Paul Pecquet du Bellet and the French diplomatic effort in the Confederacy

The Confederacy — what a weirdly polarized phenomenon for the denizens of the American nation, a nation which many still vainly hope is not just a proposition. On one side, you have people who just want to read a fine hagiography of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, fly a battle flag to show their pride, and admire an honorable monument as they sit at a park bench. On the other side, you have people who want topple all these monuments, torch all the flags, and burn “I HAVE A DREAM” onto the forehead of every normie with an accent, or else The Nazis Will Rise Again if they do not. (There’s also a third side of honest adherents to the Old South legacy, but they are politically irrelevant.)

It is understandable that the CSA is such a captivating image. The lost cause of an America before the first 8 amendments of the Bill of Rights were incorporated into state constitutions. An America when the Constitution was just the Articles of Confederation++. An America where the mudsill knew its place… kind of.

I am not a neo-Confederate, though.

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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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[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 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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