Jules Barni and the comedy of the republican freeholder ethic

[This elucidates previous ideas I’ve been discussing, but states them in a much more direct manner. It also gave me the opportunity to introduce a few ultra-royalists that I will be revisiting later, and it’s my first attempt at comparative analysis via feudal law, something that I will be doing more of in the future.]

We will be looking at the story of a Kantian. It isn’t Donald Trump, though I am eagerly anticipating how he will complete the system. By all indications, The Donald seems like a fan of Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, so perhaps a synthesis of the Ego and the Gesellschaft will be the key. One can only speculate.

The Kantian in question is Jules Barni, long-time traveler in left-wing causes during the Second Empire and Third Republic, having published in Jules Simon’s liberal newspapers, and having been a member of the League of Peace and Freedom, a pacifist organization joined by such luminaries as Garibaldi and Bakunin. Following his own idol Kant, himself a theoretician of republicanism and internationalism in Perpetual Peace (1795), Barni was to become a prime philosopher of modern liberal (as opposed to classical) republicanism, though largely unknown in the Anglosphere.

Writing in 1795, one of Kant’s Preliminary Articles for peace consisted of opposition to dynastic inheritance, justified thusly: “For a state is not a property (patrimonium), as may be the ground on which its people are settled. It is a society of human beings over whom no one but itself has the right to rule and to dispose. Like the trunk of a tree, it has its own roots, and to graft it on to another state is to do away with its existence as a moral person, and to make of it a thing. Hence it is in contradiction to the idea of the original contract without which no right over a people is thinkable. Everyone knows to what danger the bias in favour of these modes of acquisition has brought Europe (in other parts of the world it has never been known). The custom of marriage between states, as if they were individuals, has survived even up to the most recent times, and is regarded partly as a new kind of industry by which ascendency may be acquired through family alliances, without any expenditure of strength; partly as a device for territorial expansion. Moreover, the hiring out of the troops of one state to another to fight against an enemy not at war with their native country is to be reckoned in this connection; for the subjects are in this way used and abused at will as personal property.”

Putting aside the question as to why a “moral person” cannot morally contract himself, Barni’s Manuel r├ępublicain (1872) was a pivotal work in entrenching the revolution that Kant envisioned and which impassioned many men into carrying it out. It is an excellent statement of political modernity, and it ought to be reckoned with. We will be sampling the two most important chapters, Principles and Mores (of the republicans).

Now, we are going to do a little thought experiment here. We will take a contemporary legal treatise on Anglo-Norman feudal tenures and toy around with it as an analytical framework by which to elucidate the practical substance of Barni’s claims. Thomas de Littleton’s Tenures (circa 1480) is a good choice as any, a true classic.

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The yearning for lord and manor in socialist thought

In 1902, an American socialist (initially a Bellamyite nationalist more specifically) by the name of William James Ghent decided to make his peace with managerialism by publishing a book.

To it he gave quite the noteworthy title: Our Benevolent Feudalism.

The Spectator contemporaneously comments on it:

Mr. Ghent is writing about matters in the United States. If what he says of the present is true, and if he makes a correct prognostication of the future, the “Republic” on the other side of the Atlantic is on the way to being, and will soon be, an oligarchy. The Republican forms will be preserved, as they were preserved in Rome by Augustus, but the substance will have departed. He allows that the oligarchy will be benevolent, its rule being tempered by a higher moral sense and a kindlier spirit than similar Governments have had in the past, and that it will be also restrained by fear of the multitude which it will control. Indeed, to read the chapter in which Mr. Ghent sums up his visions, one might almost think, so restrained and gentle is his irony, that he looks forward to the future with contentment.

What could have motivated Ghent to loop so dramatically into such a reactionary attitude? Had he become the next Antoine Blanc de Saint-Bonnet? Was he prepared to unleash a new reign of popery?

Well, let us quote from his work:

The dominant tendencies will be clearly seen only by those who for the time detach themselves from their social ideals. What, then, in this republic of the United States, may Socialist, Individualist, and Conservative alike see, if only they will look with unclouded vision? In brief, an irresistible movement – now almost at its culmination toward great combinations in specific trades ; next toward coalescence of kindred industries, and thus toward the complete integration of capital. Consequent upon these changes, the group of captains and lieutenants of industry attains a daily increasing power, social, industrial, and political, and becomes the ranking order in a vast series of gradations. The State becomes stronger in its relation to the propertyless citizen, weaker in its relation to the man of capital. A growing subordination of classes, and a tremendous increase in the numbers of the lower orders, follow. Factory industry increases, and the petty industries, while still supporting a great number of workers, are in all respects relatively weaker than ever before; they suffer a progressive limitation of scope and function and a decrease of revenues. Defenceless labor, the labor of women and children increases both absolutely and relatively. Men’s wages decline or remain stationary, while the value of the product and the cost of living advance by steady steps.

Though land is generally held in somewhat smaller allotments, tenantry on the small holdings, and salaried management on the large, gradually replace the old system of independent farming ; and the control of agriculture oscillates between the combinations that determine the prices of its products and the railroads that determine the rate for transportation to the markets. In a word, they who desire to live whether farmers, workmen, middlemen, teachers, or ministers must make their peace with those who have the disposition of the livings. The result is a renascent Feudalism, which, though it differs in many forms from that of the time of Edward I, is yet based upon the same status of lord, agent, and underling. It is a Feudalism somewhat graced by a sense of ethics and somewhat restrained by a fear of democracy. The new barons seek a public sanction through conspicuous giving, and they avoid a too obvious exercise of their power upon political institutions. Their beneficence, however, though large, is but rarely prodigal. It betokens, as in the case of the careful spouse of John Gilpin, a frugal mind. They demand the full terms nominated in the bond; they exact from the traffic all it will bear. Out of the tremendous revenues that flow to them some of them return a part in benefactions to the public; and these benefactions, whether or not primarily devoted to the easement of conscience, are always shrewdly disposed with an eye to the allayment of pain and the quieting of discontent. They are given to hospitals; to colleges and churches which teach reverence for the existing regime, and to libraries, wherein the enforced leisure of the unemployed may be whiled away in relative contentment.

They are never given, even by accident, to any of the movements making for the correction of what reformers term injustice. But not to look too curiously into motives, our new Feudalism is at least considerate. It is a paternal, a Benevolent Feudalism.

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