[X-Post: Thermidor Mag] On legitimacy and republicanism, with a nod to Kenneth Boulding

[This short and somewhat rough article marks my debut on Thermidor Magazine under the alias “N.T. Carlsbad”. It can be viewed directly here.]

[Thermidor appears to be one of the most recent publications on the “reactosphere,” and is thus still carving an identity. Nonetheless, it appears to have potential, and I do intend on writing more essays for it in the future.]

Legitimacy. Here is a principle that was once at the heart of politics, the guiding concept of the conservative order established by Metternich, Talleyrand, Castlereagh, von Gentz and others in the aftermath of the bloodshed and network of puppet states set up by Napoleon exporting the Reign of Terror to the continent.

In an age where we all autonomous commonwealthmen, virtuous citizens of a republic constituted by equal contract, such a principle seems antiquated and irrelevant. Legitimacy here means nothing more than the vector sum of votes in elections on the one hand, and the amplified voices in the press on the other. The nobles and priests have been hung by their entrails, so that each man may now be a priest of his own private volition, and a noble on equal footing with his fellow nobles, all given the one and same title of “citizen”.

The Founding Fathers were all readers of Cato’s Letters, one of the classic and most forceful statements of republicanism, published serially between 1720 and 1723 by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon. Here, from Letter No. 35, is their description of that invigorating republican public spirit, and where it flourishes:

In popish countries, it is publick spirit to build and beautify many churches, at the expense of the poor people; who must also maintain, at a further expense, a long band of luxurious ecclesiasticks, to play tricks in them; or, in other words, to keep the heads and pockets of their deluded hearers as empty as they can. It is moreover great publick spirit, to adorn an old skull with pearl and diamonds, and to enrich a venerable rotten tooth with gold and emeralds, of a value sufficient to maintain a city and all its inhabitants, who yet perhaps are starved by doing it. It is likewise very publick-spirited there, for a man to starve his family and his posterity, to endow a monastery, and to feed, or rather gorge, a fraternity of reverend gluttons, professed foes to truth and peace, and to the prosperity of the world; idlers, maintained to gormandize and deceive. This, forsooth, is publick spirit; to rob the country of its hands, to rear up a pernicious and turbulent mob of drones, in principles destructive of liberty, and to bring up enemies to a country at its own charges.

In arbitrary countries, it is publick spirit to be blind slaves to the blind will of the prince, and to slaughter or be slaughtered for him at his pleasure: But in Protestant free countries, publick spirit is another thing; it is to combat force and delusion; it is to reconcile the true interests of the governed and governors; it is to expose impostors, and to resist oppressors; it is to maintain the people in liberty, plenty, ease, and security.

This is publick spirit; which contains in it every laudable passion, and takes in parents, kindred, friends, neighbours, and every thing dear to mankind; it is the highest virtue, and contains in it almost all others; steadfastness to good purposes, fidelity to one’s trust, resolution in difficulties, defiance of danger, contempt of death, and impartial benevolence to all mankind. It is a passion to promote universal good, with personal pain, loss, and peril: It is one man’s care for many, and the concern of every man for all.

Let us be thankful for the Protestant free countries in reconciling the interests of the governed and the governors.

But, I digress. It turns out that one of the good philosophical examinations of legitimacy is to be found in a very unusual place: a Quaker economist, Kenneth Boulding. In a paper about central banking, no less. But it is a worthwhile one. He enumerates six sources of legitimacy.

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The counter-enlightened liberalism of Heinrich von Treitschke

Heinrich von Treitschke is primarily remembered today for popularizing the phrase “Die Juden sind unser Ungl├╝ck!” (In fact, Treitschke was an assimilationist on the Jewish Question.) Since then, it appears to have been overshadowed in popularity by the more artistically inspired “Gas the kikes, race war now!” as well as by various musings on group evolutionary strategies from renegade professors of psychology. Other than that, he is seen as the most visible ideological representative of a mad German chauvinism that ravaged the world twice in the 20th century before finally being stopped by the brave forces of the Atlantic Charter, who denazified and civilized the barbaric Huns. The real Treitschke: the out and proud illiberal liberal, is much less frequently told of.

To begin with, Treitschke was no reactionary. Not in the 19th century sense, at least. He was a staunch anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit, going so far as to say (of Catholic counterrevolutionary publicists): “How easy was it to obscure the fact that the revolution of the sixteenth century [the Reformation] had not been merely a destructive force, but in addition, and even more, a force of conservation, that Martin Luther had saved for the modern world the primitive spirit of Christianity.”

Much more clearly:

In Homeric times the prince was content with pronouncing judgment and, when necessary, conducting war. Even in the Middle Ages an administration was still non-existent, and the State only concerned itself with the most elementary necessities. Not until the splendour of the Holy Roman Empire was in German hands did German kingship begin its fuller, richer expansion. Then the growth of the cities forced the State to adopt new aims and wider activities. Experience teaches that the State is better fitted than any other corporate body to take charge of the well-being and civilizing of the people. Briefly put, what was the great result of the Reformation? The secularization of great portions of the common life of men. When the State secularized the larger portion of the Church’s lands it also took over its accompanying public duties, and when we reckon how much the State has accomplished for the people’s culture since the Reformation, we recognize that these duties fall within its natural sphere. It has accomplished more than the Church performed throughout the whole of the Middle Ages.

He mocked the counterrevolutionary circle of writers that formed around Das Berliner Politische Wochenblatt – of Karl Ludwig von Haller, Carl Ernst Jarcke, Friedrich Julius Stahl, Carl Wilhelm von Lancizolle, the brothers Gerlach and so on. Of Lancizolle, in particular, he quipped: “The faithful Hallerian, as before Schmalz and Marwitz, spoke of the various “states” of the royal house. The modern state and its legal unit, he regarded as an empty abstraction.” (Schmalz being Theodor Schmalz, a cameralist, and Marwitz being Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitz, an enemy of the Prussian reforms of 1806-1815).

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The yearning for lord and manor in socialist thought

In 1902, an American socialist (initially a Bellamyite nationalist more specifically) by the name of William James Ghent decided to make his peace with managerialism by publishing a book.

To it he gave quite the noteworthy title: Our Benevolent Feudalism.

The Spectator contemporaneously comments on it:

Mr. Ghent is writing about matters in the United States. If what he says of the present is true, and if he makes a correct prognostication of the future, the “Republic” on the other side of the Atlantic is on the way to being, and will soon be, an oligarchy. The Republican forms will be preserved, as they were preserved in Rome by Augustus, but the substance will have departed. He allows that the oligarchy will be benevolent, its rule being tempered by a higher moral sense and a kindlier spirit than similar Governments have had in the past, and that it will be also restrained by fear of the multitude which it will control. Indeed, to read the chapter in which Mr. Ghent sums up his visions, one might almost think, so restrained and gentle is his irony, that he looks forward to the future with contentment.

What could have motivated Ghent to loop so dramatically into such a reactionary attitude? Had he become the next Antoine Blanc de Saint-Bonnet? Was he prepared to unleash a new reign of popery?

Well, let us quote from his work:

The dominant tendencies will be clearly seen only by those who for the time detach themselves from their social ideals. What, then, in this republic of the United States, may Socialist, Individualist, and Conservative alike see, if only they will look with unclouded vision? In brief, an irresistible movement – now almost at its culmination toward great combinations in specific trades ; next toward coalescence of kindred industries, and thus toward the complete integration of capital. Consequent upon these changes, the group of captains and lieutenants of industry attains a daily increasing power, social, industrial, and political, and becomes the ranking order in a vast series of gradations. The State becomes stronger in its relation to the propertyless citizen, weaker in its relation to the man of capital. A growing subordination of classes, and a tremendous increase in the numbers of the lower orders, follow. Factory industry increases, and the petty industries, while still supporting a great number of workers, are in all respects relatively weaker than ever before; they suffer a progressive limitation of scope and function and a decrease of revenues. Defenceless labor, the labor of women and children increases both absolutely and relatively. Men’s wages decline or remain stationary, while the value of the product and the cost of living advance by steady steps.

Though land is generally held in somewhat smaller allotments, tenantry on the small holdings, and salaried management on the large, gradually replace the old system of independent farming ; and the control of agriculture oscillates between the combinations that determine the prices of its products and the railroads that determine the rate for transportation to the markets. In a word, they who desire to live whether farmers, workmen, middlemen, teachers, or ministers must make their peace with those who have the disposition of the livings. The result is a renascent Feudalism, which, though it differs in many forms from that of the time of Edward I, is yet based upon the same status of lord, agent, and underling. It is a Feudalism somewhat graced by a sense of ethics and somewhat restrained by a fear of democracy. The new barons seek a public sanction through conspicuous giving, and they avoid a too obvious exercise of their power upon political institutions. Their beneficence, however, though large, is but rarely prodigal. It betokens, as in the case of the careful spouse of John Gilpin, a frugal mind. They demand the full terms nominated in the bond; they exact from the traffic all it will bear. Out of the tremendous revenues that flow to them some of them return a part in benefactions to the public; and these benefactions, whether or not primarily devoted to the easement of conscience, are always shrewdly disposed with an eye to the allayment of pain and the quieting of discontent. They are given to hospitals; to colleges and churches which teach reverence for the existing regime, and to libraries, wherein the enforced leisure of the unemployed may be whiled away in relative contentment.

They are never given, even by accident, to any of the movements making for the correction of what reformers term injustice. But not to look too curiously into motives, our new Feudalism is at least considerate. It is a paternal, a Benevolent Feudalism.

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Brief mission statement

I feel like outlining some preliminary motivations before I start writing serious posts at some point in time, I’m not entirely certain when myself.

I should start with Moldbug, who like many of you was the thinker who introduced me to reactionary thought. His task of taking Buchanan and Tullock’s “politics without romance” to its conclusion via formalism (the absence of metaphysics) was an interesting exercise insofar as it led to him resuscitating Filmerian absolutism, monarchical patriarchalism and similar ideas. Neocameralism was an exercise in envisioning propertarian government, a modern touch on a lost time when vassalage, personal unions and dynastic succession conflicts were the binding mechanisms of the political order. Joint-stock corporate governance streamlining these grittier methods away.

Other contributions were his documenting of the Unitarian and Transcendentalist ancestry of progressivism (indeed, half of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto I in 1933 were Unitarians) in a concise way, his insights into U.S. foreign policy (his longest post, the “World War II primary sourcebook” is an excellent collection), the muckrakers and their zealous spirit of republican vigilance, the anti-democratic arguments of Lecky, Sumner Maine, Mallock, etc. and his inversion of the democratic peace theory into the “permanent civil service peace theory”. All of which were well-stated.

Some interpret a more rightward shift of his by the latter half of his corpus. Certainly, he adopts a writing style more characteristic of a Victorian sage in its bombastic nature and proceeds to revel in it. But other than the rhetorical romanticism, his views do not seem to have changed significantly.

Moldbug’s work being heterogeneous, there were several paths it could split off to. But by and large, neoreaction never really appeared to gain an interest in counterrevolution, High Toryism or similar areas. Social Matter shuffles through plenty of eclectic ideas with no apparent direction. Darwinian-Nietzschean metaphysics, the “Wrath of Gnon,” sociobiology and ethnonationalism seem to rule the day. For all the pretension to draw boundaries between NRx and alt-right, they appear to have converged more than diverge. Techno-commercialism seems dead outside of Land.

Paleoconservatism was an attempt to bring High Toryism to America. Unsurprisingly, trying to inject it to an audience of descendants of Whiggish commonwealthmen in the vein of Sidney, Harrington and Trenchard who entertained conspiracies of Romish papists under the bed, proved to be abortive. Sam Francis then reoriented paleoconservatism into a populist revolt of Middle Americans against rootless cosmopolitan elites. Not that I dislike Francis, not at all – but it is a different direction, one that has since passed on to the alt-right.

The Orthosphere and other “theonomists” are probably the closest to counterrevolution, but being interested in a spiritual revival of Christendom they are more focused on the sacerdotium side of things and less on the imperium – understandably so.

Of course, all of these old disputes about investiture, the temporal versus the spiritual and which is prime, the Avignon papacy episode, the conciliarist controversies and so forth would ultimately be swept by with Luther’s doctrine of two kingdoms. The old question of balancing the temporal and the spiritual now became an injunction for the temporal to bring the spiritual on Earth in practice, if not in intention — the church itself being made insignificant before scripture. Absolutism only gets you so far. It doesn’t illuminate the manorial and feudal orders as such. The “Golden Liberty” and aristocratic egalitarianism of the Polish szlachta, the high autonomy of the Croatian sabor which entered into a personal union with the Crown of St. Stephen in 1102, and many other episodes like this do not fit the absolutist, Bodinian conception of sovereignty.

In addition, the details behind the revolutionary waves of 1820, 1830, 1848 which destroyed the old order are quite damning to the goals and justifications of many of our “far-right” causes today.

I will be writing in detail on these subjects and on some questions of political economy, especially the reactionary infatuation with corporatism that needs to be modified in order to be doable.

Ultimately, the purpose of this blog is to bring back counterrevolutionary, feudal and aristocratic thought to the forefront and use it to critique the modern right along with modernity in general. Secondary sources, extrapolations and philosophical conjecturing will have to be employed at times, but there is sizable material to work with overall. The suggestion to “read old books” has been taken to heart, and it’s something that doesn’t seem to be done very often in NRx circles anymore.