In the following interview, I was joined by Prof. William T. Cavanaugh. Perhaps most famous for his work on the Myth of Religious Violence, Cavanaugh believes that modernity, with its liberalism and secular statism, is not only a system of religion but is also consuming us. Yes, we are being consumed by consumerism; our disposable society reflects on us.
Cavanaugh discusses his understanding of the false corporations of modernity which consume us and compares this with the personalistic corporation of Christendom — both consume us, but the manner in which are consume and are consumed by the body of Christ, is one of mutual love and unity, solidarity even. (This is nothing new, of course — Catholic distributists have been criticising laissez-faire market practices since the 1800s, at least.)
How then, might Christian communities and the era of Christendom now celebrated by Hans Hermann-Hoppe, be retained in a “post-Christian” West? I challenge Cavanaugh to present his market-oriented solution:
Just as Prometheus rebelled against the immortal and powerful gods of the Olympic pantheon, so too Jason Reza Jorjani proposes that we rebel against the super-powerful big-technocratic elites of our day, lest they develop an unprecedented and, as yet, unimaginable level of control over humanity. Otherwise, we could face a situation where all mankind is trapped in a technologically-capped sort of neo-feudalism. However, this feudalism would, of course, lack the virtue-oriented cultural frameworks which influenced feudalisms past.
Two decades ago, most would have considered all this far-fetched. The cautionary tales of 1984 and A Brave New World have become relevant to everyday life and the exponential growth of technology towards the so-called “singularity” is fast-approaching on the horizon. We must come to terms with the concerns of Jorjani, lest we be overwhelmed – those concerns being that exponential and runaway technological development may soon (before 2050) become immeasurable and incomprehensible to the unaided human mind, leading to the end of humanity, history and reality as we know it.
Prometheus, of course, stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity, to his creatures whom he made of clay – thence the cultural big bang of human civilisation. Likewise, the potential technologies that are wielded by the technocrats and which keep so-called conspiracy theorists awake at night are the very tools Jorjani wants liberated and accessible to anyone with the stomach for them; that means everything from the parapsychological abilities (which still form the basis of governmental experiments) to the weather altering technology of the HAARP program in the U.S., and even other equally dangerous and paradigm-shattering technologies, such as secret space-program tech and miniature drones designed for untraceable assassination.
Whether you share Jorjani’s views regarding the existence of such technologies or not, the sincerity of his research warrants one look beyond what technology may or may not be currently wielded by technocrats. The ultimate point of Prometheism is theological, political – an attempt to subvert the dominant powers of globalism, as did the trickster, Prometheus.
Prometheus is creative, the creator of humanity, no less; he is the forethinker, as his name etymologically suggests, but he isn’t just selfishly prescient, he is an enlightener. In this sense, Prometheus is the first freedom fighter. Given his own prescience, he established our human minds as distinct from other creatures, granting us the ability for abstraction and planning for the future. In this way, Prometheus is a liberator, an example to spur us on in a revolutionary war against fatalism or even against Zeus (the father of gods), who would have had us as mere servile beasts without free will. At this point, our Christian heritage prompts the question of whether Jorjani’s Prometheus is most akin to Christ or Lucifer. For Jorjani, it is distinctly the reverse – they are kinds of Prometheus.
For me especially, the question of whether Prometheism follows the traditions of the Church or that of the luciferian gnosticism of Western esotericism is of tremendous importance. Elsewhere, I have written for Arktos, the publisher of Prometheism, about these two major currents of Western thought which have competed for politico-theological manifestation in what we now call Western civilisation. Here is a truncated version: Christian thought encourages greater responsibility of the individual, whose liberty comes from a growth in virtue – the mastery of oneself, the cultivation of and elevation to a godly manner of life; Western gnosticism, however, is deterministic in its view of man, hoping that those elite sons of fortune, destined to lead man in technological growth will eventually progress us all to the point of escaping the clutches of nature and history – then, mankind will be free. On which side of the fence is Jorjani?
Certainly those with a superficial knowledge of theology will recognise the similarity between the satanic serpent in the Garden of Eden, encouraging the eating of the forbidden fruit in order to grant a knowledge of good and evil – Prometheus, likewise, delivers secret knowledge to man contrary to the jealous will of Zeus to keep man in ignorance. Moreover, Prometheus is the teacher of man in every art and technology, rather like the fallen angels of Lucifer in some schools of Christian tradition. The fire which Prometheus delivered would be a means to might for us mortals, according to Aeschylus; and, taking a more literal understanding of this, a comparison can be made with the fallen angels’ creation of the mighty men of ancient renown – the Nephilim (Genesis 6). Prometheus’ desire, in Jorjani’s reading, is to subversively spur on human creativity and to make of them a new race of gods to rival the Olympic pantheon.
However, if anything, the similarities with Christ are greater and even undermine the comparisons of Prometheus with Lucifer. Prometheus was not only a loving creator of mankind, but he is a martyr figure, sacrificing himself for the enlightenment of his children, his created brethren. In understanding the nature of the fire which Prometheus gave us, the similarity becomes brighter; the enlightenment which Prometheus secured for us was our free will, to avoid becoming mere beasts.
Lucifer, or “the god of this world”, as Christ identifies him, tricked mankind into eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. This didn’t empower man at all, but introduced him to ideas about abusing himself, his fellow man and the natural world, and otherwise acting contrary to the ideals we can perceive by our nature – our social and sufficiently rational nature. Note, these are all behaviours which Jorjani explicitly wants to outlaw and sees as contrary to Prometheism. Significantly, it is Christ who rebels against the god of this world and the spiritual wickedness in high places vying for control. Christ came to free our will from the chains of sin – the various appetites and addictions which become our masters and cloud our judgment. Christ is the light of the world, shining in the darkness, revealing our shortcomings to us. I could fill this page and more with the metaphors and similes of the one come to free and enlighten our will. The comparison of Christ with Prometheus, in the sense of being victorious over Zeus, is far from original to me – consider the famous painting, The Triumph Of Christianity Over Paganism by Gustave Doré.
Therefore, when we juxtapose Prometheus with either Lucifer rebelling against God and being thrust down to Hades, or as Christ bringing his rebellion against the god of this world, we find that only one of the two seeks to recreate man as conforming to the image of God, i.e. mirroring God, with a free will. The “ultra-humanism” which Jorjani’s political theology advocates requires a sound understanding therefore of what man is and what God is, lest that theology become frustrated.
Why not Christ?
For full disclosure, I am a reactionary Catholic and I am also very fond of Jason Reza Jorjani, whose work I have quoted and with whom I have had friendly correspondence. He does not share my view of Christ, to the extent that he is not fond of Goethe’s Faust and the Spenglerian coining of the psychopathic European spirit as “Faustian” – note, Faust repents and goes to heaven, thus baptising the restlessly persistent soul of our Indo-European heritage. Given the history of Jorjani’s people, as an Iranian man with more than a little bitterness left in his mouth about anything remotely Semitic about my religion, his attitude is entirely understandable. I, nevertheless, have as much time and patience for Jorjani as the story of Faust could encourage; I sincerely hope this would be reciprocated by many on the right who believe Christianity is anything but a continuation of the Hellenistic and Roman heritage of Europe, and that they would read my own book, also published by Arktos, to clarify the matter. Still, the question must stand: If traditional Christianity ticks Jorjani’s boxes, presenting a viable framework for preventing the technocratic enslavement of man by an unworthy elite, why not embrace or at least ally with it?
After all, Jorjani proposes a Heideggerian view of technology which explicitly refuses to view man as somehow separate from nature, as mortal foes who must conquer the other or be conquered. He almost embraces the poesis and idealist creativity to man’s techne. However, when it comes to the metaphysical and philosophical grounding to any of this, Jorjani’s Prometheism sounds strikingly similar to Jordan Peterson’s hollow, classical liberal, modernist rehashing of Christianity. Like Peterson, Jorjani’s philosophical views are liberal in their politics and pragmatic in their epistemology. For example, let us consider Jorjani’s view of goodness, beauty and truth. You know, those immeasurable and divine qualia which we all seem to acknowledge in our daily behaviour, despite their having no basis in the scientific method.
– Truth is what works, apparently. Like Peterson, Jorjani is an empiricist, yet what empirical or scientific methods can you use to determine if that statement is itself true?
– What of beauty? Jorjani writes, ‘The inspirational power of beauty is an expression of the evolutionary force.’ Is this statement true? More importantly, however, what is beauty? To paraphrase, it is apparently the perceived limitations resonating within oneself in the face of harmonic proportionality. Is that statement true? And what grounds are actually informing those forms which Jorjani deems “harmonically proportional” (i.e. beautiful, for the lay reader).
– Is there an objective good? In Jorjani’s Promethean libertarianism, if there is a common good, it is whatever enhances individual creativity. Evil is whatever thwarts that. Similarly to Peterson and most other forms of liberalism, Jorjani wants the state to step aside from individual creativity and experimentation. Just like most liberals (including Peterson), however, Jorjani also deals with “oughts” when it comes to what he privately beliefs is good and bad; for example, ‘Aesthetic experience should be an encounter with an expression of ascendant life…with a view to kindling personal genius’ (emphasis mine). But, why is this good? What is good?
Again, my own writing has brought a sword against libertarianism for ignoring the civilisational necessity of a shared mythos and cultural framework, of shared definitions, particularly regarding justice. But, Jorjani has circumvented all that by simply making the creed of modern liberalism a religion. Something can be supposed good because, in a somewhat Nietzschean postmodern style, the competing power structure of Prometheus insists so (not unlike the divine command theory of Islam, which Jorjani claims to oppose). To put it more simply, modern liberalism proposes a polity in which there are no public or common beliefs, except the creed itself that there are no public or common beliefs – leading to cultural and, now, ethnic pluralism. Jorjani, however, proposes this creed and the same sort of modern, Hobbesian, mediatorial state to impose it…in honour of Prometheus.
What then is the problem with the rise of the modern liberal state, built upon the Western gnostic view of man and society? Jorjani pictures a world in which elites rule unabated by the state, in which the ethos is simply ‘geared toward the progressive enhancement of capacities for creative expression.’ Look around you! The Elon Musks of the world are achieving increasing and merging control with states to produce progressive, hyper-individualistic polities in which the creative technocratic entrepreneurs rule for the sake of nothing but the ‘creative expression’ of those individuals. Perhaps these aren’t exactly the technocrats Jorjani has in mind; perhaps the purple-haired 72nd gendered lesbian who’s developing a new strain of super skunk isn’t how Jorjani sees true Prometheism playing out. Yet, all of the above are just exercising their will to power and Jorjani is doctrinally bound to not intervene.
Two examples summarise the instability of Jorjani’s system: He presents his own distaste for modern art, brutalist architecture etc. as cliche or attempts at mere novelty. Yet, many far better educated and more involved in the arts would strongly disagree. In the free-speech system he proposes, he must convince them they are wrong. On the other hand, Jorjani dislikes any narrowing of thought by collectivist tyrannies, China being his chief example. But, what of the creative efforts witnessed in the Soviet Union – in art, in engineering and technology etc.? Contrariwise, what of the degenerating of these fields which has occurred under the liberal societies of the West, which he prefers? We come full circle.
Without any grounds on which to determine that either limitations imposed by authority or degenerative public acts by individuals are evil, how does one curb the entropic nature of fallen man? Jorjani’s libertarian religion suffers from the same instabilities as all other forms of modern liberalism which reject the classical definitions of man and liberty upheld by Christianity.
Much to his credit, Jorjani perceives that the big-technocrats, who are currently and immeasurably accumulating wealth and power in exponentially fewer hands, are not “Promethean” enough – that is, he would inject them with some sort of ethos to combat certain selfish, short-sighted, opportunistic behaviours, wrought by a modern capitalist mindset. Note Jorjani’s fear that unworthy elites will travel to Mars and beyond in luxury, while serfs left behind might be even more intrepid, innovative and open to experience than the technocrats – what a waste! Thus, when Jorjani describes Prometheism as the maximisation of creativity, we can see his desire to see technology in the hands of as many people as possible, just as the sacred fire was shared with mankind. But, once again, traditional Christianity is way ahead of Jorjani. Developing upon the classical Greek and Roman definition of property, the Church has continually taught that the accumulation of wealth and capital, especially land, is as dangerous to the common good as the accumulation of political power. The Church has an extremely well-developed and engaging solution to the dangers to which Jorjani is rightly directing our attention. Prometheism does not; neither does it have the potential for the radical, worldwide cultural change required to halt the current rise of global technocratic neo-feudalism.
So, I repeat, why not Christ?
This may come across as a scathing critique of Jorjani’s work. I can only promise that I like Jorjani and his work. I put a lot of thought into the above review because I am called to a sober circumspection of all things and to strive for the truth, but the reason I wrote it at all was because I want to see the right grow in understanding. Without question, Christianity is inescapably central to the right in the West; we have to acknowledge this. I do my very best to help others overcome whatever scruples they have about doing so.
In Jorjani’s case, I think it boils down to a fear that the Chinese will use gene-editing and re-engineering of the germline, IVF etc. to outclass an already moribund Western civilisation with super-soldiers and super-geniuses, and he fears that Christianity would prevent the use of similar technologies. In fact, IVF is notably dysgenic and introduces high mutational loads into offspring and populations; it isn’t an organic, sustainable solution to the production of fitter, happier and healthier populations. This is why the Chinese government seem to prefer the sort of eugenics that the Church has always encouraged – prudent courting and the matching of suitors; not to mention, the Chinese government’s encouragement of familial care for elderly parents and other such traditional policies. Furthermore, they have continued to publicly note the runaway explosion of Christianity throughout the country. Why should all this not be music to our ears?
Jorjani, like Jordan Peterson, must decide which side of the fence he will come down on – traditional Christianity or Western gnosticism; there is no third way. He wants us to perpetually grow to be more human than human; as a friend, I would simply inform him, there’s an app for that.
The Distributist is a fascinating Youtube channel. I cannot recommend enough the systematic and deeply intuitive, insightful way with which this influencer analyses political thought on the left and right, and even cultural phenomena such as the horror genre. I was so struck by this thinker’s development of a nine-point framework of what it means to be right-wing, that I needed to sit down and pick his brain about it.
For as long as I can remember, I have considered myself “a man of the right” and I believe I can determine whether others are. But, recent conversations and questions have cornered me into a realisation – many I do consider my fellow rightists have very little understanding of what it means to be on the right. So, can we crystallise some quintessence of a definition?
Dave “The Distributist” Donovan has made a Herculean effort to be objective about things, setting aside his own traditionalist, Catholic, reactionary beliefs in order to define the right so as to capture the whole, whether right-libertarian, fascist, conservative etc. The piece is titled, ‘To be “right-wing”… (in 9 points)’. To summarise his work, we can describe fundamental right-wing beliefs as follows:
There is an essential meaning to human life and so there are virtues to realise that meaningful life. However, we naturally tend to fall short, entropically, from realising those virtues and ends of life. We, therefore, need ordering principles, customs, cultural institutions etc. to curb degeneration.
That’s it! Too simplistic? Well, to understand the Donovan’s wisdom here, this requires unpacking. Here is my interview with him (and do excuse the poor audio in the first several minutes); and, below that, are my own thoughts on his definition:
In terms of the first three of Donovan’s axioms, there is a meaning, a teleology to human existence which transcends the self; there are thus virtues or disciplined actions to pursue that meaning, to live a good life and meet a good death. As such, there is objective goodness and it is an end in itself – power or might are not necessarily right, but are only means to earthly ends. Echoing the don of Radical Orthodoxy, John Milbank, communities exist to sustainably manifest those virtues and that shared meaning of life, enculturating a particular people in a particular place to that end, and preserving those virtuous responsibilities qua customs across time, principally through families.
Practically speaking, even if the above is assented to, constraining forces are required to halt the entropic, degenerating nature of fallen man; furthermore, the very institutions designed to maintain such discipline become less observant themselves, according to Robert Conquest’s apocryphal “three laws of politics”. A classical understanding would be: we share a logos and an ethos, and to preserve these, we will have to manage our shared pathos. Donovan aptly paraphrases G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which is worth quoting fully:
‘We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. But this which is true even of inanimate things is in a quite special and terrible sense true of all human things.’
And so, as hierarchies are inevitable – as in Robert Michels’ iron law of oligarchy – the chief problem of politics and metapolitics is the tendency of humans and institutions to corrupt. The responsibility for societal survival, vis-à-vis maintaining the virtues necessary for moral uplift, must therefore be undertaken at every level of all institutional hierarchies, to check and balance every other from inevitable degeneration – that is, from the promotion and pursuit of mere comfort and pleasure for their own sake.
To realistically expect such solidarity and shared purpose requires the alignment of the interests of rulers and subjects – all must have skin in the game to maintain accountability; thus, the tendency on the right towards monarchy, with rulers’ children benefiting from the common good of the body politic, and other political systems which imperfectly mimic this arrangement; similarly unsurprising are tendencies towards nationalism and degrees of subsidiarity – that is, some decentralisation of political decision-making.
Finally, to prevent the corrupting influence of clandestine “dark power”, from within or without, such as bribery or the seductions of wealthy international forces, very orderly, clearly delineated and formalised rules, offices, functions etc. are necessary wherever the potential for the accumulation of power is concerned. Essentially, the right-wing trend is towards maximising responsibility and minimising impunity.
Now, you may be thinking that this is all very Platonic, expressing beliefs or at least behaviours which indicate an implicit belief in objective truths; of course, this is in stark contrast to the individualistic spirit of modernity and the inevitable scepticism which has captured postmodernity. This does seem like a good starting point for identifying the kernel of philosophical difference between leftist and right-wing thinking. But, notice something: these categories, which we can use to make sense of the left vs. right dichotomy, platonism vs. scepticism etc., are fundamentally Western, European ones; and this is where I think Donovan’s definition falls short, and probably deliberately so. We could, of course, say that there are people in any given human society who will tend towards some of the above concepts, and certainly there have been in the other great civilisations, such as the Islamic and Chinese. But that is hardly defining the right and is, in fact, imposing that category or construct of Christendom onto other civilisational contexts.
Yes, Christendom! Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, being a reactionary, shied away from the more modern view of left and right-wings qua modern statist constructs, but he nevertheless used the terms to describe the general virtuous trends towards the shared logos as “on the right”, as they direct one towards Christ, who is the logos incarnate and seated at the right hand of God. The sinister/left was what deviated from this towards modern liberal secularising and, thus, away from a Christian cultural framework, a collective effort to halt the degeneration of man – his relinquishing of the responsibility to do what is right.
Even our understanding of leftism cannot escape its origins: From William of Ockham’s nominalism, in the Middle Ages, developed the spiritual individualism of Lutheranism, and rather inevitably on to moral consequentialism (in stark contrast to virtue as an end in itself) and, thus, the modern liberal ethics of moral relativism. This is how we arrived at the hyper-individualistic view, prevalent today, that most and maybe all collectively imposed moral obligations are immoral, with genderless individuals defining their idiosyncratic meaning of life.
As much as Donovan is to be commended for trying to develop a theoretical framework for the empirical definition and future study of the right (something which would not even occur to most right-wingers), our conceptual baggage of political left and right were born in and developed by the particular context of Latin Christendom. I must conclude by agreeing with the underappreciated Fr Aidan Nichols, that the Anglosphere owes all its truly conserving and ordering institutions and traditions, ultimately, to the Albion of Catholic England. From the attire of our judges to the rituals of our politics and military, the secularised Anglosphere animates itself on the skeleton of Christendom, and when we talk of “the right”, we are talking of approximations to that former order. We can no more escape that context than a fish can jump on land and start a new life.
So, is a pragmatic alliance of those religious and ideological communities which adhere to Donovan’s “9 points” possible? Well, it certainly was possible in history, under the emperors and kings of Christendom (and elsewhere, under similar arrangements), and pockets of this harmony are extant, but the question will always remain: Which ethos and logos will rule as King of kings? Christ, at the right hand of God, may be exactly what right-leaning folks, from various backgrounds, need in the West, but will they accept him or rather cry, ‘Barabbas’? With the acceptance of hierarchy on the broader right comes the problem of accepting another’s ethos to guide our rulers.
Donovan ends our interview by suggesting that the transnational threading of power in our current context allows little more than smaller communities in which traditional Christian values can act as the underlying framework for such non-pluralistic polities (which are almost purely hypothetical). The major disadvantage the right has is that, although the Catholic heritage of the West is ultimately where the cultural framework which undergirds the public discourse of the right lies, not all on the right are so accepting of this; the left, however, now have the framework of intersectionality to act as the map for their discourse and to separate their pereceived wheat from the chaff, and so the right is now vulnerable to the left’s superior ability to police the public discourse.
As such, the attempt to provide a framework makes Donovan’s valiant attempts timely and a necessary step to bring some balance to political discourse. Given the riots and lotting erupting across the West in 2020, I don’t exaggerate when I emphasise how timely it is. We now have a vantage point for the future.
Radical Orthodoxy (otherwise known as the Cambridge School) is a movement of traditional Christians from across the denominations, including John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, William T. Cavanaugh etc., which criticises modernity, especially the modern state, and attempts to trace the steps of Western civilisation back to the point of departure from the Platonist lifeworld of Christendom.
So, what were the philosophical missteps which brought Western civilisation from the lifeworld of Christendom to a modernity that has left our stomachs full but our souls empty?
In the interview below, Paul Tyson discusses this movement’s critique of modernity and the unguided Hobbesian Leviathan state, and he presents suggestions of how we might set the West back on track, and perhaps take steps towards the reunification of Christendom.
Epiphany is here and all merriment on New Year’s Eve has given way to the reality of another year of mixed blessings. We can now clear-mindedly reflect on all the delights, dedicated to proceeding ever more boldly against evil, we received in 2018. SPOILERS!!!
Whilst Upgrade deserves an honorary mention as a cautionary tale for libertarians – freedom doesn’t necessarily lead to virtuous behaviour, certainly not from a super-intelligent AI – the most libertarian film of 2018 is arguably Incredibles 2.
The chief complaint about this film was that the general plot was very similar to the first film – a mysterious tech billionaire employs Mr. Incredible with the hidden agenda of wishing to eliminate all superheroes. In the second film, yes, brother and sister tech billionaires, Winston and Evelyn Deavor, do employ Mrs. Incredible, i.e. Elastigirl, to take part in an albeit illegal comeback display of heroism, broadcast to the world as part of a campaign to repeal the legislation which drove superheroes underground. And, yes, Evelyn, as it turns out, is the one behind the mask of the Screenslaver, who hypnotises folks to do her wicked bidding. And, yes, she wants to see the world turn entirely against superheroes to see them shutdown forever. However, this film picks up from the moment the first left off, and the moral tale does so too – and don’t all the best moral tales for all the family use repetition?
Libertarians loved The Incredibles and it’s not hard to see why: a father works outside of the law, and a soulless job he hates, to do good; the overall picture is one of government regulation and bureaucracy getting in the way of talented individuals from doing their best. This sequel asks the natural question of whether this is responsible; whether it is good. The main parental argument of this film sees the mother declaring that they should be teaching their children to obey the law, yet the father insists that they should not be taught to obey bad laws – oh, how rare it is to hear such things. Yet, this was the heart of Western civilisation. ‘What are we teaching our kids?’ asks Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible. However, this is nothing we haven’t seen in the first film. The major difference and the heart of the libertarian message of the film comes from the different opinions presented to us by the sibling tech billionaires.
You see, Winston and Evelyn take different opinions on their father’s death – Evelyn believed he should have taken his wife to the safe-room when their house was entered by armed robbers, whereas Winston thought the father was right to go for a hotline to the superheroes, whereupon he was shot. Evelyn’s Screenslaver makes some compelling arguments about how reliance on superheroes makes us weak – our bourgeois habit of putting everything on a screen and distancing ourselves from the action does so too. But, she is missing the point, which the people-person, Winston, understands and embraces – that the superheroes are real people, good people, our neighbours, wanting to help.
Whereas the Incredible family are told by the police to let the villains make off with the money etc. and let the insurance companies deal with it, we see that the numerous instances of love and sacrifice, which make the family stronger, are just what the community/the world needs to make it a better place. Winston would use his wealth to make this happen; Evelyn, however, is blinded by anger and fails to see that love and trust in those with greater abilities doesn’t make one weaker, nor does leaving everything up to the state and/or insurance companies make us stronger.
Tom W. Bell’s Your Next Government?: From the Nation State to Stateless Nations came just before 2018, true. But, it’s been introduced to so many libertarians in so many conversations this year, I can’t fail to recognise it. What can I say? Most of you are familiar with Dubai and a growing trend in special jurisdictions around the world; this Cambridge University Press book, however, takes the argument further and makes remarkable predictions about this future trend, sure to delight libertarians everywhere:
‘Governments across the globe have begun evolving from lumbering bureaucracies into smaller, more agile special jurisdictions – common-interest developments, special economic zones, and proprietary cites. Private providers increasingly deliver services that political authorities formerly monopolized, inspiring greater competition and efficiency, to the satisfaction of citizens-qua-consumers. These trends suggest that new networks of special jurisdictions will soon surpass nation states in the same way that networked computers replaced mainframes. In this groundbreaking work, Tom W. Bell describes the quiet revolution transforming governments from the bottom up, inside-out, worldwide, and how it will fulfill its potential to bring more freedom, peace, and prosperity to people everywhere.’
Daredevil is undoubtedly the best of the Netflix Marvel superhero series. It deserves an honorary mention, but I mustn’t press the narrative of ‘superheroes acting outside of the law for the good of natural law’ any further. Watch Daredevil; he’s a Christian superhero/lawyer who acts on his moral instincts by night where the legislation of the US fails on the streets of New York during the day. Enough said.
The real winner here is a Spanish show, titled Casa de Papel or, in English, Money Heist, and can also be viewed on Netflix. The plot revolves around a group brought together by a brilliant man, known as the Professor, to carry out a mysterious heist on the Royal Mint of Spain. They wish to print many millions of Euros and have a plan to get away with it all. But, has the Professor accounted for everything? Are the personality clashes of the group, the hiccups and unexpected turns part of his ingenious plan or not? Notice, I haven’t left any spoilers here for you; watch it and enjoy the Professor’s tirade about the motivation for knocking off the central bank – truly the libertarian gem of 2017/2018.
Many will cry, ‘Red Dead Redemption 2!’ Nay, I say, but Kingdom Come: Deliverance. My decision is based on a little more than a preference for the medieval over the wild-Western aesthetics – both charming. In Kingdom Come, players are truly challenged by those obstacles to freedom, indeed, the necessities and manners which maketh man – strong men, even – capable of acquiring and sustaining freedom. This is because one goes from simple village politics as a smithy’s son to becoming a lord, but not before having everything taken from you and having to build it all, from the pig’s filth, up. What’s more, the setting is that of the bedrock of Western civilisation – Latin Christendom – and the troubles and turmoil which were rocking its world, and which would ultimately lead to the rise of nation states.
Let’s take these lessons to heart in 2019, grow stronger and make the world a better place.
The conventional definition of a ‘state’, as provided by Prof. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, is ‘an agency…that exercises a territorial monopoly of ultimate decision-making. That is, it is the ultimate arbiter in every case of conflict, including conflicts involving itself, and it allows no appeal above and beyond itself.’1 Europe, however, developed remarkably different systems of law and advanced stateless civilisations, as I have written about in detail elsewhere. Nevertheless, a growing number of Western nationalists have begun to idealise the more oriental, statist elements of the Roman Empire, as influenced by the Etruscan patricians, mistakenly perceiving statism to be the traditional European system of law and order. Consequently, they perceive modernism, especially the modern state, as a welcome reinvigoration of this supposed Western political tradition.
In this article, I will argue that sovereign, patriarchal institutions are necessary to sustain decentralised juridical orders; more specifically, the European tradition of having a plurality of such interacting institutions was what prevented the rise of states and allowed the development of famously European liberties, from the ancient Indo-Europeans to Latin Christendom. The emphasis on the patriarchal element of jurisdictions is important to understand how to optimise human liberty.
For example, let us cast our minds to Robinson Crusoe on his island – a favourite hypothetical of Rothbard; alone on his island, Crusoe possesses free will and is also free in the sense that most libertarians would understand the word – that is, no potential interloper is present to create a conflict over the scarce resources on the island and Crusoe’s negative, assumed rights to these remain unviolated. Now, let us assume Crusoe finds a woman on the island, and she becomes his wife and the mother of their children. Would we object to Crusoe acting as the ultimate decision maker of this family unit? The vast majority of us would not. Most Christians among us believe it is perfectly natural and right for the father to be the ‘head of the family’; the strict Rothbardians essentially agree on similar grounds, i.e. that the young children haven’t yet reached an age of reason. But, let us add a crucial variable to this situation.
Let us suppose that Crusoe has dominated a sort of Amazonian tribe of women on the island. Crusoe has also developed a superstition regarding the island’s active but quiet volcano, even worshipping it as some deity. Crusoe sacrifices all his male offspring into the volcano’s fiery mouth, as well as the more mouthy of his wives. Do we agree with this situation? The strict Rothbardians would perhaps only object (in terms of law) if any of the women disagreed with this arrangement. Imagine, if you will, one of the Rothbardians washing up on the island, yet all of the women agree with and were even the ones who converted Crusoe to this volcanic religion; they are perfectly satisfied with the sacrifice of their male infants, which they believe has not only quelled the volcanic eruptions, but it also blessed the island with their special prophet, Crusoe. What objections would the Rothbardian raise?
The following is Rothbard’s most controversial belief – an absolute and consistent, if hyper-individualistic, position regarding the duties of a parent to their child from the perspective of negative rights:
‘It must therefore be illegal and a violation of the child’s rights for a parent to aggress against his person by mutilating, torturing, murdering him, etc. On the other hand, the very concept of “rights” is a “negative” one, demarcating the areas of a person’s action that no man may properly interfere with. No man can therefore have a “right” to compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced. On the other hand, the very concept of “rights” is a “negative” one, demarcating the areas of a person’s action that no man may properly interfere with. No man can therefore have a “right” to compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced… [T]his means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.’2
So, the Rothbardian might suggest that Crusoe simply leave the babies at the side of the volcano instead, where they can die slowly, whether he personally finds this abhorrent or not. I highly doubt they or Rothbard himself would ever suggest such a thing, but he might come away from this experience with a greater respect for the cultural power of a shared belief, especially a metaphysical belief. Had the Rothbardian been a Christian, he might likewise recognise he has no legitimated authority per se on this island, but at least he would certainly have a missionary duty to attempt to convert Crusoe and the women, and end this diabolical cycle of murder. You might think this is a ridiculous hypothetical, but this struggle against the brutal paterfamilias was a stark reality in medieval Europe.
We say that all have free will, but what of those beliefs which totally deny this? What about total moral relativism? What about the shattering of justice into a spectrum of definitions, so that actual injustices to the natural order of the human world can simply be termed ‘social justice’? It should be clear to anyone who has engaged Western leftism of late, let alone anyone who has studied history, that there is and always will be a market for injustice. The legalistically Rothbardian, that is, hyper-individualistic among us would probably have had little success in ending the ancient, assumed rights of family heads – you choose your private court and I’ll choose mine. But, Christendom brought a plurality of natural law-oriented jurisdictions – practically speaking, competing patriarchies which didn’t threaten the liberty of the father, but rather refined it and allowed greater liberty for women and children.
Prof. Anthony Esolen describes what he calls the baptism of the paterfamilias by the monastics:
‘One of the great unheralded events in history occurred in the early sixth century, when a monk named Benedict of Nursia was asked to write a rule governing life in the monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict aimed to provide a Roman orderliness and moderation, unlike the spiritual athleticism of the East, with its daring flights of physical deprivation and marathon prayer… Saint Benedict’s genius was Roman; his instincts favored the stable and conservative.’3
The monasteries produced highly disciplined men who gave up their lives to work wholly towards the ideal, preserving and developing Christian civilisation, not just by clearing the forests and swamps and harnessing natural forces with brilliant machines, but by bringing an alphabet, the continuation of classical wisdom and reason, and the preservation of aesthetic beauty. These men were led by an abbot (from abba – father), inspired by the highly patriarchal culture of ancient Rome. Monasteries became centres of learning as well as economic and technological hubs. Later, guilds, universities, entire cities etc. would follow a similar pattern and would result in sovereign patriarchal institutions – the sort of environment in which jurisdictions could compete to provide sustainable order and liberty.
Esolen is right to describe this as a baptism of Roman patriarchy, as Roman law was built from the individual household up, with the father as head of each household and considered, along with the eldest son, to be a proper citizen. Indeed, as Prof. Larry Siedentop notes, ‘Citizens were originally simply the patres, something surviving in Roman usage when senators were called the “fathers” of the city.’4 Naturally, there emerged in the cities large, aristocratic, patrician families. So, this informed Roman public law, of course, with the senators being the ‘godfather’ figure to large bodies of junior branches of families and even more clients. Just as in ancient Greece, people belonged to the city and its gods, with the free patriarchs having ‘freedom’ in the sense of sharing the positive exercise of coercive government. Now, it’s important to understand that these people were thoroughly religious and not the extreme secularists modernists on the right romantically imagine them to be, so the system was not lightly challenged by underclasses. Just as with Crusoe on his island, a spiritual change would have to occur to so change Europeans’ understanding of individual freedom as we know and love it.
As Siedentop explains, the ‘old aristocracy’ of ancient Rome and the concept of kingship were always understood as a religious role; the undermining of this, i.e. ‘what moved the younger sons, clients and plebs was a desire to share in the privileges of the citizen class – to cut a figure comparable to that of a class which had hitherto combined the gravitas of priests, the pride of rulers, and the glory of warriors.’ As such, Siedentop identifies the preference of the underclasses for tyranny as simply a way of smashing the old order and maybe getting a better deal;5 the echoes of this can be seen in the Monarchic, French and Bolshevik Revolutions. But, as libertarians, we agree that greater centralised statism is not desirable, regardless of how we arrive at that conclusion.
So, we need to briefly digress to see where the European paterfamilias emerged from, in order to understand why Christendom and its plurality of jurisdictions was able to bring a level of peace to all of Europe – succeeding where pagan Roman Empire had failed. The ancient Europeans had their household gods – departed and glorified ancestors – who were invoked for assistance through the household fire, making the hearth the centre of the physical home, the abstract family unit and the spiritual elements which sacramentally unified the whole. The father was at once priest and ultimate decision-maker for the family; the eldest son would take on the continual maintenance of the family fire and invoking the idols around the heart – the basis for primogeniture in royal and other lineages, as well as gathering pictures of family around the mantelpiece of the fireplace, usually at the centre of the Western home. For women, marriage into the family meant taking not just the name but the religion also.
With the establishment of Latin Christendom, however, came a system which respected the father as head of the family, the masters, chairmen, principals, presidents, lords, kings etc., right up to the authority of the emperor. This was not simply a hierarchy, but horizontal, even parallel authorities had become sovereign and there was the cultural court of appeal of the Church’s canon law available at any level and to all. Indeed, the new belief that all had a life to live before God and were loved by Him anathematised brutality towards infants, who were now baptized into the Church, and women too could choose whom they married and had their own vows, as well as patriarchal authorities to keep a brutal husband in check.
Under such a system of patriarchal authorities, the expectations that men naturally impose on each other – ‘breaking each other’s balls’ when unnecessary weakness and irresponsibility was displayed – was palpable; thus, the traditional doctrine of subsidiriaty developed organically and would later become clarified Catholic social teaching, placing decision-making at its most local, immediate level. It is this subsidiarity, this undertaking and grasping of responsibility by men, down to the individual man, which enables countries like Switzerland and Liechtenstein to become so greatly admired by libertarians as sustainable, successful models for preserving decentralised authorities.
The individualistic, laissez-faire bourgeoisie so admired by most libertarians, however, is typically a culture of passing off responsibility when it becomes ‘cost-effective’ to do so, e.g. paying taxes is easier than fully undertaking everything required for me to defend my and even my neighbours’ properties, regardless of what effect this has on the masculinity of my community. Libertarians must re-evaluate the importance of cultural factors, such as patriarchal authorities, which sociologist, Steven Goldberg, brilliantly identified as inevitable in human groups decades ago, remaining unrefuted. We can conclude by declaring that competing patriarchies create greater freedom as the dominating aspects of masculinity, at any scale, are tempered by the protective. Also, as I have argued elsewhere, the importance of religion is fundamental to providing a shared definition of justice and, as a market and respect for injustice is ubiquitous, this demands to be considered in libertarian thought. I think my concerns were best brought home by the words of Mises Institute president, Jeff Deist:
‘what would you fight for? The answer to this question tells us a lot about what libertarians ought to care about. By this I mean what would you physically fight for, where doing so could mean serious injury or death. Or arrest and imprisonment, or the loss of your home, your money, and your possessions. I’m sure all of us would fight for our physical persons if we were attacked, or for our families if they were attacked. We might fight for close friends too. And perhaps even our neighbors. In fact we might like to think we would physically defend a total stranger in some circumstances, for example an old woman being attacked and robbed. And we probably would fight for our towns and communities if they were physically invaded by an outside force, even though we don’t personally know all of the people in our towns and communities. How about an abstraction, like fighting for “your country” or freedom or your religion? This is where things get more tenuous. Many people have and will fight for such abstractions. But if you ask soldiers they’ll tell you that in the heat of battle they’re really fighting for their mates, to protect the men in their units–and to fulfill a personal sense of duty. In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.’6