Old and new conservatism (1852)

Having spoken before about the domestic and foreign policy push factors that tilted high Prussian conservatives into allying with plebeian German nationalists, as well as of the ever-shrinking “enlightened absolutist” centre, one of the most unambiguous contemporary espousals of a kleindeutsch German nationalist evangelizing high conservatives to abandon their dated ways, is without a doubt a pamphlet by the lawyer Wilhelm von Merckel (1803-1861) entitled “Alter und neuer Konservatismus” (1852). The title alone gives it away: there is an “old conservatism” out of touch with the prevailing facts that must be supplanted by a “new conservatism,” the nature of which is… we’ll get to that in a moment.

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Put ultramontanists in body bags

The canard of the papist with the divided loyalties — or, increasingly, any Christian as a matter of fact — is an old but persistent one, manifesting itself in the partisans of enlightened absolutism, the anticlericalism of the Risorgimento and the Kulturkampf, in American nativism, laicite, general secularist and republican opposition to “religious interference” in politics, the latter extending to the present and reaching its apex in the fedora-tipping antics of New Atheism, which at the same time is a movement that has its origins and greatest strength in countries that are historically quite anticlerical anyway.

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“Reform, therefore, means rule of the mob.”

In 1858, John Bright, the radical MP whose name is associated with free trade and advocacy for the repeal of the corn laws alongside Richard Cobden, embarked on a speaking tour across Northern England and Scotland to clamor for parliamentary reform, working class enfranchisement, the secret ballot and other measures associated with his milieu. In his speeches, he railed against the lords and peers of the realm (whose strength was “derived from an unholy participation in the fruits of the industry of the people”), and he went as far as to abrogate the role of the monarchy in the British constitution. It is this that prompted Henry Drummond to forcefully rebuke him in a 40-page letter.

Although conflicted in some places owing to the influence of topical issues like the corn laws and to its physiocratic take on the economy, the letter displays a distinctive High Tory temperament.

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Cultural Marxism: an alternative history

Cultural Marxism emerged from the failure of fin-de-siecle and interwar Orthodox Marxism to properly grapple with the national question, and with the failure of historical materialism to deal with psychological motives of economic classes. The work of French and Italian Marxist revisionists in the making of proto-fascist ideology is well known, but a similar process evolved in the rigidly leftist side as well. Orthodox Marxism had increasingly become a rote and vulgarized system of keywords to be applied in order to confirm a predetermined consensus. Words like “imperialism” and “bourgeoisie” had gone on to mean just about anything, with the absence of a well-defined Marxist theory of the state contributing to this state of affairs. Eduard Bernstein and the social-democratic reformists had accepted social liberalism in everything but name. The antibourgeois character of Marxism never had a very strong psychological foundation to begin with. The Junker’s existence is threatened by the burgher in a way that the proletarian’s isn’t. No surprise the prole would want to emulate his “class enemy,” the burgher, especially since there were no hereditary restrictions to accomplishing this, and as it became easier with increasing consumerization and expansion of credit.

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Giacinto de’ Sivo: an enemy of Italian unification

Having spoken about il Risorgimento and the “partito moderati” in revolutionary Italy before to various degrees, a logical next avenue to pursue is the question of who best epitomizes the intellectual legacy of the Lost Cause of the Italian South. The Lost Cause of the American South had and continues to have various partisans and spokesmen, but the one in Italy is much more sparsely represented.

Over 130 years later, Jefferson Davis’ The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881) remains something of the ur-text of Lost Cause historiography, though how much is it still read is a different question. Is there an analogue to Davis’ memoirs and history for the Southern Italian Bourbonist resistance? I think there is. That would be Giacinto de’ Sivo’s Storia delle Due Sicilie dal 1847 al 1861, published in two volumes between 1863 and 1867, and reissued twice afterward. De’ Sivo came from a loyalist family, his grandfather having fought for the sanfedisti in 1799, and de’ Sivo himself served in various state positions in the Two Sicilies; he was part of the Commission for Public Education, then in 1848 he was appointed Councilor of Intendance of the province of Terra di Lavoro, with seven hundred men at his orders, and in January 1849 he was commander of one of the four companies of the National Guard of Maddaloni, until its dissolution.

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Non-interventionism and neutrality as a Machiavellian instrument

Watching his beloved Kingdom of the Two Sicilies be dismembered from its crown and plundered by hordes of Piedmontese, Belgians, Jews, Greeks, Croats, Poles, Hungarians, Bulgarians, etc. — Garibaldi’s redshirts were a very diverse band of motley adventurers — Giacinto de’ Sivo (1814-1867) had strong feelings about the role of what today might triumphantly be called international humanitarian interventions.

The isolationist/non-interventionist ideal has only ever been viable for true hermit kingdoms that Europe has never really had, and for small states with clear idea of who their protector is. The United States has never been quite non-interventionist, with its active policing of Latin America, its raids against Barbary pirates, the French Republic (Quasi-War), expeditions in Fiji, Sumatra, Japan, the Ivory Coast, etc. all before its formal imperial period starting with McKinley. And, of course, the Western expansion itself.

The defining characteristic of the foreign policy of the great imperial states in the 19th century was precisely in their selective and opportunistic “non-interventionism” that was all about feigning neutrality whenever it was useful to smite the other side, the classic example being Britain appealing to neutrality to avoid aiding France in the restoration of Ferdinand VII to the Spanish throne in 1823, but going on to then defend the Bourbon-Isabelist line in the First Carlist War a decade later via the British Auxiliary Legion, when that option meant aiding the cause of constitutionalism.

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Duke Bretislav lays down the law

Cosmas of Prague (c.1045-1125) was a priest of Bohemian noble lineage, who wrote one of the central sources on Bohemian history from pagan times to Christianization and the reigns of the PÅ™emyslid dukes up until Vladislaus I — the Chronica Boemorum, translated into English as the Chronicle of the Czechs.

Book II contains one of the most striking passages that I know of, when Duke Bretislav I in front of his comites and the bishop Severus, lays down a brief but powerful set of laws with the aim of definitively breaking down the last remnants of barbaric and decadent pagan customs that had still remained after the conversion of Duke Borivoj I in 884. As such, it serves as a very useful source to underline the uniquely civilizing aspects of the Christian religion on European peoples.

This occurs sometime in 1039 (“the fourth year of the duke’s reign”) during a Bohemian raid on Poland, sacking Krakow and heading to Gniezno, where the Czechs aim to retrieve the relics of Saint Adalbert housed in the basilica of the Holy Mary. Their bishop, Severus, admonishes them to do fasting and penance for three days and three nights before touching the relics. At first the Czechs disobey their bishop, whereupon divine retaliation is immediately exacted when they become blinded, “having neither voice nor sense nor sight for a space of almost three hours, until they again regained their original faculties by God’s grace.”

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