Temporarily Embarrassed Patricians

On July 4, 1838, the well-esteemed congregationalist minister Hubbard Winslow gave out an oration at Old South Church attended by the municipal authorities of Boston, in commemoration of the anniversary of American independence.

Having graduated from the Yale Divinity School by 1825, in 1832 he had succeeded the Rev. Lyman Beecher as Pastor of the Bowdoin Street Church in Boston. Lyman Beecher was the father of, most famously, Harriet Beecher Stowe, among 12 other children who would cement the family legacy as advocates of temperance, abolition and women’s suffrage. Lyman Beecher himself was the co-founder of the American Temperance Society in 1826.

As such, I would reckon that Winslow is a decent proxy for the state of Boston Brahmin opinion at the time, and of the more conservative Old Light (non-revivalist) wing of evangelicalism.

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The Myth of the Socially Conservative Old Left

[A little detour I got the urge to do following internal debates at Thermidor Mag and various recent bouts of Third Positionist communist apologetics.]

Pareto said that history is the graveyard of aristocracies. It is also the graveyard of right-wing political hopes.

Postcolonialisms, critical theories of race, of sex; reader-response theories; one-dimensional men, 888-dimensional men; dialectics of enlightenment, enlightenments of dialectic; queer deconstructionists and undeconstructed queers (we have too many of those) — what is a helpless observer to do, but yell “Damn you to hell, Christ-killing Jew”?

The vagaries of the biological process, though thankfully not condemning us to an infinitely malleable tabula rasa, alas do not imprint us with historical consciousness. The predestined losers of yesterday die, and to take their place, the predestined losers of today are birthed.

These poor sods (I among them), having to undergo the pain of being under the boot of New Lefts, New New Lefts, Lefts of Ever Ascending Novelty, have developed a few heuristics to make sense of where the current New^n (for values of n) has left off from, and what trajectory it is following for the New^n+1 Left to pick up from.

So, a voice rises up:

“The Old Left didn’t raise a ruckus over no damned queers!”

Indeed, the Old Left didn’t raise a ruckus over no damned queers, by and large. Alas, it did for many other things no less destructive, and I don’t mean just economics.

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The Bifurcation Point of the Liberal Jurists

As I was reading a book on an episode in Bulgarian history known in Marxist historiography as the “White Terror” (1923-25) — in truth a rather restrained and ad hoc reaction to an attempted communist uprising in September 1923, I was struck by a reference to one of Johann Caspar Bluntschli’s tomes. The book was written by law students, so evidently the legacy of this Swiss transitional figure lives on in Slavic lands. Bluntschli was the premier moderate of his times. “I’m not one of these reactionaries like K.L. von Haller and F.J. Stahl! But I also ain’t no commie…” Woodrow Wilson liked him, too.

People associate the phrase “end of history” in reference to liberal democracy with Fukuyama, but Bluntschli said it much earlier in Theory of the State (in more conventional Whiggish fashion, he was talking about constitutional monarchy, though with the same implication): “[It is] the end of a history of more than a thousand years, the completion of the Romano-Germanic political life, the true political civilization of Europe.”

Bluntschli may have been liberal, but he sure as hell was no radical. Much in the same way that Hubert Humphrey was an anti-communist. After all, Sen. Humphrey was chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action… an organization growing out of then Socialist Party member Reinhold Niebuhr’s grand liberal front, the UDA, and in conjunction with advocates of the Lend-Lease acts like the CDAAA. “Appeasement is treason to democracy,” they spoke like loyal comrades. But still, Humphrey was an anti-communist. Who is an anti-communist, I decide! Bitch.

Still, Bluntschli’s anti-radical credentials are far less spotty than Sen. Humphrey’s, all things considered. His testimony on the early communist movement in Switzerland will be consulted later.

Bluntschli had a cordial relationship with a certain Francis Lieber. Yes, of Lieber Code fame — widely regarded as the precursor to the Geneva Conventions, although it was still characteristically (and from a purely military standpoint, understandably) harsh on the Confederates. Rights don’t belong to no goddamned racists.

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The Eighteenth Brumaire of Fritz Pendleton

[The original title was going to be “The Napoleonic Touch of Death,” but surely this is better.]

Fritz Pendleton has implored reactionaries to take note of a well-known Corsican, believing his significance to a hypothetical restoration to be unjustly downplayed. His essay “The Napoleonic Touch” (also linked from his blog) asks us to reconsider the Napoleonic legacy. I shall take up his challenge.

Interpretations of Napoleon still largely converge on one of two axes: Adolphe Thiers’ and Hippolyte Taine’s. A republican admiration for Napoleon the liberator juxtaposed to contempt for Napoleon the egoist, leveller and adventurist.

An interesting synthesis position is that of Frederic May Holland, a 19th century Unitarian minister, in his Liberty in the Nineteenth Century. Napoleon was an egoistic autocrat, but at least he wasn’t an Austrian Catholic conservative, and at least he blessed his German, Swiss and Italian subjects with equality before the law (although that was dialectically inevitable anyway). He concludes that “Napoleon’s despotism had the awful and baneful grandeur of an eruption of Vesuvius; but his despicable enemies merely kept up the oppression of his empire without its glory.” Glory, of carrying on the mantle of egalite, no doubt.

Pendleton, himself struggling with the distinction between patrimonial and despotic authority due to his Bodinian conception of sovereignty inherited from Moldbug, latches on to that word “autocrat” and shouts out: “Goyim, Napoleon was our guy!”

Pendleton’s essay is filled with constant reassurances that Napoleon’s actions were always primarily concerned with the maintenance of order, even when they seem egalitarian. To Pendleton order is something of an ill-defined fixation.

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Bonald and the socialists: some unsettled debts

[Consider this a continuation of “The yearning for lord and manor.”]

Louis de Bonald remains one of the begrudgingly and infrequently acknowledged founders of sociology. It is illustrative to consider the way Bonald, who was a firmly modern thinker, being steeped in Malebranche’s occasionalist solution to the dilemma of Cartesian dualism, ended up setting the foundations for modern sociological thinking while using it to further anti-modern ends. Bonald was also a representative of an aristocratic and patriarchal school of anti-capitalistic thought which in some places echoes and in most other places is radically incongruous with modern socialist ideas.

First, we assert that the category of being is the one primary to all things, indifferent to finitude, and it must be univocal rather than analogous, applying equally to God, man and all other phenomena. This is the Scotist univocity of being. Formal notions like goodness, wisdom and being all retain a simple univocal component regardless of which entity they’re attributed to or to what degree of perfection.

Secondly, we assert that the only efficient causal agent is God (occasionalism). “Do [our senses] show us the force which carries heavy things downwards, light things upwards, and how one body has the power to make another body move?,” asked La Forge. Moreover, since matter is conceived as an inert rea extensa, it cannot be the source of forces and powers that create motion. In Cartesian fashion, Malebranche could assert: “We have only two sorts of ideas, ideas of minds and ideas of bodies; and as we should speak only of what we conceive, we should only reason according to these two kinds of ideas. Thus, since the idea we have of all bodies makes us aware that they cannot move themselves, it must be concluded that it is minds which move them.” That mind is God’s.

Thirdly, we combine univocity of being and occasionalism to posit that our finite ideas have a univocal relation to the infinite and divine ideas emerging from the mind of the Godhead.

We thus develop, through the method of correspondence, a universal calculus for uncovering facts about a social whole existing ontologically prior to any individual. In Bonald’s case, the divine trinity had a secular manifestation in pouvoir, ministre et sujet, as the foundation of authority, for instance husband, wife, child, respectively.

We then proceed to drop the univocal likeness between God and society and simply proclaim more parsimoniously that society itself is God, and that the social organism is by itself an efficient cause of its members’ actions. Sociology is born.

But this immanentization of society comes at a cost. The tensions between aristocratic/conservative anti-capitalism and popular anti-capitalism (modern socialism), particularly w.r.t. freedom, self-determination and the organization of production, is one such cost that is of significance to us here.

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Joseph de Villèle against freedom of the press (1817)

“Free speech” has now become a quintessential conservative value. That it has always been a classical liberal value is true enough, but its association with conservatism is due to the historical anomaly of American conservatism being the English commonwealthman ideology interspersed with Manchester liberalism, notwithstanding historically trivial exceptions like Orestes Brownson, the Southern Fire-Eaters of DeBow’s Review (and their Copperhead allies), and various latter-day tradcons at Brent Bozell’s Triumph, or Kirk and Regnery (now ISI)’s Modern Age.

Free expression is the underpinning of the “public sphere,” the public sphere being the engulfment of all social relations by the values of literary salons, coffeehouses and book clubs. Once instrumental in leveling the distinctions among magnates and between magnates and commoners, as well as fostering a new consciousness of the “active citizen,” they proceeded to outlive their usefulness as the would-be salonnieres of the past made their long march into the institutions of the present.

From this point on, the same people who once claimed they “just want to debate ideas,” showed their true colors in working to transform society into a secular monastery where the unbridled ego would be allowed to define its own essence and own being by sheer force of will alone against any constraints of tradition and material reality. This represents a bastardization of henosis, where instead of working to reach union with the transcendent, one instead reaches union with one’s own vanity, conceit and pride. The liberation from social bonds reaches its culmination in a totalitarian existentialism where a completely self-imagined identity is lived out, and moreover, is coerced into being unconditionally accepted by all bystanders.

In the face of a post-New Left cultural onslaught imposing this existentialist project, the modern conservative now foolishly champions yesterday’s free speech fundamentalism as somehow being the corrective. The alt-right, too. When Richard Spencer spoke at Auburn University in April 2017, he chose the rhetorical weapon of presenting himself as a freethinker fighting against left-wing dogma. And just recently, on June 25, 2017, a “Freedom of Speech Rally” was held at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. with Spencer, Identity Evropa and other figures present. Such is free speech: when one is the underdog, it is sweet like honey. When one is the overdog and has to enforce certain institutional axioms of social conformity to maintain a desired order, it is a nuisance. Hence, free speech is necessarily an appeal sought by the weakling. A free speech fundamentalist is a man who believes in nothing but eternal dissent.

Let us not forget that one of the errors condemned in the encyclical Exsurge Domine (1520) against Luther was “That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.”

But, to take a more modern context, I would like to direct your attention to a parliamentary speech given on December 13, 1817 by one of the most eminent ultra-royalist ministers of the Restoration of 1814-1830 — Joseph de Villèle. 13 days later, a bill was passed prohibiting “papers and other periodicals which treat of political news” from being published without royal authority, before being relaxed 4 years later, although some nominal form of censorship would last until 1828 by which point ultra-royalist influence was waning. The speech is a concise and topical one, but it is also a succinct illustration of the perils of unfettered expression (particularly the press) in a representative government, as the Restoration one was with its Chamber of Deputies sanctioned by the Charter of 1814. A worthy reminder that free expression is not something a conservative can value as an absolute.

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Friedrich von Gentz, the law of nations and the decline of internoble solidarity

[I must say, this essay is the closest one so far to the spirit of this blog. I do not like it quite as much as the one on Jules Barni, but nonetheless it is this that best foreshadows the subjects I will be talking about all throughout.]

It is obvious that it is not the material situation of the people that causes the uneasiness with which society is suffering. The anxiety that agitated them was an anxiety of mind aroused by discussions on the constituent principles of States. Those who raise these discussions often lack sincerity; They raise them deliberately, in order to produce troubles; It is a weapon which they wish to employ in private interests, and sometimes, according to their position, in political interests; They attack the very seat of the life of States by destroying their principle and organization. These men take a mask of freedom and announce themselves to the nations as liberators; So that their mission has an end, they proclaim that all princes are tyrants, that they must be resisted, that their governments are despotic, that they must be changed. To attain their end, all sorts of sophisms are employed; The most dangerous of all is to separate peoples from their governments and to put them in a position of constant distrust and hostility. This calculation of destruction is clever; For the people, always the strongest, must end by overthrowing any government whatsoever. This principle is the most dangerous of all that can be promulgated, since it engenders anarchy and renders all government impossible. In thus isolating the governments by putting kings on one side and the peoples on the other, doubts have first been raised about the nature and rights of sovereignty.

— Count Karl Ludwig von Ficquelmont, Lord Palmerson, l’Angleterre et le continent (1852) [source]

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