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.

Career and the heart of modernity

Let us first realize how unprecedented our situation is.  The great Emile Durkheim identified the key new feature of modern society as its being built around “organic solidarity” as opposed to “mechanical solidarity”.  In premodern societies, each household performs similar economic functions and does so largely indepedently each other.  Thus, it makes sense to have a single standard and set of expectations for everyone (or, rather, one for men and another for women), because, except for small ruling and clerical classes, everybody does pretty much the same things.  In modern societies, we’ve replaced this with a system where everybody’s pooled into one tightly connected economic system, and we’ve pursued specialization and a division of labor so that people do very different things.  Each person has a single, tiny focus, and relies on everybody else to supply his other needs.  This destroys the “mechanical” solidarity of one standard for everybody, but it creates a new “organic” solidarity around our much tighter interconnection.  In the short run, modernity creates alienation:  specialization and individualism erode our sense of community.  But Durkheim was convinced that the cure was to go all out for modernity, and it will cure its own problems.  Once inheritance is gotten rid of (based as it was on the idea of household independence and thus no longer making sense) and wealth is based on merit, our economic system will no longer seem unfair.  Our sense of alienation will be cured by the specialization that caused it:  new profession-specific societies will provide us with the sense of belonging we have lost.  Individualism itself will serve as a common creed to replace all the other social creeds it destroyed.  (My understanding of Durkheim is based on these selections.)

Modernity’s true ideology, one shared by nearly everyone, is the “career”.  Every adult should have a career, and this career should be the main organizing principle in his life.  A career presumes organic solidarity:  a man’s career is supposed to take him away from home and family and set him to work producing something to be consumed by society at large, rather than by his own kin.  This, however, isn’t enough to make work a career; this just makes it a “job”.  A career is also supposed to be the prime outlet for a man’s creativity, intelligence, and initiative.  His bonds with his coworkers (with whom he spends more waking hours than he does with his spouse) provide him a sense of belonging and common purpose.  Career is the ultimate fulfillment of Durkheim’s vision.

Career has largely devoured older forms of belonging–home, tribe, religion–just as Durkheim hoped it would.  There are certainly economic factors in this:  the extreme division of labor certainly brings certain efficiencies with it.  It could well be–I will not speculate on it here–that a sufficiently dense population is stuck with organic solidarity.  What interests me, though, is the ideology, the fact that we have decided to regard this as a liberation rather than a curse.  What’s more, we have outpaced economic forces, deliberately attacking other ways of organizing one’s life.

The romantic conception of work–that it uniquely manifests the “species-life” of man as an intelligent, creative individual–arguably goes back to Locke’s defense of private property.  It is given full expression in Marx’s early writings (especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844).  Of course, for Marx, this vision was an indictment of the modern system, because it was obvious to him that the wage-employed hyper-specialized laborer of his day was not engaging in expressively creative work.  Similar criticisms came later from the Agrarians/Distributists.  For both Marxists and Distributists, employment and the division of labor are inherently alienating and must be abolished.

The ideology of the modern age, which we may call “careerism”, has done a remarkable thing in accepting the Marxist/Distributist romanticized vision of work as the outlet for creativity and saying that the current system instantiates this ideal, at least for those with true careers.  Adherents of feminism, an aspect of careerism, would no doubt take offense at the idea that they are proponents of the capitalist system, but this is hardly credible, given that they preach that no woman can be fulfilled without being part of it.  Most people, of course, wouldn’t call themselves anything as radical (i.e. anything as explicit) as feminists, but they accept the careerist creed.  No one thinks it controversial to tell children to start dreaming about the careers that could “empower”/”fullfil”them and let them “change the world”.  When we tell these kids to study hard and get good careers so they can “make something of themselves”, it doesn’t strike us as insulting to those without careers–who are therefore presumably not “something”–although it should.  We never come out and say “your career should be the focal point of your life; everything else should be organized around it”, but this is implied in the way we live and the advice we give our children.

Well, what’s wrong with telling everyone to look for a rewarding and challenging career that will make them “something”?  The ideal of careerism is, after all, somewhat broad; it blesses a great variety of callings.  The trouble is that it’s still not broad enough.  One of the main criticisms leveled at medieval Christianity (and at medieval Buddhism, to the extent anyone but me criticizes Buddhism) is that it was a religion aimed at clergy.  Its vision of human excellence supposedly required one to be a priest, monk, or nun, and it had nothing to say to a layman who wanted to acheive holiness in his lay life.  In short, it valorized a far too small part of the human experience.  Now, whether or not this is a fair criticism of medieval Christianity is a topic for another time, but it is quite odd that the same people who level this charge don’t realize that their own ideology is obviously guilty of it.  Most people don’t have careers, not in the sense of careerist ideology.  This ideology is then forced to regard these people, or at least their way of life, as fundamentally defective.

Today’s world is an exact analogue of the popular image of the “theocratic” Middle Ages:  a society designed for clergy where a majority of the populace were not clergy.  Today, we offer career as the priviledged means of personal fulfillment, but most people don’t have careers.  Thus, careerism has shown great intolerance, or at least a stunning lack of sympathy for, those who don’t fit the careerist pattern:  religious contemplatives, unskilled workers (i.e. those with “jobs” rather than “careers”), and housewives.

The hostility of modernity to the consecrated religious life is so open and extreme that little needs to be said about it.  Closing monastaries and convents is a quintessentially modern thing to do (as is guillotining their former occupants).  What’s really striking is that the contempt for the contemplative life has seeped down even to Catholic apologists.  How often have we heard them tell us that the great thing about the Rule of Saint Benedict is that it forced the monks to work and so valorized labor as a path to holiness, or some such nonsense?  We are then unseemily eager to point out that the monks performed social services like distributing alms.  We seem positively embarrassed to admit that the primary purpose of these institutions was prayer and worship.  (Here modernity has been more gentle with the Buddhists.  Nobody asks how much of Buddhist monastaries’ resources goes to poor relief or reclaiming swamps.  People seem to accept that that’s not the purpose of these organizations.  Sometimes they even recognize that having an organization with explicitly spiritual aims might be a valuable thing.)

What about that majority of men (and now women) whose jobs involve no particular skill or creativity, who generally don’t see their job as a calling but mostly as a way to pay the bills, who work 9 to 5 and then return to their more cherished home life, who find their life’s meaning in family, hobbies, or something other than the job?  For rhetorical purposes (the purpose of posing as a voice of the majority), the careerist ideology will sometimes say that these people have careers, but if it says that, it must admit that they are inadequate careers.  They certainly don’t measure up to what a career should be.  Something is wrong with these people.  We may say it is their fault:  they’re just lazy or dumb.  We may be more generous and say it’s society’s fault for not educating them enough.  What we certainly won’t do is defend their way of life.  Our rulers rather work to destroy it through free trade and mass immigration.  There’s something very wrong that it is becoming harder and harder to support a family–or even maintain a job–without becoming some kind of college-credentialed specialist, but for our politicians (especially, I’m sad to say, our Republican politicians) the answer is always career retraining and more higher eduction so that everyone can become an engineer or entrepeneur.  This is how beholden to careerism they are.

Finally, there are the housewives, who endure as much hostility as the monks.  They are the last representatives of mechanical solidarity:  the home as a place of valuable and creative work, not just relaxation and consumption.  Feminism exists largely to eliminate this holdout.  According to careerism, one needs a career to have an outlet for one’s creativity and initiative and to be socially engaged.  I am fond of pointing out on this blog that most jobs (and even most careers) involve less, or at least no more, opportunity for creativity and initiative than organizing and keeping a household and educating children.  In fact, Chesterton’s argument against women having jobs basically comes down to the claim that it would dull them.  Men have already been narrowed by specialization; let us not lose the womans’ generalism too.  Of course, Chesterton’s goal wasn’t just to keep women in the home; he was more ambitious than that.  His goal was to bring the men back home too, as farmers and artisans.  Is it workable?  Or is it–like Marxism–an accurate diagnosis of the tendency of careerism to distort the soul tied to an unworkable cure?

I’m not sure.  I’m convinced that conservatives must fight careerism, explicit and implicit, when it erodes the morale of these other honorable ways of life.  We are the natural allies of the cleric, the unambitious family man, and the housewife.  Some people, men and women, indeed have callings to a career, and God speed to them.  I decided I wanted to be a physicist in third grade.  In fifth grade, my mother once punished me by forbidding me to read about the theory of relativity for a weekend.  By junior high, I had taught myself multivariable calculus.  (I used to sneak into my parents’ bedroom to read my father’s college calculus book–I needed it to follow an exposition I’d found on the Euler-Lagrange equations.  For some reason, I thought this was something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.)  Most of the other kids I knew weren’t like that.  As seniors in high school, they didn’t know what they wanted to “do with their lives”, even as the pressures to find a career calling in their souls got ever stronger.  Most people don’t have a particular career calling–their passions lie elsewhere–and there’s nothing wrong with that.  It may be necessary in today’s world for the man to take on a career, and not just a job, anyway, to work as if he had a passion he doesn’t have.  I do not concede this, but I admit the possibility.  Let us put up a fight, though, before we let careerism devour home life as a whole.  We certainly should not push women, whom nature has particularly ordained to the care of young children, into the careerist path unless they have a genuine calling for it.  It may still be necessary (and given how the non-work related social world has been practically deserted, it may even sometimes be desireable) for noncareer women to have jobs, so long as their maternal duties come first.  Patriarchy gives no inflexible rules here.  It only demands that family duties come before work in our self-understanding.  In fact, family duties inform our understanding of work, i.e. seeing it primarily in terms of the father’s provider role rather than as a means to “self-actualization”.

This is what subversion looks like

From The New Criterion (via Arts and Letters Daily)

The repudiation of American law at the heart of OWS means that the Occupation is not just another voluntary association or another utopian community with its own set of parliamentary procedures. The Occupationists have never acknowledged the right of Brookfield Properties, the private owners Zuccotti Park, to announce their own rules for the use of the park. Nor do they recognize the right of city government to ask that the park be vacated to allow for proper sanitation—a role that the Occupationists had theatrically taken on themselves with questionable results. This denial is only now coming to a head as police reassert authority over the encampments. The routine call and response of OWS—“Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!” and “Whose park? Our park!”—is revealing in that the rhetoric of OWS always circles back in on itself. To the Occupationists, they are what democracy looks like, and the rest of us are not what democracy looks like. They have the right to occupy whatever space they choose, while the rest of us, including our agents in law enforcement, do not.

Occupy Wall Street is the enemy.  It must be crushed.

Why I support the Vietnam War

I’m with the Mad Monarchist:

It is a simple rule of mine that, putting aside all the other political junk, any time anyone fights communists they have my full support, regardless of the circumstances.

I said I haven’t supported any American wars in my lifetime, but I support plenty that happened before I was born.  In particular, I’m not one of those paleoconservatives who are so obsessed with American “imperialism” that I would look down on our holy crusade against communist Satanism.  The three decades after WWII were America’s finest hour, when, founderolatry notwithstanding, we had to put aside revolutionary silliness and stand as the party of order and legitimacy.

The suffering of orphans is the health of families

Call it “Bonald’s maxim on family health”.  We don’t sugar-coat things around here.  Quite the opposite:  my guess is that you’re all so sick of a public discourse where everything is wrapped in a haze of euphemistic niceness that you’ll appreciate some deliberately brutal language.

Fathers are supposed to be protectors and providers.  The state has already more or less taken over the protector role via police and prisons.  There are no doubt still a few killers, kidnappers, rapists, and wild animals on the loose, and it is mostly from the rare chance of ever coming across one of those that a wife or child is able to see any sort of protective function for the father.  This is a good thing;  we don’t want there to be a large chance that our wives or children will come across violent criminals or wild animals.

What about the provider role?  Let’s restrict ourselves to those lucky men, such as myself, who aren’t on welfare and who don’t have working wives.  (What’s more, my wife really would be incapable of working for medical/psychiatric reasons.)  We are the sole breadwinner–surely we are providing for our families?  Yes and no.  What would happen to my family if I were to disappear?  Would they go homeless?  Would they starve?  Would their style of life even worsen significantly?  Probably not.  In my own case, I have a large life insurance package with the Knights of Columbus, but let’s pretend that I didn’t.  There are several homes in my extended family that I’m sure would take them in.  If all the breadwinners in my family disappeared, then there would still be the “social safety net” to kick in.  It is the goal, and it has come a long way toward realization, that government assistance should prevent widows, orphans, and bastards from lacking the necessities.  So, assuming welfare kicks in as designed, my wife and daughter would be poor rather than middle class, but they’d be okay.  As Dr. Charlton has said, what we call poverty in the developed world isn’t really poverty.

So, my family doesn’t really depend on me.  I bring home the bacon, but if I didn’t, it would just mean that someone else (or some other organization) would.  I am superfluous.  Again, this is a good thing.  We don’t want orphans freezing and starving to death.  We realize that the community has a duty to make some effort to help out.  The problem comes when we get too good at it.  If we do a very good job of taking care of orphans, then orphans won’t be deprived or suffering compared to children with fathers.  But if that’s the case, then we have just made fatherhood pointless.

We can’t blame the liberals here; we are victims of our own success.  If it were the Church or voluntary organizations taking care of widows, orphans, and bastards, the problem would be the same.  Is it any wonder that men in general and fatherhood in particular are held in such contempt in today’s world?  Our wives and children know that the only thing we provide that the government wouldn’t is company.  (Of course, we fathers also do feedings, changings, dressings, cleanings, etc–but these are traditionally maternal activities and can’t provide us with our own distinctive role.)  The moment we become disagreeable, having a father around begins to look less attractive than a monthly government check.

There is an inverse relationship between the welfare of orphans/bastards and the esteem of fatherhood.  I expect that the cultures with the strongest family ethics, where men are most earnestly prepared for the duties of fatherhood, and the role of father is held in the highest esteem, are the ones where orphans starve to death.  In those cultures, what we do really matters.  Of course, we don’t want to live in a culture like that, where one traffic accident on my way home from work means my daughter will starve.  On the other hand, we don’t want a meaningless existence for ourselves and our sons.

Dependency is the life essence of the family, but dependency must mean that when one family member fails in his role, the others must suffer for it.  Society at large has a duty to mitigate suffering, and it has a duty to promote healthy families, but these duties conflict with each other.  I’m not sure what the solution is.

The spectre of communism

Evil days are coming, my friends.  Poles are turning toward pig-utilitarianism.  Americans are turning toward communism.

The very name “Occupy X” signals one’s coercive, militant nature.  The Conservative Heritage Times has linked to some of the enemy’s statements.  Having read them to make sure I didn’t miss any wider context, I can say that they represent an attack on everything we hold dear:  the patriarchal family, cultural distinctiveness, national sovereignty.  Those who’ve visited their entrenchments have seen that the embrace of communism is completely explicit.  In Rome, they have already begun attacking churches.  Their goal, we can have no doubt, is nothing less than the creation of a world communist slave state.

Some libertarians are saying that we should sympathize with the Occupiers.  They may be incoherent and misguided, they say, but they mean well and are responding to genuine outrages.  True conservatives will not be so foolish.  These are communists.  Communism is the ultimate evil, humanity’s most fully developed expression of the Satanic hatred of Divine Order.  You can’t collaborate with communists.  You can’t appease them.  You can’t reason with them.  The only thing that pacifies a communist is to put a bullet through his skull.  If the communists are not met with overpowering force, we might as well get ready to be shipped off to the gulags, because make no mistake:  we Christian conservatives are part of “the one percent” they’re slating for extermination.

Why we should raise the minimum wage

Ron Unz explains.  (See especially pages 6-7.)

Looking back on The End of History

Back in the nineties, Francis Fukuyama made a big stir with The End of History and the Last Man.  Fukuyama’s big claim, which was nothing more than the Whig view of history, is that if we view history, not as a meaningless sequence of events, but as the story of man struggling to find the best way to order his society, then history is over.  Liberalism is the definitive answer to this question.  All prior times were leading up to this discovery; all future times will be living with it.  By liberalism, Fukuyama basically means the Anglo-American way:  democracy, rule of law, individualism, and sensibly regulated capitalism.  Communism was supposedly liberalism’s one big rival, but with the fall of the Soviet Union, liberalism now held the ideological field to itself.  Not, of course, that every nation had adopted liberalism, but every nation will soon enough, because no other system has any legitimacy, even for its own subjects.  One recession or one lost war and any dictator will find himself booted out, while democracy has a reserve of legitimacy that can carry it through any amount of bungling.

All of this was pretty much conventional wisdom in the nineties, so it’s surprising that the reaction to Fukuyama’s thesis has been so hostile.  Pretty much everyone accepted the Whig view (including myself at the time), but nobody was supposed to actually state it.  By laying it out explicitly, Fukuyama made people realize what a radical view it is.  That history has a telos, and that we are it really are remarkable, and remarkably arrogant, claims.  They’re far easier to hold as prejudices than as beliefs.  The End of History made an ideology of common wisdom, which meant reasons now needed to be supplied.  Fukuyama’s argument went like this:  Men are motivated by material needs and by a desire for recognition from their fellows.  Capitalism satisfies the first set of desires and democracy the second, while no other system does either.  QED.  Having raised popular prejudice to an explicit ideology, many people found that they didn’t like it very much.  Fukuyama himself was worried that capitalism’s easy comfort and democracy’s easy recognition would yield a race of contemptible “last men”.

Since the book was published, essayists have enjoyed making themselves feel smart by ridiculing the claim that history has ended.  Events like 9/11 supposedly prove that fortune’s wheel is still turning for nations and ideologies alike.  Anyone who’s actually read the book would know how easy it would be for Fukuyama to brush aside these attempted disproofs.  I myself maintain a soft spot for this particular piece of Whig triumphalism.  It was one of the first serious non-science books I’d read, certainly the first to make me think about the meaning of history and the effect of government forms on men’s character.  Its very simplified versions of Plato, Hegel, and Nietzsche were just what I needed at the time.

And actually, twenty years on, The End of History is still looking pretty good.  Liberalism is still carrying all before it.  The great commie empire of China has continued to go capitalist.  In Europe and America, liberalism has imposed itself as official dogma–while Christianity, patriarchism, and particularism have been marginalized–to a greater extent that even conservative pessimists would have thought possible, most recently by the imposed normalization of sodomy throughout the Western world.  Even Islam seems to be in the process of capitulating to the Enlightenment.  Betting on the advance of liberalism always ends up being a safe bet.  There have been times before when liberalism had seemed to hit serious crises.  Before the over-hyped Muslim menace, there was the thirties and the Great Depression, when liberalism was being seriously challenged by communism, nationalism, and Catholic corporatism.  Reading some of Chesterton’s essays from this time, where he gloats that liberalism is a spent force while the Catholic Church has all the vigor of youth, is today a painful experience for Catholics.  Today, liberalism has completely overrun Chesterton’s beloved Church, and the modernism he despised is heard from our pulpits every Sunday.  No matter how much you despise liberalism, don’t fool yourself that it, or its followers, are weak.  Before you tell yourself that liberalism is on the verge of collapse, remember that conservatives and communists have been saying this for a long time, right before liberalism’s next spectacular advance.

Today, it still seems a live possibility that history has “ended”.  To me, this is a disturbing possibility, because I don’t like the endpoint.  There are still some loose ends, no doubt.  Islam is still liberalism’s main ideological challenger.  Its population is compromised, but its will to fight is still very real.  The exhaustion of the world’s fossil fuels will represent a serious challenge to the liberal economic system, and we have yet to see if the necessary adjustments will compromise the ideology itself.  The deleterious social effects of libertinism long predicted by conservatives–broken families, crime, ethnic tension, welfare dependency–have all come to pass, but Europeans and Americans have learned that we can live with them, and many presumably find the trade worthwhile.  Liberals don’t replace themselves naturally, but this can give conservatives little comfort, because the liberals have proven themselves very good and converting our own children.

Continued liberal advance well past the end of my own life seems like a good bet to me.

Reading the French Right: a dual book review

The French Right:  from de Maistre to Maurras, edited and introduced by J.S. McClelland

Critics of the Enlightenment:  readings in the French counter-revolutionary tradition, edited and translated by Christopher Olaf Blum

These are two good anthologies of writings by leaders of the French counter-revolutionary movement.  They compliment each other very well; the editors of each volume had very different ideas about the significance of the French Right.  Critics of the Enlightenment (hereafter CotE) has a forward by Philippe Beneton, who takes the standard line that the French Right were immoderate and inferior copies of Burke.  He misrepresents the French reactionaries’ beliefs, saying they rejected reason and based themselves solely on French tradition, and then proceeds to critique those beliefs.  I seriously wonder if he even read the book he was forwarding, because none of the authors therein make such an argument, and Le Play at least claimed to derive his conclusions from systematic observation.  Blum in his introduction makes it clear that he sees the French Right’s critique of individualism as culminating in Catholic social teaching, and it is a fact that Pope Leo XIII was strongly influenced by them.  The writers Blum chose are all Catholics (although Le Play spend much of his adult like outside of the Church before returning to the faith) and they are very focused on economic issues, culminating in la Tour du Pin’s vision of a Catholic Corporate State.

McClelland is uninterested in Catholicism, and he seems to regard conservatism as a defunct ideology, interesting only because it was one of the currents of thought that coalesced into fascism.  The entire importance of the French Right, for him, as a cause of Vichy France.  Thus, his introduction to every speaker seems to end with “…which had strong echos in Vichy”.  (Incidentally, if the French Right is only interesting as a cause of Vichy, then it must be much less interesting than the German army.)  Like Beneton, he thinks the French Right rejected universal reason, and again this can be disproved by the very writings he’s collected.  Maurras says quite clearly that he rejects the philosophes not just because they used abstract principles and ignored French particularities, but that the abstract principles they used are wrong even on the abstract level.  The French Right (hereafter TFR) and CotE only overlap with one writer:  de Maistre.  Characteristically, Blum includes passages from On the Pope, and McClelland takes his musings on war from the Saint Petersburg Dialogues.  The writers in TFR are overwhelmingly nonCatholic.  It would seem that these books show two distinct counter-revolutionary traditions; let us call them the “Catholic” wing and the “positivist” wing of the counterrevolution, and let us recall that, before the Vatican’s foolish condemnation of Action Francaise, they were allied.

Several reoccuring themes in CotE deserver note.  First, there is much effort on the Catholic side to construct a useable past, a good core of the Ancien Regime underneath the abuses that deserves to be preserved or resurrected.  I don’t mean that they falsify history, any more than the imposition of a single narrative on a nation’s history must be a falsification; I mean that they felt a need to counter the Enlightenment narrative of a past of nothing but ignorance and oppression brought to an end by the glorious rule of revolutionaries.  Authors identify what they see as key aspects of the ancient French constitution.  For Maistre, it is theocracy, and was even before the French became Christian.  For Bonald, it is familism:  the state regards families rather than individuals.  A familiy itself holds a title of nobility, and such titles are (or rather should have been) tied to duties.  Le Play also points to the family, but to its independence.  The norm is that each family has a separate house.  (He congratulates the West on not falling into the shame of rental apartment buildings.)  He also credits the West with hitting the sweet spot in family inheritance with the so-called “stem family”, in which family patrimonies are preserved by inheritance going to one brother, while other brothers make their own way, giving them a spur to innovation while leaving a family support mechanism they can come back to.  For Keller and la Tour du Pin, it is the medieval corporate structure, in which every way of life had a publicly and ecclesiastically sanctioned organization to give it voice and order, that should inspire us.

Eugene Genovese credited American Southern conservatives with giving due consideration to the kind of economic base they would need to support the traditional society they wanted.  In this, he says they were unlike modern conservatives.  The French Right certainly also deserves credit for its attention to such basic issues.  For Bonald and Le Play, the attention was on preserving France’s agrarian way of life, and primogeniture as part of that life.  By the time of Keller and la Tour du Pin, this was apparently a lost cause, and they decided that the pressing task was to rescue the urban prolitariate.  Their proposed associations/corporations would be more like medieval guilds than modern labor unions in that they would be mandatory across a trade, they would set quality and training standards, they would have social and mutual-help functions, and they would have a part in the government.

Most of the space in TFR is given over to Barres and Maurras.  Of all the writers included, Barres comes closest, in his writings on the Dreyfus Affair, to the anti-universalism that supposedly drives the French Right.  He does think that the intellectuals’ commitment to Kantian universalism leads them to ignore the need to protect the French nation’s interests and character.  I expect he was right that very few Dreyfusards gave a fig whether Dreyfus was innocent or guilty; they just saw in the case an opportunity to humiliate the nation, eviscerate the army, and persecute the Church.  Barres makes it clear that he himself doesn’t care.  He would rather Dreyfus had never been tried, or that the case had never been revisited; either would be better than letting the nation tear itself up about it.

The exerpts from Maurras in TFR are worth whatever you pay for the book in itself.  Especially good is “Dictator and King”, his royalist manifesto.  A healthy constitution, Maurras says, should have authority at the top and freedom at the bottom, but the Third Republic had reversed this, with a centralized bureaucratic despotism controling every aspect of a citizen’s life, while at the highest level of government is a parliamentary anarchy where no one thinks past the next election.  In his ideal order, citizens would govern most of their own affairs through local associations, while a strong king would revitalize the army, suppress usury, and look to the common good.

The selections are not of uniformly high quality.  In CotE, Chateaubriand’s contribution and half of Bonalds’, are rather forgettable.  In TFR, we have Drumont’s rant against the Jews, which combines some reasonable criticisms that Rightest still make against this people with bizarre claims, such as that Jew’s have a particular stink.  Georges Sorel is included, even though he was a far-Left wacko, presumably because his writings on violence and the social myth sounded fascist to the editor.

The counter-revolutionaries made some solid points, but they seem to have overstated their case.  Nearly to a man, they predicted that liberal rule would bring the French nation, and the other nations of the West, to total ruin.  France would be prey to foreign powers.  The middle class would disappear and the working class be immiserated to the point of destitution.  This obviously hasn’t happened (although Keller’s prediction that low-paid Chinese would become the world’s workforce has come disturbingly close).  Liberalism is obviously not as suicidal as the counter-revolution imagined.  It did prove able to counter foreign threats–indeed, rival Leftist powers, the USA and USSR, were able to divide the world between them in 1945–and it proved able to check capitalism’s worst excesses, partly by adopting some of the measures recommended in CotE.  Today, many reactionaries are still predicting liberalism’s imminant self-destruction.  We should learn a lesson from past generations and avoid predictions that will someday make us look foolish.

Every conservative should read these books.  It is important for us to reclaim our past, a past that the mainstream has forgotten and the Burkeans have deliberately sidelined.  Conservatives should know that it is not true that we have failed to critique liberal economic systems or to pose our alternatives.  We perhaps cannot adopt corporatism wholesale–economic policy must be reevaluated each generation because of changing circumstances–but we do have examples of how conservatives have reasoned about these issues in the past.  Conservatives should know how untrue is the picture painted by hostile historians (including Catholic ones) of Charles Maurras, who was neither an irrationalist, nor a lunatic, nor an aspiring tyrant.  One will not find here a complete exposition of the conservative philosophy, for the reason that no one (including Burke) has yet produced such a thing.  As I’ve said before, the Right has yet to produce its equivalent to John Rawls.  That can’t happen, though, until all the materials that must go into such a system have been gathered up, and the input of the French Right will be indispensible.

Side benefits of outlawing usury

Being an authoritarian, I’m always excited by the prospect of outlawing something, and my “give tyranny a chance” posts tend to generate some of the best discussions.  I’ve been impressed by Proph’s threepart  post on why we should abolish usury.  More recently, Alte has taken up the call.  The reasons they give are the most important ones:  it preys on the poor, encourages living outside one’s means, and destabilizes the economy.

Louis de Bonald made some important arguments against the toleration of usury two centuries ago.  (You can read his essays related to the subject in The True and Only Wealth of Nations.)  His main concern was to preserve France’s agrarian character.  He thought money-lending was leading the industrial urban sector to dominance, which would have profoundly negative practical and even spiritual effects for his country.  Practically, he was convinced that industry was inherently unstable and dangerously sensitive to changes in demand in faraway places; would have children in good times that they couldn’t support in bad.  Culturally, he worried about what would happen when few people had direct contact with nature, so that when things go wrong they would blame “the system” rather than fortune and seek redress from the State rather than God.  Bonald was uncharacteristically moderate (for him) in his demands:  a restriction on interest to the average annual returns from holding the same amount of money in farmland, to level the field for the latter investment.  He made the classical distinction between lending money for consumption, for which there should be no right to charge interest, and investment in a productive venture, in which case one can legitimately claim one’s share in the profits.

Not being an expert in economics, and having spoken before about the perils of opining from ignorance, I will leave the question of what best promotes the common wealth to others.  There are some side-benefits to abolishing usury that appeal to me.

  1. It wouldn’t be as easy to dismiss ancient and medieval beliefs, or current Christian ones, with comments like “Well, you know the Church also used to condemn usury too, and now everybody realizes how silly that was.”
  2. It would moralize economic life.  Morality doesn’t get real for most people until they are faced with concrete prohibitions.  Vague exhortations to consider the common good don’t do much for us when in the fever of temptation.  Imagine if Catholic sexual morality just consisted of a Kantian imperative not to “use” a person as a “mere” means.  In practice, this wouldn’t influence us much, would it?  We need something solid.