Stability of regimes

The ancien régime achieved dynastic stability through the belief and doctrine that social orders arose more or less by nature: kings made kings, nobles made nobles, peasants made peasants. If we zoomed down to consider individuals there was some mobility between the strata (especially through the religious life), but the view from 30,000 feet was of a stable hierarchy with well-defined roles and orders of mediation. The age of revolution rejected all this in its assertion that all are created equal, which was never a claim about intellectual abilities or fitness to rule but most of all a rejection of the idea that human political hierarchies are provided in the way they are provided to bees or termites.

But if nature does’t provide a social animal with his governing structures then it has to provide for himself, hence the rise in theories of political systems in the 18th Century. But a system can never be experienced by a revolutionary the way the ancien régime was experienced by those who lived in it. They experienced the inevitable social anxieties and disappointments as basically natural while we experience them as results of system failures and so in need of fixing. Even if we set up a stable system it will live through its factions, which in turn will intensify the awareness of social anxieties and disappointments and so create either more factions or a constant switching back-and-forth among different ruling parties and philosophies. As Charles Taylor put it, the only infallible prediction one can make about the future of our revolutionary, post ancien regime is that any structure it establishes is fragile, as will be the opposition structure.

There is a continual desire to overcome the intrinsic fragility of post AR structures by myths that they are now established and at least quasi-natural. Our preferred means to do this is a fetishized history-myth prophesizing that human action was guided infallibly to the point of greater and greater (fill in the blank), and that resistance to this magical spirit is futile, backward, and unenlightened. You can believe this or not, but it is exactly the same sort of belief as that kings only bear kings and peasants only birth peasants. The desire to re-establish the stability of the AR is so strong that we’re willing even to accept that we’ve lost the culture war or that, say, the regime as we find it is now is, at last, the one that has been chosen by nature to last a thousand years or has been given free reign to push the logic of its beliefs to their bitter end.

The last paragraph was cynical about attempts to see nature as providing regimes to us through birth or history, but it is probably more reasonable to take any belief we can’t divest ourselves of as rational. We have to carve out some way that nature is giving us social orders. Note that this requires believing more than that nature tosses out people of different talents and it is our job to sort them into the proper slots. In this sense nature is only giving us a potential and not actual regime, and the opinion we can’t shake off requires more than this. In particular, we can’t see nature as providing us with something wicked or contrary to human flourishing, and in this sense the idea that we could “lose the culture war” in the sense of history selecting against what our best lights have determined is right and rational can make no sense and is a misapplication of the metaphor of a culture war.

 

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2 Comments

  1. March 24, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    This was an interesting post and i’d like to make a couple of points. It’s unfortunate that The Ancien Regime, or the monarchy as it existed in France in the eighteenth-century is taken as the opposite to modern ideological thought. It was in fact a hybrid regime having already incorporated through the teachings of Jean Bodin the idea of sovereign state and atomisation of society into family units – laying the basis for the modern state and the destruction of orders and emergence of the bourgeoisie.

    Much traditionalism today in fact revolves around the hybrid French regime of the eighteenth century and its equivalents in England, Russia etc. It is perhaps uncomfortable to accept the fact that we are already dealing here with a fully ideologised state, appealing to national myths and based on a bourgeoisie (partially enobled and propertied it is true, if only in name).

    Social structures of all kinds of course are natural and not ideological constructs but at the same time their existence is due to human decisions and actions which take place within history. They don’t grow out of the ground unconsciously like plants. Like families, they don’t come from nowhere but at the same time are the result of concrete choices, sometimes quite arbitrary, on the part of founders.

    The revolution’s rationalism reflected the thought of the rationalist masonic lodges as is well known. Less well known is the romanticist esoterism which unfortunately took over the ideological combat against the French revolution, which was based on the romanticist lodges of the Lyon circle and English masonry, for example. Well known exponents of this current of thought (which constitutes a fully-fledged and thoroughly bourgeois ideology) are de Maistre and Burke.

    Free from ideology men thought up an infinity of methods of social organization. Today, almost all systems are alike, dominated by the modern state and the bourgeois class and mentality. I recommend reading Christopher Dawson on the subject of bourgeois society and its antithesis, Baroque society.

    • March 31, 2017 at 10:52 pm

      To build on what Miguel Cervantes wrote, one can see the germ of reactionary esoterism in the Jacobite provenance of so much Continental Masonry. Even before that, Elias Ashmole—one of the forebears of Speculative Masonry—was a support of the Restoration (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elias_Ashmole). Much of the second-hand and third-hand Legitism or Legitimist mythology one finds in traditionalist Catholic circles smacks of esoterism (and smacks little of Thomistic political philosophy), and the rabid anti-Masonry veers into protesting too much. Are the authors in question paranoid on the topic of secret societies, or are they voyeuristic? One senses that they *want* the world to be controlled by the Illuminati; this would be a more rational, perversely more providential world (all-seeing eye on a pyramid, anyone?) to their minds than one in which no earthly dynasty at all rules the world and the hegemony is passed around based on a quotidian affairs, long-term geopolitical trends, demographics, advances in natural resource exploitation, market forces, and entropy. Was any Communist ever as truly convinced of the ideological rigor of Communism as John Birchers were/are? Etc. So, good point, Miguel Cervantes.


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