A thought for Bastille Day

Several correspondents have recently asked me to supply them with reactionary “talking points.” (Have I not been doing so?) They take me at my own estimation, as a “reactionary” — then ask what “policies” go with that. They think maybe we should start a Reactionary Party, and contest the next election. I think, how weak. For even if we did such a thing, and won the next election, we might lose the one after. Having proudly accomplished nothing in four years, beyond quietly undoing the work of previous governments, we’d be replaced by a pack of “doers” again. All would be lost.

For the first principle of reaction is Truth, and that is in its nature unchanging. (The same may be said for Beauty, and Goodness.) If something is true, it is always true, and vice-ah verse-ah, by tautology. If something is false, it remains false. A government grounded in truth cannot change. It deals with nothing but passing accidents (as much in the philosophical as in the material sense), and with those always in the same way. A reactionary government would be perfectly predictable at all times, at least to its friends. To its “progressive” enemies, perfectly unpredictable, for they would never understand it. Surely it would never agree to be elected.

While it is probably better for one’s soul to lose an election, than to win, one’s supporters are likely to think one selfish for taking such a view. They don’t care about your soul. They want to win. In other words, they are not true reactionaries.

There are anyway hardly enough reactionaries to fill all the chairs in the High Doganate, or all the offices in the Borborygmatic Club (a secret society to which I belong). So the threat of corruption is not imminent. Nevertheless, a sudden tide of applicants persuades me that one can never be too careful.

Have there been any reactionary governments in the past? Oh yes, plenty. Arguably, we had one running Egypt for three thousand years. (Alas, even there, some brief interruptions.) Absolute monarchies tend to be reactionary, which is why I am well disposed to them. The hereditary principle weeds for ambition. All change is for the worse, including change for the better, from an absolute monarch’s point of view. This is what makes him the opposite of a tyrant. The best sort of ruler promises nothing, and delivers on his promise every time. The worst sort of tyrant has “plans.”

I am for government of laws, not men. Monarchy is compatible with that. The law itself should prevent the monarch from doing anything that requires imagination. By “absolute” I only mean to distinguish from “constitutional” monarchy, for in this latter the king is merely prevented from doing anything himself, so that someone else can make a hash instead. It is just more zoocracy, or government by politicians.

But the best sort of society I can imagine is one in which there are no politics at all. Nobody even thinks of such a thing, it is so long since anything changed. Criminals are hanged in due course, and the rude are inhibited by custom. Life goes on, and each selects his own path, to Heaven or to Hell, in a voluntary way, without the slightest government assistance. The State would be all but invisible (except on parade days), leaving the Church with the monopoly on dropping hints. (The symbol of the State has always been the hangman; but in a well-ordered society he is merely a backstop.)

“That government is best which governs least,” said Henry David Thoreau. Well, yes and no. The statement is used to champion weak government. But I am for a government that is unbreakably strong.

Chinese sages understood this, too, including the mystical Lao Tzu and those old Tories, Confucius and Mencius: that it takes tremendous power to do nothing. Voting whittles that power away.