[My time has been sucked up lately by a do-nothing internship I was accepted in, in which I spend most of my time smoking my pipes. My tin of Peterson Irish Flake is nearly finished, so I need to restock with some cheap over-the-counter shag cuts, the only thing that’s available ’round these parts. But it’s also not entirely devoid of educational value, either. Anyway, here’s a brief addendum to the last essay…]
There comes a point in every rightist’s intellectual development where they hit upon the elephant in the room concerning political economy: “Wait a minute, capitalism eradicated feudalism… this means capitalism isn’t traditional… muh Whigs, 1688, Dutch maritime republicanism, classical liberalism and Cobdenism vs. the Tories… what am I supposed to believe in now?!”
Congratulations, Marx already knew this. He devoted an entire section in Capital, vol. 1 to it: part 8, and even gave it a cool name: “primitive accumulation.”
(This leads to the laughable articles that pop up every now and then where someone tries to give a “right-wing rehabilitation” of Marx — I’m thinking of Kerry Bolton here at the moment, — to show us the “based Marx” hiding underneath.)
We’re talking about left versus right? Is there anything more to really add to this subject?
I think so, and the basic problem was stated by the poet Robert M. Beum — whom you might recognize as the compiler of an English bibliography on French ultra-royalism — back in a 1972 essay for the Georgia Review entitled “Modernity and the Left: An Equivalence”:
Having spoken before about the domestic and foreign policy push factors that tilted high Prussian conservatives into allying with plebeian German nationalists, as well as of the ever-shrinking “enlightened absolutist” centre, one of the most unambiguous contemporary espousals of a kleindeutsch German nationalist evangelizing high conservatives to abandon their dated ways, is without a doubt a pamphlet by the lawyer Wilhelm von Merckel (1803-1861) entitled “Alter und neuer Konservatismus” (1852). The title alone gives it away: there is an “old conservatism” out of touch with the prevailing facts that must be supplanted by a “new conservatism,” the nature of which is… we’ll get to that in a moment.
Simon-Nicolas-Henri (S.N.H.) Linguet (1736-1794) was a lawyer and man of letters who attracted a great deal of attention from the 1760s to the 1780s before falling into obscurity by the following century, in a fate analogous to Herbert Spencer in his own time (with the apparent exception of Japan). His modern reception is as contradictory and confused as it was by his contemporaries. He is chiefly remembered for his supposed defense of Asiatic monarchies as a superior form of governance to both European absolutisms and liberalisms (an oversimplification of what was his chief work, a multifaceted counter-Enlightenment treatise attacking ideas of “natural liberty”), which was something that irked him when he was still alive. Dubbed the “advocate of Neros, sultans and viziers” by his detractors, he was at the same time admired by Gracchus Babeuf, and was positively received as an early critic of bourgeois economy by Karl Marx in his Theories of Surplus Value. Marx particularly loved Linguet’s phrase that “the spirit of the laws is property.” A book by Norman Levine entitled Marx’s Rebellion Against Lenin cites Linguet as a member of the “Enlightenment Left,” which may have been news to him.
In 1858, John Bright, the radical MP whose name is associated with free trade and advocacy for the repeal of the corn laws alongside Richard Cobden, embarked on a speaking tour across Northern England and Scotland to clamor for parliamentary reform, working class enfranchisement, the secret ballot and other measures associated with his milieu. In his speeches, he railed against the lords and peers of the realm (whose strength was “derived from an unholy participation in the fruits of the industry of the people”), and he went as far as to abrogate the role of the monarchy in the British constitution. It is this that prompted Henry Drummond to forcefully rebuke him in a 40-page letter.
Although conflicted in some places owing to the influence of topical issues like the corn laws and to its physiocratic take on the economy, the letter displays a distinctive High Tory temperament.
The name of Henri, comte de Boulainvilliers (1658-1722) is, thanks to Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt, largely associated with his Germanist position on the origins of the French nobility, which is frequently held to be an early example of modern racism. Actually the Germanist thesis predates Boulainvilliers’ output, and held no such connotations. It emerged in opposition to the traditional ethnographic practice which held the Franks to be the descendants of Trojans. Boulainvilliers himself explicitly denied that the French nobility were ethnically pure, and did not consider this integral to his arguments. His identification of the Franks with the conquering military aristocracy separate from the Gauls had the intent of serving as an analytical device for his treatment of the French constitution, which Boulainvilliers thought was eroded by a myriad of usurpations and perversions throughout the centuries. I’ll be borrowing plenty from Olivier Tholozan’s 1999 thesis Henri de Boulainvilliers: L’anti-absolutisme aristocratique légitimé par l’histoire for this piece.
There never was a great republic on earth which did not immediately change into a monarchy. It is to evade the usurpations of the victorious army generals, and the tyranny of the military government, that the great people voluntarily give to their constitution the weight of the diadem. If Marius, Sulla or Caesar, on their return from their conquests, had founded at Rome a hereditary kingship, they could not have been crowned by their soldiers. Democracy, in a state like France, enclosed among rival and warlike nations, and forced to constantly represent the great theater of Europe, is therefore an absurdity. But, say the demagogues, that’s exactly why we kept the king; and I answer them that they have left too much or too little.
It was necessary, therefore, to establish forever the French constitution on its true foundations, to preserve the monarchy, to establish the communes, and to create the aristocracy in a senate essentially irremovable, that is to say, hereditary and few in number. It would be the result of these three forces, each of which is despotic by its nature, a government without despotism, but so energetic and so full, that France would soon have risen to the point of greatness in which its nature calls it; such as a tree, whose sap is no longer diverted, soon filled the earth with its roots, and the sky with its foliage.
Every force in nature is despotic, like every will in man. A single gram would populate the earth in a short time; a single herring, by multiplying, would fill the seas, if the other plants and other fish allowed them to do so. But as each plant and animal tends equally with the same energy to occupy all the earth, it happens that these different equally despotic forces repress each other; a compensation is made between them whose laws escape us, but from which it follows that, without ever destroying each other, they retain each species within its own limits.
— Antoine de Rivarol, “Philosophie politique” XIX. (published in Ouevres de Rivarol, 1853)