by Chris B
An anarchistic ontology is an intellectual system which takes the individual as anterior to society and which rejects the formative and definitive role of authority. Anarchistic ontologies necessarily have to assume a great deal of conditions to which there have been no proofs supplied, such as the potential for spontaneous order that allows for a society without governance, and all other manner of fictions. At their most honest, we see a wide variety of anarchisms, and at their most convoluted and confused, we find the whole cacophony of various iterations of liberalism. Before we go into detail as to how an absolutist ontology would look, and what value it can provide as a model for observation of society; it may still be worthwhile to quickly survey a number of arguments which Filmer deals with in Patriarcha, and other works of his, to show the necessary incoherence to which an advocate of anarchistic ontology must descend.
The first such advocate of an anarchist ontology that Filmer deals with is St. Robert Bellarmine. Filmer notes in Patriarcha that in accordance with Bellarmine’s claims regarding property the following three points follow: Firstly, if God granted ownership in common, then all order except anarchy is in effect contra God and in violation of natural law; Secondly, God, in providing common ownership failed to supply a nature to man which would make it work, which leads to the claimed need to give power to specific men to govern, which the people, nevertheless, can rescind. This raises the question of if the second point is correct then who gets to decide on rescinding government? Finally, why, given point one, is government even needed at step two?[i] The conclusion that can logically be drawn is that Bellarmine is not coherent.
Hugo Grotius is dealt with in a similar fashion. Filmer notes that Grotius’ position led logically to the following conclusions:
1 That civil power depends on the will of the people.
2 That private men or petty multitudes may take up arms against their Princes.
3 That the lawful Kings have no propriety in their kingdoms, but an usufructuary right only, as if the people were the lords, and the Kings but their tenants.
4 That the law of not resisting superiors is a human law, depending on the will of the people at first.
5 That the will of the first people, if it be not known, may be expounded by the people that now are.[ii]
Grotius himself appears not to have agreed with these points, or if he did he was being deceitful in his arguments because his attempts to deny the supremacy of the people and the logical conclusion of anarchy is tempered by his equivocation that Filmer summarises as the “modal proposition that in some places with some exception, and in some sort, the people may compel and punish their Kings.”[iii] The pattern of tempering inherent anarchism with all forms of unprincipled exceptions has been a reoccurring theme with advocates of anarchist ontologies since Filmer’s time. I will spare the reader extensive quotations from Filmer and Grotius on this matter as it will suffice to note that we see a pattern which repeats in all iterations of the state of nature. If all property was common property, as put forward by Grotius, then exactly how could the decisions of previous generations bind future generations? And if these decisions of previous generations do bind us then this concept is not a conception of political governance relevant to now, but is humorously a conception of the origin of political governance which in effect supports Filmer’s own position on patriarchal governance. The division of property and power has been decided already, so now we must adhere to the inheritance that results from it or, as Filmer notes, it is not a theory regarding “whether kings have a fatherly power over their subjects, but how kings first came by it.”[iv]
The position of this paper will simply be that there isn’t a coherent intellectual body of arguments to the state of nature argument, nor can there be. There has been close to five hundred years for such an argument to be made and proven and it still has not. From this point on the onus will be assumed to be on advocates of anarchistic ontology to resolve their logical failures and not on opponents to take it on dogmatic faith that it is correct. Further to this, I will contend that if we attempt to treat these thinkers outlining an anarchistic ontology at face value then we fall into a grave error, as such an argument is not in any way logically correct, but works in reality as a rhetorical device for the expansion of political power.
Now that we can skip reviewing the minutia of anarchist positions as a fruitless exercise we can apply a differing model to explain the role of anarchist ontologies. A guide to how we may begin this is fortunately provided by Filmer himself, as he writes:
“Late writers have taken up too much upon trust from the subtle schoolmen, who to be sure to thrust down the king below the pope, thought it the safest course to advance the people above the king, that so the papal power may more easily take place of the regal.”[v]
Why this concept was promoted at this time, and in this geographical location, and by certain segments of society, poses a question to which we have an answer and this answer is provided by Jouvenelian theory regarding the high-low conflict inherent in unsecure power systems. It is also explained in more detail with the additional insights of Alasdair MacIntyre to whom we will direct our attention at a later point. I have outlined the Jouvenelian model in question in other places,[vi] but it would be useful to re-tread the ground briefly. Jouvenel’s model is simply that power that is unsecure and unable to act freely to attain goals will cite the common good, and will promote liberty and equality as a means to undermine power centers which block its path. This will be a tactic engaged by many power centers in any given political arrangement, so in this case highlighted by Filmer’s quote we can see the ecclesiastical power centers of medieval Europe advancing a state of nature argument as a means to undermine the rising monarchical power centers (See Bellarmine and Suarez.[vii]) This same process was also instigated by the rising parliamentary/ bourgeoisie power centers (see Grotius.[viii]) We can then see the strange phenomena of both Catholic and Protestant thinkers advancing the same argument. The Protestant branch would prove to be the ultimate victors in this conflict, bequeathing us the tradition of liberalism in the process. The state of nature argument thus becomes a clear political stratagem and is temporalized, geographically placed, and provided an institutional context. As a result, it is stripped of its claims to abstract universality.
If we discard the entire spectrum of modern political theory dependent on this entire web of logically fallacious arguments, we can then consider how a genuine analysis of societal organisation would appear. Again, such a conception was provided by Filmer in later writing which rectifies the inconsistencies which Filmer maintains in Patriarcha, inconsistencies which make the work fail to develop in a sufficiently absolutist direction.
In a later work titled “Observations upon Aristotle’s Politiques Touching Forms of Government” Filmer outlines the following six points which are of crucial importance:
1) That there is no form of government, but monarchy only.
2) That there is no monarchy, but paternal.
3) That there is no paternal monarchy, but absolute or arbitrary.
4) That there is no such form of government as a Tyranny.
5) That the people are not born free by nature.[ix]
Maintaining the underlying logic behind Filmer’s position’s, and not relying on Biblical exegesis or even his attempt to agree with Aristotle on the origin of society, we can in effect give Filmer the update provided to Locke. However, in this instance we will be able to rely on recognisable logic and historical record, as opposed to fantastical non-existent societies and speculation which the modern adaptions of Locke are unable to do. We can therefore use Filmer’s six points as a backbone for the elaboration of an absolutist ontology.
That there is no form of government, but monarchy only.
Firstly, a number of thinkers have come to the same conclusion as Filmer on this first point “that there is no form of government, but monarchy only,” but have failed to understand the truly radical nature of their positions because of the faulty anthropology they presuppose. Two clear examples of convergence on this issue are provided by the Italian School of Elitists (comprised of Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels), and also the theory of the German jurist Carl Scmitt.
The Italian school is famous for the concept of the permanence of an elite within society with the most detailed exploration being provided by Michels’ iron law of oligarchy. The iron law of oligarchy outlined in Political Parties[x] is interesting in that it fails to provide a clear and concise explanation of just what an oligarchy is. Pareto at a number of points offers up inconclusive and unsatisfactory attempts at a definition, but fails to be precise; Filmer himself covers much the same ground with his criticisms of Aristotle’s schemes of governance, with Filmer dismissing Aristotle’s categories of aristocracy and polity as being:
speculative names, invented to delude the world, and to persuade the people, that under those quaint terms, there might be found some subtle government, which might at least equal if not excel, monarchy.
As Aristotle is irresolute to determine what are truly perfect aristocracies and polities, so he is to seek in describing his imperfect forms of government, as well oligarchies as democracies, and therefore he is driven to invent several sorts of them, and to confound himself with subdivisions[xi]
That Aristotle is unable to define any of his forms of governance adequately except monarchy is made clear by Filmer. Filmer appears to be moving towards expressing the position outlined in point one that no government can be anything but a monarchy. Writing of the Venetian Republic and The United Provinces, Filmer hits upon this realisation when he claims that “whatsoever is either good or tolerable in either of their governments, is borrowed or patched up of a broken and distracted monarchy.”[xii] I contend that what Filmer’s argument presupposes is that there is no oligarchy, no aristocracy, no polity, no democracy, no anarchy, nor spontaneous order of free sovereign individuals possible at any scale whatsoever. All governance and social organisation is in effect monarchical in principle, a position hinted at in Patriarcha when he writes “Kings are either fathers of their people, or heirs of such fathers, or the usurpers of the rights of such fathers”.[xiii] All authority is then rooted and derived from a previous authority, which makes the numerous references by Filmer in Patriarcha to democracy inconsistent. Democracy is merely a shroud around a confused and strange monarchy. Filmer moves towards this when noting how a general assembly is first made up of representatives of the people from differing regions, who then select speakers for the different regions “hereby it comes to pass, that public debates which are imagined to be referred to a general assembly of a kingdom, are contracted into a particular or private assembly, than which nothing can be more destructive, or contrary to the nature of public assemblies.”[xiv] In this private assembly:
“Each company of such trustees hath a prolocutor, or speaker; who, by the help of three or four of his fellows that are most active, may easily comply in gratifying one the other, so that each of them in their turn may sway the trustees, whilst one man, for himself or his friend, may rule in one business, and another man for himself or his friend prevail in another cause, till such a number of trustees be reduced to so many petty monarchs as there be men of it. So in all popularities, where a general council, or great assembly of the people meet, they find it impossible to dispatch any great action, either with expedition or secrecy, if a public free debate be admitted; and therefore are constrained to epitomize and sub-epitomize themselves so long, till at last they crumble away into the atoms of monarchy, which is the next degree to anarchy; for anarchy is nothing else but a broken monarchy, where every man is his own monarch, or governor.[xv]
The implication for the iron law of oligarchy is that there is no such thing as an oligarchy. What the iron law of oligarchy then represents is a stunted realisation that governance is always and everywhere monarchical. Michels’ theory merely halts part of the way toward this conclusion for no justifiable reason.
Returning back to Michels’ Political Parties, we find this inability to define the political categories inherited from Aristotle adequately leads Michels to make all manner of unclear statements. For example, in the author’s preface is the following: “The most restricted form of oligarchy, absolute monarchy, is founded upon the will of a single individual.”[xvi] We can clearly define monarchy but what is oligarchy in this sense? This becomes even more curious when Michels comes to define aristocracy and democracy citing Rousseau:
We know today that in the life of the nations the two theoretical principles of the ordering of the state are so elastic that they often come in reciprocal contact, “for democracy can either embrace all of the people or be restricted to half of them; aristocracy on the other hand, can embrace half the people or an indeterminately smaller number.” Thus the two forms of government do not exhibit an absolute antithesis, nut meet at that point where the participant in power number fifty per cent.”[xvii]
Michels then unjustifiably shifts from aristocracy to oligarchy by later making the claim that:
The democratic external form which characterizes the life of political parties may veil from superficial observers the tendency towards aristocracy, or rather towards oligarchy, which is inherent in all party organisation.”[xviii]
This issue with defining these categories then gets even more interesting when Michels explains what he means by the possibility of small scale democracy. Using the example of bookkeeping in small scale unions, Michels claims:
““In the second place, this usage allowed each one of the members to learn bookkeeping, and to acquire such a general knowledge of the working of the corporation as to enable him at any time to take over its leadership. It is obvious that democracy in this sense is applicable only on a very small scale”[xix]
Here we see that democracy on a small scale implies a simple rotation of the leader (or delegate) from the whole population of the organisation. This is allowable due to the lack of detailed specialisation which Michels claims occasions the need for an organised leadership. So we see that even this small scale democracy which Michels proffers as a possibility is simply a rotation of the position of leader.
This logic is taken to even closer convergence by Schmitt who in his state of exception,[xx] in effect, made the claim that a king, or rather, a monarchical point of governance always exists. There is always someone who is above law and always someone who decides on exceptions which breach written constitutions, or so called rule by law. This is pre-empted by Filmer’s arguments regarding the status of law in the role of government. Citing Ulpian, Filmer states that the “prince is not bound by the laws,”[xxi] and declares that the claim of law being able to govern is nonsensical as laws are dumb, they need human interpretation, human application, and they are also necessarily incomplete. Filmer’s complaint is laid out wonderfully by his analogy of a carpenter’s rule: “[we] might as well say that the carpenter’s rule builds the house and not the carpenter, for the law is but the rule or instrument of the ruler.”[xxii]
Schmitt is frustratingly unclear in Political Theology on whether he considers this sovereign as necessarily a single person. His famous opening line that the “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception,” [xxiii] implies that this indeed must be a person; however, in further passages he seems to be less clear on this sovereign being a singular person. We can nevertheless make the claim that it must be a single person. We can do this on the basis that in resting the state of exception on the act of making a decision Schmitt makes the state of exception one which requires a human agent to make such a decision. From an absolutist ontological position there is no deference to an unexplained small scale democracy, so it cannot be a group that is able to hold the role of the sovereign and to make this decision; the decision must rest with a single person. Can a small group make a decision as a group? We fall back into precisely the problem we encountered with the Italian elitists and Michels in particular. From an anarchistic position it would usually be claimed that a small group and a large group can make such a collective decision through voting, but we can argue that this is not a decision, but in fact a resolution of conflict and the prevailing of one decision over that of others.
This leaves us with a radical claim, because if the monarch is he who decides on the state of exception, and this person always exists, then as has been claimed by Filmer and is claimed by this paper, all governance is in fact monarchical and what really varies between forms of governance are not numbers, wealth or consideration of the good, but rather the velocity of sovereign turnover.
Now, trying to identify the specific sovereign at any point with any accuracy in a governmental structure that is massively degraded will be almost impossible. Such an endeavor would require taking a snapshot of the society in question then tracing exactly who in that given instance represented the individual who held the position of deciding if a state of exception pertained. This is unfeasible due to its complexity. The alternative is to approach such a problem in a generalised way. We may not be able to pinpoint the exact person, but we may be able to generally locate the center of power in which the sovereign at any moment may reside on a probability basis.
That there is no monarchy, but paternal.
This brings us to the second major point put forward by Filmer “That there is no monarchy, but paternal.” Again, taking this out of the very specific context of hereditary monarchy, and applying it to authority as such, we can retain the logic and provide a model of society radically at odds with anarchistic ontologies. This concept implies, as has previously been touched upon, that there is no such things as anarchy. All monarchs, or rulers, issue forth from the authority of the ruler of the society in question or come from external authority. The simplicity of this concept is deceptive. What is being said is that even new rulers that arrive by revolution are either fathered by the authority being overthrown or were fathered by external authority. There is no room for any conception of spontaneous order at all here, and this is exactly the mechanism outlined by Jouvenel. The implication of such a model is that when we consider any form of social and political upheaval that appears to be spontaneous, we should immediately seek to locate a sponsoring hand in the affair, and not assume it is due to spontaneous causes which don’t exist. One such clear example of this process is provided by the mother of all parliaments, the English Parliament. Filmer is quite correct in locating the historical origination of Parliament as a granting of the Kings of England, and he is exceptionally astute in noting that the convening of the first Parliament of the “people” was conducted by King Henry I for unjust ends,[xxiv] this being a clear application of Jouvenelian high-low versus the middle conflict due to King Henry’s precarious political situation. Parliament, which obtained supremacy following the English Civil War was then a progeny of the monarchy which it then superseded like a child superseding a father. This is a clear example of absolutist ontology and the paternal succession of monarchs.
Now, the reader may be forgiven for being somewhat confused as to how I could term the sovereignty of parliament as a form of monarchy given the previous rejection of small scale democracy. This is where I would need to direct the reader back to Schmitt’s the state of exception and the first of Filmer’s points. At all times there is in effect an individual above the law who can decide on the exception, and that person is functionally the monarch. Abolishing the name, or retaining it in the form of a constitutional monarchy, does not, and cannot, abolish the absolutist constant of a single point of sovereignty. In our modern parliamentary and republican governments for example, a great deal of these questions appear to now fall into the remit of a supreme court. This makes unsecure government a confused and complicated affair where clear guidance to the population is impossible. The social ramifications of this state of affairs are not in any way desirable, and we do ourselves a disservice if we become transfixed by the formal roles outlined in a written constitution, much like failing to follow the card in a three card monte.
Now contra to modern discourse of human rights, Filmer correctly points out that even those documents claimed as sources of liberty such as the Charter of the Forest and the Magna Carta are worded in such a way that it is clear the rights contained were granted by the king.[xxv] Indeed, as Filmer notes, “If the liberty were natural it would give power to the multitude to assemble themselves when and where they pleased”[xxvi] and despite the protests of libertarians and the claims of spontaneous order this remains true.
Clearly then, this liberty is not natural, and one can only speculate as to how Filmer would have responded had he seen the entire intellectual output of political thinking from the 16th century onwards premised on the concept that it is. But, of course, this state of affairs must be placed solely at the feet of the power centers we have had since this point, as presenting the idea that these rights are somehow natural has been a genuine source of expansion of power which they have themselves used. A sobering example of this is provided by considering that in medieval England, to gain one’s freedom meant to become a citizens under the governance of the king only.[xxvii] The trick in question is to place the concept in the passive voice and then remove the subject, so a person was freed from local obligation, or if we put the subject back into the sentence, “a person was freed from local obligation” by the monarch. This trick of obscuring the role of the subject of the sentence is noted by Filmer in regard to Grotius’ claims of children being able to gain independence from paternal governance by citing Aristotle. Filmer makes the point that Grotius is presenting the claim in the active form, whereas Aristotle writes in the passive. So, instead of children freeing themselves, children are subject to parents “until they be separated” by the law of the sovereign. Unless one is the sovereign any freeing from a particular aspect of governance is merely transference to another form of governance.[xxviii] Liberalism is an intellectual system singularly adept at self-effacing the sovereign from the passive sentence – a key aspect of it value to Power.
It is worthwhile considering at this point how a monarch under an anarchistic ontology is formulated if it rejects the claim that all authority derives from prior authority. Such a rejection makes a mockery of the definition of sovereignty and this is precisely the point Filmer was making when he criticised Grotius’s implication that “lawful Kings have no propriety in their kingdoms, but an usufructuary right only, as if the people were the lords, and the Kings but their tenants.”[xxix] This criticism also holds for sovereignty as conceived by Hobbes and all anarchistic ontological accounts of sovereignty. In an absolutist account, sovereignty is clearly delineated by the monarch being in possession of the territory over which they are sovereign. All subsequent property distribution must by necessity be derivative of this possession and all actions which occur within this territory are the ultimate responsibility of the monarch. In contrast, an anarchistic ontological account presents the sovereign as an entity which has been agreed upon by the property owners of a given territory, who then may violate the property of the property owners for the property owners own benefit. This position undermines the very basis of sovereignty, it also cannot account for historical property distribution hence the strange theories of property that undergird liberalism, it merely makes the property owners sovereigns. These property owners that submit to an arbitrator obviously must retain the ability to withdraw this submission, for if not, then as with the criticism that Filmer levels at Grotius’s origin of property claim, it again, quite humorously, merely denotes a theory of how the sovereign came into being, and is not an issue relating to current governance.
That there is no paternal monarchy, but absolute or arbitrary.
The third point of Filmer’s six claims “That there is no paternal monarchy, but absolute or arbitrary,” upon analysis proves to be just as robust as the previous two. It is a key aspect of modern political theory that the political solecism of imperium in imperio is not recognised as such, but is treated as a genuinely desirable goal without any concern as to the possible ramifications of attempting such a fantastical structure. In fact, the very idea of a political structure in any way having an effect on society is all but denied before discussion is engaged in modern thought, given that the base claim of modern government is to be a neutral arbiter over a society of diverse interests.
Whereas the reader may be sure of what absolute is meant in Filmer’s claim, the reference to arbitrary will be open to rhetorical abuse given its negative connotations in modern English. Filmer is quite clear in a number of passages in Patriarcha that the monarch’s decisions are not arbitrary in the sense of being made without reason or rationality, but instead as being subject to the monarch’s ultimate discretion in line with circumstances (think of a sculptor working on a piece of marble rather than the liberal cut out despot.) This is in contrast to those who claim that a monarch could in any way be bound by law and subject to some form of written constitution. The truth is that even a monarch that operates according to a set of laws, or guidance, is doing so arbitrarily given that they are ultimately free to disregard said laws. If they were not, and were genuinely bound by those laws, this would imply they were bound by those interpreting the laws and those enacting the punishment for transgressing the laws, then we would need to draw our attention to the human actors engaging in the maintenance of the law, as the real monarch will be one of them, or above them. Again, you cannot abolish the absolutist constant of a monarch by applying the formal title of monarch to an individual subordinate to a real sovereign. Filmer covers such an argument in Observations upon Aristotle’s Politiques where he writes:
No man can say, that during the reign of the late Queen Elizabeth, that King Henry VIII, Edward VI did govern, although that many of the laws that were made in those two former princes’ time, were observed, and executed under her government, but those laws, though made by her predecessors, yet became laws of her present government; who willed and commanded the execution of them, and had the same power to correct, interpret, or mitigate them, which the first makers of them had; every law must always have some present known person in being, whose will it must be to make it a law for the present; this cannot be said of the major part of any assembly, because that major part instantly ceaseth, as soon as ever it hath voted[xxx]
The idea of division of power, and rule of law, in the western tradition is then rendered an incoherent mess when placed in the absolutist ontology because in effect all that one has done when claiming that such a government is possible is to erect an elaborate façade over a monarchical governance structure, and increased the velocity of change between monarchs.
This façade unfortunately does not have a neutral effect on society, as maintaining governance whilst maintaining this façade results in perverted imperatives being placed on the real monarch (whoever they may be at any given moment.) At their most acute, we see massively violent regimes engaging in aggression against their own populations; In more drawn out example, yet also ultimately utterly destructive, we see the examples of modern democratic states which have occasioned a number of social “developments” which defy logic in any sense bar that of intra-elite conflict. For the purpose of this essay, it suffices to note that division of power creates needless hurdles to clear governance, and note that I write hurdles, and not actual blocks, which are impossible.
The form that government takes is then taken as having a definitive effect on society as a whole in direct contradiction to the liberal conception of the neutral state. This can be seen in the very idea of the categories of private and public which were created by the rise of the modern state. If government, contra to modern theory, infuses and determines all within its purview and is the ultimate grantee of rights and enforcer of laws, then such distinctions as private and public cease to make much sense logically. There is no “private” area which spontaneously organises, and such a claim is derivative of the state of nature argument. It is merely the incoherent partial application of anarchistic ontology. In being aware of the nature of this argument we can see that the public and private split is composed of two parts. First, the private is that area which is ungoverned; an arena for the so called spontaneous interplay of actors allowed by the state. The second part is the state (public) which is not spontaneous, but is a power center designed to protect and allow the private to flourish. Another way to consider this is that the private is that segment of society where significant organisation is disallowed on any grounds which threaten the public government, the public government then exports democracy, it does not consume the poisonous product itself. The division now looks a lot more like a form of political control by unsecure power then a timeless form of existence. So, if we were to go back to the beginnings of the articulation of such a split, we will be unsurprised to see thinkers like Locke developing this argument contra ecclesiastical authorities with his claim that religious affiliation is voluntary, but adherence to the state isn’t. In fact, the very category of religion itself arises out of this institutional division.[xxxi]
If we disregard this public/ private split as logically incoherent and based on fraudulent grounds, we can then free ourselves to simply consider it as an artifact of political conflict between power centers, and we can dismiss it from our analysis. Having done so, we can then perceive a drastically different society in light of absolutist ontology in a great number of areas, not least of which is that of property and capitalism. For example, it is taken in anarchistic ontology that property exists separate from a political order, but this is a strange position to take based on the aforementioned state of nature concept, and it results in unresolvable conceptual issues. Such a position simply conflates possession with property.[xxxii] This is also comparable to the issue of law in which anarchistic ontology present an image of law being a spontaneous development from custom, despite the historical record not according with this at all. Custom itself is ultimately determined by authority. As a result of this, the practical application of law and the practical administration of property differ drastically from theoretical conceptions in modern political theory and accord with the absolutist ontology. Modern political theory is in effect an arena in which historical accuracy and real world confirmation are taken as irrelevant.
That there is no such form of government as a Tyranny.
As for Filmer’s fourth point “That there is no such form of government as a Tyranny.” We must understand Filmer’s argument regarding this in Observations upon Aristotle’s Politiques as his point is important. Filmer argues that:
No example can be shown of any such government that ever was in the world, as Aristotle describes a tyranny to be; for under the worst of Kings, though many particular men have unjustly suffered, yet the multitude, or the people in general have found benefit and profit by the government.”[xxxiii]
Tyranny here is defined as a government for the government’s own benefit, and it central to Jouvenelian theory that this is precisely correct. All governance invokes both a social role and a concern for an increase, or preservation of the security of, its own position. That a government can do terrible things in the process of moving towards these goals is a problem caused by imperium in imperio, and not, as asserted in the modern liberal tradition, the opposite case. It is the age of democracy and republican governance that gave us the meaningless mass slaughter of populations by governments. This position has further implications for the very basic claims of modern governance. The liberal conception of society, and this conception of tyranny, are rendered nonsensical by the Jouvenelian model. They are false as Filmer correctly noted.
That the people are not born free by nature.
As for Filmer’s fifth and final point “That the people are not born free by nature” the significance of this philosophically is that at base the entire modern liberal project is wrong. Filmer was absolutely correct in his criticisms of the potential political order based on such a consideration, and it is clear that for any serious absolutist ontology to be formed, the very basis of this claim must not only be proven false, but a new consideration of society must be presented on a very different footing which does not entertain the fantasy of traditionless principles. Such a basis is provided in the trenchant attacks on liberalism presented by the philosophical work of Alaisdair MacIntyre in the area of epistemology and ethics. It has gone unnoticed by both MacIntyre’s supporters and his critics that his conception of ethics is one which is in accordance with the theoretical positions of Filmer and that derived from the theory of Jouvenel.
MacIntyre’s position on the claims of modernity can be summarised as a rejection of the claims of liberalism’s supporters that their positions are based primarily on some fundamental truth which is contextless and not rooted in a tradition. Tradition in the MacIntyrean sense is a body of ideas which provide a system within which the rationality of a given concept is rendered intelligible, and which is subject to continual alteration, discussion, and development. Such a conception of tradition would apply to liberalism as much as any other body of thought because liberalism has been singularly unable to provide an abstract, contextless, and universal ground for its premises. Liberalism, as such, is a tradition which continually denies, or rather seeks to escape, being a tradition. It has failed because such a project is incoherent and obtuse. Its hegemonic success is explainable by its value to power, and not to any inherent coherence or correctness.
The implication for human nature is that the liberal mockery of a traditionless and timeless human dummy that forms the core of the liberal order is a source of falsity and distortion. The dummy itself says more of those that advanced the concept than it does to any serious consideration of humanity as such. The state of nature individual is in reality a stand in for a specific group of people within a specific political arrangement at a specific time in history, the individual in question being a property owning man from North West Europe in the Jansenist and Protestant tradition. Just as in the area of ethics as claimed by MacIntyre, this project of asserting the basics of this individual is an attempt to advance the values, beliefs and interests of this specific sub set of society as being constituent of humans per se, taken up by power for its claims to equality for all, and with the belief that doing so renders a public good. Any claim to the opposite from the supporters of these very same thinkers must wrestle with the incoherence of the central claim to self-interest that underlines their own position. If man is a self-interested and anti-social entity then those advancing the claim of man being self-interested and anti-social are not exempt from this. By liberalism’s own logic, these thinkers advocated these positions out of simple self-interest and were not uncovering some enlightened position.
Leaving aside the intellectual confusion of anarchist ontology, we can note that the absolute refusal of those advancing this form of political thought to seriously entertain individuals who are disabled, dependent or simply children is a clear giveaway of the manner in which this argument presupposes a human agent with a specific set of characteristics and represents a position that is drastically lacking in sociological awareness. The central criticism that we can take from MacIntyre is that liberalism is a continuation and elaboration of this specific cultural and socio-economic group’s intellectual and ethical traditions. A tradition that is in a continual mode of confusion due to rejecting the claim to being a tradition. This allows those advancing its claims to engage in a kind of intellectual fantasy world. MacIntyre provides an excellent example of this out of sync nature of liberalism in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? As MacIntyre writes on the similarity of the position of ancient sophists and modern liberals:
“In every culture emotions and desires are norm-governed. Learning what the norms are, learning how to respond to the emotions and desires of others, and learning what to expect from others if we exhibit certain types and degrees of emotion or desire are three parts of one and the same task.
Thus, to exhibit a particular pattern of emotions and desires, to treat them as appropriate in one type of situation rather than another, is always to reveal commitment to one set of justifying norms rather than another.
In treating the passions as part of nature defined independently of culture rather than as an expression of culture, they were already adopting one particular evaluative standpoint, derived from their culture’s understanding of nature.”[xxxiv]
Being an entity that is “free” and “equal” the liberal assumption is that the preference and desires of the individual are pre-social. These sets of pre-social desires are then brought to a market place where they form the basis of a negotiation and navigation within which the individual satisfies these desires or preferences. We see this throughout all aspects of modernity, especially in utility based economics. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the liberal intellectual is in reality engaged in a discussion regarding a parallel world which does not exist.
Any political theory, and a political order derived from this tradition in denial, can a priori be predicted to be significantly unable to predict, explain, or be of any use at all except as a means of destruction of order, and this is what we also see empirically. Liberal theory and all variants premised on it, including sociology, psychology, economics, political science etc. are all marked by a self-conscious embarrassment from honest practitioners that they have collectively been unable to explain anything. Absolutist Ontology allows us to predict that this will not change, and allows us to lay the blame squarely on the anarchistic ontology underlying them all.
[i] Sir Robert Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Works of Sir Robert Filmer (Oxford, Alden Press, 1949,) Part Part II and II pp 56-58.
[ii] Ibid, p 68.
[iii] Ibid, p 69.
[iv] Ibid, p 71.
[v] Ibid, p 54.
[vi] See “The Patron Theory of Politics” and “The Patron Theory of Politics Revisited” accompanying this paper in journal volume one for further elaboration of the theory derived from Bertrand de Jouvenel.
[vii] Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Works.
[ix] Ibid, p 228.
[x] Robert Michels, Political Parties, A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, (Batoche Book, 2001, Kitchener.)
[xi] Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Works, p 200.
[xii] Ibid, p 222.
[xiii] Ibid, p 62.
[xiv] Ibid, p 223.
[xv] Ibid, p 223-24.
[xvi] Michels, Political Parties, p 7.
[xvii] Ibid, p 8.
[xviii] Ibid, p 13.
[xix] Ibid, p 23.
[xx] Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005.)
[xxi] Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Works, p 106.
[xxii] Schmitt, Political Theology, p 5.
[xxiii] See Political Theology for an exposition of Schmitt’s theory of the state of exception. At numerous points Scmitt makes the claim that the sovereign is “He” who decides the exception, yet at times appears to indicate that a political body is possibly sovereign. The lack of clarity from Schmitt need not impede our reading of this concept.
[xxiv] Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Works, p 117.
[xxv] Ibid, p 121.
[xxvi] Ibid, p 118.
[xxvii] For a detailed look at the actions of the king’s court in applying negative liberties to undermine franchise holder in medieval England, see Nicholas Szabo’s “Jurisdiction as Property: Franchise Jurisdiction from Henry III to James I” (April 21, 2006). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=936314.
[xxviii] Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Works, p 72.
[xxix] Ibid, p 68.
[xxx] Ibid, p 227-28.
[xxxi] For a detailed exploration of the connection between the rise of the modern state institutions and the concept of relgion, see William T. Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.)
[xxxii] For a full exploration of this issue, see Geoffrey Hodgson, Conceptualizing Capitalism: Institutions, Evolution, Future (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.) Hodgson makes the strong case that simple possession based on the brute fact of holding something is the ultimate basis of conceptions of property in various economic theories, from Marxism to libertarianism. This conception of property takes property as therefore not reliant on institutions or society, but on the relationship between the agent and the object that forms the possession. Locke’s labor theory of property is the key example of this. In reality, property is defined not by first appropriation or any such system, but is a recognised series of complex rights granted by authority; a state of affairs actually demonstrable from historical record and everyday experience. It would seem that in effect, the only entity that holds property as a possession is the sovereign by virtue of military defence, so we can see the link between property and the concept of sovereignty.
[xxxiii] Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Works, p 204.
[xxxiv] Alaisdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Idiana, Notre Dame Press, 1988,) p 76.