Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Whiggish Challenge

An old friend recently chimed in regarding my fondness for traditional Catholic monarchy, repeating many of the same tropes that we are so accustomed to hearing from the "enlightened" chattering classes. Oddly, readers, when I began this little blog, I intended not so much to meditate upon politics, but rather upon such things as culture and religion. Nonetheless, we live in a highly politicized age, and such matters are difficult to avoid. I reassert that the contemporary political scrum will not be spoken of here, as it scarcely matters to me which species of modernist wields the imperium in Washington or London or Paris or Brussels.

Anyway, without further ado, my first comment which provoked Eoin's epistle:

"I'll gladly take a generally hands-off agrarian ruler governing according to religious and traditional principles which have stood the test of time over the rule of a maleducated, concupiscent mob that has no idea about the personal boundaries of others and is easily swayed by whatever "novelty," no matter how violent, counterproductive, or illogical."
Eoin responds (his comments in italics):

Okay- first problem, the assumption that concentration of ultimate power into one person's hand, or the hands of one family, is patently false and proven so over centuries.

Point noted, and such point would hold true were my primary purpose in defending monarchism defending the enlightened despotisms of the 18th century. Indeed, I grant that it was a commemoration of Louis XVI of France that provoked this letter. However, the narrative of Western history that I understand scarcely begins with the Enlightenment, as do so many contemporary accounts. The fact remains that it is only in these recent times that any king or emperor (or STATE for that matter) has ever held the ultimate power of which you speak, Eoin. Let us take the case of medieval feudalism, in which every lord (that is, local landholder) managed his own ship, so to speak, and higher lords, up to and including the king or emperor, were only able, and indeed were obliged, to interfere should the situation facing their vassal be too great for them to handle or should the rule of that vassal be adjudged inept or unjust. Likewise, the vassals were obliged to assist their lords should they need their assistance. The result was a remarkably diverse and decentralized Christendom governed according to principles that would in modern times be identified as subsidiarity and solidarity, a far cry from the "monoculture" that comes to emerge in very centralized and despotic states.

Secondly, the contention of these somehow "religious and traditional principles", which, of course, you refuse to define beyond mentioning them, being preferable to today's system of civil liberties and secularism is ludicrous. The Inquisition, for one, serves to display the horror of these principles in practice.

Ludicrous? You scarcely elaborate on what you mean by this either. Yes, I do believe that a humanistic religious régime is far preferable to a secular régime in which human rights or civil liberties are not granted by the grace of God, but according to the will and pleasure of the state. This is all providing, of course, that the clergy are not under the heel of the state, as in the Byzantine Empire, and that the Church remains a separate institution from the apparatus of civil government. The Church is the external check on injustice in the governmental apparatus, not so much through proclamation but as through the forming of the minds and morals of those who will govern and, indeed, all those in society according to the virtues necessary to their station in the world, that all may conduct themselves with due magnanimity, dignity, and civility in their lives and work. The king, leader of the people, and far more a leader than an administrator, is thus consecrated by the ecclesiastical authority, the agency of the transcendent yet incarnate God upon the earth, led by men completely given over from worldly cares to the imitation of that all good, all true, all beautiful Christ, with the charge and mandate that he will lead justly and virtuously--and should he not, he would then be excommunicated, as were Emperors Theodosius I and Henry IV.

As for the Spanish Inquisition, according to most scholarship, likely 3,000 to 5,000 met their end after being turned over to the civil authority over the 350 years of the Inquisition's existence. How many did such secular leaders as Ataturk, Hitler, Stalin, or Mao kill over their far briefer reigns of terror? Indeed, this is only averaging 9-14 executions per year; how many people are executed in the United States annually? Not to stand in complete defense of the Inquisition, as much about it is problematic to me, but faced with the sins of secularists who desire to refashion society in their own image, any attack on the Inquisition is quite specious in my eyes.

As far as a maleducated, concupiscent mob? This is a representative democracy, Matthew, not a pure democracy, so your argument can't even stand the test of the first adjective.

Yes, it is a representative democracy. The representatives still need to dazzle the populace enough to receive their votes, whether by vacuous promises about "hope" and "change," or by fearmongering about some bogeyman in a far-off land, to cite two recent examples. Elections are made by sound-bites and superficial pandering, not by anything of any qualitative substance. Few seem to have the perspicacity to see past the medicine-shows that electoral campaigns are today.

Secondly, the well-documented sexual perversions of the royalist ruling class display a far more concupiscent population than the common people. As far as personal boundaries, in a monarchy there are no boundaries, as you know.

They do? Really? That's news to me. A number of kings may have had mistresses, but the truly hedonistic were shunned. On the contrary, such figures as St. Louis, Blessed Karl, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and many others seem to have been shining pillars of marital virtue. Furthermore, in this day and time of booty-pop, reality television, and general trashiness all about, when perversion seems to have become mainstream, how on earth can you throw perversion at the feet of Catholic monarchists? It seems rather bizarre to me.

Regarding personal boundaries, no, I don't know. England is a monarchy; are there personal boundaries there? And if they're crossed, as by violations of your beloved civil liberties, who is crossing them, the Queen or the Labour government? Are there boundaries in Spain? What about Japan? You say democracies stand for civil liberties and monarchies do not. I disagree; gracious God gives us our liberties, and despotic governments take them away.

As far as "novelty", without defining the term properly, there isn't much of an answer to it. I can only assume that you mean a type of political novelty- much like monarchism to a civilian of a democracy seems.

Indeed, and much like a hyperstatist régime like that of the Chinese or the Turks seems to a child of Western Christendom as myself.

"Does this régime accord liberty? Try starting a business, raising a family, smoking in a pub, distilling your own whiskey, not paying taxes, building an addition onto your house, digging a well, hunting for your food, keeping chickens for eggs, etc., and then tell me."

I think one can raise a family freely, seeing as it is our evolutionary calling to propagate.

Indeed, you can have as many children as you're able to support, but who educates them: you or the state?

Again, your argument has absolutely no definition or sources to its claims... Smoking is unhealthy for humans, so I find no issue with it being prohibited in public places.

But how is it the state's job to decide paternistically what is good for us or not?

As far as the rest go, property is 9/10ths of the law, thus the bureaucratic bullshit you refer to here- still, I'll take it over the preposterous argument that a monarchist system, in which no-one's right to their property supersedes the ruler's, is a better one.

You as well, Matthew.

Firstly, is such language appropriate for a civil conversation? Some ladies read this blog, you know. I still assert that the modern state has more control in their micro-managing of society than any medieval monarch ever dared dream of. There is no room for any other social element in this régime continually slouching toward totalitarianism--not the Church, not families or communities, not voluntary associations. All that remains is the social organ intended toward crisis management, and it continually wriggles itself into crisis situations to assert its increasing central control once again.

P.S. You can't possibly support the pro-Iranian Shah crap that your blog friends do, do you?

My specialty is Western Christendom, and far be it from me to meddle in the affairs of another culture. However, I then ask you, would you prefer to live in the Shah's Iran or in Ahmadinejad's?

My point remains that I am a supporter of Catholic monarchy, not ideologically-driven dictatorship, and that our present society resembles more an ideological dictatorship than it does a traditional Western kingdom. A medieval serf was far freer than a contemporary wage-and-debt-serf. He worked less, ate better, and had better religion and social interactions. His burden of tax was miniscule by today's standards, and the society in which he lived was generally peaceful. He was not a mere unit of manpower to be used to benefit an alien power's interest for warfare or expansion or acquisition. He lived largely autonomously, and the role of the lords in his society was largely to safeguard that peace in which our medieval peasant lived.


  1. Due to my school schedule, it will be a few days before I can respond to this- but rest assured I will. As far as the cursory glance I just gave it, you have some valid points, some points I feel are ludicrous, but I will address both, and rest assured I will give credit where credit is due. As far as language goes, my mouth (or, in this case, keyboard) has never been known for its forethought.

    I'd prefer to live under the current regime in Iran, if, by some horrific happenstance, I were forced to choose. As bad as Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollahs are, the Shah was far, far worse.....

    At any rate, my response shall be forthcoming!

  2. "But how is it the state's job to decide paternistically what is good for us or not?"

    Well, the state does have a responsibility to protect the good of the community. I agree it should not pry into every little detail of people's lives, but some balance has to be reached between one's individual liberty and responsibility and the regulation required to protect the needs of society as a whole. I do think, for instance, that it is legitimate to ban smoking *in public places*, to help safeguard the health of the community.

    At any rate, thank you, Mr. Palardy, for hosting this interesting and thought-provoking discussion.

  3. Interesting. I would ask, Matthew, how your view of the negative paternalism of the state coincides with the paternalistic power structure of the Catholic monarchy? How is the latter worse than the former?

  4. Matterhorn, I agree that protection of the community is one purpose, and perhaps even the only purpose, of the state--most specifically, its physical protection. That said, however, grown men don't need nursemaids. To cast one's cares on ever increasing state regulation to defend one's health or well-being when one is certainly able to do so on one's own accord--as by, for instance, leaving one pub where the proprietor doesn't mind smoking to go to another pub where the proprietor does--is simply being irresponsible and a nuisance to others.

    Eoin, I'll spare a long response in anticipation of your promised reply, and my likely reply thereto. It should suffice to say now that there will always be an inherent paternalism in society of some sort or another. Thus, the question becomes, who wields that paternalism? Is the wielder as admired and trusted, and loved even, in the same manner as a child looks on his father? Or does one look upon the "paternal" institution as somewhat petty indeed, with selfish or even destructive motives, with a complete lack of respect or regard for those under their care? As I said, I can elaborate further, but I shall instead await your full response.

  5. I'll start with the rampant sexism running throughout this essay of yours. Assaulting my unfortunate use of wording that is admittedly improper in such a debate as offensive to ladies displays a lack of understanding of women in general and an archaic view of the female gender. Your constant references to the beauty of a paternalistic society show a desire for a male dominated society that is sadly out of touch with reality.

    And as far as this paternalistic monarchical top tier of society you seem to hold in such high regard... Matthew, Matthew, Matthew. You can't on the one hand rail against the oppressiveness of the modern state in its dabbling in the affairs of the people and on the other look wistfully back to a state in which the people looked upon the state as a father. It's inconsistent.

    There are other ridiculous parts of this argument- notably your defense of the Inquisition by comparison to the worst racist regimes of the twentieth century. But the most insane is your defense of a system you obviously have no understanding of, feudalism. This is what I'll focus on.

    Feudalism is a system of governance in which the serf works the land of the lord. Not the serf's land, mind you, the lord's. The serf is not allowed to choose which land he is to work for his own sustenance and which land he is to work for the lord. The lord determines that. Autonomy? The serf is restricted only to the land given him, and his disobedience, or desire to leave the land of the lord, is dealt with by the lord in the form of the dungeon. Autonomy? The lord is the master, complete, of the serf, and, in turn, he is the servant of the king, although the king and the lord are constantly at odds over power- hence the changing of the royal families so frequently over time.

    A real test of the autonomy and freedom of the serf can be found in the Enclosure, in which the lords kicked the serfs off of the land and told them they could return only as workers. If, as you say, the social contract of the feudal society were so grand and equal, this would never have happened. The lords would not have been able to do such a thing.

    Also, when half of one's work is given to the state, as it was in feudal times, I'd say that's a bit more of a tax rate than in almost any democratic society today. Wouldn't you?

    Anyway, the easiest way to settle this is thus- would you prefer to be a medieval serf than be who and where you are today in this society? If so, then there is nothing else to say.

  6. Good post. May I link? If Eoin perferes to live in Iran under the current regime, all roads point east, see how you like it Eoin.

    The thing many on the left do not realize or fail to acknowledge is, that while the serf worked, the lords did as well. The lord pledged his protection of the serf, rejoiced in their marriage, children, and attended the same church and celebrated the same Church feasts, confessed to the same prests. He provided a place to live and work. Serfdom was only broken by the black death, (the survivors of which we all desend)an enemy which the nobles could not defend against.

    All too often the left equates nobility and monarchy with tyrany and dictatorship.

    Dictators have traditionally come from the people, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Castro, arose from the mob, not come from monarchy.

    Vive Le Roy!

  7. I had a long comment written, but this miracle of modern technology ate it.

    Monsieur de Brantigny, thank you for your wise comment here. Of course you may link to this.

    Eoin, I congratulate you on being able to regurgitate effectively the sloganeering used by academic progressive these past 50 years. Certainly, you are aware that it is a grave error to presume that past civilizations thought of themselves in the same manner that most do today. Indeed, one could even call it bigotry. Consider, however, that the civilization you naysay here is our own, even though we have fallen far from our past glories.

    I fear that no matter how I respond here, we'll simply be talking past one another. I am responding to the question of the just order for human society, and you are talking of who has the right to wield absolute power so as to abuse others. Therefore, I will answer only your last question.

    Would I prefer living as a medieval serf than as a frustrated office worker? Absolutely. I should rather be ruled by a humane, chivalrous lord than by a distant, alien bureaucrat. I should rather work my crops and my flocks as needed to make them produce, passing the rest of my time raising my family, hearing Mass and the Hours, and socializing with my neighbours over a flagon of ale during one of the many festivals, than work compulsory overtime. I should rather not live in fear over losing my job or being able to pay rent.

    As Richard said, everyone had their duties in society, and fulfilled them as though it was a sacred charge. Indeed, a feudal vow was much like a religious vow, taken on holy relics. A lord derelict in his duties toward either the lords over him or the vassals or peasants under him would be excommunicated by the Church, unseated by his lord or peers, or even revolted against by his peasants. Likewise a heretical or disobedient cleric would be removed, and an unscrupulous tradesman would be expelled from his guild.

    Certainly, also, one born a serf whose calling was elsewhere would scarcely be frustrated. Lords had responsibilities to the Church as well, and would scarcely prevent a serf from going on to profess religion or seek orders should a cleric endorse him. Likewise, lords needed men to come with them on Crusade, and a willing man under arms would not be turned away, and might even be rewarded with a fiefdom of his own upon return. Lastly, a peasant who wished to practice trade could go to a free city to become an apprentice, and would be considered a citizen after a year and a day.

    I will respond regarding enclosures, however. In England, to cite to most well-known example, most enclosures took place during the 18th and 19th centuries, after the rural nobility has lost most of their power. The result was an exodus from the nobility's holdings in the countryside into the "dark, satanic mills" of the newly industrial cities, where our former peasant now worked 16-hour days in unsafe and unsanitary conditions or was sent to a Dickensian workhouse. The men who raped the countryside were definitely not the old noblesse d'épée, but the radical democratists of their day, the Whigs, those behind the "Glorious" Revolution, cynical and utilitarian men of the temperament of Thomas Malthus or Ebenezer Scrooge, unbound by any sense of sacred duty or of the good of society. It is no wonder, then, that a sort of nostalgia for medieval merry England emerged at this time. Look it up, the old lords had nothing to do with the enclosures.

  8. My god. You have no idea what you're talking about.

    My reply will be forthcoming.

  9. Quite the contrary, sir; I know exactly what I'm talking about. The question is, do you? Does the truth interest you, or only ideology?

    I shall await your reply.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. My reply will take a while- I had intended to simply leave it at where it was until I read the self important smarmy comments such as "unstudied" and "regurgitate". Now, however, I am going to deconstruct your argument completely. And yes, Matthew, three years of an education in political economy generally leads to knowing what one is talking about.

    Although this entire debate is pointless, as the monarchy is never coming back.

  12. Perhaps a monarchy won't coming back immediately in states which have been republican for a very long time, but the purpose of this blog is appreciation, not activism. Furthermore, do review your previous comments; I should scarcely think that I hold the monopoly on self-important or smarmy comments. Furthermore, years of reading and conversation with other scholars on not simply political theory, but history, philosophy, religion, literature, and the arts, ought to mean I'm not simply blowing smoke here.

    I await your response, and indeed thank you for having made this such an interesting conversation. I shall make you aware, however, that you are speaking to a French Catholic humanist, whose name is extinct in France due to the genocidal war in the Vendée, and not to a WASP utilitarian. Do recall that while writing your reply.

  13. What your family name has to do with this, I have no idea. Therefore it has nothing to do with any consideration.

  14. I don't have time for this- sorry. Once my research is done for the quarter, maybe.