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Why Independence:
An Open Address to the Undecided

A re-orienting perspective for undecided voters on why they must support Scottish independence.

Today we Scots may well alter the course of our national destiny. In less than three hours, the polling will close and only the votes of those already in line at the time of closing will have their votes counted thereafter. There will be no more second chances. It can only be hoped that we make the most of it.

In the interests of early disclosure, I will say now and in no uncertain terms that I support Scottish independence — all the way to the hilt. The aim of this article is to address intelligent Scots who are undecided and have yet to vote, but who also remain willing to vote. It is of primary relevance to them and only secondarily offers something for anyone who has already voted or for interested non-Scots. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t for one minute think this article will be a make-or-break influence on the polls; I presume no such influence, so you may expect no such megalomania on my part. However, if you are open to the possibility, you can take this chance to think about the risks and stakes involved in this referendum from a different perspective, which may decide something more important than your vote alone: your engagement with your country, from this day onward, whatever happens.

For this writer, Scottish independence is the only chance to renovate Scotland’s political fortunes. Risky, yes, but necessary also; the alternative may be more certain, but it’s also more certainly stagnant, pernicious and wrong for Scotland. When our choice is recognised as being between continuing to flounder in the United Kingdom or the chance of making it on our own, it puts things into perspective. Constitutional repatriation is the one clear solution for a viable national existence — the only possibility of actually achieving something and raising ourselves out of the malaise perpetuated by the Westminster regime. It’s proper and right for us at this point in our history, even if it includes the possibility of failure; the alternative precludes the possibility of success.

Now, when I write ‘a viable national existence’, I’m not speaking (like most commentators seem to do) in a primarily economic sense. I’m talking about the prospects we have for continuing to exist. Any human community which doesn’t even try because it’s too scared of failing, has already failed.

In this case, the community of which I speak — Scotland — is composed of smaller, subsidiary communities in layers, all the way down to the local level on which it is all built, the smaller being the ones in which we live out our everyday existence. These are the ones we feel most immediately, because they are, of course, immediate. They matter to us, we who live in them, and must matter in a viable nation. As a corollary, the larger communities — from counties to the nation itself — are those through which we secure that everyday existence of the community and perpetuate our way of life. We Scots — whether Gallovidians or Aberdonians, Orcadians or Hebrideans, Borderers or Invernessians — matter not a click of the fingers to the career shill in Westminster or the compassionless manager of human traffic in Whitehall; that far South, we matter only to the electoral nose-counter and then only as noses to be counted — presumably, that is, noses to be counted generally in favour of the Labour Party, to whom we are a vast reserve of anti-Tory electoral fodder. In an independent Scotland, the farmer in the South of Scotland and the crofter up North can matter.

Within the bland multicultural nightmare of the United Kingdom, our local communities are regarded with attitudes spanning a narrow spectrum from abstract indifference to cosmopolitan contempt. In Scotland, they are by necessity regarded with keen interest. Each and every community is vital for Scotland to flourish in the aftermath of independence. By contrast, the Southeast and the Home Counties are the only support needed for the continuation of the Westminster regime, as true for them today as it was all the way back in the time of the Tudors and has remained so for the entire duration between then and now.

Politicians listen to their interests, not ours, unless it is in their interest to take heed. I say this as someone who, on a personal level, is deeply doubtful about the viability and merits of democracy itself, but in this particular case, I think that it’s worth employing whatever means get the job done. In this case it’s a vote, so vote. Supposing you want more accountability, then take your courage in your hand and make them accountable. A ‘Yes’ vote today is the way to achieve that, if it’s what you want.

A newly independent Scotland will be more sensitive to our needs and more willing to move heaven and earth in everything from the national budget, to healthcare and energy policies. Scottish politicians, with a smaller electorate where each vote is ten times as valuable, find themselves closer to our communities and are more compelled to act in the interests of those communities, with no-one but themselves to blame for any blunders which result.

In the aftermath of independence, their success will depend on being more pragmatic than ideological; more practical than airy-fairy. We will have a chance to see the flourishing of that canniness for which we Scots are so well-known, alongside the sense of responsibility proper to statecraft. Independence will bring out the best in us, our institutions and our nation as a whole.

What it all comes down to, though, is confidence our own worth and ability. Are we willing to assert ourselves in the world and maintain our relevance? Or are we willing to drift into complete irrelevance and apathy, within the suffocating framework of broken Britain? We can’t escape the wreckage until we break it all the way. That’s exactly what a ‘Yes’ vote will do.

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Conquistadores and Cowboys: An Occasional Discourse on the Feudal Origins of American Institutions (Part II)

The second and final part of S. J. irving's survey of the Iberian contribution to American culture and folklore.

3. The Cowboy as a Failed Semiotic

Notice that the heroic pictures painted for us in the fictional genre of Westerns — in anecdotes, camp-fire stories, countless novellas, songs and decades of films — are not historically accurate representations of a cowhand’s life, but that doesn’t necessarily make them false, invalid or of any lesser value. These strictu sensu historical misrepresentations, in fact, conceal an even deeper and stronger European heritage.  The fact is that Western fiction ‘rings true’ so to speak. Our reservoirs of passionate inner experience seem to confirm this vivid fictional trope. Even besides showing us, in the narrower sense, the ‘spirit’ of the system in which the cowboy partook (but was not necessarily protagonist), this genre of fiction conceals behind the imagery of the Cowboy a whole world of inner experiences and cultural self-reference for those to whose blood it genuinely speaks. Under the weathered skin of the rugged yet handsome, broad-shouldered, slim-hipped hero, we have a re-modulation of all the previous forms of protagonist in (proto-)European fiction. After all, is the cowboy not reminiscent of brave Roland of song and story or the Arthurian knights of British legend? Or, more distantly, the larger-than-life epic heroes of Antiquity?

The iconographic power of the Western protagonist is that all the virtue and vigour of an historical noble hero is given fictional popular packaging. Without this packaging, however, our protagonist remains more or less in tact. There is a genuine appeal about the hero-gunslinger which only increases when he is extracted from the imaginary (and much more fanciful) stretch that he is somehow an ‘everyman’ as it were.

The cowboy hero evokes the virtues of independence and self-reliant landownership, the (feudal) right of resistance, the protection of (obligated) dependents, honourable dueling — in short, a circumspection of the whole Spanish system in the New World. He may be seen through individualistic, Anglo-Saxon eyes, but the hero himself, so beheld, bears a distinctly Iberian stamp.

An historically grounded consciousness recognizes him for what he is. To give him a more concrete historical form, we may simply call him the protagonist of the Spanish New World, even after its decline. Granted, it is a conflation or mix-up of the vaquero (cowboy) and caballero or even the nobleman, but this proves rather than disproves the immensely profound and symbolic content of the protagonist as a representation. Mutatis mutandis, this is the sort of confusion one experiences when mistaking a conscripted foot-soldier for a knight or believing that there is no difference between, a gentleman and a nobleman; between ὁπλίτης and στρατηγός, soldier and general.

In any case, we see that the full-blooded protagonist is of a pure-blooded (Iberian) provenance.

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4. Spanish Blood, American Institutions

In Iberia arose the concept which the Spanish called nobleza immemorial, a blood of an exaltedness beyond memory. The Spanish intuitively understood, as all great peoples originally understand, that the greatness of the nobility is a property of the nobility itself, an after-glow of the blood’s quality. It is an aura which emanates from the nobility; it is not granted to them by any Crown. The oldest nobility predate kings and royal crowns and are, therefore, not beholden to the same for their title. Such titles are owed to blood and iron alone. (In fact, the monarchies of Northern Spain seem to have originated as the ‘elective’ sort.)

The stabilizing, feudal institutions of the Middle Ages were long in decline by 1492. Nevertheless, the discovery of the Americas galvanized the Iberians. Interacting with their new material conditions (in the New World), the sea-tossed sons of Iberia’s most venerable lines organize themselves in accordance with instinct, so that they can salvage the art of rulership from the dim and distant vestiges of Mediæval political arrangements, for the rebuilding of that sacred Hierarchy of the Blood. Ethnic (racial-cultural) and environmental factors are inter-related in important ways, so that there must be something consistent in the environment (or from one environment to another), something agreeable to the biology of an organism, for that organism to propagate successfully therein. After all, European vegetation was transplanted to the Americas and, vice versa, American vegetation — like tobacco, maize or the potato — was brought to the Old World. Likewise, something in the European’s heritage was able to thrive in the wide open spaces and upon the rich soils of the Americas and some distinctly American lessons were carried back to Europe, to ignite the European imagination. (See Carl Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum for an exhaustive, scholarly exploration in this connection.)

The European conquerors and settlers found across the Atlantic were largely uncultivated, continentally vast expanses of wild and wide-open nature, interspersed with the ancient stone monuments and sacred spaces of the native civilizations. What they discovered was a roaming “new world” and, in their experience of it, they (re-)discovered, by extension, the ancestral experience of the Indo-Europeans. Their new world was at one and the same time a return to the pre- and ultra-historic origins of the old world, which they carried in their blood. In such a context, it is easier to understand the radical ‘re-feudalizing’ of the Iberian nobles conquering, (sub-)dividing, apportioning and administering the newly discovered continents. They re-discover a greatness for which they still lack words, expanding astraddle the Atlantic ocean and briefly riding athwart history.

Similarly, the Portuguese and Spanish conquerors of non-American territories, most notably the Philippines, found the same re-invigoration. There, they even (albeit unwittingly) planted the seeds which would ultimately preserve the best of Western martial arts, as integrated in the knife- and sword-fighting art known as eskrima. In the Philippines, a distinct warrior culture and a complex quasi-feudal system of native political organization, appropriate to an archipelago of some seven thousand islands, pre-existed their colonization by Iberian powers by centuries. Nevertheless, only the Americas provided the vast, unbroken tracts of land which must have seemed almost a tabula rasa to those highborn warriors whose instincts were to carve out personal, feudal domains and institute strict, sweeping land-tenure arrangements.

In any case, we find the Spanish nobles and their armies in the years following 1492 seeding their newly conquered American territories with the hacienda system described in the previous installment of this article, tailoring it to their own needs and dignities, while retaining some harmony with the Crown and the Church.

Chiefly, the force working against the aristocratic order was, as elsewhere, absolutism and the centralizing tendencies of the Crown. The neo-feudal institutions of the Iberian-American nobility — the greatest aids of that Iberian imperative toward greatness — were opposed by royal institutions, particularly those of the Spanish Crowns more clearly, crudely and egregiously than the Portuguese. To wit, they had to contend with the bureaucratic administration oriented toward the Spanish homeland, the skewed privileges of the peninsulares (the chief weakness in the Spanish-American caste system), the taxation and other offerings expected by a grasping Crown an ocean’s breadth away; and all this enforced by the compulsive apparatuses of the modern, developing Leviathan state (albeit more slowly in Spain’s case than the nations of Northern Europe).

By the end of the eighteenth century, the newly amalgamated Kingdom of Spain (formerly the Crowns of Castile and Aragon) had succeeded; during the nineteenth, the Crown revoked outright many of the privileges developed and enjoyed under the Crown of Castile by Spanish-blooded criollos and Spanish-born alike. (The Portuguese experience is less traumatic because the Portuguese Crown’s treatment of the nobility was less audacious.) Spanish absolutism and centralized state bureaucracy sealed the fate of Spain’s already-dwindling empire. Alas, all iterations of absolute monarchy fail because royal absolutism contains in it no political concept of necessary spatio-material limits, no understanding of the ubi finitur armorum vis which, at the height of European feudalism, was intimately understood by great and prudent nobles.

The polarizing effects of Crown policies included the disastrous (for Spain) result of pushing disenfranchised men of good breeding into various republican and independence movements — men like Bolívar himself, who (it must be remembered!) sought a form of government for Latin Americans built around an hereditary Senate of the best blood. Bolívar, a great admirer of Napoleon, was similarly ambitious, on a similarly continental (dare I say, imperial) scale and was, ultimately, a believer in hereditary (military) aristocracy as much as was the Emperor himself.

Of course, through a clouded and foreshortened hindsight, men of this breed in their particular historical moment, much removed from our own, appear to us like menacing specters in the Jacobin mold, but a goodly many of them were simply the heirs of a once-great blood, of many storied and exalted lineages, fighting to assert their rank and reclaim their rightful privileges, albeit in necessarily new and mutated forms. Their cause, for which they fight as warriors born, is continuity.

When the royal-bureaucratic institutions failed them, they endeavoured to carve out new institutions, which better fit with the older aristocratic ones, which recalls the faded glimmers of traditions felt in every aspect of their existence — brought over on their ancestral ships, carried on their saddles, put forth at their sword-points and coursing through their very veins. In an historical moment which favoured ‘Progress’ and dissolution, specifically a nihilistic centralization within the form of the State, theirs may have been a hopeless task, but not so hopeless that nothing can be gained or salvaged. Its actual significance is that it fueled the subterranean fires just enough that something lasted; their embers can be carried off to light fires in new hearths, to use a metaphor which Nietzsche borrowed from Voltaire. So, while it was then a hopeless task, it nevertheless remains today a worthy task. We may yet salvage that Spanish legacy — and it will be to the future gain of ourselves and our posterity, not to mention the glory of our shared forebears.

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5. The Endless Dance of Blood

Philosophically, we are well advised that all continuous (as opposed to discontinuous) change — whether recursion (i.e. repetition) or even revolution (literally, a complete turning around) — carries us back to the old ways but also carries those very ways themselves into the future. This not only resonates with what Montesquieu calls constance, but also effectively describes the sublative aspect of Hegel’s philosophy of history, the mystifying process of Aufhebung in the Hegelian dialectic. Sublation is preservation by carrying-off. It is momentum. More precisely, then, it is a kind of conservation. By analogy, the conservation of motion or of mass. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Indeed, the more they are enabled to endure.

A generation pregnant with inherited greatness will seek to arrange political life in accordance with the half-forgotten glimmers of its inherited, traditional way of life, to clear the overgrown but structurally solid ruins of the old aristocratic order so that its foundations may support new glories. Occasionally sacrifices must be made — but sustainably, so that flourishing life may not only be saved in the present moment, but continued with dignity; and so these young yet ancient-blooded aristocrats hew from older, more gnarled, seasoned trunks the fresh timber appropriate to its task of construction and renovation.

Moreover, a generation which consciously gives birth to itself as it were, which answers Pindar’s call to “become who you are”, actually reclaims civilization for itself. Men of this breed are even more pronounced in their nobility than the men of Bolívar’s milieu — immeasurable more so! They are more bold, daring, arrogant and sure of themselves. Once they take their courage in their hand and genuinely, fully own up to the inheritance described above, they become discoverers, conquistadores and horseback warriors all over again — maybe even gunslingers of an unforeseen sort. They are, in short, worthy heirs of their — and our — most distant and exalted ancestors.

In this case, the young nobles of Latin America endeavoured valiantly but did not break through the entanglements of the modern world to recover their aristocratic ordering of society or the feudal-tenurial privileges which go with it. What of the next time? For another such generation will arise, as surely as there will always be cowboys of a sort to serve them. No doubt, they will continue to seek such an arrangement of political life as just described. Perhaps they will be stronger this time; perhaps wiser; as much favoured by the preparations which the prolonged passage of time affords as by the opportunities surrendered to them upon the arrival of a fortuitous episode — if only it is seized in precisely the instant in which it appears. On the balance of probabilities, a great generation, even if it numbers only a solitary great man, appears sooner or later.

Indubitably, Old Iberia’s lessons for America and her contributions to a flourishing posterity are still unfolding. It is up to us to seize upon them.

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Conquistadores and Cowboys:
An Occasional Discourse on the Feudal Origins of American Institutions (Part I)

1. INTRODUCTION and Prefatory Remarks A couple of years ago, Mistral accepted a commission from TDR to write an article. It was intended to be a piece on the place […]

1. INTRODUCTION and Prefatory Remarks

A couple of years ago, Mistral accepted a commission from TDR to write an article. It was intended to be a piece on the place of race within political theory at the intersection between political philosophy and practice. The resultant piece was titled ‘The ‘Good European’ versus ‘La Raza Cósmica’ ’ (which now appears as a Mistral Archive reprint on The Devil’s Review). Initially, I didn’t intend to write a response or clarification; a reference to the essay in my own news piece about the Falklands trouble in 2010 was sufficient. Now, upon re-reading the piece retrospectively (especially in light of Alfred Smith’s highly successful and much discussed article at AltRight), I have realized that it deserves both response and, moreover, an historical clarification.

So, I have decided to write an occasional essay to mark the recent re-publication of this piece.

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2. The Provenance of the Ranching Tradition

The tradition of the cowboys, often regarded as quintessentially American, was in fact a vestigial after-image of European feudalism.

One has no way of understanding the ranching tradition out of which the “cowboys” arose without understanding the system of haciendas and encomiendas and no way of understanding this system without understanding its origins in European feudalism.

Feudalism is a concrete confluence of specific material conditions. Once these conditions are in place, they are remarkably durable. Several factors enter into these material conditions may, factors which for the sake of illumination we may largely distinguish into two (albeit overlapping) groups: biological and environmental. There is also a third category, based on the interplay of the other two over time — and we may call these factors ‘historical’. In this case, the biological factors are covered by the Spanish stock which we find from the  Middle Ages to the hacienda system. The Iberian peoples (various forms of Spanish and Portuguese) at the time of the Reconquista and the discovery (and later Conquista) of the Americas were a mix of inter alia Celts, indigenous Iberians, Visigoths and various other influences (including, yes, the Moor or Berber enemy).

The system of land-owning which led to the American traditions of ranching was born in the distinctive environments of the Iberian peninsula, from the plateaus and mountains of Central Spain to the rugged landscapes outlying in all directions, for hundreds of miles. Touring through the wide open spaces of the Spanish interior, one would be forgiven for having the surreal feeling of being transported to the American Southwest. So, it is little wonder that in the United States the region most evocative of these originally Iberian (and predominantly Spanish) traditions is the Southwest itself. Quite simply, they are alike. In similar environments, the raising of the same livestock — in this case, cattle — by the same means — i.e. hacienda-style herding on horseback — will proceed in largely the same way. They present like opportunities for the organic development of like traditions. The material conditions of the Southwest seem and ramify in ways substantially the same as those of inner Iberia, albeit the American experience provided a larger canvas on which to develop these traditions and more pressing economic and demographic demands to stimulate such development.

A question of existential importance remains: Supposing these traditions are thus formed, retained and nurtured, how are they reflected in the stratification of the New World?

The Spanish caste system in the New World was an effective (and flexible) transposition of the feudal hierarchy. So, just as there were in the Mediæval Europe nobles of varying rank, along with their chivalric retainers and the serfs in the fields, there were also corresponding ranks in the Spanish New World. The difference between the hacendado and the ‘mere’ ranchero is the difference between the ricohombre and the caballero, the lord and the gentleman. This seems a slight distinction, bit it is a significant one. The point of contrast is between man who has a vast household and a network of dependents and a man of parts who ‘merely’ owns land.

Potentially, this could be comparable to the difference between an hereditary general and the gentleman, just one of many such, called to that general’s banner. It is, in some ways more clearly, an analogy (and more than simply this) to the Roman differentiation between the patron and the free-born citizen, respectively the patronus and libertus. This is, incidentally, why the Latin American landowner is also known as the patrón.

These classes are, furthermore, both distinct from the peón or serf. Still, the knight need not necessarily be noble and, as a corollary, the knightly ‘class’ as a whole is not strictly noble, albeit that its existence and functions depend upon the nobility, institutionally and infrastructurally. Traditionally, knightly service is repaid in grants of subsistence and honours; the knight still depends upon a lord. This is what gives rises to the ‘knight’s fee’. This convenient martial-logistical way of sub-dividing a noble’s land has the additional benefit of providing a practical delineation of a noble’s military might, by the ubi finitur armorum vis or limited reach of arms.

On this concrete, worldly foundation a noble’s power and status is built.

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Daily Work of Art

Title: St. Sebastian

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: 1869

Style: Symbolism

Genre: religious painting

Technique: oil

Dimensions: 32.2 x 23.8 cm

Painted in 1869, Gustave Moreau’s Symbolist St. Sebastian cleverly perplexes and tantalizes its viewers. Legendarily executed in 288 A.D. by order of Tetrarch Diocletian, Roman centurions bound the young Christian to a tree and repeatedly pierced him with arrows. Since his death, the Vatican considered him a patron of soldiers, plague victims and Christian martyrs. Long understood as a homoerotic image, artists as varied as El Greco, Derek Jarman and Robert Mapplethorpe devotedly illustrated the comely youth’s sacrifice and death. Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane portrayed him as a victim of a centurion’s lust, who gave up his life for his Christian faith. With striated muscles and supple skin, Jarman’s youthful saint hung from a tree while phallically pierced by Roman arrows. Moreau’s St. Sebastian further engages this subtext while simultaneously depicting the young man’s fear and piety before his final end.

Perhaps the first aspect of Moreau’s painting that speaks to the viewer is its representation of St. Sebastian’s face. Trepidation, angst and adolescent sadness all flash out of his eyes while his pulchritudinous body remains strained. His Mediterranean face inspires sympathy while his full lips and flowing hair convey femininity. Moreau wisely blurs the painting’s background causing full attention to be focused on his boyish saint. Only a few layers of oil pigments were employed in creating this image. Unlike other paintings such as Salome Dancing before Herod and Jupiter and Semele, Moreau does not utilize glazing and layers for a ‘built-up‘ effect typical of Nineteenth century academy techniques. Sebastian’s flesh is painted in golden, wan tones with delicate smudges suggestive of light body hair at armpits and chest. As graceful and blooming as his ephebic saint, his Saint Sebastian exploringly palpates traditional conceptions of martyrdom and youthful attractiveness. One of Moreau’s maturer works, St. Sebastian cleverly depicts a saint usually found in Medieval and Mannerist works through a distinctly Symbolist lens.

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Daily Work of Art

Page: Jupiter and Semele

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: 1895

Style: Symbolism

Genre:mythological painting

Technique:oil

Material: canvas

Dimensions: 213 x 118 cm

Gallery: Musée Gustave Moreau

““In the midst of colossal aerial buildings, with neither foundations nor roof-tops, covered with teeming, quivering vegetation, this sacred flora standing out against the dark blues of the starry vaults and the deserts of the sky, the God so often invoked appears in his still veiled splendor.”

—Gustave Moreau

Painted in 1895, Jupiter and Semele plunges its viewers in realms of myth and magic. According to Roman mythology, Jupiter seduced the mortal princess Semele and produced Bacchus by this union. Seated on his celestial throne, the King of Heaven clutches bloodied Semele like a limp doll while multitudes of deities crowd around them. Bloodied and exhausted, the princess experienced intercourse with a god and will now bear a divine son synonymous with fantastic rites and wild Maenads. Below them flock wild Pan, silent Death and terrifying Hecate. Additionally, a three-head devil and several angels crowd around the throne to see the wounded princess. Riotously colorful, the hosts of splendor crowd every inch of the canvas and invite onlookers to partake of this extraordinary spectacle.

Oppositional to Impressionism, Jupiter and Semele boldly defends both Symbolism and its artistic techniques. Unafraid to depict romantic mythology, Moreau proved he could produce works of sophistication. The painting’s detailing creates a scene of encrusted gold, heavenly glories and physical delight. Pierced by the god, Semele experienced orgasmic ecstasy unlike anything on earth. Now the bearer of Bacchus, she will be honored as the mother of an Olympian. Jupiter and Semele valorized Hellenic cosmology and in so doing created an opportunity for viewers to experience our race’s original religion. Subversive and fascinating, it compels us to slip off our bourgeois assumptions and experience the mystery cults of old Arcadia.

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