The proper use of cruelty

Coming now to the other qualities mentioned above, I say that every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency. Cesare Borgia was considered cruel; notwithstanding, his cruelty reconciled the Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. And if this be rightly considered, he will be seen to have been much more merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid a reputation for cruelty, permitted Pistoia to be destroyed. Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only.

How much happier France would be if Louis XVI had been more ruthless in securing his rule!  I am astounded that today even the top military leadership think it illegitimate to suppress open and violent insurrection.  The first duty of authority is to defend and perpetuate itself.  Burning, looting, blocking traffic, destruction of public monuments, attacking police are not peaceful acts, but deadly provocations, or at least they would be, if their perpetrators were not agents of the true power.

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Best of all is moral terror, which the media inspires.  Not only can they destroy you; they can make every soul on Earth hate you; they can even make you hate yourself.  What can one do in the face of such power, but to bow to it in abject love and worship?  Still, if one were to try to separate the fear and love which are combined in practice, the rule of the New York Times rests more securely in its power to summon the mob than in any confidence that it has its subject’s best interests at heart.  (In fact, it doesn’t even pretend such benevolence!)

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.

Historical grievances persist precisely as long as it is profitable for them to.  One might hope that a patrimony lost could someday by a change of government be regained.  If the loss of a father were translated into an actionable monetary claim, these wretches might rediscover their piety.

Book review: Patriarcha, a Defense of the Natural Power of Kings against the Unnatural Liberty of the People

Patriarcha: a Defense of the Natural Power of Kings against the Unnatural Liberty of the People
by Sir Robert Filmer (1680)

Filmer’s great defense of absolute monarchy deserves to be known aside from its role as John Locke’s punching bag.  Filmer deals with a foundational problem in political philosophy and proposes a compelling solution.

What are the types of authority, and where do they come from?  Everyone before the French Revolution recognized parental authority–the authority of fathers over their children, as one type of authority.  Uncontroversial, rooted directly in nature, it is in some ways the gold standard of legitimate authority.  Then there is the political authority of government, which–while kings were often thought of as relating analogously to parents–was often considered distinct.  In the pluralist and traditionalist social order of the Middle Ages, these were only two of a bewildering array of authorities, each with its own historically contingent jurisdiction, all held to be legitimate by the fact of their establishment.  The Middle Ages lacked the concept of sovereignty as Bodin and his successors understood it.  Thus early modern political philosophers were left with the problem (which medievals would have regarded as misguided) of explaining who is really in charge.  Filmer’s rhetorical opponents are mostly the Jesuits Bellarmine and Suarez who foolishly claimed that sovereignty resides in “the people” who then delegate it to their ostensible rulers but may take it back should those rulers prove obnoxious.  Perhaps the Jesuits’ goal was to vindicate the medieval practice of recognizing all settled forms.  Perhaps, as Filmer says, the goal was to reduce the authority of kings to be benefit of the pope.  Regardless, such a doctrine could only encourage democratic rebellion.

Filmer ably demolishes the claim that government can rest on the consent of the people.  There is simply no way to get from free individuals to legitimately ruled subjects.  What right would the majority have to compel the minority?  Even if unanimity could be achieved, why would people continue to be bound with it?  And would one not need unanimous consent of the entire human race to establish a government?  If any group may at any time decide to be a people for political purposes, we must accept endless fragmentation.  If not, how can separate kingdoms be justified?  And how could consent at some time in the past bind anyone in the present?  If one says that sons are bound by the decisions of their fathers, than one has already accepted Filmer’s patriarchal principle; the social contract is an extraneous extra hypothesis, and Occam’s razor cuts it away.  Authority that requires consent is no authority at all.

Filmer claims, on the contrary, that there is no second type of authority.  There is the natural, paternal authority that everyone recognizes, and there is nothing else.  Filmer draws his historical data from Scripture and Greek and Roman history, but modern knowledge of tribal peoples also lends some credibility to Filmer’s hypothesis.  Start with a rule that fathers have authority over their children and older brothers over younger brothers, stipulate that these relations carry over to adulthood and that authority is transitive, allow families to grow and multiply, and soon one has a tribal structure.  And the chieftain of a large tribe has all the properties of a king.

Filmer also attacks the confusion, still popular today, that laws can be higher than the ruling authority and bind it.  There is no such thing as rule of law, although there can be rule by law, law being a means that subjects may know their ruler’s pleasure.  Laws cannot (and Filmer says should not) cover all unusual cases and in any case always require interpretation.  And while binding the king with laws sounds good in the abstract, in practice the people are pleased with the king’s ability to sidestep procedural justice and issue pardons.

Note that Filmer makes no claim that Charles I was personally the senior descendent of Adam.  He freely admits that monarchical power has been achieved historically by a variety of messy means, and that no one today really knows the proper natural hierarchy.  It doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that Charles’s authority is that of a father, and since the paternal relationship is natural, its authority is not ours to decide.  To give an analogy, we recognize that sometimes a man can become a father artificially, by adoption.  However, no man can decide to become a father as far as provision goes but not discipline, or vice versa, because the role of father is fixed.  One either takes it one whole and entire or not at all.

Filmer was perhaps more a man of the 17th century than he knew.  The great century of Descartes was a time of bold and brilliant (but often incorrect) simplifications.  Filmer finds that one can save the appearances of political theory using only the basic atom of authority, the father-son bond.  A remarkable achievement if the appearances are truly saved.  However, if medieval monarchs did not claim the sort of power that Filmer grants them, we may wonder if he has explained the monarchy or constructed something new.  And there is no mention of the authority of the Church, which is divinely sanctioned but clearly independent of paternity.

Not ready for monarchy?

In the wake of America’s Iraq misadventure, it became common to state that the problem with democracy exportation is that some countries just aren’t ready for it, that there are preconditions to a “free”, “democratic” state:  a sufficiently large middle class, weakened tribal affiliations, low nepotism, high “social trust”, an extensive non-governmental “civil society”, secularization, or whatever.  In making these claims, democracy-believers make themselves look reasonable while securing their core beliefs from scrutiny.  The very manner of phrasing presupposes that democracy is the one intrinsically desirable form of government, that it is the one toward which all peoples are evolving, and that if democracy doesn’t work well with a given people that just means there’s something wrong with them.

Let us pose the question, “Is it possible that some peoples are not ready for monarchy?”  Just posing the question, you see, is more important than any answer, because it reframes the debate.  Monarchy, rather than democracy, is the presumed normative end state.  Yet I am a moderate monarchist, not some rash neomonarchist adventurer who would go around toppling republics by force of arms when the local conditions are not yet right.  America, for instance, is at a rather primitive level of social development, and it’s not clear that she has the resources to maintain a regal society.  Monarchy, after all, has preconditions.  The bourgeoisie must not be overly dominant; rather one wants a healthy plurality of power among social classes, including a vigorous nobility and clergy.  Religion should be strong and of the sacramental sort, so that people are attuned to symbolism and respectful of tradition.  There must be a type of “social trust” that harbors no paranoid fear of authority, so that authority can become properly visible and responsible rather than concealing itself behind impersonal procedures.  There is nothing novel here; Montesquieu argued at length that each type of government has its own associated virtues.

In fact, most monarchies, like most republics, are imposed and only become organic features of their societies later, so if one really wants a particular form of government, I’m not sure that imposing it whenever the opportunity arises isn’t still the best policy.  However, I would like to try the “not ready yet” on a republican sometime:

“I’m a monarchist.”

“That’s crazy!”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I realize that some countries, like the United States, aren’t ready for monarchy yet.  I wouldn’t want us to have a monarch before we reach a high enough level of social development.  I am a moderate and pragmatic fellow.”

What the Ten Commandments do

Mangan brings to our attention the newly-fashioned “Ten Commandments for Atheists”:

Somebody came up with the idea of a Ten Commandments for atheists. Here it is:

  • Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  • Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  • The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  • Every person has the right to control over their body.
  • God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  • Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  • Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
  • We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  • There is no one right way to live.
  • Leave the world a better place than you found it.

I am struck by the same thing Mangan was, that this list and Moses’ seem designed to do entirely different things.  Reading the Decalogue afresh, it’s clearly designed to order a society, not to provide general ethical principles like the atheist list (mostly) does.  Notice that the atheist commandments don’t mention any particular social station or forbid any particular act.  It does nothing to render social interactions smooth or predictable.  By contrast, the Decalogue is concerned with guaranteeing paternity (no adultery), parental authority (honoring parents), and property rights (no stealing).  Even the law against lying (“bearing false witness”) sounds like it has the reliable administration of justice mostly in mind.  The Decalogue begins by establishing the public cult and ends with safeguards against subversion by the rival socialist cult (no coveting).  There’s no attempt within the Commandments themselves to summarize the natural law or to give general principles that ground it.  Christians wanting to expound the natural law often organized it around the cardinal virtues or deadly sins (cf. Aquinas, Dante) rather than the second tablet.  When Jesus formulated principles on which the Law is based, He gave with two, both in the Torah but neither precisely corresponding to one of the Ten Commandments.  The point of the Ten Commandments is to translate the general principles of loving God and neighbor into particular duties, or rather to engineer a society that does this translating for us.

For why this is a necessary function, see Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

The virtue of obedience

The Marxist psychologists seek to discredit the virtue of obedience by conflating it with a certain psychological disposition.  The disposition in question is one we all feel to some extent.  We tend to conform to our social environment and feel distress when we find ourselves out of step with this.  Part of this conformity is the tendency to obey whoever this environment singles out as a commanding figure.  (I will not say an authority figure, because authority is a distinctly moral category, and we are now considering only the pre-rational level of psychological pressure.)  The psychologist then cites the Frankfurt School portrayal of the “authoritarian personality type” or Professor Milgram’s ghastly experiments to argue that we obviously need less respect for authority, where by “authority” they mean the residual rivals of their own power:  fathers and priests, never professors and newspapermen.

Now, the disposition to conform and obey is itself a generally positive thing.  In everyday life, the psychologically easy thing to do is usually also the correct thing to do, and I doubt even the liberals’ own order could last a day without this basic instinct to obey.  However, this instinct is not the virtue that we call “respect for authority” or “obedience”.  Obedience is a part of the virtue of justice, and it requires that we obey licit orders from legitimate authorities simply because this is a moral duty.  It may or may not be psychologically easy.  Usually it is, but we shouldn’t hold this against the virtue.  Virtuous acts are usually pleasant, or at least less unpleasant than the alternative.  This only sounds counterintuitive because our moral energies concentrate on those rare times when desire and duty clash.  Ordinarily, eating, wearing clothes, being friendly, paying taxes, and pulling over when the cops signal are the right things to do, but we don’t need to moralize ourselves into them because self-interest suffices.  However, like the other virtues, obedience shows itself most clearly when it is unpleasant, when the virtue is performed for its own sake.  Thus, the best image of obedience is the menial sailor who remains loyal to his captain even when the whole rest of the crew is crying mutiny and demanding he join them; the sailor does this, moreover, not because he particularly likes the captain, but because he knows that the captain is the one he has a duty to obey.  In such a situation, the one with a mere disposition to obey will not remain loyal; he will line up behind the powerful and charismatic leader of the mutiny.

The psychologists slander obedient men as being psychologically weak and ethically shallow, but this is the opposite of the truth.  A true appreciation of authority is only possible to one with a strong moral sense.  It cannot be a substitute for a personal sense of justice since this is its very foundation, and it in no way inclines a man to obey immoral orders.

Finally, I admit to being more than a little put off by these partisans of the anti-authoritarian status quo telling the dissidents that we need to stop being such mindless followers.

Another blow in the First Things / Front Porch Republic debate

Finally, here’s the reply to Joe Carter that I’ve been waiting for.  Excerpt:

Mr. Carter seems to contrast a democratic regime with a regime of coercion, such as when he writes in the comments: “There is not a hint that he (i.e., Mr. Salyer) prefers democratic means to advance his agenda. If he did he would not need to favor coercion to reach the goals he wants to achieve.” But of course, democracies do not differ from other regimes in the degree of coercion they might exercise; they only differ from other regimes in the mechanisms they employ to determine how and when that coercion is exercised. The extent of that coercion may be quite as broad and inhuman as any power wielded by a monarch…Why exactly should we believe that rule by fifty-one percent of such a population will result in the most just and peaceable regime?

Yet, rule they must. In any complex society, the opinion and principles of some portion of the public must be expressed in the laws, to the displeasure of some other portion of the public. Here is where I think Mr. Carter shows himself the most deceived. He writes, again in the comments, “So if someone has the right ‘vision for a proper life’ it’s okay for them to coerce other people into accepting that vision? And how is that not fascism?” It’s not fascism because it’s a description of every single political order that ever was, or ever will be. It’s certainly a description of our own democracy, where a “vision of a proper life” which includes a lack of etiquette, an all-pervasive trash culture, a deceitful public language known as “political correctness,” and the demolition of enormous swathes of our natural landscape for the erection of strip malls and tract housing are imposed on the rest of us which regard these things as horrifying. The reason Mr. Carter doesn’t consider these things to be forms of coercion is because they go forward with the consent of the majority of Americans, and he, like most Americans, is accustomed to thinking of coercion exercised by a majority of citizens as no coercion at all. For this reason, he is able to believe in that most fantastic of liberal chimeras — the neutral state, the state uncommitted to any discrete philosophical positions. James Fitzjames Stephen, the Victorian jurist and polemical foe of J.S. Mill, took especial aim at this fallacious notion in his book Liberty, Equality, Fraternity:

They found, as everyone who has to do with legislation must find, that laws must be based upon principles, and that it is impossible to lay down any principles of legislation at all unless you are prepared to say, I am right, and you are wrong, and your view shall give way to mine, quietly, gradually, and peaceably; but one of us two must rule and the other must obey, and I mean to rule.

In America, it is the majority that means to rule, and to their views the views of everyone else give way. It is not the case that in America, no one has a “vision of a proper life” imposed on them. It is simply the case that in America, a majority of the people generally gets to choose what that vision looks like. And the rest of us are coerced into accepting it.


The Conservative Mind: a liberal tries to crack the code

Drieu and Arts and Letters Daily have pointed me to this essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I suppose someone on the reactionary Right should respond to it.  The author, Corey Robin, has written in the Chronicle previously about conservatism.  In his last article, which I discussed at length here, he claimed that conservatives are obsessed with violence as the unique channel for experiencing the sublime.  Now he has returned with the claim that conservatives are motivated by a desire to preserve social hierarchies, which is much more plausible and even true as far as it goes.

First, the positive points.  As I said last time, I welcome the attempt by a Leftist intellectual to try to understand his opponent’s ideas and motivations better.  I also welcome his attempt to treat conservatism in its larger historical and international context.  This attempt to understand us does indeed come much closer than his last attempt.  While the claim that conservatives love violence is groundless, it is perfectly true that hierarchical relationships, with the (for us) associated ideas of legitimate authority and organic community, are at the core of core of what motivates conservatives.  It is, as he well says, what ties together our governmental, religious, and familial concerns.  I also heartily endorse his realization that conservatism means more than just slow, cautious change.  The society we want is much different from the one the liberal wants, regardless of how fast it is acheived.

As a Left-liberal, Robin regards all such hierarchical relationships as moral monstrosities, as the violent subjugation of the weak by the strong.  For now, I will not begrudge him his private prejudice.  If I were feeling mischievous, I would say that it’s rather intolerant of him to effectively condemn every society in history other than the post-1960’s West, but being a conservative, I don’t think one should tolerate what one finds morally repugnant.  However, if he’s going to really understand conservatives, Robin must try to understand how we see hierarchical relationships.  And here is where Robin fails spectacularly.  Search the article for “legitimacy”, “divine right”, “represent”, “symbol”, “unwritten constitution”, or “natural law”, and you will find nothing.  A search on “authority” and “God” yields one unimportant reference each.  Robin has nothing to say about the reasons conservatives give for cherishing authoritative relationships.  Instead, he fabricates one of his own:  he says that we regard those with power as better than those without.

No simple defense of one’s own place and privileges, the conservative position stems from a genuine conviction that a world thus emancipated will be ugly, brutish, and dull. It will lack the excellence of a world where the better man commands the worse. This vision of the connection between excellence and rule is what brings together in postwar America that unlikely alliance of the capitalist, with his vision of the employer’s untrammeled power in the workplace; the traditionalist, with his vision of the father’s rule at home; and the statist, with his vision of a heroic leader pressing his hand upon the face of the earth.

Now, in Robin’s telling, this “vision of the connection between excellence and rule” is basically the heart of conservatism.  One would hope he would provide a corresponding weight of citations to prove it.  He provides one quote, an abridged sentence from Stephen’s “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.  Here is the full quote together with its context:

The attitude of mind engendered by continual glorification of the present time, and of successful resistance to an authority assumed to be usurped and foolish, is almost of necessity fatal to the recognition of the fact that to obey a real superior, to submit to a real necessity and make the best of it in good part, is one of the most important of all virtues–a virtue absolutely essential to the attainment of anything great and lasting.  Everyone would admit this when stated in general terms, but the gift of recognizing the necessity for acting on the principle when the case actually arises is one of the rarest in the world.  To be able to recognize your superior, to know whom you ought to honor and obey, to see at what point resistance ceases to be honorable, and submission in good faith and without mental reservation becomes the part of courage and wisdom, is supremely difficult…Practically, the effect of the popularity of the commonplaces about liberty has been to raise in the minds of ordinary people a strong presumption against obeying anybody, and by a natural rebound to induce minds of another class to obey the first person who claims their obedience with sufficient emphasis and self-confidence.  It has shattered to pieces most of the old forms in which discipline was a recognized and admitted good, and certainly it has not produced many new ones.

Reading the whole thing, we see that 1) Stephen is here attacking liberty, not equality; 2) “a true superior” in the above most naturally means “one having really legitimate authority” rather than intrinsic excellence–it’s opposite is not rule by the “lower”, but rule through personal charisma by one without a valid claim.  So, again, Robin has obscured the true core of conservatism, which is not purported aristocratic excellence, but purported legitimacy.

In fact, one could bring forth quite a few claims by the great reactionaries that explicitly reject the connection between “excellence and rule”.  Why, Bonald asks, should one man have to obey another?  In themselves, he insists, all men are equal; authority comes rather from God, Whose will is expressed in certain authoritative relationships in the family and the kingdom.  Maistre agreed, and the French reactionaries called themselves not meritocrats but “Legitimists”.  For Moser, rule by excellence was the meritocacy of the liberals, which he thought would result in much strife and misery.  For Hegel, the king basically serves as an ego on which the will of the State can be affixed.  Conservatism, says Roger Scruton, the greatest conservative philosopher of the twentieth century, is not about freedom, but about authority.

Incidentally, one notes that, although Robin’s reading is admirably wide–given that it concerns a body of thought he finds repugnant–it is entirely focused on England and America.  (One might make a partial exception for his mention of Hayek, who denied that he was a conservative, but Hayek is someone who only had an influence in America.)  I think that greater attention to the continental conservative tradition would have made this particular issue clearer to him.  I hasten to add that it would be very unfair to single out Robin for his Anglocentrism, since the same charge would have at least as much force when directed at Russell Kirk or George Nash.

So, if it is not because of a person’s intrinsic superiority that we must obey him, what should our motive be?  To a conservative–who, as Scruton put it, directs his attention to the “surface” of social life on which we consciously  live–the important thing is what a person thinks he is doing when he obeys.  Obedience as a sheer surrender to violence he loathes just like the liberal.  However, he also finds obedience to the “will of the people” he also finds unworthy.  It takes the obedience out of obedience, taking prideful self-assertion away from the individual only to place it in the collective.  Nearly always, the conservative will put the basis of legitimacy at something beyond the individual or collective will–Divine Right, the Order of Heaven, etc.  In obeying the king or the father, we acknowledge our place in the moral order of the cosmos.  One might think this mystical, symbolic, or nonsensical, and no doubt it does need a lot of unpacking, but it does get to the heart of conservatism:  the will of man can only be legitimately bound by something above man.

Robin may think that this is self-serving nonsense, but he can’t understand conservatism if he won’t take it seriously.  It could well be that kings don’t really care about these things, but just want an excuse to get out of having to get real jobs; that just means that they’re not really monarchists, not that monarchism doesn’t exist as a coherent belief system.  It could be that no man takes seriously his duty to protect, provide, and rule, that he takes the idea of marriage as an image of the union of Christ and His Church as a convenient fiction to allow him to rape a woman with impunity, but that would just mean that these men aren’t actually patriarchists, not that the ideology of patriarchy isn’t what it presents itself as.  (I would note that patriarchal authority is at least supposed to be tied to duties, while Robin’s “reproductive freedom” is an unrestricted licence for selfishness, allowing women to murder their children in utero for any reason or none.)  Probably men and women adhere to conservatism (yes, there are conservative women–quite a few of them) for a variety of motives, some noble and some self-serving, and often both types of motives are found in the same soul.  Robin should acknowledge that many conservatives have no power to hold or regain from the ancien regime, but they defend it out of loyalty or because of the sense of meaning and order it provided.  Few of us entertain any illusions about our own “excellence”.  But even if every conservative was and is a hypocrite, our dark, inner motives are irrelevant to the nature of conservatism itself.

The above may sound like a rather harsh assessment, but I have only spent so much time correcting Robin’s thesis because it did hit close to the mark; someone is finally looking in the right places.  I repeat that I welcome Leftist academia’s renewed interest in the conservative ideology, and I appreciate Robin’s contributions to fostering this interest.

Understanding Fascism

I’ve recently finished reading Italian Fascisms:  From Pareto to Gentile, an anthology edited by Adrian Lyttelton that was recommended to me by Drieu a long time ago.  After a few half-hearted efforts to understand fascism as a distinctive ideology, things are finally starting to click for me.  The quality of the collections is uneven–as was the actual quality of fascist writers:  lots of vitalist idiots, but four contributors that were really first rate:  Vilfredo Pareto, Alfredo Rocco, Giovanni Gentile, and Benito Mussolini.  Pareto was a sociologist who emphasized the importance of elites; what are presented as revolutions of the masses are always just the replacement of one elite by the another (usually of the class immediately behind the ruling one).  The Marxists would agree, except that Pareto is more consistent, applying the rule to socialist takeovers as well.  Rocco does a good job of explaining fascist corporatism and presenting the fascist view of history from the fall of Rome to the present as the story of the State asserting itself against rival forces and, by subjugating them, putting an end to those awful Middle Ages.  Mostly, though, I would like to focus on Mussolini and Gentile, who try to directly present the key fascist doctrines.

First, it’s important to understand what the fascists mean when they call their doctrine “totalitarian” (and they do call it that).  It does mean that no power, no organization, no social force of any kind is to exist outside of the state.  Now, when we hear that, we imagine the State just doing the minimalist sorts of things a liberal state does, and everything else wiped out–a social wasteland.  The fascist would say that this is a complete misunderstanding.  None of the peoples’ collective activities–their arts, commerce, festivities, scholarship, and religion–is to be lost.  The state is to make itself the guardian of them all, only directing them to the common good.  “The Fascist State…takes over all the forms of the moral and intellectual life of man.”  The fascist state does this not by obliterating lower levels of organization (as it accuses the socialist of doing), but by incorporating them into itself, providing a context where they can truly come into their own.  For example, private ownership of factories is to continue, but they are to be subordinated to the state via corporations, governing bodies where both owners and workers are represented.  One might well ask what good private ownership is without private control.  The fascist would probably reply by pointing to the high degree of subsidiary control:  most decisions would be made at the lowest levels by the owner/manager/worker organizations.

The fascist understanding of the state is the key to their system.  As Mussolini put it

The State, as conceived by Fascism and as it acts, is a spiritual and moral fact because it makes concrete the political, juridicial, economic organization of the nation and such an organization is, in its origin and in its development, a manifestation of the spirit.  The State is the guarantor of internal and external security, but it is also the guardian and the transmitter of the spirit of the people as it has been elaborated through the centuries in language, custom, faith.  The State is not only present, it is also past, and above all future.  It is the State which, transcending the brief limit of individual lives, represents the immanent conscience of the nation.  The forms in which States express themselves change, but the necessity of the State remains.  It is the State which educates citizens for civic virtue, makes them conscience of their mission, calls them to unity; harmonizes their interest in justice; hands on the achievements of thought in the sciences, the arts, in law, in human solidarity; it carries men from the elementary life of the tribe to the highest human expression of power which is Empire; it entrusts to the ages the names of those who died for its integrity or in obedience to its laws; it puts forward as an example and recommends to the generations that are to come the leaders who increased its territory and the men of genius who gave it glory.  When the sense of the State declines and the disintegrating and centrifugal tendencies of individuals and groups prevail, national societies move to their decline.

Given the State’s charge to the people’s “spirit”, it is obvious how fascism will reject the liberalism for its individualism and socialism for its materialism.  What is more interesting is the fascist reason for rejecting conservatism in its religious, nationalist, and traditionalist forms.  This is because of fascism’s other key doctrine:  immanentism.  The State is prior to individuals and groups, but nothing is prior to the State.  It has no goal outside of itself; it can be judged by nothing outside itself.  How could it, since the State is supposed to already embody the people’s highest spiritual ideals?  The reactionaries, nationalists, and theocrats (as the fascists characterize them) disagree, seeing the state as ordered to some good–God, dynasty, nation, tradition, race–that is conceived as existing prior to the State.  Gentile is particularly clear on this.  Regarding the nationalists:

The nationalists’ “nation” is, in a word, something which exists not by virtue of the spirit but as a given fact of nature, either because the elements that give it being, such as the land or the race, depend on nature itself or else because they must be considered as human creations:  language, religion, history.  Because even these human elements contribute to the formation of the national entity, inasmuch as they are already in being and the individual finds himself face to face with them, since they pre-exist him, from the moment he begins to act as a moral being; they are therefore on the same plane as the land and the race…This naturalistic attitude is a weakness…This naturalism was particularly and obviously visible in the loyal support shown by the nationalists for the monarchy….

So basically, fascists are as devoted to autonomy as liberals, but autonomy for the collective spirit known as the State rather than for individuals.  Note that racialism is incompatible with fascism.  Strictly speaking, Hitler was not a fascist.  Regarding the Church:

The Italian Fascist state, desirous…of forming one single unit with the mass of the Italians, must be either religious or else Catholic.  It cannot fail to be religious because the absolute nature which it attributes to its own value and authority cannot be conceived except in relation to a Divine Absolute.  there is only one religion based on and indeed rooted in the mass of the Italian people and meaningful for them, on which they can graft this religious feeling of the absolute nature of the will of the country…So the Fascist state must recognize the religious authority of the Church…

This, too, is a difficult problem since the transcendental conception on which the Catholic Church is based contradicts the immanent political conception of Fascism; and Fascism, I must reiterate, far from being a negation of liberalism and democracy, as people say–and as its leaders, for political reasons, are often justified in repeating–is, in fact, or strives to be, the most perfect form of liberalism and democracy, as defined by Mazzini, to whose doctrine it has reverted.

So, Fascism in its Italian incarnation must preserve the Catholic Church, because it gives the people an imaginative apparatus for experiencing awe for the State.  However, Catholicism has the drawback that it is ordered to something outside and above the State and the national community.  That is a dilemma, and Gentile doesn’t really point the way out.

The contradiction between fascism and conservatism is quite instructive.  Is the nation a completely immanent being, ordered to nothing outside itself, or is it the collective response of a particular people to the order of being around it?  The goal of fascism is to take the nation’s spiritual resources and give them an entirely immanent frame, but can that be done without doing violence to them?  What would it even mean to have a religion without a “transcendental conception”?  That’s practically the defining feature of a religion!  I would say the same thing about arts and sciences; they are essentially ordered to apprehending a cosmos that transcends us, and only accidentally express the genius of a people.  Perhaps if fascism had lasted longer, we would have seen how its best thinkers–represented in this book–would have dealt with this.

Joe Carter calls Jerry Salyer “fascist”

Back in November, Joe Carter at First Things launched an uninformed rant against Distributism, claiming that the whole thing comes from Lord of the Rings fans taking that book way too seriously.  It’s not clear how much Carter actually knows about Distributism–he doesn’t say anything about their key concern, the widespread ownership of productive property–because the details don’t seem to interest him.  In Carterville, there is capitalism and there is socialism and nothing else, and deviations from capitalism are evil because they are “coercion”.  (To see the silliness of the first claim, just glance at pre-1800 history.  Was hunter-gatherer tribalism capitalist or socialist?  Was feudalism capitalist or socialist?  How about the guild mercantile republics of the Renaissance?  The question doesn’t make sense prior to the modern separation of state and civil society.)  It took Front Porch Republic a while to respond, but eventually Jerry Salyer put out a reply.  It is, unfortunately, not one of this best pieces, but it does get across the key point that coercion is an inescapable part of common life, and by no means an evil in itself.  Democratic capitalism has its own forms of coercion, only less open and honest ones.  Carter replied in a comment, calling Salyer a fascist.  That’s when I lost every speck of respect I ever had for Joe Carter.  Calling people who criticize liberalism (e.g. economic liberalism a.k.a. capitalism) “fascist” is something that only Leftist hacks do, and that’s what Carter has revealed himself to be.  Carter’s other remarks became more and more difficult to follow–he makes some weird comment that the Distributists want to take penicillin away from us.  (Because it’s “capitalist”, I guess.  I wonder, did the Soviet Union have any modern medicine?  I suspect it did.)  Later on, Carter put up an attack on Front Porch Republic at First Things.  Again he laments that anyone could regard coercion as good and necessary.  He also cites John Médaille’s defense of monarchy.  He makes no arguments against Médaille’s points; he just throws up a quote and does the liberal point-and-stutter.  Apparently monarchism is so beyond the pale that we are just supposed to accept without argument that people who prefer Europe’s historical norm of government over the last two centuries of Jacobin innovation are dangerous radicals.  In Carterville, the people are God Almighty.  Which means, I suppose, that the pre-Enlightenment centuries of Christendom were just as dark and worthless as the atheists say they were.

I wish I had the time to write a reply that would do this subject justice, but I’m really busy with the beginning of the semester.  The main point, though, is that living in a community with a moral consensus (“X is what we do here”, “Y is wrong”) is an important part of human flourishing.  It is coercive by nature, but not degrading, because in submitting to it citizens acknowledge the moral order of the universe.  Liberalism (including capitalism, the ethos of the brothel) takes that away from people, strips all meaning from the public sphere and throws it in the private, where it slowly withers.  If we want to save Christianity and the patriarchal family, we must destroy capitalism.

In the city of the damned

Here’s a thought experiment.  Suppose you received a supernatural revelation telling you that you are, in fact, on of the reprobate.  No matter what you do, you’re headed for the pit.  This is very discouraging, no doubt, but what do you do about it?  Do you consider that you might as well go ahead and sin as much as you want, filling the hours between now and hellfire with cruelty, impiety, and lust?  Of course not.  Evil acts have an objective disvalue even apart from the harm they do to the soul.  They offend God–who, even if He damns us, deserves our fullest love–and disturb what Saint Anselm called “the order and beauty of the universe”.

Now suppose there were a city of reprobates, and that you ruled this city and knew the terrible destiny of all its inhabitants.  Or suppose you ruled a city of devils.  What kind of laws would you make?  Would you let them engage in every kind of wickedness, because no law could possibly help their salvation?  Would you have only a few laws to maintain basic civil peace, to make the temporal lot of these reprobates or devils as pleasant as possible?  Or would you enforce God’s laws?  I’m not going to argue with you about which is the correct thing to do.  To me, the answer is self-evident, and I expect it is equally self-evident to those who will disagree with me.  It seems to me that the social kingship of Christ can and should be established even over a city of the damned.  Every individual soul may opt for rebellion against God, but the collective will is distinct from the individual wills.  I think there’s some value in the public will being aligned with the Good.  It’s not as valuable as having immortal souls aligned with the Good, but it is still very important.  Besides, sins have objective disvalue, and preventing them from happening makes the cosmos a better place, even if it doesn’t reform the souls that are constrained from doing evil.  So I would make laws against theft, adultery, prostitution, euthanasia, and blasphemy and enforce them by the threat of harsh punishments if that was the only thing my wicked subjects would respond to.

Now, I still think this idea that having a depraved culture makes no difference to one’s chances of salvation is crazy, but even if it were true, you can see that it doesn’t change anything for me.  After all, as far as we know, we do live in the city of the damned.