Where Authority Lies: Republicanism, Liberalism, and Progressive Morality
WHERE AUTHORITY LIES
“. . .And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness (zohar) of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” (Dan. xii, 3)
What is called the “new morality” (a term dating to the 1920s) today guided by progressive social movements seems not too different from the U.S. Post-War rules reinforced and imposed to modify the attitudes and values of White American middle-class society in the 1950s. There were a lot of rules then, David Hoffman’s documentaries showed.
And there are a lot of rules today too, except many of these rules are invisible. We’re simply expected to know the many rules, values, and perspectives we should have, which to some feels like they have come from nowhere when they do something against it, that leads that system to become highly manifest and vocal.
There is a long history to this development, down to our times in the age of social media.
In a sense, this liberalism acts in a totalitarian manner, expecting subservience. There are certain viewpoints you are “supposed” to have, all guided by the zeitgeist of progressive social movements. The “new morality” so-called is not therefore an absence, or erosion of morality, contrary to what traditionalist conservatives, like Roger Scruton has taught. It is still a morality, with rules, form, structure, and boundaries.
The U.S. government, just as in the 1950s has thus involved itself in propagandizing, reinforcing, and experimenting with new attitudes and values, whether, e.g., it is through a form of racism, or anti-racism.
THE OLD VIRTUES AND THE LEFT REDISCOVERING MORALS
The concept of perfectibility lay at the root of the republican philosophy, in classical democracy, in Christianity, and in ancient theosophies. Such ideal I argue has degenerated. Early thinkers considered the model of the citizen of Sparta and in Athens when constructing ideals of a New Citizen — the American.
In “American Romanità: What we lost when we Abandoned Classical Education,” we learned that “Americans turned increasingly to the Roman heroes of their youth for pseudonyms, symbols and an iconography that could guide and shape the institutions of their dangerous and unsettling revolution.”
Joseph Addison’s 1713 play, Cato embodied the self-sacrificing ideal of liberty that was to represent what the new social virtue of the American would be. This new social virtue was more soft than the masculine and martial classical virtues, so that it can be practiced by men and women.
This “domestication of virtue,” Gordon S. Wood argued, reconciled classical republicanism with modernity and commerce, and in fact laid the basis for all reform movements of the nineteenth century, and for all subsequent modern liberal thinking.
This is why I find important what Aristotle says about the taxonomy of regimes in helping me to understand republics, the ideal of the classical Demokratia and Isokratia.
The extreme political polarization in the United States lead some people to redefine and reframe republicanism as associated with white racism, colonial thinking and white supremacism, and democracy with good, equality and progress. They elevate the term democracy through their progressive interpretation, but will define republicanism as anti-majoritarian, constraining (socially and politically), and anti-progressive. Although a cunning innovation, it is a confusion exacerbated by our political crisis, and increasing negative associations tied to the political party under the name, Republican. It has been shown, that this political party, which became dominated by Conservatives, share the same concerns and patterns that the Old European Right and Burke (considered a founding father of Conservatism) did: this sentiment was anti-republican, anti-diversity, anti-feminist, anti-liberal and anti-enlightenment.
The highest ideal underlying this “radical new morality” and the postmodern left is equality and egalitarianism. Ideals focused on striving for the “advancement of civilization” have in many ways become negatively associated with imperialism, colonialism, racism, eugenics, white privilege, etc. Today, the ideal of advancing civilization is taken up by progressives, whereas conservatives represent conserving traditions, privileges, cautioning change, etc.
Consider Abraham Lincoln’s Address at a Sanitary Fair in Baltimore (Apr. 18, 1864) on the ways each party uses the term liberty. Particularly, the concept of liberty becomes blended with libertinism through the Sexual Revolution, so that liberty seems to mean, “do whatever you want.” However, the early concept of liberality and liberty as a socio-political concept was always tied to an ideal of moral upliftment, duty, authority or law, and advancement of civilization. This goes against the stereotypical depiction of Liberalism as amoral. Intrinsic to the revolutionary republicans was this aim at a spiritual regeneration of mankind, and the common interest and the common good was one of the most important duties.
“For decades, the two wings of US politics have dealt with spirituality in opposite ways. The God-wielding right proudly trots out organized religion to defend its views, and the secular, postmodern left keeps even non-religious spiritual experiences so quiet as to imply it’s silly or shameful to have them. That dichotomy has resulted in rightwing dominance of the spiritual space in the US. But today there is a marked shift in tone on the left – a reconciliation of the public sphere with private meaning, from social-justice-driven religion to non-religious, even atheist, humanism.” (How the American left is rediscovering morality)
Teaching of moral philosophy was highly stressed as the importance of liberality, and to be liberal meant a ‘cultured-mind’ (liberal person seen as a cultured and of elevated mind, bourgeois, with a condescending attitude for the poor). So, there were negative attitudes this created, that Marx critiqued about liberalism.
As stated, the negative attitude acquired was a disdain for the poor and lower classes, as being incapable of liberality – thus, of being cultured, or excellent.
The term liberal was not originally in conflict with the noble class or monarchy. Before the revolutions, it was a compliment for an aristocrat, or noble to be called liberal.
The very quality of the aristokratia as it was once understood is Excellence; and the general principle in the innovations of the Athenian Demokratia and Roman Republic is Equality and Liberty. In ancient times in Rome, the enslaved and lower classes were seen as less capable of liberality or excellence. Liberalism as a political identity is fairly modern. This liberal or “cultured mind” of elevated sentiment, with apparent condescension for the poor was thus conceived as one’s ‘liberality,’ a sentiment which was seen as the mark of nobility, hence Marx’s critiques.
For the woman, nothing much was expected of her, like the enslaved. Their new roles and encouragement towards education was only to prepare them for their predestined domestic roles and duties. Liberality meant kindness to others, but we see the hypocrisy of this in our times, because of human imperfection. There are self-identifying “liberals” in our time, that still exhibit the paradoxical attitude Marx critiqued, through elitism and classism; and depending on the individual, even the area they live (rural, suburban, urban, coastal).
Nevertheless, the faults of the old liberals gave the unfortunate parts of the population and liberated women the rationale to rebel against the old values and morals. I am able to utilize the words of the American founders, framers and so forth against them, for in republicanism itself lay the argument against the racist attitude and racialist doctrines. The people of the Diaspora and Natives were not considered fully human in such times on the basis of false notions. Those who sought to stay and pave their way in the Americas, especially those who held some position in power and made risk, those that learned to read the law and the Bible picked up on hypocrisies and faults taught to control them, began to use the very words of their rulers against them to argue and fight for their rights.
Here, it helps to not think of Democracy as a God, or perfect system. Be careful. “Perfect systems” belong to the autocrat and monarch. Liberalism thought it had beaten Fascism and the Old Right. Fascists and the Old Right saw Marx leading us to a dead-end, liberalism as weakening, and Democracy and Republics as a sign of degeneration and materialism, although ignoring their own failures and ineptitude, which led to revolutions.
There is, it is explained a liberal tradition in which the political life becomes “totalitarian,” duty-centered, and Platonic. The democracy of Mazzini was seen as the highest example of liberalism, which Gentile saw as an antidote to conservatism, and Gentile (Notes on Post-Risorgimento Idealism) called Fascism the “true liberalism.”
These early fascist developments were in ways original and unpredictable in the 1930s. For Gentile, fascism in fact proposed a more democratic political ideal of participation of the will of the people combined with the State, in the effort to actually create a new spiritualism in action, as Napoleon sought to do.
Gentile, however begins to shift to the historic Right, and he is described as having an in-born conservatism. But to avoid becoming a mere party, or as he said another mere disputable theory, it was necessary fascism become totalitarian in its orientation or identity, i.e., as a total solution to the individual and the State, and to secure fascism as a unitary plan, the continuation of the Risorgimento.
The old quarry between the state and the party, as seen in our own decadent polarization, was argued against and Mussolini and Gentile seeing the futility of bothering the movement in that quarry, made fascism representative of the state coming of age in Italian history. The nation, he states, “is the common will of a people that asserts itself (…) fulfils itself.” Gentile calls this “true democracy.”
The United States, which is not a “true,” pure or mass democracy created a unique system, a representative democracy with republican and indigenous roots and various other inspirations, which differs from the French system, ancient Roman Republic and Athenian Democracy.
Constitutional Republic, Representative Democracy, Republic and democratic all equally describe our form of government and its institutions. 13 of 39 signers of the Constitution were members of Freemason lodges, 28 of those signers were also Episcopalian/Anglican, and the foundations of the country lie in the ideology of the Enlightenment, among other influences that constructs a neo-republicanism.
The conventional concept of Democracy (majoritarian) and liberalism in the American mind not only was defined as Anti-Authoritarianism, it became Post-60s (post the Rules), against any Authority, or so we think. As I argue in the beginning, the liberal is still an authority, shapes values, and what is to be and not to be.
Americans try to call their government as it functions today many names, like Fascist, Oligarchy, etc., and say that it is not a “real democracy.” You begin to realize, this is very similar to the “not real Communism” argument, but if honest, we must say this is Democracy currently. Imperialism may be even inherent to republicanism. See, a republic has no boundaries. It extends its dominion in concrete and various subtle manner. The American knows the totalitarian nature, the security, and imperialism of their own system.
In our own democracy, “the people” do not entirely control everything like corporations, but are instead pacified, monitored, and policed. The citizens argue about their fate, but largely allow themselves to be policed and surveilled constantly, particularly through social media and in the public, for they cannot do anything truly about it, and at any rate accepts the cost.
In the Fascist ideal, the masses or collective are ‘the People.’ When Gentile and Mussolini thus stated ‘Fascism’ is ‘true democracy,’ they are right. Fascism cannot exist without some form of Mass Politics. Now, firstly, our Republic is not ruled by the People, or Masses; the People elect their rulers, who represent them. It has increasingly become mistakenly interpreted in the first sense, especially by Populists, but Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence assures us this is not the interpretation of our governing system. That is the Fascist’s interpretation. This is an important distinction, that is eroding.
LIBERTY, TOTALITARIANS AND THE RULE OF LAW
Albert Pike elucidating on republicanism and liberty explained equality in the revolution’s republican motto. In this view, all men are created equal pointed to the dignity of the human soul and natural rights, and not to the idea that all people equally perform and possess the same potential. Liberty, he explains is not anti-authority, and especially not amoral. There is always an elite, authority and moderator making rules.
“Conduct books explained that liberality was a moral virtue that moderated men’s “desire and greed for money.” —Prof. Helena Rosenblatt. What It Meant To Be Liberal: from Cicero to Lafayette: The Politics of Giving, Chapter 1.
Liberty in republicanism is connected with Law, Order, and Morality, and not an absence of these, hence the left’s own refocus on morality, or redefining “what’s right” and what is order. Let us be clear considering the symbolism of Marianne and Minerva, and what they represent as Balance of the Principles, because in the entirety of the two documents, the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, it never mentions the word “strength (of).” The Bill of Rights “restrains” power, and these documents speak of “liberty,” law and authority in a softer, different sense from the modern conservative Trumpian interpretation of the “Rule of Law.”
Modern conservative interpretations, habits, and attitudes are becoming similar to the Fascists, though the Fascists were more extreme. Many Americans though, even conservatives are very hyper-observant against “totalitarian” or dictatorial patterns of thinking; thus both political sides accuse each other’s ideas as leading to fascism, yet both share certain patterns of Fascist thinking. The same can be said in turn for Fascism, since its principle thinkers are pulling from an eclectic source of inspiration, expressing elements both politically right and left, because Gentile sought a complete, totalistic doctrine.
For Mussolini in the totalitarian doctrine, nothing could exist outside of Fascism and the Authoritative State, in his own words. By this reasoning naturally followed the belief, organizations like the Freemasons and Mafia were States within the State. They were to be subservient or utterly absorbed within Fascist Italy. Mussolini sent the Il prefetto di ferro, Mori (the Iron Prefect) to crush and roundup the Sicilian Mafia, where many of the mafia left to America and subsequently subverted and reorganized the low-level rackets. This was the same proposal made to the Italian Theosophists and in Germany to the German Theosophists — either you become subservient, or you cannot exist.
The connection of Benito Mussolini’s Fascism to the republican heritage is that initially, Mussolini’s Italian Fascism was republican and denounced the Savoy monarchy, but by 1922 he abandons republicanism; and scapegoating many groups, Mussolini declared his hatred of Freemasonry. Despite his later Italian Social Republic (Salò Republic) being Northern and Nazi-protected (a German puppet state), Mussolini stated, his Salò Republic was closest to his ideal. Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini believed, Marx’s predictions and Liberalism would fail.
All this history and philosophy can be traced, because the Fascists themselves explain Fascism as they are changing and developing it in its early periods. When a scholar is saying, that ‘Fascism is not a system’ or ‘has no philosophy,’ but you go directly to their sources, and the very initial thinkers of Fascism are saying, ‘Fascism is a system, is a philosophy,’ then it can only lead to confusion. The problem is looking for one simple answer, just to interpret it through the lens of our modern political ailment.
Mussolini on the Right gives us deeper insight into others finding appeal in Fascism as a panacea to what liberalism lacks, or as they see it, the superficiality and soulless materialism of a civilization led by socialism, democracy and liberalism:
“Granted that the 19th century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the 20th century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain.
We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the ‘right’, a Fascist century. If the 19th century was the century of the individual (liberalism implies individualism) we are free to believe that this is the ‘collective’ century, and therefore the century of the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian (…) …potentiates the whole life of a people…everything in the state, nothing against the State, nothing outside the state. Fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship with a superior law and with an objective Will that transcends the particular individual and raises him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Whoever has seen in the religious politics of the Fascist regime nothing but mere opportunism has not understood (…) is above all, a system of thought.”
In republicanism and liberalism lie a critique of the order, when it does not properly function, due to lack of moderation, corruption and despotism.
“…republicanism was essentially anti-capitalistic, a final attempt to come to terms with the emergent individualistic society that threatened to destroy once and for all the communion and benevolence that civilized men had always considered to be the ideal of human behavior…” (Hayward’s Review: The Liberal Republicanism of Gordon Wood)
Gordon Wood explains, that republicanism was anti-capitalistic and not individualistic, but collectivist. Interestingly, Samuel Miller McDonald tells us however, that it is misleading to believe that capitalism is inherently individualist, while believing communism and socialism are inherently collectivist (Actually, Capitalism is Collectivist).
In this painting, La Liberté ou la Mort (1795) by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, we find Liberty with the six-pointed hexagram star representing the macrocosm, or great universe hanging above her head. The Fasces, or bundle of sticks lay at Liberty’s feet and she sits on the shield of justice, holding the weights and measures, and the Phrygian red cap. She is a symbol of Authority, even as Liberty.
In this painting by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier, Representation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789, we see Liberty associated with Authority and Law again, with the “eye of providence,” donning her red Phrygian cap of wisdom.
“We tend to think of liberalism as having roots that lie deep in English history. Some locate its origins as far back as the Magna Carta of 1215; others point to the ideas of John Locke in the 17th century. From there, liberalism is said to have slowly gained traction until it was brought to America, where the Founding Fathers enshrined its principles in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
It’s a nice story, but the truth is quite different. The word “liberalism” did not even exist until the early 19th century, when it was invented to encapsulate the principles of the French Revolution. Toward the end of the 19th century, liberalism was then reconfigured with the aid of German ideas. “Liberalism,” as a word and concept, only came to America in the 1910s.
In its earliest iterations, “liberalism” referred mainly to the rule of law, civil equality, constitutional and representative government as well as a number of rights, among which freedom of the press and freedom of religion were the most important.” (Helena Rosenblatt, The Thin Line Between Liberalism and Totalitarianism)
Benjamin Rush believed, that moral degradation and corruption would lead the republic only through two doors of tyranny: the mob (demos), or a Caesar.
Leave a Reply