Burke on Aristocracy

“The state of civil society, which necessarily generates this aristocracy, is a state of nature; and much more truly so than a savage and incoherent mode of life. For man is by nature reasonable; and he is never perfectly in his natural state, but when he is placed where reason may be best cultivated, and most predominates…We are as much, at least, in a state of nature in formed manhood, as in immature and helpless infancy.”
—  Edmund Burke, The Conservative Mind

Ah, now here is some true contradiction. Earlier in his writings, Burke attacked Rousseau’s ideas of Liberty and Democracy. He believed that the state must always exist to save men from their own passions, as he believed the state to be necessary to protecting men from the brutality of other men. Yet, here we have Burke claiming that aristocracy is the “state of nature” of civil society.

In trying to interpret this and his other writings, it appears that Burke defends aristocracy like John Adams – as any system whereby one individual controls the voice of more than one person. Adams asserts that this type of aristocracy is inevitable in any society, and I don’t think anyone could doubt him. That said, what I find detestable is the type of coercion used in an aristocracy, not the existence of the aristocracy itself. Burke defends the idea that those of esteemed property, birth, and education should control the nature of man – an idea I find hard to reconcile with the modern American views of conservatism and an idea that should be detested by anyone with a modicum of respect for any Libertarian (socialist, AnCap, etc.) principle. Burke overtly denies any beliefs in giving people full agency over their own well-being, and it appears that Traditional Conservatism is just a fancy word to defend an Oligarchy. I can’t imagine that half of the people claiming to be “conservative” truly believe that those with the most money should be given free reign to corral, coerce, maintain, and dictate over the hungry masses, but then again, that still means that at least some of those people genuinely do maintain that belief. And that is indeed a scary fucking thought.

 

Further Reading:

The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk

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Conservative “Acceptance”

“Conservatism never is more admirable than when it accepts changes that it disapproves, with good grace, for the sake of a general conciliation; and the impetus of Burke, of all men, did most to establish that principle.”
—  Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind

Okay, but no?

Maybe I’m just being semantic over the word “acceptance” here, but Burke spent his entire career railing against things he disapproved of. Sure, he wasn’t lobbing bombs on Thomas Jefferson’s house, but there’s a world of difference between violent opposition to and genuine acceptance of things you find distasteful. Spending time, money, and political influence trying actively to change the law is not “acceptance,” and if Burke is to be the man “to establish that principle” of acceptance for conservatism, then I’m afraid conservatives will never truly accept any view contrary to their own.

 

Further Reading:

The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk

Conservatives and Prejudice

“A prejudice is by no means (though generally thought so) an error; on the contrary, it may be a most unquestioned truth, though it be still a prejudice in those who, without any examination, take it upon trust and entertain it by habit…The bulk of mankind have neither leisure nor knowledge sufficient to reason right;; why should they be taught to reason at all? Will not honest instinct prompt, and wholesome prejudices guide them, much better than half-reasoning?” Lord Chesterfield, The Conservative Mind

While I can understand this condemnation of “half-reasoning,” it is simply preposterous to assume that prejudice – which is essentially a guess based on upbringing – acts as a “much better” system of processing new information. Reason tells us that equal work ought to receive equal pay. If two humans have done the same labor, they should be paid equally. However, centuries of prejudice has prevented such a simple concept from being adopted outright. Reason tells us that workers, who work daily within an organization, ought to have a democratic voice in the management of said organization. Yet prejudices, held by capitalists on the nature of private property, are holding back this idea for selfish interests and the old “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. Reason made it plainly obvious that the African-American living in the South ought to have the same opportunities provided to him as to his white neighbors; yet prejudice dictated that slavery, Jim Crow, and the institutionally racist prison system should hold out against this plain reason a while longer.

Prejudice is the antithesis to growth. If we are to grow into any semblance of a free, honest, or – hell- even Christian nation, we must not be afraid to cut out the toxic prejudices of our fathers. The conservative’s refusal to address the problems inherent in prejudice is a sign of moral ineptitude that has no place in the modern era.

 

Further Reading:

The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk

The Dangers of Militant Social Darwinism

“This aspiration [pacifism] is directly antagonistic to the great universal laws which rule all life. War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilization.” General Friedrich von Bernhardi, 1911

Very few advocated for war in the same direct, brutish manner as General Bernhardi. He was a Franco-Prussian War veteran who simply couldn’t get enough. He was vocally opposed to all form of peace treaty and, as a military historian and prolific writer, he spread his ideas throughout the German military. According to Bernhardi, war was the “right” of all peoples. Again, his incessant devotion to Social Darwinism lead him to believe that war was the only possible way to advance mankind. To a certain extent, its clear that this idea has never been fully eliminated. Even today, we see countries, such as the United States, taking it upon themselves to “advance” other countries via force(Yemen, Iran, Syria, Somalia) towards “democracy,” “freedom,” and, of course….a capitalistic economic model that relies on the United States for trade. What a bizarre coincidence.

 

Further Reading:

July 1914: Soldiers, Statesmen, and the Coming of the Great War
by Van Wyk and Williamson

 

More 19th Century German Militarism

“The essential function of the State is the conduct of war…Without war, no state could be. All [the States] that  we know of arose through war, and the protection of their members by armed force remains their primary and essential task. War, therefore, will endure to the end of history, as long as there is a multiplicity of states. The laws of human thought and human nature forbid any alternative, neither is one to be wished for. The blind worshiper of eternal peace falls into the error of isolating the State, or dreams of one which is universal, which we have already seen to be at variance with reason.”
—  Heinrich von Treitschke, 1897

As promised, here is another German statesman writing on the necessity for war as a cornerstone of Germany’s foreign policy in the late 19th century. Von Treitschke was a die-hard social Darwinist who supported every military endeavor as a chance to separate the weak from the strong. His callous, combative writings as a member of the Reichstag only serve to help demonstrate the growing wave of militant imperialism in Germany’s geopolitical strategy – Weltpolitik.

I shouldn’t have to go into why this is such a stupid and dangerous ideology. We have two World Wars to highlight the problems in believing that war is a tool to be used at will, rather than as a vicious beast that needs to be contained.

 

Further Reading:

July 1914: Soldiers, Statesmen, and the Coming of the Great War
by Van Wyk and Williamson

Centralizing Power: What Could Go Wrong?

“The emperor will determine the strength, organization, and structure of the contingents in the imperial army, as well as the organization of the provincial armies, and he has the right to determine the garrisons within federal borders as well as to order the mobilization of any part of the imperial army.”
—  Constitution of the German Reich, 1871-1919

In Van Wyk and Williamson’s July 1914, they make a pretty clear point that one of the chief catalysts to the Great War was the horrendous military/civil structure of some of the participating countries. In Germany, the centralization of military power or the overreach of that power into the civilian realm only served to aid in the disastrous grand strategy of Weltpolitik. When you have a stated expansionist goal, you almost need war to be successful. And to be fair, Russia had a similar situation in that the Tsar had the final say in all things dealing with foreign affairs or the military, but Kaiser Wilhelm was undeniably more war-hungry than his Russian counterpart. And that’s the problem with military centralization – it foolishly opens the pathway to unchecked domination. A centralized, militant state gets an almost myopic view of the world. It sees every event, every conflict, as a contest. Coupled with the short-sighted views of the “Social Darwinists,” a military so hierarchical is always one pugnacious general away from total war.

There will be a handful of other quotes in the next few days exemplifying German militarism and support for an forceful foreign policy, and while Germany was certainly an aggressive entity during the Great War, I can’t emphasize enough that Germany was not at all alone in combative foreign affairs. Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold loved the idea of militant diplomacy. Any analysis of French military writings clearly shows that much the French military had wanted war with Germany since the loss of Alsace-Lorraine.  Serbian leaders like Apis blatantly wanted a war to dissolve the Habsburg Empire. British Foreign Minister Edward Grey outright wanted to end German industrialism and refused to even speak with Berlin in the early days of the conflict. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that there were no “clean” hands during the first World War.

 

Further Reading:

July 1914: Soldiers, Statesmen, and the Coming of the Great War
by Van Wyk and Williamson

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

 

 

Big Surprise: Hotzendorf Wanted War

“We must under all circumstances have a military success, unconcerned about the views of the other powers. The tactic of mobilizing must be avoided since it hurts the army and the population. If after an ultimatum, Serbia does not yield, no later opportunity for concessions must be given – then there only remains mobilization and war.”  —  Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, July 1914

At a time when even Austrian foreign minister Berchtold was seeking to use diplomacy (albeit militant diplomacy), Hotzendorf would stop short of nothing but war. In fact, this very bloodlust – but turned towards their ally, Italy – actually got him demoted in the months preceding the outbreak of the conflict. However, while Franz Josef was originally more inclined to Berchtold’s aggressive diplomatic strategy, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, combined with the volatility of the Serbian press, led to his decision to give his attack dog, Hotzendorf, renewed power over the Austro-Hungarian military. In a weird way, Franz Ferdinand was the glue shakily holding things together. With him out of the way, war mongering military leaders, such as Hotzendorf could take the reigns of death and destruction and lead Europe into the Great War.

 

Further Reading:

July 1914: Soldiers, Statesmen, and the Coming of the Great War
by Samuel Williamson Jr. and Russel Van Wyk