First principles

Inequality is not a first principle of the Right, despite the way some on the Alt Right speak of it.  Conservatives, by and large, are happy to pass over the underperformance of certain groups in discreet silence.  It was only because the liberals use these facts as an indictment of the West that we have been forced to voice the alternate hypotheses.  Regardless, inequality of intellect, self-control, or any other quality is a mere truth of the empirical order.  It does nothing to establish the Right’s true first principle:  authority, the legitimate rule of one over another.  As Louis de Bonald writes

Thus the reason for public power is in divine power, and can be found nowhere else.  Man naturally has no dominion over man, man owes nothing to man; all power constituted on natural or divine laws comes from God, omnis potestas ex Deo, and this passage has never been understood otherwise…Thus, once legitimate power comes from God, authority is justified and obedience ennobled, and man must fear to command and be honored to obey.

— from On Divorce

Why should one man rule over another?  Because he is smarter or more virtuous?  But then, as Pascal pointed out, this is just an invitation to fight over who is smartest and most virtuous.   The best arrangement, he concluded, is for rule to base itself on a public, easily verifiable fact, one that makes no pretense to determine overall personal value, such as being the previous king’s eldest legitimate son.  Anyway, that another man is smarter than me may make it prudent for me to follow his advice, but it cannot create an obligation to obey.

Some, even at the Orthosphere, think authority can be understood in terms of ownership, as in the king “owning” his kingdom.  In fact, ownership (and indeed “private” property) just is a type of authority, so statements of ownership bring us no deeper.  In fact, one cannot go deeper, because authority is the primordial fact of the state.

There is no authority-granting quality inhering in individuals that could precede the actual existence of an authoritative institution like the state.  Nor is it true that the nation precedes its ruler.  This is the error that conservatism arose to contest, the idea that the nation can be conceived as existing without constitutional order, intrinsically possessing rightful mastery of itself which it then alienates onto its government but may repossess at any time.  In fact, imagining a nation not ruled by its government according to the norms of legitimacy established by its unwritten constitution is like imagining my body not being ruled by my brain, which would not really be imagining my body at all.  Get rid of authority, and the related markers of citizenship and territory also lose meaning.  There would be no way for the nation to reconstitute its government that could command obedience, no way even to establish in a definite way the limits of the “we” who would be instituting a government.

Julius Evola writes

In the world of Tradition the most important foundation of the authority and the right (ius) of kings and chiefs, and the reason they why they were obeyed, feared, and venerated, was essentially their transcendent and nonhuman quality.  This quality was not artificial, but a powerful reality to be feared.  The more people acknowledged the ontological rank of what was prior and superior to the visible and temporal dimension, the more such beings were invested with a natural and absolute sovereign power.  Traditional civilizations, unlike those of decadent and later times, completely ignored the merely political dimension of supreme authority as well as the idea that the roots of authority law in mere strength, violence, or natural and secular qualities such as intelligence, wisdom, physical courage, and a minute concern for the collective material well-being.  The roots of authority, on the contrary, always had a metaphysical character.  Likewise, the idea that the power to govern is conferred on the chief by those whom he rules and that his authority is and expression of the community and therefore subject to its decrees, was foreign to tradition.

— from Revolt against the Modern World

Evola makes it clear that Traditional orders do not fall into the opposite error, already discussed, of making kingship precede the kingdom, as if a private person might possess a numinous halo of royal majesty without having yet acquired a kingdom to rule.  In fact, traditional thought does not imagine that one can find in the nation a more primordial social reality behind authority, behind the dyadic structure of ruler and subject.  The only reality of any kind behind it is God Himself.

14 Responses

  1. If I’m reading you correctly, your final point might be made clearer by italicizing the word social in the second to last line, since you say in the next line that there is a reality behind (and substantiating) the dyadic structure of ruler and ruled. It’s just not a social reality, or even a natural reality. Because it is, rather, a supernatural or transcendent reality, I wonder if there isn’t, indeed, a “numinous halo of royal majesty”–or what Max Weber called charisma. Actually, I don’t wonder, since I believe there is such a thing as charisma (in Weber’s sense), and that it is, indeed, a mark of divine anointment and ontological difference. The paradigm case of charisma is the story of Christ gathering his disciples with the simple but apparently compelling command, “follow me.”

  2. Charisma may make for a way of establishing a government that has fallen into anarchy, but it is no basis for a permanent system of government, as then the question arises of who is the most charismatic.

    Rather, a stable government must be based on something far less disputable, like birth.

  3. I agree, especially in a world where there is so much counterfeit charisma. In Weber’s account of charisma, he describes its transformation into “institutionalized charisma,” and the eventual degeneration of institutionalized charisma into the “iron cage of bureaucracy.” Primogeniture can be seen as an institutionalization of charisma, with the visible anointment of the father passing by convention to the less conspicuously anointed son. And anyone concerned with order must appreciate the wisdom of this practice, as well as the peril of a charisma contest every time the throne stands empty. At the same time, any theory of authority with a metaphysical foundation must make provision for manifest loss of “the mandate of heaven,” since royal lines do degenerate, and degenerate lines end with the worst sort of disorder. A political order grounded in nothing but charisma will be radically unstable, but so will a political order that thinks it can do without charisma. It is not enough to follow the customary process if the result is to place on the throne a long line of repulsive rascals and charmless fools.

  4. The “mandate of heaven” is lost when the state is deposed. This can be done justly by a foreign power in response to sufficiently serious aggression, or by authorities within the country if the regime has become manifestly tyrannical*.

    *Even then, the established order should be preserved as much as possible. If there is a member of the royal family who is not a party to tyranny, he is preferable to an outsider in principle.

    *As in actual tyranny. Not incompetence or what have you.

  5. Charisma is not a basis for authority. It can create psychological inducements to obey, but not an obligation to do so. It seems to me (and my namesake) that no quality of a person can create such an obligation, but only a relationship possessing divine sanction.

  6. Bonald @ But charisma as originally understood was the mark of divine sanction. I know the word is now applied to glib hucksters with good hair, but it originally meant the natural leader’s supernatural gift of inspiring loyalty. The obvious model for Christians is the charisma of Christ, who commanded loyalty without a trace of institutional authority. As I said, charisma must be handled very carefully, for it can be political dynamite, but it is also a part of political reality, and so must be taken into account by any political theory.

    Since you mention Bonald, sr., let’s compare this to the favorite theme of that great monogamist. A theory of marriage founded exclusively on lust will obviously fail, since lust is fickle. We live in a world governed by such a theory, which was at one time honestly called Free Love. But a theory of marriage founded exclusively on formal relationships is also weak, since rampant infidelity and frigidity will turn the institution of marriage into a sham (as among the 18th century French aristocracy). Any theory of marriage that hopes to preserve marriage will combine strong formal relationships (i.e. Against Divorce) with realistic accommodation of lust (e.g. modern “game” in marriage).

    So I think there is a prudent via media here, as in so many things. Nietzsche described this as a contrast between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Reactionaries are rightly afraid of the dark forces of the Dionysian, but this should lead us to channel and tame these forces, not ignore them. Charisma and lust are both dark and Dionysian forces, but both can work for the good if only they are controlled by intelligent institutional constraints.

  7. You’re conflating between a strictly behavioral theory (why people do certain things) and a moral theory of the basis of government. Charisma may induce men to obey, but it never suffices to oblige them.

    Christ’s authority came from his divinity, which he proved through innumerable signs and miracles.

  8. You should, if you haven’t, read Filmer’s Patriarchia. He’s ultimately a heretic, but in an interesting way in light of the current discussion.

    (It can be found online at

  9. […] is simply fantastic here: First principles. It’s not very long, but very, very good. The true right principle, he says, is […]

  10. […] First Principles. The first principle of rightism is “authority, the legitimate rule of one over […]

  11. Great post.

  12. If I understand JMSmith’s meaning, he is not saying that charisma is a basis for authority, but rather that charisma is sign of authority, similar to how a king’s scepter might be a sign of his authority, but not the basis of it. Charisma follows legitimate authority, not vice-versa.

  13. Ian: Yes, that’s right. Charisma is not the cause of authority. Authority is the cause of charisma. We might say that charisma is authority in its subjective mode. It is a direct intuition that this man here commands my obedience. There is also an institutional authority to which one might own some limited obedience, but loyalty requires charisma.

  14. authority is temporary control by actual or potential violence. property including territory have a value that begs a calculation of possibility to wrest control commensurate with its perceived value.Things of great value like nations need the most potential violence to defend authority over them this can usually be bought at first but later shares in authority are the only way to finance enough violence. This is of course a two edged sword and is how nations more often fall to inside than outside authority traders.Violence is reluctantly recognized as the foundation of civilization because it is apparently anathema to civilization, that civilization is the opposite of violence and a reaction to violence.That it is a defense against violence so that civilization may happen. This is a superficial understanding of whats happening.Life is a struggle for resources to survive and reproduce its very essence is violence. civilization is coordinated violence to leverage mutual advantage, but its very success creates a shelling point for others struggling for resources.Which can only be countered by actual or potential violence commensurate with the targets value.The fact that ‘nations can grow to a point where gaining authority over them becomes incredibly difficult and that that allows many inside to ignore the above is immaterial. what happens is pieces of the nation become targets until someone or group amasses enough to make a lay for the whole

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