches and the large number of young women in their actions surprised many inside and outside Poland. Are Poles aware of what they face, the huge amounts of wills, means and money at the service of this totalitarianism?
The Polish society is indeed much divided between the universalists and the traditionalists, or the “nowheres” and the “somewheres”. Of course, this was already known for many years, but the violence of the “Strajk Kobiet” and, most of all, the aggression against churches and public monuments such as statues of John Paul II shocked many people. There are two lessons to be learned from this. On the one hand, it shows that the danger of seeing conservatism subverted even in Poland is greater than expected. On the other hand, the vandalism deployed by these mostly young people shocked many citizens and showed to them that their identity and traditions are indeed in a grave danger should they not protect them and not fight this rising totalitarianism. Of course, at least the conservative media have warned the people about this for many years by now and showed how these groups are financed and organised from Berlin and Brussels, but as Poland is such a calm, homogeneous and, at least superficially, solidary country, many citizens believed that these warnings might be exaggerated. This is changing right now.
Is it possible to save Rome?
As you know, in my book “On the path towards Empire”, I tried to show that the current Western civilisation is in a similar situation than the late Roman Republic in the first century BC. Mass immigration, demographic decline, religious crisis, fragmentation of the traditional family, globalisation, plutocracy, debt crisis, politics of bread and circuses, social polarisation – all this also happened 2000 years ago. And our current governments, exactly as the Roman elite, are not only incapable, but also unwilling to change the course of the events. In their short-term thinking, they are trying to benefit as much as possible from the next months and years and simply push the solution of the ever-greater social, economic and ethnic problems into the responsibility of the next generation – until the system simply collapses. The Roman Republic thus fell prey to civil war, the rise of the army, the short-lived triumph of the demagoguery of Cesar, and, finally, the advent of the conservative restauration of the first emperor, Augustus. Sometimes, I believe that something very similar is going to happen in Europe during the next 20 years or so. Of course, it would be good could we learn from history, and this is why I have outlined some alternative solutions in my book “Renovatio Europae”. But I fear that such a more peaceful transition will only be achieved in the Eastern European countries, while the West will have to learn the need for identity and historical patriotism through a long period of unrest and violence.
One good news in the midst of this decline was the opening on 28 May of the Intermarium College at which you were present, along with other personalities and organisations such as the Polish Ordo Iuris and the Hungarian Centre for Fundamental Rights. What is the purpose of the Intermarium College?
The Intermarium College is meant to be a fully-fledged new University dedicated to overcome the current leftist-liberal domination an to return to the original notion of “universitas”. That is, a place where people from all backgrounds could gather in the pursuit of beauty, truth and the good, and where the Western civilisation is seen as a positive heritage, not as an enemy to be overcome. Of course, as the courses will begin only in October 2021, it is difficult to predict exactly how this new university will develop. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we need exactly this approach if we want to save our education system: founding new institutions in order to overcome the decadence of the previous ones, exactly as the Medieval monastic orders repeatedly did many centuries ago.