Friedrich von Gentz, the law of nations and the decline of internoble solidarity

[I must say, this essay is the closest one so far to the spirit of this blog. I do not like it quite as much as the one on Jules Barni, but nonetheless it is this that best foreshadows the subjects I will be talking about all throughout.]

It is obvious that it is not the material situation of the people that causes the uneasiness with which society is suffering. The anxiety that agitated them was an anxiety of mind aroused by discussions on the constituent principles of States. Those who raise these discussions often lack sincerity; They raise them deliberately, in order to produce troubles; It is a weapon which they wish to employ in private interests, and sometimes, according to their position, in political interests; They attack the very seat of the life of States by destroying their principle and organization. These men take a mask of freedom and announce themselves to the nations as liberators; So that their mission has an end, they proclaim that all princes are tyrants, that they must be resisted, that their governments are despotic, that they must be changed. To attain their end, all sorts of sophisms are employed; The most dangerous of all is to separate peoples from their governments and to put them in a position of constant distrust and hostility. This calculation of destruction is clever; For the people, always the strongest, must end by overthrowing any government whatsoever. This principle is the most dangerous of all that can be promulgated, since it engenders anarchy and renders all government impossible. In thus isolating the governments by putting kings on one side and the peoples on the other, doubts have first been raised about the nature and rights of sovereignty.

— Count Karl Ludwig von Ficquelmont, Lord Palmerson, l’Angleterre et le continent (1852) [source]

Continue reading

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√©publicain (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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Mencius Moldbug, 10 years later: a critical retrospective

[Also on Thermidor.]

Who would have thought that some kid, a civil service brat and the grandson of dues-paying members of the CPUSA, who came of age on Usenet discussing SunOS Unix login semantics and apparently submitting text files for cDc’s ezine [who are somehow still kicking around], would become an infamous blogger widely credited as the one who kickstarted a tendency in political thought called “neoreaction”?

April 22nd, 2007 was Moldbug’s debut on 2Blowhards.com, publishing his formalist manifesto, to be republished as the first article on Unqualified Reservations a day later. Having ostensibly secured himself a reasonable amount of discretionary income in the dot-com boom, he took a sabbatical to read some books, old and new.

The product of UR was a series of lengthy blog posts with long-winded digressions, liberal use of quotations and extended commentaries on books written before 1922 offering perspectives that are unsettling to children of (very) late modernity. Between this were frequent spats with other bloggers (something Moldbug would come back to do again after Scott Aaronson urged action against Trump’s Executive Order 13769). See, e.g., his exchanges with Liberal Biorealist: [1],¬†[2].

Continue reading