The trouble with an aristocracy of virtue

All the world’s efforts against the “aristocrats,” the “mighty,” the “masters,” the “holders of power,” are negligible by comparison with what has been accomplished against those classes by the Jews—the Jews, that priestly [Bonald:  “prophetic” in my terminology] nation which eventually realized that the one method of effecting satisfaction on its enemies and tyrants was by means of a radical transvaluation of values, which was at the same time an act of the cleverest revenge. Yet the method was only appropriate to a nation of priests [i.e. prophets], to a nation of the most jealously nursed priestly revengefulness. It was the Jews who, in opposition to the aristocratic equation (good = aristocratic = beautiful = happy = loved by the gods), dared with a terrifying logic to suggest the contrary equation, and indeed to maintain with the teeth of the most profound hatred (the hatred of weakness) this contrary equation, namely, “the wretched are alone the good; the poor, the weak, the lowly, are alone the good; the suffering, the needy, the sick, the loathsome, are the only ones who are pious, the only ones who are blessed, for them alone is salvation—but you, on the other hand, you aristocrats, you men of power, you are to all eternity the evil, the horrible, the covetous, the insatiate, the godless; eternally also shall you be the unblessed, the cursed, the damned!” We know who it was who reaped the heritage of this Jewish transvaluation. In the context of the monstrous and inordinately fateful initiative which the Jews have exhibited in connection with this most fundamental of all declarations of war, I remember the passage which came to my pen on another occasion—that it was, in fact, with the Jews that the revolt of the slaves begins in the sphere of morals; that revolt which has behind it a history of two millennia, and which at the present day has only moved out of our sight, because it—has achieved victory.

— Nietzsche, The Geneology of Morals

Social status is the summum bonum of human existence for all but a few psychological deviants.  See how people will sacrifice their lives and their childrens’ lives rather than suffer the reproach of their fellows.  To disregard status is to break from the communal mind.  Scipio had to be physically removed from the solar system to learn to see beyond the renown of men.

There are individualists who care more about their personal status, and there are tribalists who care more about the status of their group.  Personal status means power, comfort, and sex.  Group status means survival into future generations.

Social rationality.  Suppose I say that Leftists are so thin-skinned that they’ll fire me for criticizing them, and then a Leftist administrator fires me for saying that.  He just proved me right, didn’t he?  No!  He’s proved me wrong, because he’s got a prestigious position, and I’m just a schmuck without a job.

Social rationality.  If I could produce an argument that proves with mathematical certainty the truth of the Catholic religion, it would make no difference–not a single convert.  We’re all a bunch of child molesters, don’t you know, and no one is going to be reasoned into being a social pariah.

(Well, maybe if we could sell it as showing that I’m a genius, it would help, but Catholicism would get the same boost if I produced an impressive argument against the faith.  Just as Judaism gained prestige when Freud impressed the world with his argument that all religions are lies.)

I said once that the New York Times rules America, but only with a delay, that obedience to its dictates is not instantaneous.  Direct causality is instantaneous, so when we see an effect delayed in time from its cause we expect there to have been a mediating variable.  The mediating variable is status.  The media’s control of status is instantaneous, but it takes a short time for hold-outs to realize how dire is their plight and to give up hope.  Hence, as I’ve said many times, democracy is rule by the media.

I’m no different from others.  The idea of my group achieving status, of being proud of ourselves and being admired and feared by competitors, is far sweeter to me than any hope for the beatific vision.  In fact, I’d say that much of the attraction of heaven for past generations was the expectation that the next life will shake up current social status hierarchies, that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  In the past, status was based on things like inherited wealth and power, which were presumed to have little relation to the attributes of holiness that heaven prizes.  Today, though, our status hierarchy is based on moral status–holding prestigious attitudes, engaging in activism, being oppressed, and so forth.  Alas, it now seems natural to imagine that the social hierarchies of Earth and heaven are finally synched.  Who will be top dog in heaven?  Presumably prophets, activists, philanthropists, the aggrieved; the same types who lord over and humiliate us in this life.

Indeed, one needs no faith to believe in an afterlife.  Our culture and our children live after us, and we see with our own eyes that they are being brought over to hate us and worship our high-status enemies.  The attraction of the idea of a revolution is that it shakes up social status hierarchies; that’s pretty much the definition.  But now the prophets and revolutionaries are on top–their millennium has arrived–and future no longer holds any hope of recourse for us losers.

It may seem perverse–especially in a reactionary and anti-egalitarianism–to dislike the idea of an aristocracy of virtue, but Jesus Himself also seems to have found it especially obnoxious and condemned Pharisees jockeying for status by conspicuous virtue probably more often than He condemned any other vicious behavior.  Only in these intensely moralistic times can we again appreciate the radicalism of Christ’s critique, directing His suspicion not at hierarchies that are forthrightly worldly but at those most nearly heavenly.

The competition for moral approbation does seem particularly nasty.  In a world of status by wealth, one might hope to make one’s fortune and thus jump straight to the top 10%.  The game of shifting moral enthusiasms works differently.  The goal is to eliminate 10% of one’s competitors who either have too many past statements on record for maneuverability or are too principled to go along with the latest insanity.  It’s a game of attack first to be eaten last.

I’d be so much happier if we Catholics were at the top spot instead.  Why are our enemies not ecstatically happy?  They have everything.

8 Responses

  1. “Why are our enemies not ecstatically happy? They have everything.”

    It’s an interesting question. Some of them are happy (see Steven Pinker) but most of them are not.

    I think the elite is not happy because they always want more. So it’s the habituation effect. Once a guy can become part of the elite, his social circle gets composed by people with high status. In a relative way, he is not better than them so he is not happy.

    The masses of liberal are not happy because their lives are a mess. They are people with psychological problems and behavior against the natural law messes their lives even more.

  2. I think Jesus saw something like Gresham’s Law operating in the ostentatious piety of the Pharisees. It’s was not exactly a case of bad (fake) virtue driving out good, but when the demand for virtue exceeds the supply, we must expect counterfeit virtue. Plato’s condemnation of the Sophists is a parallel case. He wasn’t attacking wisdom, but rather the counterfeit wisdom that flooded an overheated market for wise men.

    When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, he was not only accusing them of pretending to be pious and virtuous, he was also accusing them of acting out piety and virtue for public approval. Thus they were ostentatiously pious when they were “on stage” and people were watching, but rather lax when no one was watching and there were no status points to be earned. This is a minor lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Priest and Levite do not stop and help the Jew in the ditch because it is a lonely road where there is no one to see them do it.

    I take your point that “prophets” can cause a lot of trouble, but must believe that any trouble cause by a true prophet is trouble we deserve. Here again, we can think in terms of Gresham’ Law and counterfeit prophets. True prophets being very rare, the demand will always exceed the supply, and when a true prophet comes, he is going to look very mean and seedy beside all the counterfeits. The counterfeit prophets were called into being, not by God, but by the market, and they are therefore creatures of the market. They therefore call people to repent of doing things they mostly don’t feel like doing, and to recommit themselves to things they wanted to do in the first place.

    When Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses, he actually recognized that religion can serve as a prophylaxis against the psychological pain of low status. When I feel this pain, I try to imagine what it would be like to be lead to the scaffold surrounded by thousands of screaming people who really, really hate me. That is to say without any hope that even one spectator sees me as a noble martyr. All this achieves is to show me how very thin skinned I actually am.

  3. Liberals fetishize suffering. This is different than having a slave morality, as Nietzsche would caricature Christianity. Their perceived victimhood – which for most of them is a spectator sport instead of a shared experience, mediated through images and an increasingly nonsensical political vocabulary – is their source of status. Thus they must constantly seek an oppressor or some new aggrieved state. This is how you end up with Hollywood actresses who live in $10 million houses and don’t even have to comb their own hair talking about how someone once touched their shoulder and it’s a form of sexual assault and they live with the constant re-traumatization of someone touching their shoulder. Oh, the things Nietzsche would have to say about this era.

    The only way to be happy in this world is to have a sense of home. What Hegel called Heinatlichkeit. In our perverse world, the elites have convinced themselves that they want to be orphans.

  4. It is not right to desire an Aristocracy of Virtue, which is just a pyramid of Robespierre.

    What is necessary is an Aristocracy that is virtuous.

  5. Congrats, Bonald, you are discovering very much DE/NRx-adjacent ideas.
    Here is something new. New for me, at least. When you take a peek into the sociology department at your uni, of course what you see is awful. But apparently, the really top dogs of sociology are entirely different. Randall Collins, ex-prez of the American Sociological Society is pretty good. Good blog, only superficially leftist (maybe just camoupoz), best posts deleted, but recoverable: https://web.archive.org/web/20140901000000*/https://sociological-eye.blogspot.com/2012/10/material-interests-are-ambiguous_770.html also the book Interaction Ritual Chains is very good.
    Collins recommended Kemper, another top sociologist. His stuff is also very good ,and directly relevant to what you wrote here: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2019/09/06/theodore-kempers-radical-idea-about-social-status/
    On morality. Really a double-edged sword. Take that that basic simple child level approach, that one should not hurt others. But the other edge is that if you can accuse someone of having hurt others, he is evil, he deserves punishment, so now you can hurt him. Which makes morality just as dangerous as immorality! A society with little interest in morals has a lot of people getting hurt. A society with a lot of interest in morals also has a lot of people getting hurt, by their competitors accusing them of having hurt others and thus deserve punishment. Solution? Perhaps the Christian one, if I understand it properly: have a society with high moral standards, but also be willing to forgive people for falling short of them.

  6. As Bronze Age Pervert might point out, they have a aristocracy of ideology, not deeds. Ideology is meaningless.

  7. It’s not “holiness spirals” and “virtue signaling”, it’s status spirals/signaling.

    https://quillette.com/2019/11/16/thorstein-veblens-theory-of-the-leisure-class-a-status-update/

  8. […] Throne and Altar on gratitude to “real” Americans, being the descendants of those around the time of the Constitutional Convention: Honor Among Fake Americans. Also, status and democracy as rule by the media: The Trouble With an Aristocracy of Virtue. […]

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