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.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


“The fact that Sir Simon Jenkins hates the great Russian novelist [Dostoevsky] is also a major reason for thinking that he [the great Russian novelist] has something worth saying.” [1]

It may be added that Sir Simon and his kind are unlikely to look benignly upon a writer who had them pegged long before they were born — a writer who wrote of indulgence born of fear and cowardice: fear of taking responsibility, fear of appearing out of step with the times, fear of appearing authoritarian in opposition to prevailing liberal slogans, fear at last of what is unleashed in a younger generation; and cowardice in the face of it all.

[1] Michael Burleigh, “What can we learn from Dostoevsky about terrorism?”, Standpoint Online, 18th August 2008.

Swinish Envy

The green-eyed epigone has long known to the boon of his encouragement an easy way to imitate the reputed example of his masters: he darkens their names and thus interprets them in a light by which he might appear equal to them.

We seldom admire anything that we have not wished to be able to imitate; we feel no inability to do so without feeling our weakness; we never feel this without its humbling us, and nothing humbles us that we should not strive to abandon it: hence the zeal for worthiness by great souls working up towards the admired man, and the envy by petty ones, who by diminishment draw him down to themselves. [1]

In our own time, envy has attained the image of a virtue. He who makes of a common vice the image of a virtue gains the gratitude of the mass. In that lies power.
.....Little shows the grip of envy and the mania for levelling better than the relief and even glee with which the man of today greets the news that some admired man was guilty of some common vice or foible. Thus, when it was revealed — or rather, re-proclaimed for the purpose of flogging a book — that Franz Kafka had some lusty etchings in his collection, one could hear sighs of relief, and even exclamations of glee:

Finally the literary stylite has fallen from his pedestal . . . we may greet him as our equal — a swine like you and I. [2]

The mass has no higher praise for a man than that he belongs to it. A smear of praise is anointed to a man on account of his faults; he is proclaimed more human because of them — “one of us”. When we see the man of today greet with glee a revealed foible of a superior forebear, we glimpse his perverse need to be reassured in his inferiority.


[1] [“Wir bewundern selten etwas, das wir nicht wünschten nachmachen zu können, wir fühlen nicht, daß wir es nicht können, ohne unsre Schwäche zu fühlen; diese fühlen wir nie, ohne daß es uns demüthigte, und nichts demüthigt uns, was wir nicht abzuwerfen streben sollten: daher bei großen Seelen der Werteifer, bei kleinen der Neid, sich zu dem bewunderten Manne durch Anstrengung hinauf zu arbeiten, bei diesen, ihn durch Verkleinerung zu sich herabzuziehen.”] Friedrich. Schulz, “Zersteuete Gedanken”, nr.17., Deutsche Monatsschrift, 3.Bd., Dezember 1790, pp.383-4, digitalised by Universitätsbibliothek Bielefeld.

[2] [“Endlich ist der literarische Säulenheilige vom Sockel gestürzt. . . . wir dürfen ihn als unseresgleichen begrüßen - ein Schwein wie du und ich.”] Ulrich Weinzierl, Pornosammlung von Franz Kafka gefunden”, Die Welt, 6th August 2008.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Fewtril no.256

It is no disadvantage for those who thrill at enmity also to profess a universal brotherhood. There are many men who do not profess any such idea, or who do not do so with the demanded zeal, and who therefore make a most fitting object for hatred.

Fewtril no.255

Neither the rabid ideologue in a description nor the capuchin monkey in a mirror believes it catches a glimpse of itself. Whilst the monkey has to make do with the primitive capacity to recognise a creature that resembles its own kind, the ideologue has the sophistication to imagine a strawman.

Fewtril no.254

One very important component of an ideology’s defence-mechanism is the claim that all thinking stems from an ideology of some sort, and thus the choice is not between ideology and something else, but rather between competing ideologies.

Fewtril no.253

Injustice is always keenly felt, especially when feigned.

Fewtril no.252

The easiest and most common way of setting oneself apart from commonality is to set oneself apart from commonsense.

Fewtril no.251

One can always find some points of agreement with one’s enemies. I, for instance, agree with liberals in believing that liberalism is really not worth defending.

Uses of the Word “Real”

Real people – the vulgar; Real world – where the vulgar live; Real women – fat ones.

Old Abilities

In speaking of the part played by anatomically modern humans in the demise of the Neanderthals, Adam Rutherford is careful not to place modern thinking in a causal role: “to invoke genocide suggests some sort of intentionality and strategic planning for which we simply have no evidence.” He is not so careful in this sentence: “It’s well established that [Neanderthals] ritually buried their dead, made tools and explored from the westernmost tip of Europe, well into Asia.” [1] The geographical spread of Neanderthals is no evidence for exploration, which is for the purpose of discovery. Nevertheless I should think they were capable of curiosity, and of many other attitudes besides, perhaps even of pedantry.

[1] Adam Rutherford, “Long-lost Cousins”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 12th August 2008.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Strange Mirage

There’s . . . that strange phenomenon where every generation thinks that the next one’s standards are fatally declining.” [1]

He who talks of this strange phenomenon needn’t have given much thought to its existence; he requires only short-sightedness and pig-ignorance in the service of progressive whiggery to believe in it, helped by the democratic habit of reaffirming an opinion heard a thousand times. He cannot be accused of having surveyed the prevailing opinions of men in all generations throughout history; even if he could, he would not be bothered to extend his thoughts so far, and besides, he would be bothered thereby to find his claim falsified. Rather he observes in recent generations the opinion expressed that standards are declining, and he perhaps knows of a few examples of such an opinion uttered in the ancient world, wherefrom he comes to the conclusion that it has been the prevailing opinion in every generation of man, and that he should therefore pay it no heed.
.....It simply does not occur to him that standards of many kinds
are declining; and that these standards have been declining for a long time, and that the process has been noticed. If he is himself an enthusiastic part of the decline, he will not see his own presence and that of his fellows as a decline, but rather as a progress; after all, it is his generation and its low standards with which he identifies that are triumphing. Effectively he banishes from thought any consideration of the possibility of decline, and vows not to sit in judgement upon the next generation, which he will allow to decline further.
.....Yet, in dreaming up his strange phenomenon, he was
almost right: in periods of change there have been men of historical consciousness who have had the capacity to express regret for what has already passed, which is in part a recognition of the transitoriness of the world, and who have feared also the loss of whatever they themselves have inherited, urgently seeking to secure its preservation in the next generation. Modernism is the predominance of another kind of man, who is more like a machine-part in a process: a man who says good riddance to all past things, and who tolerates every kind of degradation for the future too. He is the most shallow and complacent creature ever to walk on two legs, and I include pigeons.
.....All those German pessimists were right: the dullness of progressive optimism would one day be such that so few people would be able to recognize their own degraded state, but rather would even congratulate themselves for it.

[1] “Labourpartysuicide”, commenting on Mark Lawson, “That golden age? It never happened, except in the minds of pessimists”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 1st August 2008.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Deep-Rooted Weeds

“As much as legislators and founders of states ought to be honoured and respected among men, as much ought the founders of sects and factions to be detested and hated; because the influence of faction is directly contrary to that of laws. Factions subvert government, render laws impotent, and beget the fiercest animosities among men of the same nation, who ought to give mutual assistance and protection to each other. And what should render the founders of parties more odious is, the difficulty of extirpating these weeds, when once they have taken root in any state. They naturally propagate themselves for many centuries, and seldom end but by the total dissolution of that government, in which they are sown. They are, besides, plants which grow most plentifully in the richest soil; and though absolute governments be not wholly free from them, it must be confessed, that they rise more easily, and propagate themselves faster in free governments, where they always infect the legislature itself, which alone could be able, by the steady application of rewards and punishments, to eradicate them.”

David Hume, “Of Parties in General”, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed., E.F. Miller, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1987), I.VIII.2, online at The Library of Economics and Liberty.

A Rotter

The progressive has acquired the propensity to see as extreme the mildest deviations from his extremism. His ideological inheritance has come through generations each of which has taken a step further from the tap-root of sense and temperance, each confidently amplifying initial errors, with no humility before reality as a corrective, such that now, with a thoughtless-instinctive rage, our progressive is inclined to rail against words and things that would have barely raised the eyebrows even of his ideological forebears. The fewer the traces he finds of that which he has characterised as the most hateful and evil thing, the easy opposition to which is the gross flattery he pays to his own goodness, the more he is determined to see it hidden in everything. His self-flattery becomes ever finer, ever more insane, and ever more at odds with what he is: a rotter.

Fewtril no.250

It might not have occurred to the aristocrats of former days to think that their liberalism would lead to a day such as ours when people not only have the right to sneer at aristocrats but are largely of the opinion that it is their liberal duty to do so.