Aristocratic liberalism: a brief tour of an extinct tradition

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.

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American anti-communism: infested by pinkos (1956)

[I’ll be away during Easter break and for a while after. Except for a draft I have ready and set to be published next week that isn’t directly related to the legitimist mission that this blog has set for itself, my hands are empty for the time being.

Until then, here’s a quick dose of your beloved 1950s Amerikwa that many people want to go back to.]

So I was digging through old texts on American diplomacy when I stumbled upon some documents and minutes of a 1956 meeting of the House Un-American Activities Committee, that dreaded and vile scourge of McCarthyism, entitled: The communist conspiracy: strategy and tactics of world communism.

We are introduced to the hearing thusly:

Among the duties of the Internal Security Subcommittee, pursuant to Senate Resolution 366 of the 81st Congress, is the duty to make a continuing investigation of the extent, nature, and effects of subversive activities in the United States, its Territories and possessions, including, but not limited to, espionage, sabotage, and infiltration by persons who are or may be under the domination of the foreign government or organizations controlling the world Communist movement or any other movement seeking to overthrow the Government of the United States by force and violence.

It is abundantly clear from the numerous projects which the Internal Security Subcommittee has completed pertaining to the Communist conspiracy in the United States, that this conspiracy here is only one tentacle of a worldwide octopus which has as its principal target the United States of America.

If we are adequately to appraise the operation of the Communist conspiracy in this Nation it is essential that we keep abreast of the world strategy and tactics of international communism. Accordingly, I have appointed a task force of the Internal Security Subcommittee, consisting of myself as chairman with Senators Herman Welker and Pat McCarran as members, for the purpose of maintaining a continuing study and investigation of the strategy and tactics of world communism.

The hearing today is the first in a series of hearings on this general subject matter which has many facets, each of which we shall explore as we receive the testimony of a number of witnesses who will be scheduled over the course of the next several months.

Now, before HUAC introduces its exhibits, we get an introduction consisting of, among other things, a summary by none other than AFL-CIO President George Meany on the grave nature of the threat America is facing, and the ways that one can stop communist imperialism.

I have to caution you, this is extremely counterrevolutionary material here. Even hardened High Tories will find it a tad too much to stomach.

Having warned you:

That is why the Communist parties are not political parties in the democratic sense of the word. They are only national sectors of a Russian-directed world body. The military weight and material resources of the Soviet state are the base, the heart and head of Communist activities everywhere. This brute force is combined with a phony religious fanaticism. The Soviet state and its foreign branches constitute a godless church-state. This godless church-state fights on all fronts, in all walks of life, and with any and all means. Its central aim is the extension of the present Moscow-Peking Empire to include the entire world.

[…]

Too many in the free world fail to see the real nature of Communism as the mortal foe of everything that we hold dear, of every moral and spiritual value. Too many in the free world are still prisoners of the illusion that Communism is, historically speaking, a progressive system — extreme liberalism temporarily making bad mistakes. Actually, Communism represents darkest reaction. It is an anti-social system in which there are embedded some of the worst features of savagery, slavery, feudalism and life-sapping exploitation manifested in the industrial revolution of early-day capitalism.

[…]

Not until we of the free world can give rebirth to a vibrant moral attitude, to a burning indignation against such frightful bestialities, can the freedom-loving people be sufficiently stirred to gather the moral strength for resisting and defeating the totally anti-moral dogmas and deeds of Communism at home and abroad. Yes, this means above all a moral struggle against Communism.

[…]

Communism is the very opposite of liberalism. Communism is the deadliest enemy of liberalism. Liberals should be the most consistent and energetic fighters against Communism. Liberals must also be on guard against developing a certain type of McCarthyism of their own. They must shun like a plague the role of being anti-anti-Communist. Only by refusing to be thus entrapped can liberals shed every vestige of subconscious and conscious regard for Communism as a movement with which they have something in common.

Much more regard must be shown by the democracies for principles — for the principles of human rights and human freedom. We must never sacrifice principles to expediency. This means being rigid in support of our principles.

Freedom-loving, all-American anti-Bolshevism: it’s worse than the John Birchers thought. The dark forces of Communist reaction bringing “feudalism” and “life-sapping exploitation manifested in the industrial revolution of early-day capitalism” are certainly out of the way, however. Now we have a benevolent feudalism and a managerialism so beautiful it would reduce the old cameralists like Justi, Pfeiffer and Sonnenfels to tears. Or perhaps indignant rage at how the Kammern no longer have any coherent income-expenditure flows to speak of.

Gobineau, the Royalist

[UPDATE: Now also on Thermidor.]

Just about everyone has heard of, if not actually read, Joseph-Arthur, comte de Gobineau, the racial theorist.

However, we will not be looking much at his racialism, although we will ultimately have to draw some observations on it near the end. Instead, this article is about the lesser known side of Count Gobineau – the intransigent royalist, Bourbon legitimist and conservative pessimist. Although his background and his historiographic debt to the elitist theories of Henri de Boulainvilliers are frequently acknowledged, it goes deeper than that. It is not possible to understand his infamous Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (so horribly butchered by its American Southern translators) without knowing his background as a man of ancien regime temperament trapped in “le stupide XIXe siecle,” as Leon Daudet was to memorably describe it later.

It is a curious thing that Gobineau is overwhelmingly remembered purely for his Essai. In his lifetime, he was an intellectual with a diverse repertoire – serving in many diplomatic posts, writing novels, travelogues, gaining authority as an Orientalist and admirer of East and Central Asian civilizations [which is one of the reasons why judging Gobineau’s views by his Essai alone is highly misleading] and mingling with major figures of the day. He was one of the first men to recognize the literary genius of Honore de Balzac at a time when most of his contemporaries overlooked him. In addition, despite his disdain for the principles of the Revolutions of 1848, he may have actually inadvertently contributed to them in his capacity as a French minister to Greece, by being a capable defender of the liberal nationalist statesman Ioannis Kapodistrias, a man who was distrusted both by Klemens von Metternich and Friedrich von Gentz, two of the primary architects of the conservative order established in the Congress of Vienna.

A complex figure, indeed.

We will focus on a posthumous ouevre of Gobineau’s, La troisième république française et ce qu’elle vaut [What the French Third Republic is Worth] (1907), compiled from his manuscripts by Ludwig Schemann, a German enthusiast of his, a racial theorist who translated Gobineau’s Essai into German, and a man who inhabited volkisch circles.

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[X-Post: Thermidor] Balzac on the tax-gatherer mentality

[Second piece on Thermidor, available here. My shortest so far, but also more succinct and to the point. Covers some of the subjects that I’ll be elaborating on further throughout this blog.]

Honore de Balzac writes:

When it beheaded Louis XVI, the Revolution beheaded in his person all fathers of families. The family no longer exists today; there are only individuals. When they wanted to become a nation, Frenchmen gave up the idea of being an empire. By proclaiming the equal division of the father’s property, they killed the family spirit and created the tax-gatherer mentality! On the other hand, they paved the way for the weakening of the better elements, and the blind impulses of the masses, the extinction of the arts, the reign of self-interest, and opened up the path to conquest.

The family! I repudiate the family in a society which, on the death of the father or mother, divides up the property and tells each member to go his own way. The family is a temporary and fortuitous association, which is dissolved immediately by death. Our laws have broken up our homes, our inheritance,  and the perennial value of example and tradition. I see only ruins around us.

There was once a wretched taxman, Giuseppe Prina, a man of liberal principles who worked as a servant to Napoleon Bonaparte, the self-styled Napoleon I, King of Italy. Lombardy had fallen, and in 1797 a constitution was proclaimed for the newly declared Cisalpine Republic. Napoleon said of it:

Many years have passed away since the existence of a republic in Italy. The sacred fire of liberty was extinguished, and the finest part of Europe was subject to a foreign yoke. It belongs to the Cisalpine Republic to show to the world, by its wisdom, its energy, and the good organization of its armies, that modern Italy is not degenerated, that it is still worthy of liberty.

Eight years later, it was to become the “Kingdom of Italy,” and liberty did indeed follow.

War must pay for war. Accordingly, half of the state budget was devoted to maintaining Napoleon’s Crusaders on Italian soil. In the name of “just equality among taxpayers,” Prina had uniform land assessments imposed for the levying of a property tax, which he placed under direct ministerial control. Church estates were expropriated, and clergy were forcefully turned into mouthpieces for conscription. The Napoleonic Code was imposed, along with an administrative system based on departements, wiping out customary law. Civil marriage was introduced and ecclesiastical marriage made legally void. Tax collection authority was removed from local communes and given to the Finance Ministry. Repressive personal income taxation (originally imposed in much lighter form during Austrian rule of Lombardy) was forced on the rural population. A wide variety of duties were imposed on consumer goods (most notably salt), leading to price hikes on staple foods that burdened the peasantry further. License fees imposed on millers sparked an insurrection in July 1809 that left approx. 2000 dead.

The madness ended on April 20, 1814, shortly before the dissolution of the Napoleonic client state. Prina was hounded by a mob who dragged, beat, mutilated and ultimately killed him as he was subjected to a protracted lynching. The afrancesado had met a similar fate to those that Jacobinism had slaughtered before and that made his career possible in the first place.

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The counter-enlightened liberalism of Heinrich von Treitschke

Heinrich von Treitschke is primarily remembered today for popularizing the phrase “Die Juden sind unser Unglück!” (In fact, Treitschke was an assimilationist on the Jewish Question.) Since then, it appears to have been overshadowed in popularity by the more artistically inspired “Gas the kikes, race war now!” as well as by various musings on group evolutionary strategies from renegade professors of psychology. Other than that, he is seen as the most visible ideological representative of a mad German chauvinism that ravaged the world twice in the 20th century before finally being stopped by the brave forces of the Atlantic Charter, who denazified and civilized the barbaric Huns. The real Treitschke: the out and proud illiberal liberal, is much less frequently told of.

To begin with, Treitschke was no reactionary. Not in the 19th century sense, at least. He was a staunch anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit, going so far as to say (of Catholic counterrevolutionary publicists): “How easy was it to obscure the fact that the revolution of the sixteenth century [the Reformation] had not been merely a destructive force, but in addition, and even more, a force of conservation, that Martin Luther had saved for the modern world the primitive spirit of Christianity.”

Much more clearly:

In Homeric times the prince was content with pronouncing judgment and, when necessary, conducting war. Even in the Middle Ages an administration was still non-existent, and the State only concerned itself with the most elementary necessities. Not until the splendour of the Holy Roman Empire was in German hands did German kingship begin its fuller, richer expansion. Then the growth of the cities forced the State to adopt new aims and wider activities. Experience teaches that the State is better fitted than any other corporate body to take charge of the well-being and civilizing of the people. Briefly put, what was the great result of the Reformation? The secularization of great portions of the common life of men. When the State secularized the larger portion of the Church’s lands it also took over its accompanying public duties, and when we reckon how much the State has accomplished for the people’s culture since the Reformation, we recognize that these duties fall within its natural sphere. It has accomplished more than the Church performed throughout the whole of the Middle Ages.

He mocked the counterrevolutionary circle of writers that formed around Das Berliner Politische Wochenblatt – of Karl Ludwig von Haller, Carl Ernst Jarcke, Friedrich Julius Stahl, Carl Wilhelm von Lancizolle, the brothers Gerlach and so on. Of Lancizolle, in particular, he quipped: “The faithful Hallerian, as before Schmalz and Marwitz, spoke of the various “states” of the royal house. The modern state and its legal unit, he regarded as an empty abstraction.” (Schmalz being Theodor Schmalz, a cameralist, and Marwitz being Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitz, an enemy of the Prussian reforms of 1806-1815).

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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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