What if Plato Was Kidding?

The disciples came to him and asked, “why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied: “because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven
has been given to you, but not to them.”
Matthew 13:10-11

Censorship is the mother of metaphor.
Jorge Luis Borges

Exoteric and Esoteric. The first of these words signifies exterior, the second, interior.
The ancient philosophers had a double doctrine; the one external, public, or exoteric;
the other internal, secret, or esoteric.
Denis Diderot, Encyclopedia


This post is mostly a handful of reflections on Arthur M. Melzer’s Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing. It is perhaps the most important book I have ever read although I did it too late in my life for it to be of help, except for the pleasure of reading something so exceptional. I hope the post will motivate younger people to read the book and then reread the great authors in a new way, one that would help correct our misunderstanding of Western intellectual history, revolutionize modern philosophy —which rests on a particular theory of history, historicism— and reassess the nature of human reason in its relation to the political and cultural environment.


Allan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind, used to scandalize his academic friends by saying that Plato was “just kidding” in The Republic. Bloom’s remark, among other things a broadside on Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell, is full of misunderstood irony. As one of Leo Strauss best students and a scholar of ancient Greek philosophy himself, Bloom knew well how difficult the hermeneutical problem is, how misleading an interpretation can be.

On Plato’s most famous dialogue, Leo Strauss raised the possibility that Socrates, the king of irony, wasn’t creating a “blueprint for regime reform” (a play of words on Karl Popper) but was rather forcing his students to question themselves and their proposals as a form of teaching critical thinking. Strauss was following Cicero’s opinion that the objective of the Republic is not to create an ideal city but to bring to light the complex nature of political things. Thus the well known segment about “the just city in speech” was written with a wink and a nod: a city so perfect that it requires from its rulers not only a noble lie, a founding myth (Book III, 414b), but also “a throng of lies and deceptions for the benefit of the ruled” (Book V, 459c), and is even compared to a cave where its citizens live as if in a dream, taking shadows for reality (Book VII, 514a). Plato didn’t offer, Strauss argued, a blueprint for an actual society governed by philosophers; he rather offered the young aristocrats sitting and learning at Socrates’ feet a sort of thought exercise, forcing them to consider the wild utopian propositions their teacher was espousing. Plato’s entire construction of the perfect society was perhaps the ultimate political irony, a play on its absurdity when it is abstracted from reality or, as Strauss put it, from human eros. Contrary to what is commonly understood, Plato’s teaching “can never become the subject of indoctrination. In the last analysis, his writings cannot be used for any purpose other than for philosophizing. In particular, no social order and no party which ever existed or which ever will exist can rightfully claim Plato as its patron.” (Leo Strauss, On a New Interpretation of Plato’s Political Philosophy, 351, Melzer, 109)


Socrates is the founder of the city in speech and, hence, of political philosophy. In Book V he tries to show the superiority of the philosopher to the comic poet in deed; he does so by producing a comedy which is more fantastic, more innovative, more comic, and more profound than any work of Aristophanes. Socrates, with an air of utmost seriousness, undertakes absurd considerations; in this he is already comic. If what he appears to teach seriously is impossible, as will prove to be the case, Socrates’ comedy will be akin to the Ecclesiazusae [Aristophanes’ comedy The Assembly Women] … The perfect city is revealed to be a perfect impossibility. What then was the use of spending so much time and effort on a city that is impossible? Precisely to show its impossibility. This was not just any city, but one constructed to meet all the demands of justice. Its impossibility demonstrates the impossibility of the actualization of a just regime and hence moderates the moral indignation a man might experience at the sight of less-than-perfect regimes. (Bloom, 381, 409)


In view of these three plain examples—all of them making the same point: the inescapable opposition between the city and truth—it seems to me extremely difficult to deny that the Republic’s dominant utopian narrative is repeatedly subverted by critical, even anti-utopian reflections. On this interpretation, then, the Republic is, on one level, an attempt to arouse and specify with precision our utopian political longings, so as, on another, to confront all the ways in which human nature renders these longings ultimately impossible. And it conveys this lesson not only in order to tame and moderate the political realm but also to redirect our thwarted idealistic energies, using them as a springboard into the philosophical realm where they may find their true and proper satisfaction. (Melzer, 60)


What if the strange passages in Aristotle’s Politics, Book I on slavery, which have confounded so many modern scholars to the extreme of seeing them as out of place within the text or as pieces of text added by other authors, were written that way by Aristotle on purpose, to confound his readers? I am thinking exclusively of us modern readers, because intelligent pre-18th century readers of Aristotle knew he was being true to his alias, The Cuttlefish:

Two cuttlefish interact while a third looks on. Georgia Aquarium

“Cuttlefish are remarkable in their ability not only to rapidly change colors, color patterns, and color intensity to blend with its background, but even change skin texture to match its habitat, better concealing itself as its moves among the various sandy areas, corals, and rocks of its marine environment.”

What else to think when we read Aristotle proving the justice of slavery with a winding and unconvincing argument in Politics, Book I, interjecting “there are others who regard slavery as contrary to nature. In their view the relation between master and slave is due to law and convention and is based on force,” all the while talking about nature and bringing up natural right for the first time? (1253b14-23). Aristotle then, as Thomas Pangle shows, extends this part of the argument to the entire cosmos in a phrase that Rousseau made famous as the epigraph of his Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality Among Men: “one must investigate what is natural by looking rather at the things that are in accord with nature, not at the deformed.” (1254a36-37, my emphasis). That is why Pangle also says that one of the main purposes of Aristotle in Politics, Book I is “to show the attentive reader that in his covert, esoteric level of teaching he is not at all captivated by or an apologist for Greek mores and fundamental institutions.” (Pangle, 44, 51)

The alias and the examples above are worth a thousand scholarly comments on Aristotle when we know that he freed his own slaves, that he had to escape from Athens four times to save his skin, and especially when we know that all the documents from Aristotle in our possession are of the esoteric type because the editor of his oeuvre, Andronicus of Rhodes, chose to exclude Aristotle’s exoteric works.


There are few historical truths we think we know more clearly than Machiavelli’s work and the pejorative adjective made famous by his name. Just read this righteous judgment on Machiavelli from 2014 —“wicked stuff, particularly disturbing to contemporary readers,” says the author. But in reality, Machiavelli was a modern republican who sang the virtues of the ancient republics, and in The Prince he warned his readers about the perils of tyranny, while we see him teaching immorality to the mediocre Lorenzo di Piero de Medici who only shared a name with his magnificent grandfather. “For some time, I never say what I believe and I never believe what I say; and if it sometimes occurs to me that I say the truth, I conceal it among so many lies that it is hard to find it out,” writes Machiavelli in a letter to his friend Francesco Guicciardini in 1521. (Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli, 36, Melzer, 54)

This is how some great thinkers understood Machiavelli’s famous book:


It is as if he said to his fellow citizens, read well this work. If you ever accept a master, he will be such as I paint him: here is the ferocious beast to whom you will abandon yourselves … Chancellor Bacon was not fooled when he said: this man teaches nothing to tyrants; they know only too well what they have to do, but he instructs the peoples about what they have to fear.


Machiavelli’s true intention was “to show how cautious a free multitude should be of entrusting its welfare absolutely to one man.”


Being attached to the Medici household, [Machiavelli] was forced, during the oppression of his homeland, to disguise his love of freedom. The choice of his execrable hero is in itself enough to make manifest his hidden intention … While pretending to give lessons to kings, he gave great ones to the people. Machiavelli’s The Prince is the book of republicans.


Speaking to a king who is a bigoted theologian, before tyrannical and suspicious priests, I will not be able to display my opinions fully; they would shock dominant prejudices too much. Often obliged to envelop myself in general, vague, and even obscure expressions, I will not be understood at first, but I will take care to pose the principles of truths that will, I dare say, have long term consequences, and sooner or later the consequences will be drawn … Thus without directly attacking throne and altar, which today support one another, both resting on the triple base of long-standing ignorance, terror, and habit and appearing unshakeable to me, all the while respecting them verbally, I will undermine both by my principles.

But we moderns can’t imagine being wrong in our literal understanding of the great Florentine.


Melzer clearly and repeatedly shows in his book that during most of human history esotericism was the norm, not the exception. Even modern societies —except Western ones— still talk and write ambiguously or indirectly, leaving some conclusions to be decided by the listener or the reader. And there is of course the experience with modern totalitarian regimes, where dissident authors had to communicate their dissent through esoteric writing. Vaclav Havel for example, imprisoned in communist Czechoslovakia, about his Letters to Olga:

The letters, in fact, are endless spirals in which I’ve tried to enclose something. Very early on, I realized that comprehensible letters wouldn’t get through, which is why the letters are full of long compound sentences and complicated ways of saying things. Instead of writing “regime,” for instance, I would obviously have had to write “the socially apparent focus on the non-I” or some such nonsense. (Melzer, 129)

Besides the ample evidence for esotericism presented in the book, Melzer gives us an appendix of fully 110 pages of chronological testimonial and bibliographic evidence that covers almost every major thinker from Homer to Wittgenstein, here:


The fact is that within oppressive societies some kind of coded communication necessarily develops; where there is censorship there will also be coded messages. Incidentally, this was also the view of Sigmund Freud at a psychological level in The Interpretation of Dreams.

But then something strange occurred. During the second half of the 18th century —Strauss says “after Lessing,” who died in 1781— esotericism began to be forgotten, to become unknown. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lamented this in a letter to a friend on October 20, 1811:

I have always considered it an evil, indeed a disaster which, in the second half of the previous century, gained more and more ground that one no longer drew a distinction between the exoteric and the esoteric.” (Melzer, xii)

While not a Straussian himself, Melzer recognizes Leo Strauss as the rediscoverer of esotericism in the late 1930s, although his findings were disregarded, treated as preposterous, politically motivated, even perverse. How could we completely forget something so common and widespread that its mere mention becomes shocking? As Melzer asks, is there something wrong with the way we see the world? Are there powerful cultural forces at work in our times for something as radical and incredible as this to have happened?

There were three main types of esotericism in the ancient world, as Melzer explains:

“Society likewise poses a grave danger to the philosopher … the hostility of society to the philosopher is also not entirely unreasonable. It is not simply a product of vulgar ignorance and misunderstanding that might be dispelled someday by greater education and familiarity, as the harmonious Enlightenment view would maintain … To defend himself against it, the philosopher must conceal his more provocative or heterodox ideas, while possibly also seeking positive ways to make himself more acceptable —engaging in defensive esotericism.”

“There is a fundamental tension between truth and political life. To manage this conflict and protect society from harm, then, the philosopher must conceal or obscure his most subversive ideas, while also, perhaps, promoting salutary ones —practicing protective esotericism.”

“A philosophical education is not simply intellectual, a pure matter of learning. It involves facilitating a transition from one way of life to another … The student must be moved along gradually, artfully, in appropriate stages. This dialectical process will require withholding or managing the truth, so that the student is compelled to find it for himself, at his own pace, and in a form he can, at each stage, digest … Esotericism is the literary counterpart of the Socratic method —undertaking pedagogical esotericism.”

Our Reasons for Forgetting

The Classical Conflictual View of Society

Aristotle said that man is the rational animal and also the political animal. The classics understood that human nature is dualistic, that we have a desire for knowing and objectivity, but also for belonging and solidarity. Humans have theoretical needs but also practical needs. The classics thought that those two elements are necessarily in conflict, that there is opposition between theory and practice, between reason and society, between the philosopher and the city. Traditional, closed societies couldn’t separate political questions from moral and religious questions. To function, their practice required settled answers, thus the need for custom, tradition, social convention, mores, law, nomos. Theory brought unsettling and threatening questions. Each was a danger to the other and this made traditional society necessarily “anti-intellectual.” This is the basic reason for ancient esotericism.

The Modern Harmonious View of Society

Contrary to what classical philosophers understood, Enlightenment philosophers with their humanist optimism and faith in progress, believed in an essential harmony between theory and practice and between reason and society, by which society had to be subordinated to reason (counter-Enlightenment and postmodern philosophers also believed in the essential harmony between the two, although their solution was to subordinate reason to society).

Whatever the conflicts among its philosophers, a definite, squeaky-clean characteristic of modernity is a literal take on everything, a conviction that in every important way serious authors mean what they say and say what they mean. It has been said that we moderns have no sense of tragedy, and this can be seen in our literalness about everything. Oedipus, instead of the most powerful tragedy about our flawed nature, is for us a psychological disorder curable through the power of truth. As Melzer says, “modern intellectuals are almost constitutionally incapable of appreciating the legitimacy and necessity of dangerous truths.” The source of this radical change is a modern faith, secular humanism: the disorder of the world can be cured through human effort.

We cannot imagine famous authors hiding the truth between the lines, not showing it front and center. We have egalitarian objections to the elitism of the ancient world, and we love our open society where secrecy and concealment are rightly suspect. Secure in our little corner, we believe that the rest of the world, at all times, must have shared our security and our moral habits. As Melzer puts it, it is both ironic and incomprehensible that the two greatest teachers of the Western tradition, Jesus and Socrates, were both famous for their secrecy and their indirect speech.

If Esotericism is True, What Are the Consequences?

Melzer closely follows Leo Strauss in the last chapter of the book, about reason and its enemies. Not surprisingly, esotericism is at the center of Strauss’ defense of reason against its main enemy: historicism in its postmodernist form (what he called “radical historicism”), a danger that began with the Enlightenment. The decline of esotericism was a precondition for the ideas of progress and historicism to appear in modern times. Modern thought in natural science, social science, and philosophy lacks direct connection to its own premises and to commonsense experience, it covers up its own foundations. We are embedded in our own historicity and naively generalize our particular situation to all human thought in all ages, a particular “insight” that, strangely, all previous ages considered unlikely. Strauss wrapped this situation of modern thought in a Platonic metaphor: “the cave beneath the cave.”

Modern thought is grounded in historicism, it therefore has to break with everything that came before it. Since every thought is conditioned by its own times, it is worthless outside of its time and therefore worthless as a basis of knowledge in general.

Modern thought eschews traditional philosophy and rejects considering it as knowledge, but any scientific assertion presupposes a metaphysics. Modern science, for example, tries to explain everything (including consciousness) via several forms of naturalism (even thinking of the brain as a computer), and scientists think their explanations don’t require any philosophical founding. But naturalism presupposes a materialist metaphysics. As Edward Feser has said many times, they have to “sweep under the rug” anything that doesn’t comply with naturalism. But the dirt is still there.

And modern thought doesn’t apply historicism to itself. If it did, it would consider itself conditioned by its own time and thus as worthless as any previous thought in the above sense.

Esotericism, on the contrary, requires a thinker to fully examine his foundations and see them as they are: the origin, the ordinary, the pre-theoretical, the human things. The movement of philosophy, then, should be not progress but return, return to the Socratic questions.

The rediscovery of esotericism proves that ancient authors accepted the conventions of their times only on the surface of their texts. If our literal interpretation of the great classic works is essentially wrong then, historicism, a pillar of modern philosophy, history, and social science, collapses: if esotericism is true then historicism is false, it is just a modern prejudice.

Vladimir Dorta, 05/05/2019

05/07/2019 UPDATE: After reading a friend’s email message, I modified the conclusion by adding a few explanations to hopefully make it clearer.


Arthur M. Melzer, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2014

Allan Bloom, The Republic of Plato, Translation and Interpretive Essay, 2nd Edition, Basic Books, 1991

Aristotle, Politics, Translation by Ernest Barker, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Translation by Robert Bartlett, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2012

Thomas L. Pangle, Aristotle’s Teaching in the Politics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2014

Another Trump Success Story Nobody Talks About

It’s easy to say that socialism has failed. You only have to look around or know a bit of history. But there is something else that failed big time and nobody is talking about, an elephant in the room nobody sees. Remember 2008 Nobel Prize laureate and expert-of-experts Paul Krugman announcing in November 9, 2016, just two days after the election, the economic debacle the Trump presidency would bring?

“So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.”

Krugman is not just another “expert” going wrong and still keeping his title, he is the personification of an important idea. I’m thinking about the mother idea of liberal economics, Keynesianism, the concept of government monetary and fiscal programs designed to increase employment and stimulate business activity by spending (freely spending other people’s money, that is). One of many consequences of the second wave, it is now accepted by most economists as part of modern liberalism. John Maynard Keynes was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, who together with Bertrand Russell and Sydney and Beatrice Webb of the Fabian Society were key players in the mainstreaming of socialism, in making socialism scientifically respectable in modern times.

Remember Barack Obama’s $787 billion “stimulus package” thrown down the drain? Or his no less infamous Solyndra scheme?

President Trump proved it was all wrong, wrong, wrong. They can’t forgive him for that either.

Fascist!, Fascist!

As in previous episodes such as the Spanish socialist insurrection that began the civil war in the early 1930s, and Chile’s socialist revolution during the early 1970s, the political situation right now in the United States is in certain ways a pre-revolutionary one. An important key is the same in all cases: the left says it is acting against a “fascist” threat. In the Spanish and Chilean cases the fascist threat was nonexistent, as the extreme right was minuscule and insignificant in the respective political situation, and it was never the cause of anything. The specter of “fascism” was always the pretext and justification of the Spanish and Chilean left for their own revolutionary uprising against their democratic political systems, all the while saying they were defending themselves and the democratic system from the attacks and violence of the right. In both cases the left upped the ante every step of the way, with more lies, more violence and more urgency, up to the final clash. Also in both cases the false threat became a real one, as the right and center-right were forced to wake up and unite because their end was near if they did nothing. It is beginning to be the same here, where the left is the one doing violence while accusing Trump and his followers of being “fascists” who “incite violence,” as if the victims want and deserve the violence coming to them.

There are many ways of pushing this leftist scheme via the mainstream media: naming every foreign head of state a far-right person because he’s a friend of America or is fighting against globalism, the most recent case among several being Eduardo Bolsonaro, President of Brazil. This CNN article and this NBC article are good examples of what’s happening almost every day: CNN showing its anti-Trump, anti-nationalism, and anti-white supremacy bona fides, and the platform of NBC given to the extreme left Center for American Progress to make the case that “fascism” is on the rise everywhere in the world, all of it emanating from the ideological center, Trump’s White House. This dangerous propaganda is unprecedented.

The fascist! insult lies at the top of the Democrat’s list. It is supposed to be stronger than other not sufficiently accusatory and humiliating words, like bigot!, racist!, nativist!, or white supremacist!

But when leftist academics, students, activists, Antifas, and journalists throw the f-word at Trump, his followers, or at any person or group they dislike, they probably don’t realize they are just parroting Joseph Stalin’s decision in the 1930s to call socialist parties “social fascists” because those parties wouldn’t join the Third International or Comintern, an organization everybody knew was controlled by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was crude Soviet agitprop, just another political tactic to damage anybody who wasn’t working in favor of the orthodox Communist parties. The use of the word to attack the entire political universe was the extension of the “agent theory of fascism” developed just after World War I which defined fascism as the political agent of finance capitalism, supposedly the last phase of the capitalist mode of production.

The word fascist thus became an everyday weapon wielded by communists against any group or person seen as opposed to the changeable tactical goals of Stalin and the Soviet Union. It therefore lost any serious meaning, if it ever had one up to that point.

Our American leftists probably know even less about real fascism. They probably haven’t read books by specialists on fascism such as Ernst Nolte, Zeev Sternhell or Karl Bracher. If they had done so, they would know that fascism is a difficult phenomenon to define, the very opposite of its easy and lazy use by Stalin and themselves. They would realize that fascism was a particular political phenomenon that only occurred in Italy around 1921 and ended in 1945. Mussolini, the founder of fascism, declared that fascism was “national” socialism as opposed to the familiar “international” socialism. Nazism, a similar albeit more complex phenomenon, only occurred in Germany from the late 1920s to 1945, and also began as a “national” socialism, as can be clearly seen in a lowly book that I guess none of those leftists have read either, Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant, the diary of Otto Wagener, edited by Henry Ashby Turner, Jr.

The same Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., in his book German Big Business and The Rise of Hitler proves, against conventional wisdom, that the Nazis mostly supported themselves economically, and that German industrialists were afraid of the Nazi Party, all the way from its founding to the naming of Hitler as Chancellor in 1933. And that they later accommodated with Hitler because they didn’t have any other choice (capitalists can also be opportunists). Contrary to most of the original party leadership, Hitler was never a socialist mainly because of his belief in Social Darwinism, and he used the party and German capitalists for his own grandiose purposes of expansion, war, and genocide.

In almost every way then, fascism was the opposite of what Stalin thought and it has no relation to the way our leftists use the word. But what do they care about beyond their expedient political reasons?

UPDATE 04/09/19: As of today, the essence of this post is now official Democratic policy. The House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on “hate crimes” and “rise of white nationalism.”

What Was It Like To Fly the French Dassault Mirage III?

The life of France’s greatest aircraft designer and manufacturer, Marcel Dassault, née Marcel Bloch in 1892, is a great story in itself and well worth a Hollywood movie. He was an aviation pioneer before World War I, already famous for having designed and built the propeller for the WWI Spad fighter, and later on for building a company that designed and manufactured more than 20 different types of aircraft between the wars. Just before the start of World War II, he designed the best fighter France had to oppose the Luftwaffe, the Bloch 157, powered by a surprisingly powerful Gnome-Rhône engine, that flew for the first time in 1942. Only one exemplar of the type was built and it was eventually seized by the Nazis and transported to Germany for testing. As can be seen here (with German markings), the 157 looked remarkably like a smaller and sleeker P-47 Thunderbolt. Marcel Bloch himself was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he remained a prisoner until the end of the war because he refused an offer of liberty on the basis of working for Germany.

After the war, Marcel Bloch returned to France, changed his last name to Dassault (which was his brother’s alias during the resistance) and became a living legend. The reason was a series of fighter aircraft that culminated in the Mirage III jet fighter, an unprecedented export success for French industry mainly due to the legendary feats of the Mirage III-equipped Israeli Air Force during the 1967 war. It flew for the first time in November of 1956 and was the first European aircraft to exceed Mach 2 on level flight, in October of 1958. See the Australian Mirage III-O specs here and a profile of the Spanish Air Force IIIC version here.

France was behind the United States and Great Britain in aircraft design at the time, but that wasn’t going to stop Marcel Dassault from building a first-line, world-class fighter plane, and the Mirage III was the result of his ingenuity and resourcefulness. His design choices said a lot about the state of nineteen-fifties French aeronautical knowledge and about Avions Marcel Dassault’s limited research and development. The dart-like, full-delta profile was a clean and sleek design in which form followed function with beauty as its outcome, in the best tradition of Reginald Mitchell’s Supermarine Spitfire and Sydney Camm’s Hawker Hunter. The basic rightness of the original design is exemplified by its continued development, up to the Dassault Mirage 2000 that was built until the end of 2007.

But when you see the Mirage III up close you begin to notice the corners Dassault had to cut to build it. On the one hand, the full-delta wing gave the airplane good acceleration at high subsonic and transonic speeds and also provided high internal volume to store fuel. On the other hand, a delta wing means a high angle of attack and lack of maneuverability at low speeds. These shortcomings can be mostly overcome by way of appendages such as moving surfaces on the wing’s leading and trailing edges, but Dassault did not use them on the Mirage.

Both the cleanness of the design and the technological corner-cutting can be shown in what the airplane did not have: no landing flaps of any kind, not even the simplest ones, and much less a complex flap design such as a Fowler or slotted type. The design didn’t even allow for passive leading-edge slats, something the older North American F-86 Sabre and even the much older Messerschmitt Bf 109 both had! The result is that the Mirage’s approach and landing speeds, and its angle of attack at low speeds, were all quite higher than those of a comparable fighter with built-in landing aids, and it sorely lacked low-speed maneuverability.

These design choices (or forced constraints) meant, in practical terms, that the pilot had to compensate for their absence. While the airplane was a swift and beautifully handling platform at high speeds, below 300 knots it was a pig. And the pilot noticed the difference when first climbing out after takeoff: once it hit 400 knots, it became a nervously quick Ferrari at full chat.

For the same reasons, the Mirage III was also difficult to land and could be downright dangerous if the pilot wasn’t on top of it throughout the entire landing phase. You had to maintain a minimum of 200 knots indicated air speed (plus a few more to compensate for any residual fuel load) on the continuous 180-degree turn from downwind leg to final approach. Dropping below this speed (going below the power-to-drag curve) before final approach was an absolute no-no, due to the huge amounts of drag developed by the high angle of attack of the delta wing and also, to a lesser degree, because of the aircraft’s relatively slow response to pilot input. During this entire phase, and especially when flying an instrument approach, there was no constant power setting that would maintain a particular airspeed at a particular attitude, and therefore the pilot had to keep moving the throttle continuously, slightly back and forth, in order to maintain the required speed. The aircraft’s rapid rate of descent just before landing made it extremely difficult to predict where exactly it would land, so you had to give yourself the slack of a few feet behind or ahead of the patch of ground that was your intended landing target. A bad approach could end up with the airplane landing on the rough strip before the runway, with the consequence of damaged landing gear and blown tires. As an instructor pilot, landing a two-seater Mirage III from the rear cabin at night was an extremely difficult venture due to the almost zero forward visibility.

Another peculiarity that I remember well: the Mirage III had a clever and helpful hydraulic-powered automatic pilot system called Autocommande that helped to lower the high aerodynamic forces on the controls at high speeds and that maintained the last selected position of the control stick. This system was good for minimizing the aircraft’s sharp pitch-up movement when going transonic (due to the shockwave moving over the elevons), thus helping enormously when dogfighting, and it was also priceless for skinny pilots like me (all of 125 pounds sweat-soaked). The system, however, was also prone to unexpected failure, a lethal danger when maneuvering at high G’s at low altitude, and it was the cause of several major accidents in France. It was not to be used at low altitude in combat training, period. With it turned off, however, I developed my own way of handling the beast, using both hands on the control stick to be able to pull just enough G’s to keep abreast of the competition. Furthermore, if you dared to maneuver on full afterburner at low altitude without Autocommande, you had to keep your mind and hands well ahead of the airplane, or it would certainly get ahead of you and go skidding through the air in a most spectacular and hairy way! Imagine yourself in a rodeo riding a fast, wild mustang that is busily trying to get rid of you, and you have the idea.

A simple Mach 2 practice run would proceed like this. With a clean airplane, that is, carrying no outboard pylons or loads of any sort, you would climb out at 100% dry power (no afterburner) on the same heading of the runway until you reached 40,000 feet, which took less than 4 minutes from the start of the takeoff run. A 90-degree right turn followed by a 270-degree left turn would have you heading back toward your base of origin. You would then set minimum afterburner on, check exhaust temps and stable exhaust clamshell opening, then set full afterburner and leave it there for the remainder. The sleek delta wing permitted a fast transition from subsonic to supersonic speed and a sustained acceleration to Mach 2. The airplane was so aerodynamically clean that its top speed was limited only by the outside temperature. That is, the Mirage wanted to keep going beyond Mach 2, but you had to throttle back as soon as a big red light (plus a warning beep on the headphones) told you the sensor indicated that the outside impact temperature had reached 155 degrees C. Why the temperature limit? In the stratosphere, depending on the season, outside temperature normally hovers around minus 55 degrees C, but an aircraft flying through it at supersonic speed gets very hot due to air friction. A temperature higher than 155 degrees would cause “heat creep,” which meant that the impeller blades of the compressor located at the front of the SNECMA Atar 9 engine would get so hot that they would begin expanding longitudinally, eventually scraping the interior of the engine duct. A flying bomb, anyone? At the end of the high-speed run you would be near enough to the air base where you took off from, and with such a low fuel load, that a fast high-altitude jet penetration for landing was in order. Total flight time? About thirty minutes. A sortie like that would only be done when intercepting high-flying enemy bomber planes.

A shorter, faster and riskier experience was a ground radar-guided head-on interception of a high-flying Mirage IV (the scaled-up French nuclear bomber). During a mission like that you were on full afterburner from takeoff to the end of the interception at 40,000 feet or above, when your speed would have hit at least Mach 1.4. Even the practice dry runs, with no opposing airplane to worry about, were difficult and scary enough: just imagine the absurd combination of my foreign accent, my French instructor on the back seat, several French air intercept (GCI) ground controllers, plus a few other NATO pilots from West Germany or Denmark also training in the vicinity, all trying to speak English. For whatever reason, a modern version of the terms that British pilots and controllers had developed for the Battle of Britain in World War II was used by NATO everywhere in Europe during interceptions. Yes, it was difficult to understand what anybody was saying.

The fastest I ever flew was Mach 2.05 (about 1,354 mph) at 40,000 feet. This was in Venezuela, close to the Equator; cooler climates in Europe allowed for top speeds of up to Mach 2.15. The French Air Force Mirages could use (but almost never did) a rocket booster intended for intercepting the highest-flying Soviet aircraft of the time, that pushed the Mirage’s altitude capability to 60,000 feet. The pilot had to wear a special, fully-pressurized astronaut-like suit that I only saw in pictures.

Dassault owed quite a lot to the Israelis for the airplane’s development, for they were the ones who discovered and got rid of the initial bugs of the Mirage the hard way, dogfighting with Syrian MiGs above the Golan. For example, the 30 mm. DEFA cannon at first did not shoot straight and also caused engine stalls when shooting at extreme flight attitudes. I still remember French aviation officers never admitting the problems even existed.

Last but not least, I will describe one little trick that I learned by chance and that I fully exploited to my advantage until somebody else discovered it. All pilots know that the flight manual is a Bible and a Merriam-Webster at the same time, and hardly any pilot reads anything else regarding his airplane. Fresh from the course that I attended in France together with other four Venezuelan pilots and wanting to learn as much as I could about the Mirage, I also studied the airplane’s maintenance manuals. One day I found in one of the manuals a short instruction on how to ground-test the engine that clearly contradicted our pilot’s flight manual in one very important point: It read that, for testing purposes, one could turn the afterburner on, in its minimum position, against the brakes.

The Mirage pilot flight manual (probably to avoid an underperforming set of brakes causing damage to the tires if the airplane slid forward with locked wheels) clearly stipulated that, to begin the takeoff run, the pilot should set full 100% dry power against the brakes; he then should, at the same time, let off the brakes and set minimum afterburner power; only then, after making sure everything was well with the engine, would he apply full afterburner power. Although the procedure took less time to do than what it takes you to read this explanation, it obviously extended the takeoff run because part of it was done while the airplane was already moving forward.

My trick was to do the following during daytime only, so that the afterburner exhaust flame could not be seen behind the airplane from a distance, thus not giving me up. After making sure my plane had good brakes, I practically locked my extended legs in order to exert maximum pressure on the brake pedals; I then carefully applied minimum afterburner and, after the required checks, quickly pushed the throttle forward into full afterburner while letting off the brakes. The results were that I consistently took off in significantly less distance than any other Mirage pilot. This astounded everybody in our airbase and it was surely a heavy burden on the other pilots’ egos. I remember noticing that lots of people were always outside the Air Group buildings watching my single takeoffs (the runway was some distance away), but few ever told me they did that. All kinds of theories were put forward as the cause: one was that since I was so skinny, the cause was the lower takeoff weight of my airplane; another was that I had a special “feel” in my hands that no other pilot had (I liked this one), and on and on.

The good old times.

Vladimir Dorta, April 22, 2003

The Spanish Civil War: Myths and Lies

No episode in the 1930s have been more lied about than this one, and only
in recent years have historians begun to dig it out from the mountain of mendacity beneath which it was buried for a generation.
Paul Johnson, Modern Times

Paul Johnson could have extended his judgment to most of Spain’s history, because the myths and lies about Spain didn’t begin with the 1936-1939 civil war and didn’t stop at its end, they remained during the Franco dictatorship and after the transition to democracy in 1975, and they continue today. There is an unabashed revision of the history of Spain, an effort led by British and Spanish left-wing historians in order to paint as bad a picture of the country as possible, one that benefits its main enemies: the Spanish revolutionary left and the Basque and Catalan separatist movements, both wanting revenge from their historic defeat in the civil war, both wanting to erase their past to show themselves as democratic movements.

The biggest lie of the civil war, one that has found a place of honor in contemporary history, is that the Popular Front was fighting for the Spanish Republic, that it was the Republic. This is one of the great propaganda successes of the 20th century, a triumph of Stalin and the Spanish Communist Party. As Stanley G. Payne writes, the Spanish Civil War has been presented to the world as a clear fight between democracy and fascism, but this is pure leftist propaganda. The Popular Front called themselves (and were called by the nationalists) “the Reds.” They succeeded in building a short-lived society similar to the Soviet Union and tried to dismember Spain into small fiefdoms. On the opposite side, the nationalists and General Franco have been presented as fascists by leftist propaganda, when in reality they were fighting for a united, traditional and Catholic Spain. (Moa, Cita 26 all; Cita 70, 9:18)

How the Civil War Really Developed

1931. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and its leftist allies win the election. As soon as they got power, the Socialists and anarchists began burning churches, murdering priests, and raping nuns. The rights of Catholics were severely restricted, the Jesuits were expelled from the country, and there were plans to prohibit religious orders from teaching, all this in a country where Catholicism was the predominant religion and where it could mobilize more support than any political group. The left in power openly identified itself with the violent actions: Manuel Azaña, the Prime Minister, said: “all the Madrid convents aren’t worth the life of one republican.”

1932. The anarchists had committed 23 political murders and had launched three revolutionary insurrections. A small sector of the right encouraged a weak military revolt led by General José Sanjurjo in August 1932, which failed because it was ignored by the Army.

1933 -1934. The right wins the election by a big margin (women voted for the first time and were important in the win). The left loses badly, getting only 14% of the vote and 10% of the Parliament seats. The Spanish people was tired of the abuses of the left after their two wild years in government. The 1933 election was the last legal election in the Second Republic. Socialists and left Republicans, defeated, demand (four times!) the cancellation of the election because the right had won, then leave the government and decide on direct action:

“This position was unprecedented in the recent history of European parliamentary regimes … the fact that a majority of the republic’s founders rejected electoral democracy as soon as they lost an election meant that the prospects for democracy were at best uncertain … the left became only more radical and exclusionary, continuing to insist on an all-left regime, while most of the Socialist movement began to embrace violent revolution.” (Payne, 17-18; Moa, Una Hora 051, 13:00)

“The Socialist Revolutionary Committee [led by Fernando Largo Caballero, the ‘Spanish Lenin’] prepared secret instructions calling for the nationalization of land, and the dissolution of all religious orders, the Army, and the Civil Guard … The Committee’s instructions declared that the insurrection must have ‘all the characteristics of a civil war’, its success depending on the ‘breath of its expansion and the violence with which it is carried out’ … The Spanish Socialist insurrection of 1934 was the most elaborately organized and best armed of all insurrectionary actions in Western and Central Europe during the interwar period.” (Payne, 19-21; Moa, Una Hora 050, 15:00)

If it wasn’t sufficently clear, their newspaper El Socialista announced on September 25, 1934: “everyone should give up the idea of peaceful evolution, which is an utopia; blessed be the war.” This is how the insurrection developed: Largo Caballero calls for a general strike in Madrid; an Independent Catalan Republic in Barcelona lasts ten hours; A Workers Commune in Asturias, with Socialist backing, lasts two weeks (mainly because all leftist parties joined the insurrection) and is legally suppressed by General Francisco Franco. The insurrection broke out in fifteen of Spain’s fifty provinces, the revolutionaries murdered about 100 clergy and civilians, and carried out widespread destruction, arson and looting. About 1,500 people died. The insurrection started by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Catalan Separatists against the Spanish Republic in 1934 is is the real beginning of the Spanish Civil War (Moa, Una Hora 084, 14:15). It was also the beginning of the propaganda war, supported by Comintern money and the European left, and the string of lies cited by Paul Johnson:

“The insurrectionist Socialist Party was never outlawed, some of its centers continued to remain open, and after the first weeks the leading prisoners enjoyed special privileges. An international investigating commission was permitted to visit them, and in little more than a year the revolutionaries would be allowed to participate in new democratic elections that offered the opportunity to gain legally the power they had just tried to seize by force. The repression by the Spanish Republic was in fact historically unprecedented in its leniency, and bore not the slightest comparison with the infinitely more brutal policies followed in such circumstances by other countries, even in the cases of democratic regimes.” (Payne, 25)

1936: The results of the February 16 election were inconclusive and fraudulent:

“The final margin in favor of the Popular Front was primarily the result of violence, mob action, and political manipulations that took place between February 16 and March 1 … The most salient electoral fraud, however, took place in the new parliament itself … through fraudulent means, a sufficiently large margin had been created to permit amendment of the Republican Constitution … Electoral democracy had obviously come to an end well before the beginning of the civil war, which may be seen as a consequence, certainly not the cause, of this breakdown.” (Payne, 35-36)

The Popular Front forcefully takes over the government. The burning of churches and convents and opening of prisons begin anew that same night. José Gil Robles, leader of the CEDA, the main right-wing party, warns of a coming civil war forced by the left, and reads to the Parliament a list of atrocities: 160 churches burned, 269 political murders, 1,287 assaults, 69 political offices destroyed, 113 general strikes, 228 partial strikes, 10 newspaper offices destroyed. The last straw: the chief deputy of the right, the parliamentarian José Calvo Sotelo, is murdered by Assault Guards. Two days later Gil Robles publicly accused the government of responsibility. Civil war breaks out a few months later, on 18 July 1936.

Parallels with the Chilean Popular Front in 1973

There are interesting similarities in the general political situation and how it evolved in both countries before the final military decision. Chile and Spain were traditional societies that nevertheless hatched modern, utopian, violent, and intransigent political groups: Communist parties that were puppets of the Soviet Union; revolutionary, violent socialist parties that made their respective communist parties look timid; and even more revolutionary and violent extreme-left groups such as anarchists, the Trotskyist POUM in Spain, and the MIR in Chile. There were no democrats in the Frente Popular (Spain) or in the Unidad Popular (Chile), there were only moderates and revolutionaries. In both countries the revolutionaries defeated the moderates and created a “dual power” in parallel with the legal government. Also in both countries, and against their will, the right and center-right were pushed to unite and to prepare for the worst, and against the common mistake made by the left in both countries, that the right would accept the imposition of socialism without a fight.

More specifically, some individual characters are somehow replicas of each other:

Niceto Alcalá Zamora (Spanish President) and Eduardo Frei (Chilean President) shared the belief that manipulation of the political sphere could prevent the development of social forces that in the end proved to be much greater than anything they could imagine.

Manuel Azaña (Spanish Prime Minister and President) and Salvador Allende (Chilean President), were contradictory characters who shared a strong but naive belief in their personal ability to control and direct the Protean creature that is a revolution.

Fernando Largo Caballero (leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, PSOE) and Carlos Altamirano (Secretary General of the Chilean Socialist Party, PS) shared a belief in violent Marxist revolution, both led the revolutionary wing of their parties, and both called for insurrection when their own parties were leading democratic regimes. Both also saw themselves playing a similar role as Vladimir Lenin during the Russian Revolution.

The main parallel is, of course, that Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet saved their countries from totalitarian communist systems, and both started their nations in the path of progress and the eventual return of democracy. The irony of it all is that both hated dictators were, in the last analysis, the saviors of their democracies.


During 1934, when the PSOE carried out a national insurrection, the Catalan Esquerra (left) coordinated their own regional insurrection with the PSOE, and even Prime Minister Manuel Azaña planned two separate coups —against the same Republic Azaña himself led! Two immensely important facts of the civil war, buried under so many lies are, first, that General Franco legally suppressed the 1934 insurrections, and rejected a proposal by the extreme right to seize power himself. And second, that Franco was the last one to rebel in 1936 —against the new revolutionary state— because the only alternative was to let the Reds build Soviet Spain without a fight. As Pío Moa says, Franco did not fight democrats, he fought a coalition of totalitarians, separatists, and coup-plotters.


Stanley G. Payne, The Spanish Civil War, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2012

Pío Moa, Una Hora con la Historia (YouTube videos in Spanish)

Pío Moa, Cita con la Historia (YouTube videos in Spanish)

Pío Moa, Los Mitos de la Guerra Civil, La Esfera de los Libros, Madrid, 2003 *

* Pío Moa’s book confirms and expands on Payne’s statements. I couldn’t quote his book because I own the Kindle version, which doesn’t have page numbers.

Those Two Pesky Waves

What the conventional wisdom at most saw in Leo Strauss’ The Three Waves of Modernity was the irruption and the eventual defeat of, respectively, Communism and Fascism as the concrete forms of the last two waves. In my opinion that is too schematic and of course obvious. What I believe most important is that, slowly but surely, both of those waves deeply embedded themselves into the original liberalism of the first wave so that, individually and in combination, they completely changed liberalism for the worse and the result is what we have to live with in our time. The rejection of this result is also what we’re beginning to see in the form of Trumpism, populism, and nationalism, what their common enemy generically calls “far right” movements.

The Second Wave, mainly the ideas of Rousseau, Hegel and Marx, beginning in the early 20th century and through the first half of the century turned liberalism in a socialist, collectivist direction (Wilson, FDR and the New Deal, European democratic socialist governments, the normalization of state intervention in the economy, the continuous growth of government and the colossal level of government taxing and spending).

The Third Wave, the ideas of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and others, found fertile ground in the West after World War 2. This period marks the second modification of liberalism on top of the previous one, thus resulting in the strange and contradictory liberalism of today (global corporatism and global governmental organizations but also the complete autonomy of the individual, relativism, and nihilistic hedonism) in such a way that —this is important to understand— practically every major political group and leadership in the West accept the radical changes unconditionally. That’s why I say the traditional left-right fight and liberal-conservative fight have been subsumed in this new global fight, an unprecedented situation that tends to confuse the best minds and needs new ways of looking at it.

The main First-Wave thinkers (Hobbes, Locke, Bacon, Smith, etc.) opened the door to the radical transformation of their ideas by abandoning the classic framework, including what Yoram Hazony calls the Anglo-American conservative tradition. When one reads this article in concert with my idea of modernity, the concept of “conservatism” gets illuminated in a new way.

In the same regard, I strongly recommend this lecture about “Socialism versus the Family” by the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher Edward Feser. His blog is also one of the best, worth visiting.

One last thing: one key to understand the modern world is to compare socialism against liberalism, not against “capitalism” or “democracy” or “conservatism” or “libertarianism.” Why? Because one has to study the regime (in the Aristotelian sense), not its particular political, economic, or ideological subsets. And of course, one even more important key is to be able to see modernity in general from outside, beyond the common horizon of all the ideologies it has created.

Some Thoughts

Lincoln couldn’t know that being “the almost chosen people” wasn’t enough to save us. But the most recent data say it clearly: we are dying almost as fast as the rest of the developed world. How fast things change nowadays: Paul Johnson’s article is 12 years old and my first post about demography is only 2 years old. Since we don’t have enough children, Mephistopheles is here to claim his prize, liberal humanity.

Some phenomena, previously unexplained or vague in my mind, that have become clear by the way I now see liberalism:

— Climate Change is a powerful symbol of liberal utopianism and, at the same time, an instrument of global centralization and domination. That it is headed by the United Nations, that it is pushed by the most liberal politicians, and that the name evolved from “global warming” to be able to explain everything, only make it more blatant. It isn’t new in history that scientists lend themselves to serve an ideological objective, selling their objectivity in the interest of the greater good, especially when it is seasoned with savory government grants.

— Open Borders and its convenient UN legal rubber stamp, “migration as a human right,” are blunt liberal instruments of global homogenization and centralization, crude but fast-acting solvents to erase national sovereignty.

— Permanent Intervention and Permanent War are also instruments of liberal domination. I was wrong, it wasn’t just weird neoconservative ideas. And they unveil the big lie that democracies don’t start wars.