Aspiring philosopher-kings in the history department

David Reynolds reviews The History Manifesto by a couple of history professors who want their field to overcome its current overspecialization so that generalist historians are able to lecture politicians to give them the “historical perspective” on issues of contemporary concern.  They single out “climate change, international governance and socio-economic inequality” as three issues in particular where historians could fruitfully reframe the debates, trapped as they now supposedly are in short-term thinking.  (I haven’t read the book, but hopefully the authors acknowledge that in terms of sheer quantitative timescale, climatologists are capable of taking longer-term views than historians.)  Details are not provided, but somehow even an unlearned man like me can guess what the long-term/historically-informed views on these topics are going to turn out to be when the professors’ lessons are through.

Reynolds recognizes that The History Manifesto doesn’t go into nearly enough detail about how this might actually work.  Gestures toward “big data” are insufficient.  Reynolds recommends instead another book on the historical perspective, Thinking in Time by Richard Neustadt and Ernest May, which I agree does sound like a more interesting work, although I don’t think it can do the sort of work historian philosopher kings would want.  Exhorting people to think in terms of historical narratives is pointless, because both sides of every issue are already doing this.  Every faction has a sense of the great arc of contemporary history, of what is a key battle and what is background noise.  Reynolds writes

Actually, that is not such an alien idea: it’s what we do every evening, constructing a narrative of what has happened during the day by highlighting some events and downplaying others within an arc of what seems, with hindsight, to be significant. Thinking in Time essentially urged policymakers to apply the same narrative mode of thinking more systematically when making decisions that relate to government…

One of these new frameworks for understanding contemporary history is the cultural “clash of civilisations”, attractive to many American conservatives preoccupied with Islamic fundamentalism and the rise of China. Another framework is the emergence of supranational structures such as the European Union, intended to break out of the cycle of ruinous nationalist wars between France and Germany and to escape the perpetual “bloodlands” of eastern Europe. If European integration is indeed the trajectory of our own time, it implies a very different way of telling modern history from the conventional narratives about territorial nation states.

This approach is, of course, unlikely to have much appeal in our dis-United Kingdom. A political class trapped between the erosion of a once-solid state based on shared Britishness and a Continental behemoth depicted as the embodiment of alien “European” values does not seem in any mood to venture beyond territoriality. However, for those who are inclined to escape the bunker of Britishness, asking “What’s the story?” has utility in this larger sense. It invites us to interrogate the grand narratives we tell ourselves as a country about where we have come from and where we might be going.

You see the problem.  Having a grand narrative about one’s country, perhaps involving the erosion of the national culture or a foreign Continental behemoth, seems to satisfy the Neustadt/May model of narrative thinking perfectly well.  People who don’t want England absorbed into the European Union/Eurabia certainly have an answer to “What’s the story?”, one that probably goes farther back in time than the grand story of EU apologists, whose opinions of European civilization are shaped almost entirely by Nazi Germany.  (Hence, the reason for nations to be in the EU sound like reasons for incarcerating dangerous criminals:  protection of wider society, rehabilitation of offenders,…)  Nationalists tend to be quite good at the mystic chords of memory thing.  Reynolds may not agree with the story they’re telling, but the problem is certainly not that they don’t have one.

An outline of history: the contest between civilization and barbarism by a neutral observer

If Leftists like Wells and Condorcet can try their hands at it, why not me?  The essay below is kind of exploratory.  I’m not sure if it represents my ultimate conclusions, and more research needs to be done, but I think the major pieces are coming into place.

First, the key distinctions.

Dependency, personal and impersonal

That humans need and have claims on each other is the fundamental social fact.  The ties between men can be either personal or impersonal.  In the former case, duties are between particular persons.  In the latter case, one has fundamentally has duties toward and reliance on a group; the group will delegate its obligation to you to some particular member, but the ultimate responsible agent is the group itself.  Personal dependency can base itself either on kinship or on vows of loyalty.  The paradigmatic case, the family, obviously involves both.  In many societies, personal networks are the basis of the whole social order.  A society publicly organized around kinship we call “tribal”; one organized around binding personal oaths, we call “feudal”.  Once the network gets large enough, though, its higher levels take on an impersonal character.  We can still identify such societies as “personal”, because even its most distant and impersonal levels rely on the network of personal relations (kinship, vassalage) for their legitimacy.

The more common word for the above societies is “barbarian”, a derogatory term invented by those peoples who organized themselves on the other principle.  The most impersonal form of dependency is the market–we all rely on each other via the division of labor, but nobody has any actual duties toward anyone else, at least as far as the market goes.  The more important form of impersonal dependency is the territorial state, a corporate person regarded as the ultimate authority and caretaker of the common good over a particular stretch of territory.  Such entities were called “polis” or “city”, and their citizens claimed every virtue and refinement as theirs:  they the polite, the civil, the civilized.  Those who organized themselves differently were “barbarians”–little better than beasts.  Civil organization does tend to allow a more specialized division of labor, and it does a better job of inspiring men to die for non-relatives.  Having produced the best conquerers and historians, the city-dwellers have earned the right to decide on names.  On the other hand, we should admit that even citizens have historically been only half-civilized.  No matter how “polished” an Aristotle or a Sarmiento thought themselves to be, it was not a city but particular women who bore them.  Historical civilizations have built themselves not out of free and independent individuals, but out of the nuggets of “barbarism” we call families.

How did the city arise?  In all the most ancient cases, it was a theocracy.  The city belonged to a god who was present in that territory and maintained his temple there.  Why should that be?

Recognition, particular and universal

Loyalty to natural persons comes naturally to us; loyalty to corporate persons takes more ideological work.  The history of civilization is the history of ideology.  Hegel and Fukuyama have emphasized the importance of the desire for recognition as a driving force of history.  I rely on the social order to give me the tools to make sense of myself, and for that it must somehow acknowledge all the key dimensions of my existence as a personal being.

I am a person.  On the one hand, that means I am particular, a separate world of subjectivity, distinct from all others.  Usually, the social order recognizes this through distinct, personal roles.  My individuality is affirmed by being the only husband of my wife, for example.  On the other hand, I feel that, while I occupy various roles, I myself am larger than these roles.  I have an intellect ordered to the totality of truth and a free will ordered to the totality of goodness.  One might say that I am a “universal subject”, anything and everything being fit objects of my intellect and will.  I want the social order to acknowledge my transcendent horizon, my freedom.

Traditionally, this has been done through religion.  If the city represented only some particular good, then only if man were a piece of a machine would it be right to ask him to sacrifice everything for it.  But if the city belongs to a god, if it is brought into relation with Being itself, then man’s ultimate horizon is recognized and, indeed, invoked in asking him to give his life for the city.  God, the source and plenitude of being, acts like a sort of reflection of the transcendental ego–He is the universal object to match the universal subject.  Nothing else awakens one to a true sense of his subjectivity and freedom like the encounter with God.

Cities grew around temples.  The city relied far more on its public cult than any barbarian tribe had need to.  Sometimes, the sense of the city as sacred would erode, as in decadent Greece and Rome, but this usually led to frightful class antagonisms, and stability only resumed with the assertion of personal (“barbarous”) dependencies–charismatic rulers, patronage networks, and so forth.

The unfortunate triumph of civilization

So, one had one’s choice of tribalism or theocracy.  Ah, the good old days.  That’s obviously not the situation any more.  What happened?  The tribalism/theocracy days lasted thousands of years, so it must be a fairly stable arrangement.  There have always been some people with “atomic” personalities who presumably didn’t like it, but below a critical mass they don’t cause problems.  Today, the new system–modernity, liberalism–is powerful enough to be self-sustaining and expansive.  At some key point in history, circumstances had to be right to allow liberalism to grow from insignificance to the force it is now.  That circumstance was the contest, beginning with the Investiture Controversy, between the Church and the temporal powers in the West.  The liberal historian Lord Acton has pointed out

To that conflict of four hundred years we owe the rise of civil liberty. If the Church had continued to buttress the thrones of the king whom it anointed, or if the struggle had terminated speedily in an undivided victory, all Europe would have sunk down under a Byzantine or Muscovite despotism. For the aim of both contending parties was absolute authority. But although liberty was not the end for which they strove, it was the means by which the temporal and the spiritual power called the nations to their aid.

What Acton meant was that by checking each other, neither party was able to achieve ultimate power and establish an “oriental”-style theocracy.  This is a good point, although we’ll see that things go deeper than that.  The Church on the one hand and the incipient states (Emperor, kings, and free cities) on the other were main the agents of civilization.  For the most part, kings and priests worked together to squeeze out feudal barbarism, with some sort of theocracy–on the model of Christian Rome–as presumably the ultimate goal.  There was, unfortunately, the detail of who would end up on top of the finished product, disagreements on this point leading to some serious roughhousing between papal and imperial partisans.  These fights were, indeed, the precursors to the clerical-secular battles of modern times, but we must not read too much of the latter conflict into the former.  The Ghibellines were orthodox Catholics with many clerics in their ranks.  Both Guelphs and Ghibellines acccepted the Gelasian doctrine that Church and State both had some legitimate authority from God.

More important than the physical battles was the propaganda war, the constant temptation for partisans of one authority to relativize the claims of the other.  The first major philosopher to seriously maintain a social contract view of the State may have been papal partisan Duns Scotus; he claimed that, while the family is a natural society and the Church supernatural, the State is artificial–a convenient instrument for upholding property rights, themselves another artifice.  However, the ideological fixtures of modernity–freedom, democracy, impersonality–were invented as weapons for the secular power to use against the Church.

The first great ideologue of modernity was Marsilius of Padua, who presented the theory of democratic totalitarianism nearly five centuries before Rousseau.  Marsilius broke with the medieval consensus to assert the absolute supremacy of the temporal power, with the Church reduced to being a creature and plaything of the State.  The State deserves its unlimited power, if it is democratic, because it represents the will of the people.  Government without consent is tyranny.  Here we see the beginning of a new conception of the city, one where religion is ultimately superfluous.  Civilized life is superior because it means freedom.  The power of the state just means the freedom of the collective will.  The theocratic state recognized man’s freedom by placing itself under a divine order.  The modern state does the opposite; it recognizes man’s freedom by refusing to subordinate his will–as represented by the democratic state–to any outside judgment, divine or natural.

In the fourteenth century, these ideas were too radical to gain much traction.  The leading philosopher of the day, William of Occham, was critical of Marsilius.  Then disaster struck the Church, first the disaster of the Great Schism, then the worse disaster of conciliarism, which together produced Vatican II levels of clerical anarchy.  By the eve of the Reformation, the State’s supremacy was secure, in practice if not yet in theory.  As Father Copleston writes

It is significant that the first printed edition of the Defensor pacis was published in 1517 and that the work was apparently utilized by Cranmer and Hooker.

The latter, as we know, worked to make the King’s ecclesiastic supremacy official.  They still, of course, wanted a Christian England where the king rules by God’s grace.  In pagan civilizations, it might work–in fact, it has worked–for the official cult to be a department of the State, and the priests government functionaries, but such a thing cannot be maintained in Christendom, where the Church was instituted directly by Christ and predates all modern states.  If the Church is subordinate to the State, then religion itself is subordinate to the nation.  One can’t maintain Marsilius’ Erastianism without eventually falling into his democratism as well.  Two revolutions, and Anglican England was reduced to a functional democracy.  A further revolution brought democracy to the continent; another brought down Russia, the “third Rome”.

Civilization had triumphed, but not the old, theocratic model of civilization, but the new model, based on the sovereignty of man rather than of God.  As in the old cities, the political sphere was–at least at first–supreme only at the top.  At the bottom, there was still the family as the nexus of personal dependency.  Religion, having been reduced to a private hobby, became socially irrelevant.

The future, if you can stomach it

The new city is less tolerant than the old.  A theocracy could accept that God had given the paterfamilias sovereignty in his own sphere.  There was still a place for personal organization.  For modernity, this is not possible.  Its ideology forces it to regard personal dependency of any form as servile, degrading, and iniquitous.  Why should wives obey their husbands, or children their parents?  The former didn’t vote for the latter in regular elections, and the latter don’t necessarily have any publicly verifiable expertise that would make them ideal family leaders.  Family life is no doubt unequal, not only in the difference of roles within each family, but also in that some children will, through no merit of their own, end up with better parents, which will give them an “unfair” advantage.  A family burdens children with familial, cultural, and ethnic legacies that the children never got to choose for themselves.  Surely this is nothing but slavery!  How different it is from the twin centers of impersonal dependency–the market and the State–that alone fully recognize men’s freedom, their priority to predetermined roles, by treating each person as an identical, unencumbered will.

In the end, the impersonal sphere can’t be content to see itself as the domain of freedom; it must extirpate the domain of slavery, of barbarism.  Children must be artificially conceived and must gestate ideally in government hatcheries, or at least in the wombs of women volunteers chosen by an unbiased, scientific selection procedure.  They must be raised identically by the State via certified child-care experts.  Future generations will no doubt be shocked that “amateurs” were once allowed to raise children, that the “accident” of filiation should have been allowed to choose who a child must obey.  For the liberal, the destruction of the family will have many additional benefits:  the end of tradition, of piety in all its forms, of organized religion, of inequalities of inherited wealth.

Remember, though, that there are two sides of the recognition man craves.  Liberal, egalitarian society may recognize man as free, but how can it recognize him as distinct?  How can it make up for that sense I have, when I see how my own wife and daughter rely on me, that I myself, as a distinct person, matter, that I am somehow irreplaceable?  It was, I think, Durkheim who first pointed to the answer, and every feminist has repeated it since:  the free persons of the liberal future find personal fulfillment through careers.  Instead of having family roles, they will have their own distinct place in a business or government.  There, we are assured, they will find work that is “fulfilling” and “creative”, unlike the drudgery of domestic life.  And most importantly, they will be “independent”.  (Durkheim, being more intelligent than the feminists, stated more accurately that they would rather be dependent on society in a different way.  Still, “organic solidarity” feels less constricting than “mechanical solidarity” because it’s more diffuse; hence the feminist talk of “independence”.)

This, more or less the dystopia of Huxley, is our future.  Every important social movement, every movement that manifestly has the winds of history on its back, points toward this end.  Conservatives will fight it every step of the way, and we will lose every step of the way, as we always do.  At the terminus of history is that most eminently civilized creature, the Last Man, and a vast spiritual night before the merciful extinction of the species.

Hungary

Friend of the Orthosphere Svein Sellanraa/rkirk has some nice articles on the new Hungarian constitution, which, from our reactionary perspective, is like a dream come true.  See here and here and here.  Here’s a summary from an article he links:

The first issue that has provoked dismay among critics is that Hungary is no longer a republic. The words “Republic of” have been excised from the nation’s official title. According to left-wing commentators, this suggests democracy is in danger. Considering that Hungary was declared a republic on 1 February, 1946, by a Communist-controlled government that had gained power with 17 per cent of the vote, the term hardly seems redolent of civic liberties. By its immemorial constitutional tradition, Hungary is ruled by the Holy Crown of St Stephen, the ultimate symbol of authority. The royal seal of Hungarian kings did not bear the monarch’s name but the inscription: “The seal of the Holy Crown of Hungary.”

The removal of republican nomenclature was the culmination of a process begun under a new law, the Lex Millenaris, when the royal regalia were carried in procession to the Hungarian parliament on January 1, 2000, as the symbols of authority. Although the monarchy has not been restored in the person of an individual, if a Habsburg restoration were eventually thought politic the Archduke Georg, the Magyarised son of the late Crown Prince Otto, already resides in Budapest. Hungary’s post-Habsburg history has been tragic. At the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, Woodrow Wilson robbed Hungary of 71 per cent of its territory, 66 per cent of its population and its only seaport. That was a preliminary taste of American foreign policy initiatives.

The new constitution makes the classic statement of Burkean philosophy: “Our Basic Law is the foundation of our legal system; it is a contract between Hungarians past, present and future.” That recognition of the seamless continuum of history and the transience of generations stands head and shoulders above the trashy verbiage of EU treaties. Not only does it “recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood”, it “professes that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence”. No wonder it is anathema to the Frankfurt Marxists of the EU.

It protects human life from the moment of conception and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It lists the crimes of Communism and lifts the statute of limitations that protected the criminals of the Soviet era who despatched 600,000 Hungarians to concentration camps.

A new age

How odd that we’d just been noting the death of one Cold Warrior (the commie Christopher Hitchens), when now I’ve just read about the death of two much more important Cold War figures:  Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il.  Havel was, of course, a great hero of the anti-Communist resistance, while Kim was one of the last of the old-style communist dictators.  Both of them seem oddly out of place today.  The ultimate issue is the same now as it was forty years ago, but the forms are changed, and many of the old labels are no longer useful.  (How odd it sounds to me when I hear someone accused of being a “socialist”.)

Havel’s classical liberalism seems like something from another age; it doesn’t address the questions that vex us, now that the choices we face are no longer “communism” vs. “democracy”.  We certainly must honor him for fighting the great evil of communism, and for fighting it on the correct grounds:  not that it was inefficient, but that it was morally corrupting.  Still, I could imagine his anti-totalitarian writings inspiring either side of today’s great debate, since each side accuses the other of forcing the public to profess obvious falsehoods.

And how quaint is North Korean brutality!  It’s as if they’re the only ones to get the memo that that isn’t how the Left operates anymore.  Now that the society-altering visions of today’s Leftists are less ambitious than were those of Lenin and Mao, but they’ve learned how to work toward them without yielding a huge crop of martyrs.  People and organizations who openly oppose the Left will get broken, but they won’t be martyrs.  Can you imagine a professor losing his job for writing against a cherished Leftist belief?  Perish the thought!  Of course, sometimes people must be let go for creating hostile work environments, environments where gay and transgendered students feel insufficiently “affirmed”.  Can you imagine a Leftist government confiscating Church property because it disapproves of Catholic doctrines?  That’s so 1920s!  Now we look for some crime, like adolescent sexual abuse, that Catholic clergy engage in at the roughly same rate as the rest of the population, gather together every accusation–viable or not–over the entire globe over the course of 60 years (which inevitably creates a large absolute number sure to impress the mathematically illiterate), and use your pet media to create a moral panic.  Then bend statute of limitation laws only against the Church and award order-of-magnitude larger settlements than other organizations face for comparable offenses, and pretty soon you can eradicate the communal patrimony of an entire religious group (made largely of working-class ethnic whites and hispanics) while making sure that they get no sympathy in the process.  No, anyone who objects to this ongoing cultural genocide will be accused of not caring about “the chiiiillllddddrrren!!!!”  (Me:  “But how does it help children to obsess every few years over the same set of accusations from the 1970s?  Today, priests in most parishes aren’t even allowed to be alone with children anymore.  And why don’t we spare some attention for the much vaster problem of child sexual abuse in other institutions?”  Them:  “Don’t change the subject!  If you really loved your children, you wouldn’t ask those questions!”)  Don’t you see how stupid the communists were?  They allowed people to go to jail explicitly for their beliefs.  When the Left attack me, they’ll tell the world either that I don’t respect my students or that I don’t love my kids.  Today’s Kims have learned how to avoid making Havels.

The Continental Catholic conspiracy

Peter Hitchens on the history of the EU:

After Suez had failed, largely but not wholly because the USA had wrecked it (it was a stupid plan anyway),  the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer told Guy Mollet, Prime Minister of France, ‘France and England will never be powers comparable to the United States and the Soviet Union. Nor Germany, either. There remains to them only one way of playing a decisive role in the world, that is to unite to make Europe. England is not ripe for it but the affair of Suez will help to prepare her spirits for it. We have no time to waste. *Europe will be your revenge*.’
This is recorded in the memoirs of the then French Foreign Minister, Christian Pineau.
Adenauer and Mollet were meeting in Paris that day (Tuesday, 6th November 1956) to finalise the founding arrangements of the Common Market, which as we see here is, was and always will be an anti-American project, though the US State Department and the CIA have never, it seems, been able to work this out.

As for Britain not being ripe, I should hope we would never be ripe for such a thing. I doubt very much whether Konrad Adenauer had much understanding of Britain – few continental politicians do, Charles de Gaulle being a rare exception. The two men, for instance jointly attended Mass in Rheims Cathedral, their continental Roman Catholicism binding them together just as it excluded the Protestant British islanders from their world.

Faustian morale

Had Nietzsche regarded his own times with fewer prejudices and less disposition to romantic championship of certain ethical creations, he would have perceived that a specifically Christian morale of compassion in his sense does not exist on Western European soil.  We must not let the words of humane formulae mislead us as to their real significance.  Between the morale that one has and the morale one thinks one has, there is a relation which is very obscure and very  unsteady…

The Faustian Culture has produced a long series of granite-men, the Classical never a one.  But in the North the great Saxon, Franconian, and Hohenstaufen emperors apear on the very threshold of the Culture, surrounded by giant-men like Henry the Lion and Gregory VII.  Then came the men of the Renaissance, of the struggle of the two roses, of the Huguenot Wars, the Spanish Conquistadores, the Prussian electors and kings, Napoleon, Bismarck, Rhodes.  What other Culture has exhibited the like of these?  Where, on the hights of Faustian morale, from the Crusades to the World War, do we find anything of the “slave-morale”, the meek resignation, the deaconess’s caritas?  Only in pious and honored words, nowhere else.  The type of the very priesthood is Faustian; think of those magnificent bishops of the old German empire who on horseback led their flocks into battle, or those Popes who could force submission on a Henry IV and a Frederick II, of the Teutonic Knights in the Ostmark, of Luther’s challenge in which the old Northern heathendom rose up against old Roman, of the great Cardinals (Richelieu, Mazarin, Fleury) who shaped France.  That is Faustian morale, and one must be blind indeed if one does not see it efficient in the whole field of Western European history.  And it is only through such grand instances of worldly passion which express the consciousness of a mission that we are able to understand those of grand spiritual passion, of the upright and forthright caritas which nothing can resist, the dynamic charity that is so utterly unlike Classical moderation and early-Christian mildness.  Ther is a hardness in the sort of compassion that was practiced by the German mystics, the German and Spanish military Orders, the French and English Calvinists.  In the Russian, the Raskolnikov, type of charity a soul melts into the fraternity of souls; in the Faustian it arises out of it.

—from Spengler’s The Decline of the West

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.