The name of Henri, comte de Boulainvilliers (1658-1722) is, thanks to Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt, largely associated with his Germanist position on the origins of the French nobility, which is frequently held to be an early example of modern racism. Actually the Germanist thesis predates Boulainvilliers’ output, and held no such connotations. It emerged in opposition to the traditional ethnographic practice which held the Franks to be the descendants of Trojans. Boulainvilliers himself explicitly denied that the French nobility were ethnically pure, and did not consider this integral to his arguments. His identification of the Franks with the conquering military aristocracy separate from the Gauls had the intent of serving as an analytical device for his treatment of the French constitution, which Boulainvilliers thought was eroded by a myriad of usurpations and perversions throughout the centuries. I’ll be borrowing plenty from Olivier Tholozan’s 1999 thesis Henri de Boulainvilliers: L’anti-absolutisme aristocratique légitimé par l’histoire for this piece.
The Prussian conservative Hans Hugo von Kleist-Retzow once said that a nation without class divisions is but a mere horde, “like the Huns.”
Echoing the same sensibility earlier, the royalist Armand Francois d’Allonville (1764-1853) strongly rebuked the promotion of constitutionalist ideas among the right-reformist monarchien faction led by the Baron Malouet: “You are a very wicked man in saying that you must choose between one and two chambers, and in not voting for the three orders.”
The problems of dealing with migrants, refugees and settlers are an area that empires have had a decisive advantage in, historically. States founded on civic equality, constitutional rights and unitary territorial integrity do not have the mechanisms of personal control, the corpus domini (body of the lord) as opposed to corpus civitatis (civic body) style of governing in a patrimonial and seignorial fashion. As such, they suffer terribly when dealing with exceptional disasters like refugee crises.
Understandably, the present right-wing zeitgeist basically involves an instinctive gag reflex at the mention of the word “migrant,” with the connotations of criminal non-white hordes that it evokes. We don’t want migrants. End of story.
Europe has had plenty of its own internal migration crises throughout its own history, however. In addition, the question of how to govern foreign and settler populations is intimately linked to the process of how states emerge from rudimentary associations of clans. “Race is like an extended family,” people like to say now. As if it’s a given that you can just seamlessly interact with people from your uncle right up to your sixteenth cousin like it’s a smooth continuum of tit-for-tat kin altruism down to the bottom of the tree. Also as if it’s a given that I enjoy being with my mother-in-law or something.
[After much delay…]
Half a year ago, Fritz Pendleton attempted to draw lessons from Bonapartism (my response here). Most recently, he has presented us with a treatise that is strange in just how conventional and neutered it is.
Pendleton is nominally aiming to pursue the same direction as a Karl Ludwig von Haller: a comprehensive theory of a top-to-bottom anti-liberal/anti-radical statecraft. Instead, he has somehow ended up repackaging the most vanilla English (or perhaps French) constitutional monarchism imaginable. Something went off the rails along the way, and so we learn that Bishop Stubbs, rather than Whig history, actually provided a metapolitics of counterrevolution all along.
[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.
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)
Can one be a liberal who hates the people? Liberalism and democracy are generally taken to be two inseparable sides of the same coin, but as any socialist will tell you, it need not be so. Indeed, it was not always so. Is there not some conflict between a contractual view of a bounded state where governors reciprocally guarantee certain rights to citizens, and a view of a General Will perpetually demolishing fences that the forces of “free expression” and ballot-box anarchy deem unworthy of standing? It seems there is. Of course, any aberration from democracy in a liberal state seems to be quickly corrected, either in the direction of more popular participation with disastrous results (First Spanish Republic, First Portuguese Republic, First Austrian Republic, etc.) or that of more popular participation with careful bureaucratic safeguards (most modern liberal democracies).
Still, the rule of law differing from the rule of the rabble, we will be looking at the dead transitory tendency that was aristocratic liberalism, which flourished during the period from the Bourbon Restoration to the July Monarchy (1814-1848) in France, but with a precedent in the conservative Monarchiens faction during the early stages of the French Revolution (1789-1791), who advocated for constitutional monarchy.
The essence of this aristocratic liberalism is a belief in constitutionalism, representative institutions and civil liberties, but a rejection of what we call “political freedom.” A nonpartisan monarch stands inviolable and infallible, but does not legislate directly, only through his ministers. A bicameral legislature votes on and enacts laws, but they are sanctioned and promulgated solely by the person of the king. Freedom of religion and equality before the law are guaranteed. However, political participation is strictly limited by census suffrage, restrictions on the press and restrictions on political assembly. These are, by and large, the principles of the Charter of 1814 which opened the Bourbon Restoration. The conception of liberty is one based on property, not on voice.
The aristocratic liberals were the epitome of bourgeois values. The term “bourgeois” has, of course, become one of opprobrium. The left associates it with reactionary capitalist robber barons extracting surplus value from powerless wage workers, whereas the right uses it as something of a synonym for an urban bohemian type with progressive convictions and a liberal-arts major, what is today often called a SWPL.