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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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.

On royal prerogative

How do the stewards of the federal government in America plan their budget? It’s not a trivial question to answer.

The President submits a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Congress, both House and Senate concurrently via the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations (in turn divided into 12 subcommittees), then proceed to draft a budget resolution. It is not considered a bill, so it is not presented for a presidential signature, nor can it be vetoed. It passes on a majority vote. There’s about 19 different budget functions, i.e. spending categories. Approx. 63% of the federal budget is dedicated to mandatory spending, including most entitlement programs, which aren’t even subject to appropriations — it’s just a public obligation.

Various hearings are scheduled, taking comments from experts, officials and perhaps laymen, too. Adopting the resolution then sets in motion various mechanisms for enforcement — discretionary spending caps, the statutory cap (a requirement that if an appropriations bill exceeds statutory limits, a sequester order must be issued by the President cutting all discretionary spending by a uniform percentage — we’re talking values like 0.0013% here; there’s no starving this beast!), and so forth.

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Joel Barlow against the Second Estate

Of the Founding Fathers, plenty has been said. Of the Founding Jacobins, less so. The Mel Bradfords, the Friedrich von Gentzes, and many others, would insist that the American Revolution was no revolution at all, but a conservative revolt for the protection of the customary rights of Englishmen. Yet even Bradford admitted that the conservative heritage of America had already faded by 1819 — presumably chosen for the banking panic of the same year, marking a cut-off between the age of the landed gentleman and the age of the commercial speculator. So, surely, in the aftermath of this calamitous derailing (Hamilton’s bank not helping matters), the Founding Jacobins would become a matter of interest.

But with a Jacobin as outrageous as Joel Barlow, one is enough. A parochial New England man whose main reading for a long time avoided speculative political philosophy; a member and associate to the literary scene known as the “Hartford Wits,” which included the High Federalist cleric Timothy Dwight. Barlow, who served as a chaplain in the American Revolutionary War, was not immunized in any way from interacting with these circles, and would become an ultra-left pamphleteer of astonishing bravado in his assertions, and largely remain so until the end of his days.

At the age of 34, in 1788, he set sail to France, shortly after immersing himself in a fiasco as the agent of a fraudulent land company selling worthless deeds (not deliberately, but out of gross mismanagement) to French colonists for lots in what would later become Ohio.

Soon to commit more fraud in the form of his ideological screeds, he met with Jefferson, Lafayette, Volney and various Girondist deputies, traveling back and forth between France and England, also meeting up with Mary Wollstonecraft and becoming a member of the proto-Chartist Society for Constitutional Information in the latter country. On February 1792, he graced the world with the first of a two-part essay: Advice to the privileged orders, in the several states of Europe, resulting from the necessity and propriety of a general revolution in the principle of government. We need only look at the first part. It was published half a year before the establishment of the National Convention in Paris, which would later grant naturalized citizenship to Joel Barlow, one of three foreigners to receive this dignity.

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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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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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