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Freedom, Justice and Revolution

In this article, I have set out to explore three terms. They are named in the title. ‘Freedom’ (or ‘Liberty’), ‘Justice’ and ‘Revolution’. These are very attractive terms, to be sure. There is no doubt about that. They are, in fact, so attractive that those who understand them least use them the most. Despite being left ill-defined, these terms, when used in political discourse, have a strong impression upon us. What definitions and conceptions of them which we do have are — quite simply — false, misleading and harmful.

Usually, what makes the use of these terms counter-productive is not their original meaning. Rather, it is the dishonest deviation from this meaning. They are de-historicized and neutered. Rights which were interpersonal, social, legal, contractual become merely (and dangerously) metaphysical. Where origins are forgotten, there the flower of ignorance — monstrous and erroneous — blooms. Specifically, wherever one forgets how and when rights have come to develop (and lacks even a mythical description of this development), there the exploding bud is the ‘Rights of Man’.

What was once understood as historical and contingent, is supplanted by a twisted facsimile — an ahistorical, universal and static parody, suspended awkwardly over history.

Nevertheless, there may yet be something which can be salvaged from them.

JUSTICE — HOW MEN ASSOCIATE IN A CIVIC SENSE

The Ancient Greeks were preoccupied with man’s place in the community and his prosperity as an individual. It must be noted right away that the Ancients saw the two as being inextricably linked. Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to the ancient Roman, the ancient Norsemen and so on. It is only today that the individual in conflict with the body politic.

In the ancient world, the most honourable men associated out of selfishness. This made perfect sense to an ancient Greek, Roman, Nordic or Brahmin. To us, being Westerners in the world of today — with our paltry conceptions of liberty, rights, selfishness and so on — this is rather more difficult to understand. When it comes to liberty, our ‘modern ideas’ obfuscate matters, rather than illuminate them.

Where we have normalized relations with certain parties, we have expectations. These expectations are contingent upon these relations. So long as these relations continue, they will be formalized. Once formalized, they are represented by ‘rights’. So, why is it harmful to forget this origin — or even, to forcefully break with this origin? First, because rights are contractual and conventional. Only with provenance can one prove rights. Secondly, because this opens the door to the error of making rights metaphysical. Since rights are conditioned by the power to provide for them, if rights are assumed everywhere, we cease to take account of reality. Our flight of fantasy sacrifices the ‘is’ for the ‘ought’. Moreover, the justification garnered from making it a moral issue adds impetus to the most horrifying conclusions.

It is from the nobility that we have the men who create, inherit and guarantee rights. It is only proper, therefore, that they hold the first and highest rights of all, and grant these to their sons. More fundamentally, these liberties are based on their valuations and are most at home in the same kind of soil they were born in. The differences which informally (yet invariably) lead to men falling into roughly two distinction groups — (1) the best, and (2) the rest — also lead the first of these groups to form an entire worldview based on their own extraordinary nature. In the class distinctions which follow from this, we find the formalization of qualitative differences. What is made formal is the inequality which is the precondition of rights. What does this mean? Simply, the class-system provides the basis for all rights, as well as the guarantee of liberties. Beyond this, authentic freedom (in a more fundamental sense) is only possible for those with the aristocratic spirit.

Nietzsche’s master-morality (Herrenmoral) neatly and essentially encapsulates this. Also, he tells us that there are no rights without an inequality thereof. Moreover, equal rights only exist between equals — i.e. between those who can requite themselves. Those who can equal one another, in deeds. (“Equality for Equals, Inequality for Unequals” he suggests as a mocking slogan.) Drawing on another use of the word ‘equal’, we might say that one only has equal rights where one is equal to these rights.

Excavating terms (and therefore, concepts) embedded in our language, Nietzsche set out — with great success — to prove this. The etymological ancestry which he thus traces vindicates his theory of a twofold history of morality. What he more or less demonstrates is that we begin with the primary distinction: good-bad. This distinction starting from the declaration: this benefits me, therefore it is good; or, more simply, ‘if it’s good for me, it’s good’). It is, however, to be distinguished from the evil-good distinction (which begins with evil — in short, with what is Other, what is hated, what is to be reacted against). The reader may notice I called the good-bad distinction the primary one. This is what I would call the primal phenomenology of human existence. It is self-consciousness.

On this point, it would be irresponsible not to mention Hegel. Why? Is this due to a fear of influence not being acknowledged? No. Rather, I wish to show the chief, irreconcilable difference between this conception and Hegel’s conception of ‘Herrschaft und Knechtschaft’ (or ‘Lordship and Servitude’) from The Phenomenology of Spirit. Put simply, Hegel incorrectly ascribes the impulse of self-consciousness as residing with the servant, not the master. The Master is the creator-conqueror — he is the originator and arbiter of value. He spontaneously develops the good-bad distinction.

The Master — that is, the superior — has primacy of self-awareness. In his consciousness we have the origination of self-consciousness. The ‘I’ is his contribution to ontology. This is fundamental, in his value-system. The good-bad distinction is underived from anything other than the Master’s own experiences of the world — and his innermost, ownmost feelings. In short, the good-bad distinction originates in a sort of ‘ipsissimosity’. One might call this ‘own-most-ness’, for want of a better form of expression.

Moreover, the Master treasures different things. He reveres that which carries the marks of age; and he reveres tradition. Nietzsche emphasized that “all law rests on this twofold reverence”. Conservatism is indelibly ingrained in the value-system of the nobility, even if they are born and bred risk-takers. Nietzsche argues, furthermore, that faith in one’s ancestors and partiality towards them are noble traits, surely indicative of “the morality of the powerful.” Legal relationships are based upon their profound conservatism.

Naturally, then, it is among such value-creating men, among the nobility, that law is first taken seriously — as in Rome. (“Jus est ars boni et æqui” — that is, “Law is the art of the good and the right”. The Roman would naturally assume — and correctly — that this referred to the nobility.) It is among men of approximate power, who see the advantages in avoiding open contest, that legal relationships — and thereby civil association — first arise. Similarly, it is only among peers that one can have justice proper.

Justice is not based upon everyone being equal, but on the opposite — upon our radical inequality.

REVOLUTION — HOW SLAVE-MORALITY BECOMES ‘PETTY POLITICS’ AND THE ‘WILL TO NOTHINGNESS’

In revolutionary leftist politics, there is a tendency to condemn what is considered reactionary.

However, the proletarian condemnation of ‘everything’ reactionary is insincere. The accurate identification of the bourgeoisie as reactionary is beside the point. That middle-class commoners are reactionary does not make lower-class commoners any less reactionary. They have more in common with each other than either would like to admit. Indeed, more than either has with the nobility. It is this, and not purely economic ‘forces of production’, which makes the capitalist system a hot-bed for revolutionaries. Moreover, it is also precisely this which plots the coordinates for the middle-class Angst so characteristic of the modern age.

One of the few things which is in any way unique about the middle-class is that exists between two classes. The virtually extinct class above it has been everywhere betrayed by the money-grubbers. They feel inadequate next to this, which accounts for all their show. All middle-class ‘selfishness’ is not based on self at all, but based on pursuing what everyone else pursues. They are long on vanity and short on self-esteem. Their ‘self-interest’ consists wholly of the extent to which they are suckers. Knowing that they are unable to match those they have betrayed perpetuates an inherited guilt. Put bluntly, they feel, even if only unconsciously, they have robbed the world of something they know to be beautiful and matchless. Something which, for all the ‘forces of reproduction’ at their fingertips, is irreproducible.

Perhaps that’s why they must deify capitalism and reinterpret history in a whiggish fashion, to marginalize the part of the nobility in securing ancient freedoms. In fact, the nobility did not make a mere contribution to the concept of liberty. Liberty itself is the aristocratic contribution to European life! This is somewhat like Freud’s interpretation of monotheistic religion as being founded upon feelings of guilt (and perhaps remorse) over killing the father-founder. Given their utter inadequacy as a ruling class, they must feel, given their inability to live up to the responsibilities of a genuinely ruling class — by the ruling class.

Such guilt is compounded by their fear. There is a kind of collective neurosis in the middle-class. That is to say, there is a vague fear of something, and that trembling expectation is, in fact, a dim recollection of their treachery. Note that it is ever the adulterer who is quickest to accuse their spouse — and it is ever in the adulterer’s mind to suspect adultery, just as surely and as soon as the adulterer’s heart is capable of adultery. Adultery is only wrong when and insofar as it is treachery. This explains the discomfort and the otherwise inexplicable outbursts of the middle-class ideologues — fascists, libertarians and generic right-wingers — against the aristocracy, whenever this sore point is even lightly brushed.

Adducing Nietzsche’s counterpoint to the aristocracy’s abovementioned respect for what is old and traditional might clarify. He says that this respect is indicative of “the morality of the powerful; so, it is just as sure a sign that when, conversely, men of ‘modern ideas’ believe almost instinctively in ‘progress’ and ‘the future’ and show an increasing lack of respect for age, this reveals clearly enough the ignoble origin of these ‘ideas’.” How seriously are bourgeois belief-systems committed to tradition and veneration of the old over the new? The answer is: Not nearly enough.

The vulgar temperament is secondary and reacts against what is old, inherited, traditional and so on — often, it even does so when it tries to do otherwise. On the other hand, a retention and reiteration of origins is aristocratic and primary — and, therefore, not reactionary.

So, what is really reactionary?

Reaction is weakness. That is, one reacts in the political sense out of weakness. When a person or group react politically their conditions of life, with some kind of demands, they are reactionary. Reaction is the closest that commoners, the weak (formerly known as the bad also), can come to requital. (The repayment of acts — good or ill — is the crucial precondition upon which one is regarded ‘good’ in the sense of master-morality. The ‘bad’ are identified as those unable to return either generosity or wrongdoing.) They cannot repay the debt, so they would rather wipe it out altogether. Revolution is a form of acting out so as to erase one’s origins — even if only temporarily.

What is revolutionary, therefore, is invariably and necessarily reactionary.

To be genuinely and fundamentally reactionary is to feel the weight of another’s existence more heavily than one’s own. Complaint is the act of signalizing one’s permeability. It is virtually consent. Complaining, as we usually think of it or act it out, is the acceptance of victimhood. Implicitly, one admits that another is the victor and oneself the vanquished; or ‘worse’, that another is lord and oneself the vassal. Revolutionary violence in the name of freedom, social justice or some other such nonsense is going too far. It is an over-compensation for the inescapable knowledge that one is and always will be a slave.

Revolution is always slave-revolt; and the slave-revolt is the acknowledgement of one’s status as such. In politics, the slave doth protest too much. For example, gay-rights activists invoke the latter-day iteration of Judeo-Christian metaphysics as their own basis when they champion their cause as homosexuals — a category invented by nineteenth-century physicians. They, as a once-frowned-upon minority, are revolting against the societies which “oppressed” them by its own terms and on its own playing-field. This is just a particular case of a general phenomenon.

The slave admits and internalizes his irremediable status as a slave by the very act of revolution. Revolution does not abolish or disprove the master’s view of the low-born (that is, the view of them as wretched and predisposed against virtue). Rather, it vindicates this view.

The slave is always profoundly unfree, even when he is unchained.

WHAT IS FREEDOM?

The question of what freedom is, what it means to be ‘free’ (if one can indeed be free), is of crucial importance.

Liberties, like rights, have a basis only insofar as they have a provenance. Not only is this manifestly and demonstrably true, it has to be accepted by conservatives. Similarly, Liberty itself — or Freedom — can only be regarded as authentic if we can find out where she belongs. Supposing She is our totem, we will find a place for Her among ourselves and our own origins.

So, how is the term ‘liberty’ used politically? We could digress indefinitely in answering this, so let us look at one particular answer.

Incidentally, another triad of terms containing the term ‘liberty’ was the rallying cry of the French Revolution (Liberté, égalité, fraternité). This at first sounds appealing, until one realises that it completely misunderstands the nature of the very first term: liberté. Did the Revolution bring liberty? Do revolutions in general allow greater liberty? Is equality the same as justice? Is revolutionary ‘brotherhood’ better than civil association? The reader is now in a better position to answer these questions. Indeed, I can answer them right now.

The French Revolution opens the door to an interesting ‘cast study’ of sorts: France in the modern period.

My position on the inheritance of guaranteed rights can be largely summed up in the thèse nobiliaire. The reason why is quite simple. One need only look to the environment in which this thèse was passionately expressed. There is a perverse continuity between the projects of the centralized, absolute monarchy and the motivations behind that series of events making up the French Revolution, the ‘Reign of Terror’ and the progressive décadence of France thereafter. Moreover, both of these involved rationalistic State-building projects (explicitly, in the case of the Revolution; implicitly, in the case of the Bourbon monarchy).

So, the thèse nobiliaire is the only one which conservatives can accept. Anything less and one is no conservative at all. Metaphysical rights, without history, without precedent and without limit, have ever been the justification of usurpation; and liberties will ever be the justification of unchecked state expansion — and of tyranny. This is what genuine conservatives have ever railed against. Montesquieu can be correctly called a conservative in his efforts to prove the case for this thèse.

Incidentally, the Constitution of the United States is based — albeit imperfectly — upon the framework observed by Montesquieu. It includes a separation of powers — the trias politica — albeit in a form quite different from what Montesquieu actually envisaged; but it does not contain the corps intermédiaires or pouvoirs intermédiaires — that is intermediary ‘bodies’ or ‘powers’ — which are, in fact, crucial for the proper operation of government. The flourish of the baron’s pen is in that founding document of supreme law. In fact, Montesquieu’s influence upon the Founding Fathers — both Federalists and Anti-Federalists alike — was various yet vast. Even these democratic dreamers were swayed by his pluralism. It is little emphasized today, but this is an important influence in early American (constitutional) history. The intermediary powers — or “little platoons”, if we want to use Burke’s turn of phrase — in securing the separation of powers and the privileged place of liberties is an important part of the history of the Founding of the new political order. Debates about the role of the Senate brought this to the fore. It was, in fact, the Anti-Federalists who were anxious for the Senate to hold the “natural aristocracy”. The Founding Fathers were swayed by the pragmatic pluralism of this. Such a well-ordered diffusion — favoured by Montesquieu, Hume and Burke — promotes the general welfare within the States, the integrity of the Republic, and the soundness of the laws. It is a conservative position.

Of course, Montesquieu is supportive of something even further down the road than this: a separate and self-protecting upper house with a suite of unique powers. Needless to say, this is also something which would be forbidden by the contemporary understanding of the Constitution. Clearly, the separation of powers was more nuanced in the mind of its most famous formulator. A powerful and self-concerned “upper house” of the legislature would represent the nobility. More importantly for modern political theory, it would serve a functional purpose: a body counterbalancing the fads, errors and careerism of unrestricted democracy. This house would also exercise judicial powers in cases involving peers of the realm — just as such bodies had done in Europe. The nobility was allowed the privilege of protecting itself; they could not be subjected to popular magistrates. Montesquieu is no democrat. It is only when taken out of context, can Montesquieu be said to support either pure monarchy or democracy. Montesquieu is a pluralist, yes — but he is a conservative also. On this latter point, Boulainvilliers before him can likewise and a fortiori be called a conservative.

Both of these men — Boulainvilliers and Montesquieu — may be tentatively placed into a particular tradition of thought. Both men take the position of the thèse nobiliaire, although their arguments take slightly different forms — Montesquieu gives almost utilitarian reasons, because it makes for a workable mixed government and yields the best results, but Boulainvilliers establishes that it is customary and it enshrines the prerogatives of the founding stock of France’s political and legal order. In any case, both men adduce proof in a fundamentally conservative way — by showing evidence that there are inherited rights, liberties and so on belonging to the aristocracy as such, and independent from the Crown. At least in this — that is, in considering their most sacred rights and franchises as an inheritance — they are as one with Edmund Burke. Even if it were only in that, this is still sufficient to prove their conservative temperaments.

The Bourbons seriously invoked the ‘divine’ right of kings, while failing to consider the actual nature of this right and its legal origins. Nietzsche wrote, incidentally, that there is no right that is not granted from some other source (in other words, were there are rights there are relationships); we only regard a right as inherent once we have forgotten who granted it and even that it was granted. (Again, regarding rights as inherent necessitates a misunderstanding of the very nature of rights.) In the case of the Bourbon kings, they forgot that it was the nobility who granted their ancestors and predecessors rights as extraordinary arbiters in settling disputes between noblemen. The monarch is an instrument of an aristocratic form of social organization. Once this is forgotten, he becomes a tyrant — and an enemy of aristocracy. Such a tyrant must rely on popular support, or at the very least, the contentment of the masses. He must provide them with bread and circuses, offices and (unjustified) titles.

Tyranny reliant upon popular support has a name: despotism. Note that this is the distinction which Montesquieu makes in his L’esprit des lois. Additionally, it is the only definition of despotism which really meaningfully distinguishes it. (This is a distinction so obvious that even a Marxist — namely Althusser — can admit it!) The House of Bourbon, especially from Louis the XIV onward, was engaged in a continuous campaign to circumscribe and enervate the nobility. This was a concerted effort between the monarch and the commoners to dispossess the nobility of that which was righ2tfully theirs. Absolute monarchy, therefore, is just another name for despotism — and democracy is a hair’s breadth from despotism. Montesquieu is at pains to show that both are harmful — and to show something else which they have in common. This factor is the nobility. There is no ability to protect the mixed government without a class system. Nor, for that matter, is it possible to hold the state and civil society apart — without an aristocratic component in each.

Of course, this is what has been learned throughout the twentieth century. Popular government is accountable to itself — i.e. to no-one. (One sees the same problem in libertarianism. In this respect, the doctrine is identical to liberalism. Libertarians, like liberals, are so busy looking for ways to secure civil society against interference from the State, that they forget to do vice versa and secure the State against such interference from the masses. Libertarianism provides a despotic model for government. This is invariably the case for libertarianism — unless taking an outright anarchistic form, in which case the divorce from reality is complete.) This unmoderated government derives from the French — or, as Nietzsche insisted, English — error. The Bourbon absolutism was dynastic, but it paved the way for dictatorship. To put this in Carl Schmitt’s terms, the framework for political decisions is completely accessible to the fickle masses, and therefore inefficient, beleaguered and compromised. In such a situation, there is a kind of “short-circuit” so to speak, in civil society. Unprotected, the circuit dies — and with it, the realm of liberty. When dealing with the public and private spheres, there is a distinction and a distance between them which must be respected in both directions.

The nexus of these two spheres is the class-system which maintains both. It is the aristocracy which alone can hold these spheres apart and maintain their mutual integrity, like Atlas holding the sky and the earth apart from one another. So long as this distance is maintained, there shall be no tyranny — popular or otherwise. Liberty thrives within a genuine class-system. This brings us to our problem. The absolute monarchy of France destroyed liberty only and precisely insofar as it destroyed the class-system. This point cannot be emphasized enough, given its importance.

In modern liberalism, we see the same divorce from origins as in the latter-day ancien régime. The French Revolution was the turning point, as we have seen, at which the emboldened commoners (the same bureaucratic bourgeoisie which the absolutist monarchs of France had artificially and illegally empowered) took the remainder of the power which the Kings had not already granted them. Maistre wrote that the French Revolution happened as if it could not be stopped. Indeed, the Revolution occurred like a force of nature — precisely because the heedless Bourbon dynasty had injudiciously prepared the way for it. The existence of the Parti de l’Ordre in the Second French Republic is an echo of the spirit which led to France’s bloody and ignorant democracy in the first place. In actuality, it enabled the same bourgeois bureaucracy which had been enabled by Kings since Louis the XIV. What we see throughout is the steady disenfranchisement of the nobility, with much more continuity than would at first appear.

What is sure is that from Louis the XIV, the “Sun King with his unprecedented, unrestricted political power and his massive State bureaucracy, down through his dynastic successors, to the French Revolution and beyond, the ancient privileges, rights, liberties and prerogatives of the French have been under continuous assault.

So, there are lessons to be learned from France, in the lead-up to the Revolution. One’s answer must not exclude other such events, however.

Our modern understanding of ‘rights’ is flawed. Human rights (civil rights, individual rights, social rights and so on) are an obstacle to, not a foundation for, liberty. The bias behind this is slave envy. It goes without saying that appeals to ‘social justice’ arise from the same motivation. There is a whole slant which runs through all of these misunderstandings, whether wilful or not. The slave-revolt accounts for this perversion — or, more accurately, inversion — of our deepest values.

Clearly, the Judeo-Christian (also the Jacobinliberaldemocraticsocialistsocial-democraticlibertarian and so on, ad nauseam) understanding of legal/political concepts, like rights and liberties — not to mention, of actual freedom — is both limited and flawed.

Nothing cut off from its roots lives long afterwards. It is not assuming too much to extend this, by way of metaphor, to our liberties. The species of ancient rights and liberties to which I refer may grow in other climes — as in the Vedic class-system which prevailed in the Indo-European civilization in the Indus Valley — but it must ever be in the same kind of soil. There must be a value-system, a class-system and a background amiable to their growth. Moreover, they must have an aristocratic provenance, just like the men who were for so long their guarantors and protectors.

In short, our rights and liberties must have nourishing roots.

CONCLUSION

Our treatment so far has clarified where these terms ‘stand’ in their contexts.

To clarify, we may separate the three terms into two groups. We misunderstand the meanings of ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’, but reasonably think them good; on the other hand, we understand largely what is required for revolution, but should accordingly think it bad. Yet it is thought good — and that is most probably because we mis-recognize the first two terms.

So, there is a profound méconnaissance here — it is singular, but has a twofold significance. It affects how we view the words ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ on the one hand; and, on the other, the word ‘revolution’. This is, of course, the inversion of values mentioned above. In our depraved efforts to abolish aristocratic prerogatives — the only political approximation of freedom — we, as Westerners, have not brought ourselves any closer to achieving freedom for ourselves. Rather, as revolutionaries — that is, as reactionary killjoys — we are the enemies of liberty and justice. Our Revolution is an Inversion.

This leaves us Westerners, then, with a sobering thought. We are not only unfree; we are unjust.