Monday 4 July 2011

A classification of the Right by 'Bonald' - plus Mystical Christian Reactionaries


Condensed from the Throne and Altar blog - A Taxonomy of the Right written by the pseudonymous Bonald.

  1. The romantic conservatives. The romantic emphasizes the limits of discursive reason–both its ability to capture the complexities of social reality and, more importantly, its ability to inspire the sentiments and loyalties on which society rests; he promotes tradition, that repository of past ages’ wisdom that speaks to man’s heart.  Members of this tradition include Burke, Coleridge, Kirk, Chateaubriand, Maistre, and Brownson, Russell Kirk, Jim Kalb.
  2. The social conservatives.  First great voice was Louis de Bonald. The social conservatives  dedicated themselves to the defense of authoritative institutions, especially the monarchical state, the patriarchal family, and the Catholic Church.  Includes the French counter-revolutionaries– Le Play, Keller, and La Tour du Pin, Taparelli, Leo XIII, Pius XI–in Italy. Much of the substance of today’s conservatism (e.g. opposition to divorce and homosexuality) derives mostly from this tradition. 
  3. The distributists/agrarians.  In England and America, social conservatism took a distinct form.  It was at peace with democracy, but remained hostile to industrialization.  Its ideal would be a Jeffersonian republic of small farm holders.  Its two branches were English Catholics (Chesterton, Belloc) and American Southern Protestants (the 12 southerners), Wendall Berry and Allan Carlson.
  4. The cultural conservatives.  The focus was that culture was being submerged in materialism, consumerism, massification, and demagogy.  Examples include Eliot, Spengler, Dawson, Guenon, Evola, and Voegelin.  This conservatism was entirely intellectual; it had no political program. 
  5. The Right-Hegelians.  Emphasis was on building a social order that would fulfill people’s need for the world to make sense to them and thus remove their alienation from the world.  The Left-Hegelians include Marx, etc). Today, this tradition is carried on by the British conservative Roger Scruton. 
  6. The anti-cosmopolitans.  This tradition originates with Herder.  Although he associated with social conservatives, Maurras belonged to this school.  These conservatives emphasize the right and duty of every people to protect its own cultural integrity and to foster intra-group loyalty in its members.  Mark Richardson ably expresses this view on the internet today.
  7. The pseudo-conservatives.  This is the group that is fundamentally dedicated to liberalism, but wants to maintain some conservative elements (usually religious piety, parental authority, sexual restraint, or patriotism) as a check on liberalism’s destructive tendencies. e.g. Tocqueville.


This is a useful taxonomy, and as I read I naturally tried to discover where I should be classified. But I couldn't find a niche.

So maybe there needs to be at least one further category - how about the following as a first shot at definition?:

Mystical Christian Reactionaries

These ultimately regard politics as properly derived from Christianity; they are, indeed, hostile to the idea of politics. In other words, the world is inevitably fallen and imperfect and will end at some time determined by God; but in the meantime the remediable worldly problems are framed in terms of being ultimately caused by sinful choices and apostasy - always of individuals, but strongly influenced by the nature of society.

Since their politics is seen as second-order, their final political goal has only a loose fit with their basic beliefs - and is inconsistent between advocates; some are aiming at theocracy, others aiming at various divisions of powers - but the goal is one in which Christian practice permeates life.

The main broad causal processes of history are seen in terms of Christian eschatology - i.e. the destiny of mankind as revealed in the scriptures and prophecies, and the working-out of the tendencies of fallen human nature. This is not interpreted in any precise way, but is seen as providing a envelope to expectations.

Humanity is seen as mystically united, so that all personal choices influence the destiny of Man. Since the root of Western social problems lies in apostasy, therefore the mode of action for Mystical Christian Reactionaries is not political but devotional; based on prayer, liturgy, reading, personal discipline and the mystical life. Such 'methods' are seen as the only legitimate force for genuine social improvement. Hence they work through individual personal relations rather than large or formal political groupings.

They tend to be pessimistic in their predictions, but their hope is for widespread conversion and increased holiness in modern society: repentance would be the necessary first step. Lack of repentance and explicit reorientation is seen as vitiating any actual or possible political change.

Rather than hoping for new laws or leaders; Mystical Christian Reactionaries hope for saints and greater sanctity necessary to reverse the apostasy of centuries.

Examples of Mystical Christian Reactionaries include JRR Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Fr Seraphim Rose, John Senior (and Jim Kalb?).


Notes added:

An alternative name to 'mystical' would perhaps be 'transcendental' - but that is a word of very limited currency, and might be confused with the likes of Kant, Coleridge and Emerson.


For MCRs, all politics is subordinate to Christianity because even at best (and most of it isn't) politics is motivated by Love of Neighbour.

Yet in the absence of the primary Love of God, then Love of Neighbour will (sooner or not-very-much later) be first corrupted, then inverted into Evil.

(Since there are an infinite number of ways that initially-sincere schemes to 'improve the world' or to  'reduce human suffering' may (and will) be corrupted by human error and malice, in the absence of over-arching Love of God and divine guidance.

(The first step in any hopes for improving the world is (for MCRs) always to repent, worship, pray, give thanks, humbly ask for mercy; and this necessity was always clearly perceived in the great Christian civilizations of the past; real improvement is and must be primarily that of the human soul.

('Practical' steps are always hazardous; but invariably counter-productive in the absence of this Godly-orientation.)


Another aspect is that MCRs are - in a loose sense - more Platonic than Aristotelian. What I mean is that there is a kind of Platonism about the basic idea that human history as we observe it is the noisy, muddied and superficial appearance of the Unseen Warfare between Good and Evil which is its underlying reality.

For MCRs the underlying reality is thus the balance of domination between purposive Good and purposive Evil both in the heart and in practices.

The history of human and societal decline is ultimately a history of pride, apostasy, self-worship, worship of Evil usurpers.  

(As Solzhenitsyn so memorably encapsulated, the line between Good and Evil runs through every individual human heart; but - as he also showed in his work - some groups of humans, some societies, are better than others.)


(Further note on Good and Evil

(wrt the Unseen Warfare behind and beyond the surface world, it is important to recall that Good and Evil are not symmetrical. Good can achieve perfection - albeit not on earth but in God.

(Yet all Good societies (e.g Byzantium) no matter how Good, in this fallen world, will be corrupt; and yet Evil societies (e.g. Lenin and Stalin's USSR) always have some good in them, since Evil can never achieve perfection.

(This is because Evil is subordinate to Good - and not the mirror of Good. Evil is the corruption of Good - the subversion of Love of God by Pride. Therefore, there must always be some Good remaining in order for it to be corrupted by Evil. The completion of Evil would be the end of everything: which cannot be.

(The conclusion is that practical politics requires discernment of Good and Evil societies and persons, to support the Good and oppose the Evil; yet a recognition that both Good and Evil are mixed in this world - albeit for different reasons and with different implications.)



Matias said...

St. Augustine would be the paragon of this kind of Mystical Christian Reactionary, I presume. In 'Konservativismus. Geschichtlicher Gehalt und Untergang', Panajotis Kondylis traces a line of Augustinian Christian conservatism from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. St. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, tried to defend Christian conservatism against theological challenges of "pantheistic" or "protestant" varieties.
Conservatism as a political philosophy seems to be born after the French Revolution only because the conservatives take over the theological discussion and translate it into the Enlightenment language of philosophy, which has become dominant by now.
Mystical Christian Reactionary would be the proper European conservative, for whom the political order (Holy Roman Empire) was justified as the Katechon.

James Kalb said...

Just a quick note, since I'm mentioned with a question mark:

It seems to me Bonald's classification assumes each group starts with present political reality, asks what's lacking, and then wants to add that thing in to put the situation right. So it's thoroughly political and doesn't rely on anything very distinct outside the political, social, and cultural order.

bgc's view rejects that approach as insufficient on the grounds that the political depends on the transcendent. It follows that in our present situation, which results from a general rejection of the transcendent, the first necessity is to concern ourselves with what has been rejected. That of course means that we must concern ourselves with the transcendent on its own terms.

I'm with bgc on that.

The Continental Op said...

Does "Mystical Christian Reactionary" include direct intervention by God? That's my political program. I base this on Revelation 18-19, wherein God- and Christ-hating Babylon is thrown down by God's righteous judgment.

Deogolwulf said...

Much as I agree with Bonald the Blogger, I am not keen on his use of the term “romantic” here, which is too apt to be muddled up with that which was first named in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and which in its essence is widespread today amongst our contemporaries.

A category which is labelled “romantic conservatives” and which includes Chateaubriand (a Romantic) and Maistre (an anti-Romantic) does not strike me as well-named. (And Burke was no Romantic, nor is Jim Kalb.) There is a gulf between, on the one side, acknowledging the limits of rational but finite minds to grasp and reproduce all the details of a complex reality, an acknowledgement which shows a broad and healthy grasp of reality; and on the other side, the forsaking of reason for indulgence in expansive feeling and the taking of reality as a series of occasions for sensation --- the side of the Romantic, and the side to which contemporary liberal-progressive society falls.

A borderless world --- and I mean in all senses: not only nationally, ethnically, and socially, but also morally, intellectually, artistically, and so on --- is pre-eminently a Romantic idea: a world of free movement and creativity, where everything is to be judged in keeping with one’s own individual standpoint, that is, wilfully and subjectively, where one is to “express oneself” accordingy, where truth and truthfulness can go hang, and where limits are scorned as arbitrary and restrictive of an individual’s creative and motive power. In the end, the Romantic makes a very poor conservative or reactionary; for, whatever outward form he may whimsically take on --- and it can be any form ---, he is always at heart a Revolutionary, even if not by intent.

Brett Stevens said...

I like this rather straightforward article:

This explains conservatism from a Platonist perspective; in our view, as in the Hindu view, there is only one world and there are known strategies of adapting to it.

However, it is consistent and all-powerful, so we plan around it, instead of the other way around.

Liberalism is the opposite notion, which is that humans with their power can create whatever world they want.

Interestingly, many of the most powerful voices in Romantic literature -- Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, and William Blake -- argued against the liberal notion.