Temporarily Embarrassed Patricians

On July 4, 1838, the well-esteemed congregationalist minister Hubbard Winslow gave out an oration at Old South Church attended by the municipal authorities of Boston, in commemoration of the anniversary of American independence.

Having graduated from the Yale Divinity School by 1825, in 1832 he had succeeded the Rev. Lyman Beecher as Pastor of the Bowdoin Street Church in Boston. Lyman Beecher was the father of, most famously, Harriet Beecher Stowe, among 12 other children who would cement the family legacy as advocates of temperance, abolition and women’s suffrage. Lyman Beecher himself was the co-founder of the American Temperance Society in 1826.

As such, I would reckon that Winslow is a decent proxy for the state of Boston Brahmin opinion at the time, and of the more conservative Old Light (non-revivalist) wing of evangelicalism.

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The Bifurcation Point of the Liberal Jurists

As I was reading a book on an episode in Bulgarian history known in Marxist historiography as the “White Terror” (1923-25) — in truth a rather restrained and ad hoc reaction to an attempted communist uprising in September 1923, I was struck by a reference to one of Johann Caspar Bluntschli’s tomes. The book was written by law students, so evidently the legacy of this Swiss transitional figure lives on in Slavic lands. Bluntschli was the premier moderate of his times. “I’m not one of these reactionaries like K.L. von Haller and F.J. Stahl! But I also ain’t no commie…” Woodrow Wilson liked him, too.

People associate the phrase “end of history” in reference to liberal democracy with Fukuyama, but Bluntschli said it much earlier in Theory of the State (in more conventional Whiggish fashion, he was talking about constitutional monarchy, though with the same implication): “[It is] the end of a history of more than a thousand years, the completion of the Romano-Germanic political life, the true political civilization of Europe.”

Bluntschli may have been liberal, but he sure as hell was no radical. Much in the same way that Hubert Humphrey was an anti-communist. After all, Sen. Humphrey was chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action… an organization growing out of then Socialist Party member Reinhold Niebuhr’s grand liberal front, the UDA, and in conjunction with advocates of the Lend-Lease acts like the CDAAA. “Appeasement is treason to democracy,” they spoke like loyal comrades. But still, Humphrey was an anti-communist. Who is an anti-communist, I decide! Bitch.

Still, Bluntschli’s anti-radical credentials are far less spotty than Sen. Humphrey’s, all things considered. His testimony on the early communist movement in Switzerland will be consulted later.

Bluntschli had a cordial relationship with a certain Francis Lieber. Yes, of Lieber Code fame — widely regarded as the precursor to the Geneva Conventions, although it was still characteristically (and from a purely military standpoint, understandably) harsh on the Confederates. Rights don’t belong to no goddamned racists.

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The Eighteenth Brumaire of Fritz Pendleton

[The original title was going to be “The Napoleonic Touch of Death,” but surely this is better.]

Fritz Pendleton has implored reactionaries to take note of a well-known Corsican, believing his significance to a hypothetical restoration to be unjustly downplayed. His essay “The Napoleonic Touch” (also linked from his blog) asks us to reconsider the Napoleonic legacy. I shall take up his challenge.

Interpretations of Napoleon still largely converge on one of two axes: Adolphe Thiers’ and Hippolyte Taine’s. A republican admiration for Napoleon the liberator juxtaposed to contempt for Napoleon the egoist, leveller and adventurist.

An interesting synthesis position is that of Frederic May Holland, a 19th century Unitarian minister, in his Liberty in the Nineteenth Century. Napoleon was an egoistic autocrat, but at least he wasn’t an Austrian Catholic conservative, and at least he blessed his German, Swiss and Italian subjects with equality before the law (although that was dialectically inevitable anyway). He concludes that “Napoleon’s despotism had the awful and baneful grandeur of an eruption of Vesuvius; but his despicable enemies merely kept up the oppression of his empire without its glory.” Glory, of carrying on the mantle of egalite, no doubt.

Pendleton, himself struggling with the distinction between patrimonial and despotic authority due to his Bodinian conception of sovereignty inherited from Moldbug, latches on to that word “autocrat” and shouts out: “Goyim, Napoleon was our guy!”

Pendleton’s essay is filled with constant reassurances that Napoleon’s actions were always primarily concerned with the maintenance of order, even when they seem egalitarian. To Pendleton order is something of an ill-defined fixation.

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Joseph de Villèle against freedom of the press (1817)

“Free speech” has now become a quintessential conservative value. That it has always been a classical liberal value is true enough, but its association with conservatism is due to the historical anomaly of American conservatism being the English commonwealthman ideology interspersed with Manchester liberalism, notwithstanding historically trivial exceptions like Orestes Brownson, the Southern Fire-Eaters of DeBow’s Review (and their Copperhead allies), and various latter-day tradcons at Brent Bozell’s Triumph, or Kirk and Regnery (now ISI)’s Modern Age.

Free expression is the underpinning of the “public sphere,” the public sphere being the engulfment of all social relations by the values of literary salons, coffeehouses and book clubs. Once instrumental in leveling the distinctions among magnates and between magnates and commoners, as well as fostering a new consciousness of the “active citizen,” they proceeded to outlive their usefulness as the would-be salonnieres of the past made their long march into the institutions of the present.

From this point on, the same people who once claimed they “just want to debate ideas,” showed their true colors in working to transform society into a secular monastery where the unbridled ego would be allowed to define its own essence and own being by sheer force of will alone against any constraints of tradition and material reality. This represents a bastardization of henosis, where instead of working to reach union with the transcendent, one instead reaches union with one’s own vanity, conceit and pride. The liberation from social bonds reaches its culmination in a totalitarian existentialism where a completely self-imagined identity is lived out, and moreover, is coerced into being unconditionally accepted by all bystanders.

In the face of a post-New Left cultural onslaught imposing this existentialist project, the modern conservative now foolishly champions yesterday’s free speech fundamentalism as somehow being the corrective. The alt-right, too. When Richard Spencer spoke at Auburn University in April 2017, he chose the rhetorical weapon of presenting himself as a freethinker fighting against left-wing dogma. And just recently, on June 25, 2017, a “Freedom of Speech Rally” was held at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. with Spencer, Identity Evropa and other figures present. Such is free speech: when one is the underdog, it is sweet like honey. When one is the overdog and has to enforce certain institutional axioms of social conformity to maintain a desired order, it is a nuisance. Hence, free speech is necessarily an appeal sought by the weakling. A free speech fundamentalist is a man who believes in nothing but eternal dissent.

Let us not forget that one of the errors condemned in the encyclical Exsurge Domine (1520) against Luther was “That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.”

But, to take a more modern context, I would like to direct your attention to a parliamentary speech given on December 13, 1817 by one of the most eminent ultra-royalist ministers of the Restoration of 1814-1830 — Joseph de Villèle. 13 days later, a bill was passed prohibiting “papers and other periodicals which treat of political news” from being published without royal authority, before being relaxed 4 years later, although some nominal form of censorship would last until 1828 by which point ultra-royalist influence was waning. The speech is a concise and topical one, but it is also a succinct illustration of the perils of unfettered expression (particularly the press) in a representative government, as the Restoration one was with its Chamber of Deputies sanctioned by the Charter of 1814. A worthy reminder that free expression is not something a conservative can value as an absolute.

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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]

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How classical liberalism got pwned (in brief)

Social equity today does not have to be so much fought for by young radicals as administrated by managers of all ages.

— Jay M. Shafritz and E.W. Russell, Introducing Public Administration


A long-standing dilemma that disturbs the libertarians is the question of how classical liberalism was so badly butchered into the pinko social liberal ideology of Hobhouse, Green, Lloyd George, etc. which it is today. The straight answer is that no one butchered it and that liberalism outside of England and (sometimes) France was practically never laissez-fairist.

However, it is worth looking into the question for its own sake. After all, going from Herbert Spencer ranting against public sanitation legislation in his essay The New Toryism (1884) to Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget” in a span of about a couple of decades is a rather striking saltationist event of social evolution, both in the case of English liberalism specifically, and of how a generally economically liberal consensus can rapidly spiral off into one of scientific management.

“Who now reads Spencer?,” asked Talcott Parsons many years ago. No one. No one now reads Parsons either, might I add.

But in order to get a hint, perhaps we ought to sample the man. He was the biggest intellectual celebrity of the 19th century, after all. It’s almost difficult to believe this today given his quick plunge into irrelevance simultaneously with the Victorian rugged liberalism he stood for, but at least the volume of his book sales corroborates this notion. And, contrary to stereotypes of him by his socialist opponents, his theory of evolution was quite sophisticated.

This isn’t supposed to be an overview of Spencer. If you want that, go read Alberto Mingardi.

One of Spencer’s main postulates was that social systems evolve from an indefinite homogeneity to concrete and definite heterogeneous networks, and per his First Principles, “that all sensible existences must, in some way or other and at some time or other, reach their concrete shapes through processes of concentration.”

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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 républicain (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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