David Engels is a Belgian conservative author, a historian, and a professor of Roman history, living in Poland. We spoke to him about the war in Ukraine, his works, and about the subversion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legacy in the upcoming Rings of Power series.
Mr. Engels, could you please, for the beginning, tell us a bit about yourself and introduce your works to our readers?
I am a Belgian university professor of Roman history who recently emigrated with my family to Poland. My academic work, mostly specialised on the ancient Roman religion and the Seleucid dynasty, started to find some public attention when I wrote a book called »Le déclin« (Paris, 2013), where I compared the decline and fall of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC to the current crisis of the modern West. This set me off on a second career as a publicist and political writer which ultimately led me to accept employment at the »Instytut Zachodi« in Poznań, where I now work. In recent years, apart from political analyses, I have mostly worked on comparative world history in the wake of the works of Oswald Spengler, on whom I have recently published a monograph (Stuttgart 2021) and several collective volumes, and on modern conservatism. In the latter domain, I have written a short breviary entitled »What is to be done« (Bad Schmiedeberg 2020), where I have tried to give 24 advises on how to live the life of a patriotic European in the middle of the general decay of the Western world, and edited several collective volumes drafting a conservative future for European (»Renovatio Europae«, Berlin 2019; »Europa Aeterna«, Berlin 2022).
Which other writers, authors, or philosophers influenced you the most?
First and foremost, I am under the spell of Oswald Spengler since I first read him. Another author I read very early on was Nietzsche who changed my entire adolescence. For many years, Thomas Mann and his intellectual sophistication were also very important for me. Last but not least, Tolkien has exerted a steady influence on my life, as it is through him that I discovered my own catholicity.
How do you view the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, what are its main causes in your opinion, and what will be its long-term consequences for Europe?
The causes of the current war are common knowledge; the consequences are probably less so. We cannot insist enough on the change of paradigm operated on the mind of the Europeans by the discovery that violence and war have always been and will always be the »ultima ratio« of politics. Another consequence will be the renewed bond between at least the East of Europe and the US, even more so as Germany and France seem to show no real awareness for the potential menace Russia represents for the stability of Europe.
Where would you place Putin’s Russia in civilisational terms?
The Russian invasion has shown that Russia definitely does not considers itself as a Western »nation-state«, but as an independent imperial space on the same footing as the other great powers: It will never be possible to integrate Russia into the European institutions as some hoped, and we really have to start considering it as a wholly different civilisation of its own. Of course, in the long run, Russia’s isolation will throw it deeper and deeper into the alliance with China which is already quite unequal now and risks becoming even more so should Russia fail with its invasion. In the latter case, we may also witness a new rise of the »intermarium space«, i.e. the strong economic and political cooperation of the nations between the Baltic and the Black Sea: Unified for many centuries under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, this region could again become a major political force between Berlin and Moscow.
It seems that Eastern and Middle European countries with more conservative tendencies, such as Poland, are in a difficult situation. They may be facing growing hostilities from Russia on the one hand, and on the other, they are facing veiled threats and soon maybe even sanctions from Brussels, because they will not conform to the liberal pro-LGBT open borders policies. What is your opinion about this, and what would be the most prudent path for Poland and other Middle European countries in such a situation?
Indeed, Poland is situated between hammer and anvil and needs a good deal of tactical cunning in order to escape being crushed. The recent Hungarian elections have shown that the population must not automatically yield to Brussels’ pressure so that there are good chances for the current Polish government too to remain in power in 2023 – but for how long? I think only a combination of different tactics can be successful. Poland needs to differ as long as possible from the conflict with Brussels while hoping that the economic and political crisis of the West will sooner or later render the EU toothless. Furthermore, Poland needs to strongly advocate its own position through the creation of proper media directed towards the West and actively support local political conservative parties which show an ideological alignment to its own positions. Finally, Poland needs to diversify its foreign policy: though the alliance with the US is more important than ever given the political situation in the East, Poland should establish closer links with other powers such as Japan, India, South Corea, or Bresil.
There are those conservatives and right-wingers in the West that still believe that Putin is some kind of a conservative hero and a traditionalist, despite the fact that he is recruiting Muslims, jailing and repressing nationalists, and that Russia is one of the countries with the highest abortion rates. What are your thoughts on this and what would be your reply to such claims?
Indeed, Putin can scarcely be considered as a »conservative« from a Western point of view. His support for the orthodox church is just one facet of his religious policy among others, as his cooperation with Islam is certainly no less important, given the fact that Russia is the European country with the most important Muslim population – a population whose military value in fighting the alleged Ukrainian »Slavic brothers« has obviously been recognised by Moscow. Similarly, let us not forget how Putin backed Belarus’ endeavour to weaken Poland by flooding its borders with Muslim migrants imported from the Near East. If we add to this the well-known political instrumentalisation of an orthodox church dominated by KGB structures, it becomes obvious that religion is a mere cynical tool in the hands of Putin whose Russia is not much more than an avatar of the Soviet Union (complete with the idealisation of Stalin) painted over with some nationalist propaganda. Hence, Western conservatives should realise that they are mere puppets in the hands of strategists whose main aim is the reconstruction of the old imperial Russian Space at all costs and who will apply exactly the same tactics of desinformation, corruption, and »divide et impera« in Europe should it, one day, be governed by conservatives.
You have also written several articles about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and expressed criticism toward the upcoming Amazon series the Rings of Power, which aims to include »progressive« values, feminism, and multiculturalism in his work. Why do you believe we should be critical towards such alterations of Tolkien’s work?
Because I am quite sure that they will not only ignore the true meaning of Tolkien’s universe but be probably even opposed to it. The actual essence of Tolkien’s universe is – at least for me – the permanent striving of the true hero for the true, the beautiful, and the good, which, however, due to the inadequacy of all earthly creatures, is ultimately doomed to failure if it is not rewarded at the last second with victory from above – admittedly a bittersweet victory, since this is always connected with the realisation that success can be achieved as a grace, but not as a right. The victory of Tolkien’s hero is therefore also only a reward for his striving, but not the direct result of his own heroic deed – a profoundly Christian, even genuinely Catholic thought, which is admittedly deeply opposed to the conventions common in Hollywood.
So the core values on which Tolkien built his Middle-earth are quite at odds with the “progressive” principles of the modern world…
Another point would be the typically Tolkienian notion of aesthetics, which is also deeply rooted in the Christian thought of the epigonal nature of each time: Compared to the beauty of the world as created at the beginning of time, each further epoch, together with its creation, is marked by apostasy and decline, but also increasingly bears its value in the suffering associated with this process and is thus, despite all nostalgia, subject to a process of spiritualisation; just as, indeed, the struggle between good and evil, originally embodied by various actually existing powers such as gods and monsters, increasingly withdraws (or is raised) into the inner conflicts of the human soul. Those not only conservative, but probably even deeply »reactionary« thoughts are of course deeply alien to the classical American aesthetic, which is based on quantity, faith in progress, and the naïve image of the man of the »American Dream«… and even diametrically opposed to the currently prevailing cultural Marxist ideology in every single point.
This is not an isolated case, as we have seen many such alterations within the entertainment industry, where traditionally European characters are replaced by non-whites, etc. What are the main causes of this in your opinion, and do you believe, in the case of Tolkien, that they are trying to destroy the true, overly European characteristics, values, and message of his books?
Indeed, it is to be feared that this series will further contribute to the transformation of an author who has always been one of the crown witnesses of European conservatism into his exact opposite, e.g. a figurehead of Wokeism so that those young people who are only familiar with Tolkien’s thought through the series will completely miss the real spirit of Tolkien or if they should actually read his works, interpret and misjudge them through the lens of what they have previously consumed through the media. This is a real catastrophe, not coincidentally reminiscent of Orwell’s prediction in »1984«: »The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron — they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be.«
Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Engels. For the end tell us what are your future plans and what awaits Europe in the future in your opinion?
Concerning my own immediate future, apart from raising my children and tending to my garden (virtually and concretely), I am planning to launch a large conservative European information platform while continuing my work on a comparative world history. But of course, who can predict his own future when the future of Europe seems to be so dark and violent? Already in my book »Le déclin«, I had predicted that Europe would soon experience decades of internal strife and civic unrest in analogy to the years of civil war that shattered the late Roman Republic, and when I look at the events of these last years, I fear very much that history will confirm my pessimism.
By Andrej Sekulović