Another little kick
By way of belabouring my last post, and replying to an off-screen Texas correspondent, and other commendable tea-drinkers of his ilk, the “roadmap to Utopia” we are discussing at the moment could follow an itinerary like this: Henry VIII; Bacon, Descartes; Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau; Jefferson; Robespierre; Marx, Darwin, Freud; then Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, environmentalism, &c. One could draw other squiggly paths — this list needs more Prussians, and adoptive Prussians. From American shorthand we are supplied with the term “Positivism,” in the sense of legal positivism. The word is in itself already an essay in reductionism, which involves anachronism, too. But it does give something of the Baconian bouquet, albeit with that ghastly Comtian finish.
When I defend USA to Europeans, I say they tried to get off the bus at Locke; but the bus keeps travelling towards the other camp destinations, often almost robotically. By now, a driver like Barack Obama is hardly aware that the road has two lanes; that one could, at least “in theory,” be travelling along it in the other direction. And this in turn is my excuse for Obama. I honestly don’t think he is “plotting” anything, beyond the commonplace political deceits which are the stock-in-trade of democracy. He just doesn’t know any better.
The same could be said about most of the somewhat-libertarian “conservatives” I know, whose purchase on what we have agreed to call “positivism” is Black-Friday reckless. For the background enemy position has been reinforced with centuries of tedious propaganda, and there they are in the Walmart.
And it is still coming. Having quickly perused the publicity blather for e.g. Daniel Hannan’s bestseller, Inventing Freedom (and on the other side of the sea, under the more explicit title, How We Invented Freedom), I can recommend it to all my “neo-conservative” friends. I can see they will like it. For it is a mishmash of all the tired old Protestant clichés, encrusting upon the stalk of Anglo-Saxon chauvinism. (Yes, Lincoln at Gettysburg was quoting Wycliffe, and that’s exactly what’s wrong with “of, by, and for the people.”) The old Whig pomposity survives, long after its historical account of itself was blown away by serious historical scholarship. People know so little history today, and these clichés are so flattering to their English-speaking ignorance, that Mr Hannan’s latest can be hailed as some boldly original Torch-of-Liberty blaze, when it is really the same old wet sawdust and a patient man with a Bic lighter.
I like him, incidentally. As politicians go, he is several cuts above mediocrity, and the fact he thinks at all is quite remarkable. Like Burke, he is of Irish Catholic descent, and comes to his British Imperial delusions as an immigrant. He has Hayek’s view that less government is better; along with Hayek’s view that some things ought to be against the law regardless of their profitability. I have chosen him for my example because he is the sort of political company in which almost any current political “conservative” would wish to be. I would certainly take tea with him myself, for “democracy” is what we have at the moment, and Christian irony requires us to enjoy what we have, with biscuits.
Notwithstanding, let me observe, that the “democratic” political battle today is between less-government Positivists who usually like foreign wars, and more-government Positivists who prefer domestic ones. This leaves little room for those against Positivism. I should myself have liked to get off the bus around the time of Henry VII, and would have been willing to walk home from there.
What I look for in a political order is all the usual mediaeval things: simplicity of conception, modesty of intention, stability, predictability, the fear of God, and the habit of staying out of our pretty faces. Texans may argue that the USA, thanks to some “inalienable rights” written into their Constitution, comes closer to delivering on this than, say, Canada or the U.K. or continental Europe. They are probably right, God bless them. But they have also missed the point.
The salient point is that the USA Constitution was itself triumphantly Lockean, or if you will, Positivist. It is the oldest such, and by now that Positivism has spread throughout the West, in many increasingly virulent forms, which incidentally wash back on the USA and get copied there. Healthcare for instance: no possible business of the guvmint’s on any soundly mediaeval scheme.
Killing babies: now that is the government’s business, because it is a form of murder, which ought to be discouraged by Law. Nor do we depend on medical expertise to discern that, though high technology has made the truth clearer to anyone who wants to look. Let me just presume that even libertarians might request State assistance against murder, occasionally.
The old States in former Christendom were generally concerned with the enforcement of the Ten Commandments, which they took as having unanswerably divine “thou shalt” authority, without the least need of an election. This is why, for instance, open atheism and heresy would have been a concern to them: because they were a direct attack on Everything. Atheist positivism has reduced those Commandments to maybe three, with qualifications; then added four hundred and thirty-two more, plus seventeen billion pages of regulations. My opposition to this depends in no way upon libertarianism, and I resent the suggestion that it ever might do. Please, if you’re going to use language like that, call me anarcho-feudalist.
The bus of progressive Positivism rolls on — over the Dantean tiers, if you ask me — and those who want to get off are themselves accused of “relativism.” That is because we keep asking to be let off the bus at different locations, whereas the desire is really perfectly consistent: just let us off your bloody bus! We find ourselves defending one or another status quo ante, each of which must be an ipso facto compromise with the prevailing direction of the bus. American conservatives, for instance, anxious for the honour of their own Revolutionary Constitution, want to turn the clock back only that far (“strict constructionism”), which would hardly be far enough back for a genuinely loyal Canadian. We sniff at all that Lockean and Jeffersonian madness.
The attitudes of my Loyalist ancestors, so far as I can discern them going back to the very first American Civil War in the 1770s, was itself shockingly “positivist.” Most had bought into the inaptly named “Glorious Revolution” in England, and all apparently into the Protestant succession. My ancestors were far from perfect, as I concede from time to time. But they felt in their guts there was something wrong in pushing envelopes of “Liberty” and “Enlightenment” any farther. In that sense they were “conservatives” like Texans, saying with all its faults we’ll keep the constitution we have, which gives the colonial politicians scope enough (Texas today is a mildly rebellious colony of the District of Columbia); and wait for any solecism to be corrected in a constitutional manner. In that context, I would have been loading my musket with them.
What more interests me, however, is the Loyalists’ deeper “Crown and Altar” gut feeling, which one might characterize as a mediaeval survival: an instinctive reference to the anciently established order of Christendom. In Quebec this was gloriously Catholic to boot, and some of these modern “positivist” attitudes did not fully penetrate that province until well into the 20th century — whenupon the poor sods finally lost their courage, and went bat-feathering insane. Indeed, the remaining spiritual superstructure of French Canadian society disintegrated all at once in a specific year: 1960. That aspect is fascinating: for rural Quebec was, along perhaps with western Ireland and some mountain fastnesses in Spain and Italy, among the last of this world’s beautifully mediaeval backwaters.
My Loyalists and these Frenchmen — and believe me, we did not naturally take to each other in a spontaneous way — joined forces for a last stand, and actually pulled off “Canada.” That was something that still gives me a bit of the goosebumps: beating back the Yankee invaders of 1776 and 1812 (with some thanks to the Royal Navy).
There is a book by one of those Frenchmen named Lanctot on the improbable loyalty of his kind to His Britannic Majesty at the time of the Revolution — to say nothing of later when the alternative to the Crown was the prim and rather shrieky little Catholic-baiting James Madison, Jr. It is really rather moving, the way those Habitants joined up voluntarily, in gallant numbers, to fight for our royal British cause — while the sleazy English merchants of Montreal, protective of their delicate sons, were cutting sorry deals with the Yankees.
But my point was going to be: subscription to the old motto of the fine Province of Ontario (Ut incepit fidelis sic permanet; “Loyal she began, and loyal she remains”). The cause to which this motto specifically referred is long lost, according to the conventional view. Yet one still stands, in solidarity with one’s own oddly Calvinist ancestors, in the deeper memory of a legitimate and Christian order that was simple, modest, stable, predictable, God-fearing, and out of our pretty faces.