Thursday, 25 September 2008

Diehard Heathenry

why do you drive
your load of mist
across my land?
For remedy
I will sacrifice to you
my cow, my wife,
and my Christianity.

[Hví svo þrúðgu þú
um sveitir ekur?
Þér man eg offra
til árbóta
kú og konu
og kristindómi.]

Jónas Hallgrímsson, “Dalabóndinn í óþurrknum,” from Ljóðmæli eptir Jónas Hallgrímsson (1847), online at

Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes

“The human potential for evil and the propensity to abuse power are the bases for one of the strongest arguments against government” [1] — and the bases for one of the strongest arguments for it.

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” [2]

[1] Bob Koepp, commenting on William F. Vallicella, “Why I Call Myself a Conservative (2008 Version)”, The Maverick Philosopher (weblog), 24th September 2008.
[2] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904), Pt.1., Ch XIII., p.84.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Lichtenberg on Books

“A book is a mirror: if an ape looks in, no apostle can look back out.” [1]

“If a book and a head collide and make a hollow sound, is that always on account of the book?” [2]

“It had the effect that generally good books have. It made the silly sillier, the clever cleverer, and the remaining thousands were left unchanged.” [3]

[1] [“Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel, wenn ein Affe hineinsieht, so kann kein Apostel herausgucken.”] G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), F.111 from Sudelbuch F (1776-1780), p.247.
[2] [“Wenn ein Buch und ein Kopf zusammenstoßen und es klingt hohl, is das allemal im Buch?”] Ibid., D.396 from Sudelbuch D, (1773-1775), p.156.
[3] [“Es hatte die Wirkung, die gemeiniglich gute Bücher haben. Es machte die Einfältigen einfältiger, die Klugen klüger und die übrigen Tausende blieben ungeändert.”] Ibid., E.128 from Sudelbuch E (1775-76), p.194.

Historical Script

Ever since the French Revolution, men have been taught to wear their passions like cockades — as visible political statements. Yet naturally one does not dress oneself by passion; one does so by habit and convention, or by deliberation; and so it is that these displays of passion are often somewhat inauthentic in their putative spontaneity.
.....Outrage is hoisted aloft like a standard, set with the formulary design of words such as “vile” and “abhorrent”, in a public ceremony that marks the occasion for political reaffirmation.
.....Acts, apparently driven by passions, are often play-acts, actually driven by conformity to precedents. It struck Tocqueville that the men who stormed the National Assembly in 1848 were like actors playing the historical role of revolutionaries, following a script that had been read and rehearsed in popular imagination ever since the Revolution, but which they had not learned by heart, at least not enough to persuade a keen observer of their complete authenticity.
.....Already when a present event is felt to be an historical moment, it loses a little of its authentic spontaneity, for part of that feeling is ham-acted to an audience of expectations. Insofar as the confidence of free imagination is lacking, history becomes a constraint rather than an inspiration to new deeds. Freedom and spontaneity and new avenues of action are lost. Men act things out according to what they think is expected of them, of what they imagine befits their roles, quite as if they had to stay true to a script which history had demanded they perform without significant change or omission. Thereof one need take no dim view. It may on occasion bring hackneyed drama, but without that historical script, we should likely have to suffer performance art.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The National Day

I am not sure what Britishness means, but, from what I hear, it has something to do with celebrating diversity, embracing and empowering communities, and working together for a vibrant society of respect and equality and democratic values — from which ugly rash of words I am led to imagine that it is some frightful disease engineered and released by a committee of sociologists, Fabians, and women with “ethnic” earrings. (As one thing after another succumbs to it, the remnant and feeble body of native culture will slowly perish.) And now it is proposed that Britishness should itself be celebrated — yes, that word again! — on a day inaugurated for that very purpose: “British Day”.
.....To help us understand the meaning and purpose of this day, Liam Byrne, HM Government’s Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, has published a pamphlet, from which the following is taken:

My own party members wanted a happy — rather than a mournful or solemn — day, which had space for expression and celebration of the wonderful diversity of British life, woven with opportunities to come together in a celebration of what we have in common. They wanted to see colour and celebrations of costume — what we called ‘kilts and saris’ with a strong emphasis on celebrating foods traditional and new. Hodge Hill members were keen on local, neighbourhood celebrations, like street parties, before coming together in broader civic gatherings: the proverbial ‘Party in the Park’.
Members were not keen on placing much emphasis on the ‘trappings of nationalism’, by which they meant too much emphasis on ‘saluting flags’. They wanted the media to see ‘the unity within the community’ but a community that also celebrated the ‘colours of the British tapestry’. Around Britain, people had many similar ideas, reflecting perhaps a very healthy lack of order. [1]

Mr Byrne has listened to members of his party and to those of the public, who are healthily disordered, and, based on their suggestions, has drawn up a list of twenty-seven ways to celebrate the national day. I reproduce below a section from his pamphlet which includes this list and a list of those who should be involved. It necessarily makes for unsightly reading; for it was written by a government-minister in the style of an undergraduate who has just been reminded that his essay is due to be submitted in two hours. I have added some comments.
Here is a list of 27 ways to celebrate a national day:
  1. as a national event, celebrated in local areas
  2. with a good [vibrant and diverse] cross-section of society on the organising committee; lots of small community events; have a particular theme different theme each year, set by organising committee [without which modern, diverse, vibrant Britain could not be modern, vibrant and diverse.]
  3. by using TV to inform about British history [the story of the slavery and oppression of other peoples, but which happily leads to vibrant and diverse modern Britain]; a speech by the Queen [who is still too hideously white and represents a divisive and oppressive class-order]; TV link-ups around country [because that sounds like an exciting and modern thing to do]
  4. in the form of a remembrance day celebrating the bravery of veterans [because the existing one is not diverse and vibrant enough]
  5. by encouraging young people to visit or help older people [who still hold opinions that have no place in diverse and vibrant modern Britain]; celebrate voluntary work [but leave it to the state]
  6. through school involvement teach history [i.e., slavery, oppression, dirt, disease, misery, the struggle against abhorrent and ridiculous ideas, but ending in the triumph of the right ideas], choirs singing [for the glory of vibrant and modern Britain]
  7. through daytime activities [to be organised by government councils and committees] to involve whole community [naturally vibrant and diverse], and evening for partying [because Britain is an exciting and vibrant and diverse place to live]
  8. by holding street parties [organised by government councils and committees] and neighbourhood get-together [with neighbours you have rarely ever met]; would work as a street party exchanging food and culture [because that is just the sort of thing that happens in a vibrant and diverse land such as Britain]
  9. as a carnival similar to the Notting Hill Carnival; big procession similar to St Paul’s Carnival; fireworks [but the Health and Safety Executive might have something to say about fireworks and carnivals and processions — apart from the Notting Hill Carnival, of course, which is safely vibrant and healthily diverse and just the sort of thing that vibrant, diverse, modern Britain should be celebrating]
  10. through music British or world music [because Britain is a vibrant and diverse land which celebrates all cultures]; concerts like Live Aid [promotional opportunities for rock-stars]; British music, etc; play local music [rap, bangra]; local dress [such as American workman’s denim; tee-shirts; tracksuits; saris; kilts]
  11. through dance British dancers; Morris dancing; folk dancing [but bearded men with bells around their ankles, waving handkerchiefs, and dancing gaily, tend to be unwelcomed by local youths with tracking-tags around their ankles, shouting mockery, and swaggering menacingly; still, at least it makes for a vibrant and diverse spectacle in tolerant, vibrant, diverse, modern Britain]
  12. through food British and other cultures; regional food; different cultures’ foods [Indian, Chinese, etc]
  13. through drinking [for, in this context, the side-effect of memory-loss is a benefit]
  14. through art [i.e., tat sponsored by organisations funded by the taxpayer]; involve theatre [because actors and directors love this kind of thing]; free film viewings on history of Britain [slave-trade, triumph of vibrant and diverse modern Britain against the forces of evil, etc]
  15. by having a sports theme all nationalities can take part; football [a good game, invented of course in China, now celebrated religiously in Britain]
  16. by celebrating different cultural dress [though guidelines on how to celebrate different cultural dress will have to be issued]
  17. by holding community discussions; meetings in town halls [providing more opportunities for spiky-haired women with rimless spectacles and “ethnic” earrings to tell everyone what diverse and vibrant things to celebrate.]
  18. by promoting posters of iconic figures, eg fallen heroes [Gandhi, Che Guevara], Winston Churchill [frightful racist and imperialist]
  19. by holding a ceremony to remember the good things over the past year [I am at a loss for words]
  20. by appreciating the country; weather; enjoyment [ditto]
  21. cheaply so people get involved [for the poor of Britain have little money left over once they have bought life’s essentials: flat-screen televisions, mobile phones, games-consoles, heavy gold jewellery, tattoos, takeaways, cigarettes, lager, etc]
  22. by holding free events around the city [but not free for the taxpayer]
  23. by incorporating countries that used to be part of the Empire [because making British Day about the nations of Britain would be discriminatory and divisive]
  24. by making it about integration [because we wouldn’t want to leave anyone out]
  25. by using publicity to ensure people get involved – like Children in Need [which means you will participate, even if it takes a man dressed up as a bear to make you do so]
  26. by emphasising the theme of British life, immigration [for there’s nothing more British, or more fit to be celebrated as British, than the cultures of Somalia, Poland, Pakistan, India, Jamaica, China, etc], remembrance [but of nothing worthwhile]; cost should be met locally [by the taxpayer] as [this] shows that putting into the local community helps to get something good back [i.e., a letter from the council detailing an increase in council-tax]
  27. in an understated but firm way, without fuss; show good and bad aspects of living in Britain (and how bad aspects are being addressed) give honest picture. [Bad aspects: inequality; population is still too hideously white; reassure that the problem is being addressed. Honest picture: Britain is the closest thing to an earthly paradise, for it is an exciting, vibrant and diverse place to live]
Members of the public felt that the following people should be involved:
  • the whole community [yes, yes, vibrant, diverse, etc]
  • the Queen and the Royal family [who are an anachronistic reminder of Britain’s non-vibrant and non-diverse past]
  • politicians, the Prime Minister, politicians [sic], MPs [because we cannot do anything without them]
  • councillors [who never miss an excuse for an “executive buffet” down at the town-hall]
  • celebrities with the right values (eg David Beckham, Kate Moss) [The right values in a celebrity: being good-looking; being dumb as a badger; having never said anything rude about foreigners; having not yet been convicted of a sex-offence]
  • veterans [who are not as appealing as celebrities and are often quite ugly]
  • children [who are the future, teach them well, and let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside, etc, but watch them swear and spit in the street]
  • community leaders and representatives [mountebanks and demagogues]
  • young people [who are mostly unpleasant, but let’s try and pretend otherwise]
  • corporate sponsors [who never miss an opportunity to sell]
  • famous people who have been immigrants [who are the people who made tedious and benighted Britain a vibrant and diverse place to live]
  • sports people [who are also celebrities]
  • [more] celebrities to attract [more] young people [who are more vibrant and diverse than old people] [2]
It should be quite a day. I, of course, will mark the occasion in my own humble way: by trying to ignore it.

[1] Liam Byrne, A More United Kingdom (London: Demos, 2008), p.61-3. (Demos is a political organisation, or “think-tank”, which I had presumed was part of the Fabian Society, of which Mr Byrne himself is a member; but Wikipedia informs me it was founded by journalists from Marxism Today, the now defunct organ of the now defunct Communist Party of Great Britain.)
[2] Ibid., pp.62-64.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

In the Old and Canny Manner of Peasant-Lore

“I tip-toed my way through the ranks of men gathered for induction into the Volkssturm and installed myself meekly at the rear. My gaze swept along the row: there they stood, the old peasants of the neighbourhood, prematurely worn out by work, weather-beaten and hunched figures. They had raised their right hands, and, in harsh and throaty voices, were repeating the words of the oath. And their left hands — really and truly, this one and that one, here and there, all along the row, each left hand was hanging down with the oath-fingers pointing to the ground — they were dispelling the oath in the old and canny manner of peasant lore. — Oh, peasants! It was as simple as that!”

[“[I]ch ging auf den Zehenspitzen die Glieder der angetretenen Volkssturmleute entlang und baute mich bescheiden hinter der letzten Reihe auf. Mein Blick schweifte diese Reihe entlang: da standen sie, die alten Bauern der Umgebung, von der schweren Arbeit vorzeitig zermürbt, verwitterte und gekrümmte Gestalten, sie hatten die rechte Hand erhoben und sprachen mit rauhen und kehligen Lauten die Eidesformel nach. Und die linke Hand, — wahrhaftig, da und da und dort, hier und hier und die ganze Reihe entlang immer wieder, da hing die linke Hand herunter, und die Schwurfinger der linken Hand, sie wiesen alle zu Boden, — sie leiteten ab, sie leiteten den Eid ab, nach einer alten, pfiffigen Bauernregel. — Oh, Bauern, Bauern! So einfach war das also!”]

Ernst von Salomon, Der Fragebogen (Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1951), p.411.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Democratic Tendency

“But here I must beg leave to advance a conjecture, which seems probable, but which posterity alone can fully judge of. I am apt to think, that, in monarchical governments there is a source of improvement, and in popular governments a source of degeneracy . . .” [1]

Thus wrote David Hume. It should of course be appreciated that the source of degeneracy in the democratic-republican era does not lie in democracy alone: the liberal-technocratic idea of progress, a component of modern democracy, gives it force and direction, whilst the dehumanising effects of technology allow men to substitute inhuman indifference for human care or cruelty. Together they form modernism as a state of mind: a confident barbarism which not only feels no reverence or awe for the state of culture and civility, but which actually hates it.
.....An historical consciousness of what was produced before this era and of what has come to pass since its inception brings an awareness of the profound degeneracy of our own times — and thereby an advantage over those men of former times who could only hope or dread one way or the other.

“[P]opular government will put an end to, and prevent the revival of, all that is elegant, voluptuous and artistic in life, these things being essentially aristocratic.” [2]

The democratic ideal is well defended, however, almost impregnable in the minds of most. If no good reason can be found in those minds as to why they hold to it despite everything, the redoubt can still be secured by the long-touted saying, serving in lieu of thought, that whatever its faults, it is still better than other forms of government. Whatever its faults! No matter how degraded or oppressive life becomes under popular government — or “democracy” — the belief still dumbly remains that it is the best.

“So sacred, however, is the flame of democracy that it purifies the grossest breaches of decency and justice.” [3]

The sight of the power that the democratic ideal now holds over the minds of men is to me greatly disturbing. Whilst once it was widely dismissed as too dangerous an ideal, the dream of totalitarian utopians, it is now widely accepted as the safest. The most disturbing aspect, however, is that the more strongly the power of democracy comes into effect, and the more it destroys or oppresses the independent spirit, the more a man can be persuaded that he is not living under a democracy at all. He gives to it another name — “our so-called democracy” — whilst that of democracy remains inviolate in his mind. For he has fundamentally misunderstood the spirit of democracy, which is not that of freedom, but of total domination.

“Democracy, to repeat, is not merely a political term: it is a universal idea, whose entertainment determines conduct in every one of the spheres of human activity. It will not prove itself established until its principles have permeated society in every part.” [4]

Since the democrat is an advocate of a total and all-embracing ideology — the triumphant commonality of which serves to obscure from him its extremism — he is prone to suffer from that defect of mind shared by all universalist-ideologues: only everything is enough. Furthermore, as with all such ideologues, the closer his ideal approaches its perfect realisation, the more he notices and becomes jealous of exceptions to it.

“Democracy, sure enough, has no sense for the exceptional, and where it cannot deny or remove it, hates it from the bottom of its heart.” [5]

It is now common, therefore, at the height of democracy’s power in Britain, to hear the lament that it is lacking. A man who says so cannot point to another time in its modern history when it was so strong as it is now: not 1600, at which time monarchy was still dominant; not 1800 or even 1900, when aristocracy still held much power; not even 1997, when there were still the pathetic remnants of aristocratic power in the House of Lords.

He notices that:
(1) Good government is lacking (in whatever way he might define it: fostering liberty, benevolence, lollipops for all, etc.)
He assumes that:
(2) Democracy is good government
He infers that:
(3) Democracy is lacking
And, having furthermore assumed that all good government is democratic, and wishing for more good government, he concludes that:
(4) We need more democracy.
In the perfect democracy as an ideal, governmental opinion is the perfect expression of popular opinion; for therein, by perfect definition of the ideal, popular opinion and governmental opinion are two expressions in an equation with one another. No such perfect equation is possible, but insofar as this ideal is approached, popular opinion under a democracy will be manipulated to an extent not found under other forms of government; for, although a democrat might like to think that the direction of manipulation should be from popular opinion to governmental opinion, that is to say, that a change in popular opinion should require a change in governmental opinion to keep the equation and thus preserve democracy [6], the keen mathematicians of power quite rationally see no reason why it should not be otherwise: the equation is solved and democracy preserved just as well by manipulating the other side of the equation: that is to say, by manipulating popular opinion to keep it in balance with governmental opinion. From the sense of the pure ideal, it matters not which expression is first manipulated, so long as the equation is preserved. In this way, the exigencies of political power co-opt and corrupt the people for the purpose of that power.
.....Yet, of actual governments, one may speak only of tendencies to ideal forms. In actuality, there is no such thing as a perfect democracy. Interests other than those of the people will come into play in a democracy, just as in a monarchy or an aristocracy interests other than those of the monarch or the aristocracy will do likewise. That the interests of individuals, unelected groups, bodies, committees, civil servants, and parliamentary parties do not always conform to popular opinion, or even act against it, does not strike against the idea of what effects democracy will have.

“[B]ut do not run away from your own doctrine, O democrat! as soon as the consequences become startling.” [7]

Regarding the great source of power that democracy invests in government, one ought not to be surprised that men will harness that power for their own ends and indeed use that power to change majority opinion towards those ends.

“[A] government entirely dependent on opinion looks for some security what that opinion shall be, strives for the control of the forces that shape it, and is fearful of suffering the people to be educated in sentiments hostile to its institutions.” [8]

If government becomes the business of public opinion, then public opinion becomes the business of government. But if a man does not like government messing in his affairs, why does he become a democrat?
.....Democracy, in order to appeal, must whisper to every man a fundamentally undemocratic falsehood: that he can choose his government. Therein lies a confusion of democratic thought: the confusion of the power of the people with the liberty of the person. When a man says he is free under a democracy because he can choose his government, already the falsehood is fully grown. He cannot do any such thing. He is given a say in how his country is to be governed, but this degree of power is so tiny as to be almost non-existent; and yet for this, he is willing to give up his fate to an overwhelming power, and he calls his subjection to this power — freedom!
.....He fancies that under this power he will be permitted to govern his own affairs. No form of government yet conceived has made so great a boast about so basic a matter as individual self-governance, and yet no form of government is so at odds with the very idea of it. Democracy, in its historical form hitherto tied to liberalism, has permitted individual dissipation — which is not the same thing as self-governance at all.

“[A]ll that is to be valued, or indeed can be enjoyed by individuals, is private liberty. Political liberty is good only so far as it produces private liberty.” [9]

The positive connotation of the word “liberty”, a connotation which takes coolness from thought and gives warmth to feeling, may act to obscure the meaning of political liberty. Democracy brings such liberty to the fore: unrestricted political power; and it may even bring the crowning liberty: the liberty of every man to vote for his subjection to it.
.....To hear the word “liberty” on the lips of democrats is to hear a perverse joke that has grown in the telling; and be they sincere in its utterance, they speak for that which by their allegiance they destroy. Prospectors after wooden iron [10], who have found and sold nothing but the common elements of chaos and tyranny, they will continue to search until they have uprooted every tree and toppled every tower of private liberty.

Totalitarianism is the perfect democratic ideal, as it first welled up in Rousseau, who let it dribble forth into all the currents of modern democratic-republicanism to greater and lesser degrees.

“The totalitarian state is the exact opposite of the authoritarian state, and the latter certainly bears no democratic stigmata, but rather hierarchical ones.” [11]

Of the totalitarian state, it must be said to its practitioners: if it is not overwhelmingly popular, then you are not doing it right. The ideal bids all to join. It praises total participation and abhors any discrimination. It sings of liberty, of equality, of fraternity, and sneers at authority and at hierarchy and at all things that keep men apart. Totalitarianism must repudiate the very idea of authority; for authority is something apart from that to which it stands as such.
.....Totalitarianism remains always just a tendency, and never a full realisation; yet as a process towards the ideal, it must continue to rid itself of those elements, particularities, and independent authorities which it has determined to be inconducive to the health and progress of the whole. The longer it goes on, the more things become jaded, colourless, sapped of life, except for that power itself.
.....Nevertheless the process can deliver great power to a few men who can divert it to the establishment of their own authority — but it is a brutal and sickly authority; for even when it bears the marks of reaction against the democratic process, it cannot appear as an authority without acknowledging and placating its true sovereign power: the great and many-headed beast itself, that semi-mythical creature otherwise known as the people.
.....Worse than the cessation of the democratic process is that it should continue. To be free of free government is my earnest wish. Like Mr Hume, “I should rather wish to see an absolute monarch than a republic in this island.” [12]
[1] David Hume, “Of Civil Liberty”, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed., E.F. Miller, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1987), I.XII.13, online at The Library of Economics and Liberty.
[2] Emile Faguet, Politicians and Moralists of the Nineteenth Century (n.d.), quoted by Robert Beum, “Ultra-Royalism Revisited: An Annotated Bibliography”, Modern Age, Vol.39:3, Summer 1997, p.304.
[3] R. Plumer Ward, An Historical Essay on The Real Character and Amount of the Precedent of The Revolution of 1688, Vol. I, (London: John Murray, 1838), p.46, online at The Internet Archive.
[4] Oscar Lovell Triggs, The Changing Order: A Study of Democracy (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1908), p.15, online at The Internet Archive.
[5] [“Für das Seltene hat denn freilich die Demokratie keinen Sinn und, wo sie es nicht leugnen oder entfernen kann, haßt sie es von Herzen.”] Jacob Burckhardt, Brief an Friedrich von Preen, 17. März 1888, Briefe, p.517.
[6] Why he thinks government in accord with popular opinion must be good government, I cannot fathom, except by the gauge of that strange belief that popular opinion is always good.
[7] Anonymous, “The Aristocracy of England”, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine,Vol. 54:333, July 1843, p.66, online at the Internet Library of Early Journals.
[8] J.E.E Dalberg-Acton (Lord Acton), Review of Sir Erskine May’s Democracy in Europe, in the Quarterly Review 145, January 1878, reprinted in Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Vol.1: Essays in the History of Liberty, ed. J.R. Fears (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985), p. 57.
[9] Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell, May 1768, Life of Johnson, ed., R.W. Chapman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p.396.
[10] I.e., free society. (Schopenhauer used the term sideroxylon to mean an oxymoron; Nietzsche used the term hölzernes Eisen specifically to refer to a free society.)
[11] [“Der totalitäre Staat ist das genaue Gegenteil des autoritären Staates, und diesem freilich haften keine demokratischen Stigmen an, sondern hierarchische.] Ernst von Salomon, Der Fragebogen (Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1951), p.345
[12] David Hume, “Whether the British Government Inclines More to Absolute Monarchy, or to a Republic”, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed., E.F. Miller, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1987), I.VII.7, online at The Library of Economics and Liberty.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Prince Metternich’s Political Testament

Mr Mencius Moldbug recently asked me to translate Prince Metternich’s political testament into English. This I have done, and the result is shown below. So far as the both of us know, this is the first complete translation into English of that testament. I am, I hope you understand, suitably embarrassed by the likelihood that the great Prince’s short work has been first delivered into the English language by my hand. An expert in the German language — and the English one — would have been preferable for the task, but, presumably, due to a shortage, Mr Moldbug was forced to call upon me. If any such expert should be passing, I ask him to look up the original and to indicate where I have beaten the words senseless by the wrong end of the stick.
  Mr Moldbug, upon reviewing my translation, suggested the style was a little stilted and that I had let too many Germanisms creep through; these I have tried to correct for the sake of readability. One can travel only so far, however, before one begins to falsify, and so, in the avoidance thereof, I have tried to remain as true as possible to the text and even to retain a sniff of nineteenth-century air. The Prince would, I suspect, have been the first to admit that he was no great stylist, though I say he was not without talent for formal elegance. Besides, the work, though presumably written with publication in mind, was not finally prepared for such by the man himself, but rather was found in his papers after his death.


“My Political Testament”

Handwritten manuscript, without date, in separate compositions on loose sheets, written down in the years 1849 to 1855.

“There are two kinds of popularity:
one, the true one, follows the deeds;
the other pursues the impatient
without ever catching them.”


The thought of bequeathing these words to the world of today and tomorrow has not arisen owing to my withdrawal from public life, but rather because of the voice which has attached to the former standing of the Austrian Empire the erroneous designation of a system under the address of my name.
  The title “Political Testament” which I give to these pages may be adequate to mark the course which I hold in view for this record.
  The position of a man who himself laid hands on events differs by its nature from that of the historian who chronicles and weighs events according to their worth or lack of it. The former takes on the liability for his deeds, the latter only the responsibility for his judgement.
The materials for the correct view of events lie not merely in the success or failure of the undertakings. Awareness of the situation, in which these undertakings had their grounds, forms an important element of history.
  Here the archives alone are the sources for the necessary clarification, but precisely therefore is the situation of the men who provide the materials for the facts that shape history likewise very different from that of the historians.
  The former are not able to elude the control which lies in the archives. Only a few ministers have held their ground through so long a course of time, as my official work spanned, in a constantly active position, so it brings me reassurance in view of all that I record here to refer the historians to the state-archives for the purpose of further completion, without seeing me exposed to the danger of falsification by the files.

* * *
My adopted motto — “Strength in Right” [1] — is the expression of my conviction and it marks the foundation of my way of thought and conduct.
  I have never attached another value to words than that of the expression of correct concepts, to theories never the value of deeds, and I have always regarded preconceived systems as the product of leisured heads or the outburst of emotional minds.
  Not in the struggle of society towards progress, but rather in progression towards the true goods: towards freedom as the inevitable yield of order; towards equality in its only applicable degree of that before the law; towards prosperity, inconceivable without the foundation of moral and material peace; towards credit, which can rest only on the basis of trust — in all that I have recognised the duty of government and the true salvation for the governed.
  I have looked upon despotism of every kind as a symptom of weakness. Where it appears, it is a self-punitive evil, most intolerable when it poses behind the mask of promoting the cause of freedom.
  Monarchy and republic are to me amenable concepts. Monarchies placed on republican foundations, and republics on monarchical, are arrangements standing in self-contradiction, which I do not understand. Both monarchies and republics can thrive only on those foundations suitable to each. And the best constitution for every state will always be that which best matches the peculiarities that every political body bears within itself. That the monarchical form has to its credit the longer duration in great succession, rests on historical knowledge. As minister of an empire structured as a monarchy, I had only to deal with matters of dispute that concern a monarchy. Accordingly it goes without saying that I excluded matters that concern a republic.
   A state without a constitution I hold for an abstraction, akin to the presumption of an individual without a constitution of his own. I am of the same opinion as regards the application of a uniform constitutional system to all states.
   The concept of the balancing of powers [2] (proposed by Montesquieu) has always appeared to me only as a conceptual error of the English constitution, impractical in its application, because the concept of such a balancing is rooted in the assumption of an eternal struggle, instead of in that of peace, the first necessity for the life and prosperity of states.
  The care for the inner life of states has always had for me the worth of the most important task for governments.
  As the foundations for politics I recognise the concepts of right and equity and not the sole calculations of use, whilst I look upon capricious politics as an ever self-punitive confusion of the spirit.

* * *
I entered political life equipped of necessity with a spirit which is able to represent only the positive.
   My temperament is an historical one, reluctant of any kind of romance.
  My conduct is a prosaic and not a poetical one. I am a man of right, and reject in all things appearance where it divides as such from truth, thereupon deprived as the foundation of right, where it must inevitably dissolve into error.
  Born and brought up under social conditions which the outbreak of the social revolution in France prepared in the year 1789, these conditions are well-known to me. The elements of strength as of weakness, out of which the earlier and later situations developed, have never eluded me. A strict and at the same time calm observer of events, I have always interpreted and pursued them in their points of origin and in their natural as well as their manufactured development.
  I spent my fifty-four years of service first as a socially elevated witness to the French Revolution and later as an actor amongst its monstrous spawn.
  In direct or in indirect contact and in commerce with all regents, first statesmen, and the most important party-leaders, in the course of this period spanning almost three generations nothing of essential influence on the development of events remained unknown to me.
  Accordingly I did not lack in the knowledge of experience.
  Two elements in human society stand and will always stand in conflict with one another: the positive and the negative, the conservative and the destructive. I have always regarded as the most important task of the statesman the concern to fix in sight, and to distinguish between, the things which emerge of themselves and the things which in the course of time are interposed by the party spirit.
  The most ample means of answering this task lies in the concern to interpret and assess words according to the value of the things which they are appointed to denote. This concern I have always made a duty.
  As key to my mindset, I shall cite a few examples.
  For me the word “freedom” has not the value of a starting-point, but rather that of an actual point of arrival. The word “order” denotes the starting-point. Only on the concept of order can that of freedom rest. Without the foundation of order, the call for freedom is nothing more than the striving of some party after an envisaged end. In its actual use, the call inevitably expresses itself as tyranny. Whilst I have at all times and in all situations ever been a man of order, my striving was addressed to true and not deceptive freedom. In my eyes, tyranny of any kind has only the value of absolute nonsense. As a means to an end, I mark it as the most vapid that time and circumstance is able to place at the disposal of rulers.
  The concept of order in view of legislation — the foundation of order — is, in consequence of the conditions under which states live, capable of the most varied application. Considered as constitution, it will prove itself best for any state that answers to the demands of both the material conditions and those moral conditions peculiar to the national character. There is no universal recipe for constitutions, just as little as there is some universal means for the boosting of health.
  The arrangement which has the true value of a constitution is formed in states and can arise only of itself. Charters are no constitutions; their worth does not extend to that of foundations for an emergent and regular order in the workings of the state.
  It is an indubitable truth that constitutions exercise a considerable influence on the formation of popular feeling. The counterpart of this truth, however, is that, in order to endure, a constitution must be the product of this popular feeling, and not that of an agitated and hence transitory spirit.
  A consideration, which the liberal spirit usually disregards and yet which in its consequences belongs to the most important, is that of the difference which in states, as in the life of individuals, ensues between the advance of things by measured steps and by leaps. In the former, conditions develop to a logically and naturally lawful consequence, whilst the latter tears consistency apart. Everything in nature follows the way of development, of the ordered succession of things; by such a course alone is the discarding of the bad and the fostering of the good conceivable. Change by leaps brings about ever new creations — and man is able to create nothingness.
  To step beyond the domain in which principles have their standing, and to trespass on the field of bold theories, I have always regarded as a mistake whose consequences elude reckoning. To give room to the hope that government as well as parties could remain on the incline where they are placed, masters of stopping at the right moment, I have regarded as an ever-active delusion, and I have never granted to the natural powers more rights or less influence than which are due to them.
  Considering all matters entirely, and not by half, knowing no difference between giving and keeping my word, it was only the consequence of my moral formation as a whole that I neither would nor could have been either the promoter of upheavals, which hide themselves behind the mask of progress, or of reforms, which are realisable only by upheaval. The Revolution, in all the means at its disposal, has testified to this.
   I was never a symptom-doctor. I knew to observe symptoms as signs of a cause, but my gaze was always turned to the cause itself, be it good or evil, curative or ominous. That in all matters there is one that has the value of a cause, and to that one is to be given help or hindrance, this I have always looked upon as the true task of the statesman. Long before taking office, I had already regarded Napoleon as the object which I had to hold in view as the most important formation of the time. In him the Revolution had been incarnated; his power had stultified it in the social direction, but in the political it was a double-edged weapon which he knew how to use with a strong arm and an even stronger spirit.
  I did not govern the empire. Therein the powers at every level were not just strictly administered and directed to their competences, but rather in this regard were even relinquished to trepidation, which brought hesitancy to the course of affairs. The principle of government of the Emperor Francis was set forth in the motto “Justitia regnorum fundamentum[3], not only as it lay in his spirit and character, but also as it served him as strict guide in all governmental affairs. He agreed with my observation that the axiom, correct in its point of origin, could be abrogated in the excessive practice of particular cases, but he usually added: “I was born and through my status appointed for the execution of justice; the inevitable hardness in particular cases is better than the slackening of rule through too many exceptions.” My motto is “Strength in Right”. Both sayings run together in meaning, except that the imperial motto has an abstractly judicial significance, whereas mine has a significance more grounded in state law. In this regard, the motto “Recta tueri[4], suggested by me to Emperor Ferdinand upon his most supreme accession, bids a further nuance.

* * *
Affairs are the expression of the men who have influence on them. Concepts, be they slight or grave, refer not just to the nature of affairs; the peculiarities and features thereof, which are called into action in negotiations, must also be taken into fundamental consideration. In no course of affairs do these truths express themselves more forcefully than in the field of government.
  The two worst arrangements affecting public administration are preconceived systems and personal considerations. The first contend with praxis; the latter put petty and transitory considerations in the place of substantive ones.
   One of the greatest impediments in the long course of my ministry was the lack of energy which burdened the internal administration, a matter of fact which I cannot leave untouched, because it is indispensable to the elucidation of the course of world-historical events and was bound to exercise a prolonged influence on my work in the diplomatic field which fell under my remit.
  In the internal arrangement of the empire, the nationalities gained a position which was bound to be expressed by the selection, and in the activity, of public officials from the lowest rank to the highest. In a state thus arranged, it is for natural reasons difficult to find men who might set a dam against the preponderance of nationality and comply with strict impartiality in all directions against the heightened demands emerging out of it.
  That I stood alone on the moral-political field: that I knew, that I had to know, since, daily and in all directions, there was at my command the monitoring of the facts. Should I have changed accordingly my way of thought and conduct? I did not want it so, and had I wanted it, I would not have been able. Against the sayings of my conscience and against the concepts fixed in me of what is right or wrong, shrewd or without hope of success — to act against them I never conceived, and my own deeds I always scrutinised more strictly than the deeds of others!
   The work of any statesman, who was long in office, affords material for varied interpretations of what went through his mind, be it in a straight or skewed direction, of what he wanted and did not want, and of what he achieved or did not achieve. Subject to this fate are all those who have played an outstanding part in the affairs of state, but so much more must such a fate weigh on a name which, in an epoch of unprecedented agitation, presided over the politics of a great empire for almost forty years.
   In what times did my official life fall? Let sight be drawn to the circumstances in which our empire and the whole of Europe stood between the years 1809 and 1848, and then let it be asked, whether a man was able by the success of his insight to transfigure the crises into a recovery! I admit to having recognised the situation, but also to the impossibility of instituting a new structure in our empire and in Germany, which is why my concern was addressed above all to the preservation of the existing one.
   In the Spring of 1848 the state-structures of central Europe were toppled in some places, and destabilised in others, as if by a violent earthquake. The impetus came once again — as always since the end of the eighteenth century — from France. Its effect was expressed according to physical laws; the tremor affected the stand-alone structures differently from the small ones wedged in between them. The former felt it more violently. France, whose superstructure was made out of lighter material, became covered in dust. In the great Middle Empire [5], masonry and beams overwhelmed the ground, burying the old order of things. The same fate was bound to befall me. Yet granted to me belongs one of the rare fates of men: I experienced and survived the turning-point in the world-struggle.

* * *
I made history and therefore did not find time to write it.
   I did not at any rate adjudge myself able to answer this double task. And my years have been too far advanced to devote myself to it after my retirement. Remote from the necessary archival sources, I would have to consult my memory alone.
    I have not subjected myself to this endeavour, but rather seek a surrogate here in denoted form.
    The history of my almost thirty-nine-year ministry lies chronicled in three repositories:
   1. In the archive of the department, over which I presided, the files of which encompass the period from the Battle of Wagram in the Summer of 1809 up until 13th March 1848.
    2. In a file-collection which I bequeath under the title: “Materials for the History of my Time”.
    3. In correspondences and articles which I have maintained and composed during my retirement.
    Combined, these sources offer comprehensive material for impartial historians.
    Neither self-love nor the propensity to dogmatism underlie my urge to make known the views and feelings which I had in mind throughout my time in office. My sentiment rests on another foundation; in it prevails the historical element and the concern for truth.
    I attach to the preceding words the value of a testamentary disposition.

[1] “Kraft im Recht” — could be translated as “Strength in Law”, “Force within Justice”, and other variations.
[2] “Balancing of powers” — i.e., the separation of legislature, executive, and judiciary, and the balancing of each against the others.
[3] “Justice is the Foundation of Kingdoms.”
[4] “To uphold the law” or “To defend rights”.
[5] Refers to an area stretching from Friesland to Provence, and from Aachen to Rome, once ruled by Lothair I (795-855AD), grandson of Charlemagne.

Source: Klemens von Metternich, “Mein Politisches Testament”, Aus Metternich’s Nachgelassenen Papieren, 7.Bd, hrsg., R. Metternich-Winneburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1883), pp.633-642.