Communalists and constitutionalists

Liberalism and democracy are not the same, as I’ve mentioned in the context of the doctrinaires and ancients v. moderns.

“Illiberal democracy” is used as an epithet to refer to various top-heavy presidential or parliamentary republics where elections serve a mostly symbolic role to give the dog (the public) a bone. And I don’t mean blow them like in the AC/DC song. Although, figuratively, this may indeed be it.

But that’s quite a limited way of grasping the distinction. Instead let’s use a dichotomy of “communalism” and “constitutionalism.” Such as between, say, the Swiss mountain cantons of the Grey League, and… Luxembourg. Luxembourg? Yes, not even the venerable Grand Duchy was spared from the Great European Chimpout of 1848. Grand Duke William II conceded a constitution.

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The Comte de Montlosier’s swansong for the debased nobleman

For a long time [the seigniors] are very feeble against the intendant, utterly powerless to protect their parish. Twenty gentlemen cannot assemble and deliberate without the king’s special permission. If those of Franche-Comté happen to dine together and hear a mass once a year, it is through tolerance, and even then this harmless coterie may assemble only in the presence of the intendant: Separated from his equals, the seignior again is separated from his inferiors. The administration of a village is of no concern to him; he has not even its superintendence. The apportionment of taxes, the militia contingent, the repairs of the church, the summoning and presiding over a parish assembly, the making of roads, the establishment of charity workshops, all this is the intendant’s business or that of the communal officers which the intendant appoints or directs. Except through his justiciary rights, so much curtailed, the seignior is an idler in public matters. If, by chance, he should desire to act in an official capacity, to make some reclamation for the community, the bureaux of administration would soon close his mouth. Since Louis XIV., the clerks have things their own way; all legislation and the entire administrative system operate against the local seignior to deprive him of his functional efficacy and to confine him to his naked title. Through this separation of functions and title his pride increases as he becomes less useful. His self-love, deprived of its broad pasture-ground falls back on a small one; henceforth he seeks distinctions and not influence; he thinks only of precedence and not of government.

— Hippolyte Taine, The Origins of Contemporary France: The Ancien Regime (1876)

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Legitimist theory of princely rights in a nutshell (Karl Ludwig von Haller)

Indeed, everything becomes clear, all doubts vanish, as soon as one starts from the true nature of a prince, a power of his own, and his personal rights. It is easy to conceive, therefore, that such a territorial and independent lord, whose power and liberty are founded upon domains, possessions, and revenues freed from all dependence, is also the master of alienating this property.

Consequently, the power and independence derived therefrom, whether in whole or in part, as sales, exchanges, voluntary renunciations, donations, marriages, inheritances, etc, is practiced at all times without any opposition. For by such acts the princes do not alienate, transmit or exchange the rights of others, but only their personal rights. They do not sell the peoples, still less the simple individuals (which are doubtless not merchandise), but they transmit only their own domains, their houses, their possessions, their incomes and enjoyments of every kind, with the authority which is inseparable from them. In a word, with the rights and duties inherent in this possession.

The inhabitants of these domains do not lose anything of these kinds of mutations. Nothing is taken from them, their condition is not deteriorated. Therefore, they have no right to complain. The new possessor of a sovereign lordship, like that of a peculiar seigneury, merely succeeds to the property, rights, and relations of the old master. He can not acquire more than he possessed. The sovereigns in their turn can transmit only what is theirs, and in fact they have never transmitted anything else.

Thus, let us see that whenever the former treaties of peace stipulated the cession of certain provinces, as well as in the acts of sale and exchange of a sovereign principality, the natural and acquired rights of the subjects were expressly reserved; that they often recommended the continuation of certain acts of kindness, of certain favorable customs; and that, moreover, the new prince granted the subjects all sorts of facilities, in order to have regard, not only to their rigorous rights, but also to their personal attachment to such and such a prince. The subjects, the inhabitants of the ceded country, remain free as before, they are not slaves sold, as the philosophe pretends. And since when should a man be a slave, because the soil that is inhabited changes its possessor, or that, remaining the owner of the soil, we must, give for the future of John, what we owed to James?

This quote, taken from vol. 3 of Karl Ludwig von Haller’s magnum opus Restauration der Staatswissenschaft (or of the French translation Restauration de la science politique, for in the original German it corresponds to vol. 2), subtitled “On Seigneurs and Patrimonial Princes”, Chapter XLII in total — is perhaps one of the best legal-philosophical summaries of the idea of medieval territorial-lordship there is, and really of monarchism as a whole.

From jurisdiction as freehold property, to the rights of alienation inherent in a freehold, to the dynastic principles of marriage, inheritance, purchase and conquest, and ultimately a hint toward a principle of legitimacy based not on accountability to an abstract “people” or “nation,” but on the confirmation of certain customary rights to particular estates.

These are subjects we will be discussing at great length in the future, of course (and I promise that Von Haller will get his own multi-part series some day), but this is a glimpse anyway. Such were the gentlemanly principles of foreign relations in a bygone era, as repugnant to the progressive leveller and to the blood-and-soil ethnonationalist alike.

English Jacobins fight the (Glorious) Tory power

A thorough draining of the swamp in America, or in just about any other country, would unavoidably require a certain degree of repression beyond the more basic things like lustration of civil servants. In any state of emergency, dissent is intolerable. Outlawing of combinations, acts against political meetings and clubs — these were all completely normal tools used by Pitt the Younger, Metternich, Guizot and others to maintain a grip in the midst of tumult.

However, such seeming acts of right-wing self-preservation against foreign and domestic enemies can often be misleading as to their actual outcome in securing the traditions of their host countries from reform-minded political ambitions. The case of Pitt the Younger and the treason trials in England of the 1790s is one such case. The received wisdom is that it was a triumph of reaction over radicalism, with lasting effects for decades after until 1832. In actuality, it was much more ominous.

To have defended the French Revolution in the 1790s was no mere innocent opinion. With the armies of the National Convention and then the Directory toppling royalty, creating republican client-states and upsetting the until-then predominant cabinet style of waging war as a mostly private affair between sovereign persons in favor of the levee en masse, then in such circumstances the defense of the Revolution was potentially an act of sedition against all standing royalty, including one’s own Sovereign.

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Joel Barlow against the Second Estate

Of the Founding Fathers, plenty has been said. Of the Founding Jacobins, less so. The Mel Bradfords, the Friedrich von Gentzes, and many others, would insist that the American Revolution was no revolution at all, but a conservative revolt for the protection of the customary rights of Englishmen. Yet even Bradford admitted that the conservative heritage of America had already faded by 1819 — presumably chosen for the banking panic of the same year, marking a cut-off between the age of the landed gentleman and the age of the commercial speculator. So, surely, in the aftermath of this calamitous derailing (Hamilton’s bank not helping matters), the Founding Jacobins would become a matter of interest.

But with a Jacobin as outrageous as Joel Barlow, one is enough. A parochial New England man whose main reading for a long time avoided speculative political philosophy; a member and associate to the literary scene known as the “Hartford Wits,” which included the High Federalist cleric Timothy Dwight. Barlow, who served as a chaplain in the American Revolutionary War, was not immunized in any way from interacting with these circles, and would become an ultra-left pamphleteer of astonishing bravado in his assertions, and largely remain so until the end of his days.

At the age of 34, in 1788, he set sail to France, shortly after immersing himself in a fiasco as the agent of a fraudulent land company selling worthless deeds (not deliberately, but out of gross mismanagement) to French colonists for lots in what would later become Ohio.

Soon to commit more fraud in the form of his ideological screeds, he met with Jefferson, Lafayette, Volney and various Girondist deputies, traveling back and forth between France and England, also meeting up with Mary Wollstonecraft and becoming a member of the proto-Chartist Society for Constitutional Information in the latter country. On February 1792, he graced the world with the first of a two-part essay: Advice to the privileged orders, in the several states of Europe, resulting from the necessity and propriety of a general revolution in the principle of government. We need only look at the first part. It was published half a year before the establishment of the National Convention in Paris, which would later grant naturalized citizenship to Joel Barlow, one of three foreigners to receive this dignity.

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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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