[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.