Communalists and constitutionalists

Liberalism and democracy are not the same, as I’ve mentioned in the context of the doctrinaires and ancients v. moderns.

“Illiberal democracy” is used as an epithet to refer to various top-heavy presidential or parliamentary republics where elections serve a mostly symbolic role to give the dog (the public) a bone. And I don’t mean blow them like in the AC/DC song. Although, figuratively, this may indeed be it.

But that’s quite a limited way of grasping the distinction. Instead let’s use a dichotomy of “communalism” and “constitutionalism.” Such as between, say, the Swiss mountain cantons of the Grey League, and… Luxembourg. Luxembourg? Yes, not even the venerable Grand Duchy was spared from the Great European Chimpout of 1848. Grand Duke William II conceded a constitution.

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Sir Robert Filmer refuted

[In which Nigel Carlsbad dons the robes of a Jesuit schoolman. All casuistry, no Aristotelianism. Also doubles as an anti-absolutist tract. I was going to devote a different essay to that, but this one might suffice.]

King Clothar had ordered all the churches of his kingdom to pay into his treasury a third of their revenues. But when all the other bishops, though grudgingly, had agreed to this and signed their names, the blessed Injuriosus [Bishop of Tours] scorned the command and manfully refused to sign, saying, “If you attempt to take the things of God, the Lord will take away your kingdom speedily because it is wrong for your storehouses to be filled with the contributions of the poor whom you yourself ought to feed.” He was irritated with the king and left his presence without saying farewell. Then the king was alarmed and being afraid of the power of the blessed Martin he sent after him with the gifts, praying for pardon and admitting the wrongfulness of what he had done, and asking also that the bishop avert from him by prayer the power of the blessed Martin.

— Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, Book IV, Ch 2, illustrating the influence of sacerdotium over imperium, in contradistinction to absolutist pretensions

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Old school cuckservatism

[A shorter and smoother piece this time around.]

The French historian Auguste de Gerando recounts an exchange between members of the Hungarian high and low nobility, in his Transylvanian travelogue published in 1845:

One day [one of these] gentlemen came to complain to a neighboring magnate. He took off his hat, which he held in his hand while the lord listened to him. The latter induced the gentleman to cover himself, for the weather was cold.

“I will not do it,” said the gentleman. “I know what respect I owe you.”

“What?,” replied the smiling man, who was a man of wit, “Are we not both equal, both nobles?”

“No doubt, but I am a simple gentleman, and you are a powerful lord.”

“I can not be more powerful than you, we have the same privileges. I am only rich.”

“This is true.”

“So you’re bowing to my purse?”

“In fact, you are right. You are rich, and I am not. There is no other difference.” And he proudly put on his hat.

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Reckoning Day for Neapolitan Bourbonism

The ‘Repubblica Partenopea’ lasted only a few months from 24 January 1799 until 13 June when it was destroyed by the royalist forces of Cardinal Ruffo with the assistance of an English fleet under Nelson. Although proclaimed in the name of liberty and equality, and in the interests of the entire people, it was unique among eighteenth-century republics in having been made possible only by foreign arms against a popular army which, insofar as it had any discernible political identity, was monarchist, conservative and Catholic. The republic was — as Vincenzo Cuoco, its historian, and one of its few active members to escape with his life, said of it – ‘a revolution which was intended to create the happiness of a nation, but instead has brought about only its ruin.’

— Anthony Pagden

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The Comte de Montlosier’s swansong for the debased nobleman

For a long time [the seigniors] are very feeble against the intendant, utterly powerless to protect their parish. Twenty gentlemen cannot assemble and deliberate without the king’s special permission. If those of Franche-Comté happen to dine together and hear a mass once a year, it is through tolerance, and even then this harmless coterie may assemble only in the presence of the intendant: Separated from his equals, the seignior again is separated from his inferiors. The administration of a village is of no concern to him; he has not even its superintendence. The apportionment of taxes, the militia contingent, the repairs of the church, the summoning and presiding over a parish assembly, the making of roads, the establishment of charity workshops, all this is the intendant’s business or that of the communal officers which the intendant appoints or directs. Except through his justiciary rights, so much curtailed, the seignior is an idler in public matters. If, by chance, he should desire to act in an official capacity, to make some reclamation for the community, the bureaux of administration would soon close his mouth. Since Louis XIV., the clerks have things their own way; all legislation and the entire administrative system operate against the local seignior to deprive him of his functional efficacy and to confine him to his naked title. Through this separation of functions and title his pride increases as he becomes less useful. His self-love, deprived of its broad pasture-ground falls back on a small one; henceforth he seeks distinctions and not influence; he thinks only of precedence and not of government.

— Hippolyte Taine, The Origins of Contemporary France: The Ancien Regime (1876)

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Legitimist theory of princely rights in a nutshell (Karl Ludwig von Haller)

Indeed, everything becomes clear, all doubts vanish, as soon as one starts from the true nature of a prince, a power of his own, and his personal rights. It is easy to conceive, therefore, that such a territorial and independent lord, whose power and liberty are founded upon domains, possessions, and revenues freed from all dependence, is also the master of alienating this property.

Consequently, the power and independence derived therefrom, whether in whole or in part, as sales, exchanges, voluntary renunciations, donations, marriages, inheritances, etc, is practiced at all times without any opposition. For by such acts the princes do not alienate, transmit or exchange the rights of others, but only their personal rights. They do not sell the peoples, still less the simple individuals (which are doubtless not merchandise), but they transmit only their own domains, their houses, their possessions, their incomes and enjoyments of every kind, with the authority which is inseparable from them. In a word, with the rights and duties inherent in this possession.

The inhabitants of these domains do not lose anything of these kinds of mutations. Nothing is taken from them, their condition is not deteriorated. Therefore, they have no right to complain. The new possessor of a sovereign lordship, like that of a peculiar seigneury, merely succeeds to the property, rights, and relations of the old master. He can not acquire more than he possessed. The sovereigns in their turn can transmit only what is theirs, and in fact they have never transmitted anything else.

Thus, let us see that whenever the former treaties of peace stipulated the cession of certain provinces, as well as in the acts of sale and exchange of a sovereign principality, the natural and acquired rights of the subjects were expressly reserved; that they often recommended the continuation of certain acts of kindness, of certain favorable customs; and that, moreover, the new prince granted the subjects all sorts of facilities, in order to have regard, not only to their rigorous rights, but also to their personal attachment to such and such a prince. The subjects, the inhabitants of the ceded country, remain free as before, they are not slaves sold, as the philosophe pretends. And since when should a man be a slave, because the soil that is inhabited changes its possessor, or that, remaining the owner of the soil, we must, give for the future of John, what we owed to James?

This quote, taken from vol. 3 of Karl Ludwig von Haller’s magnum opus Restauration der Staatswissenschaft (or of the French translation Restauration de la science politique, for in the original German it corresponds to vol. 2), subtitled “On Seigneurs and Patrimonial Princes”, Chapter XLII in total — is perhaps one of the best legal-philosophical summaries of the idea of medieval territorial-lordship there is, and really of monarchism as a whole.

From jurisdiction as freehold property, to the rights of alienation inherent in a freehold, to the dynastic principles of marriage, inheritance, purchase and conquest, and ultimately a hint toward a principle of legitimacy based not on accountability to an abstract “people” or “nation,” but on the confirmation of certain customary rights to particular estates.

These are subjects we will be discussing at great length in the future, of course (and I promise that Von Haller will get his own multi-part series some day), but this is a glimpse anyway. Such were the gentlemanly principles of foreign relations in a bygone era, as repugnant to the progressive leveller and to the blood-and-soil ethnonationalist alike.

English Jacobins fight the (Glorious) Tory power

A thorough draining of the swamp in America, or in just about any other country, would unavoidably require a certain degree of repression beyond the more basic things like lustration of civil servants. In any state of emergency, dissent is intolerable. Outlawing of combinations, acts against political meetings and clubs — these were all completely normal tools used by Pitt the Younger, Metternich, Guizot and others to maintain a grip in the midst of tumult.

However, such seeming acts of right-wing self-preservation against foreign and domestic enemies can often be misleading as to their actual outcome in securing the traditions of their host countries from reform-minded political ambitions. The case of Pitt the Younger and the treason trials in England of the 1790s is one such case. The received wisdom is that it was a triumph of reaction over radicalism, with lasting effects for decades after until 1832. In actuality, it was much more ominous.

To have defended the French Revolution in the 1790s was no mere innocent opinion. With the armies of the National Convention and then the Directory toppling royalty, creating republican client-states and upsetting the until-then predominant cabinet style of waging war as a mostly private affair between sovereign persons in favor of the levee en masse, then in such circumstances the defense of the Revolution was potentially an act of sedition against all standing royalty, including one’s own Sovereign.

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