Thoughts on the relationship between absolutism and equality

4 posts

Bob Dylan Roof

Camacho's post on Spengler here inspired me to put this together. It draws on Spengler's history of power but also draws on Bertrand de Jouvenel and Hans-Hermann Hoppe for inspiration. The procedure discussed below is intended simply as an incomplete survey. Feel free to tl;dr it.

Two terse and contentious definitions :

A notable/noble/aristocrat is a self-sufficient individual with resources adequate for self-sustenance and the physical enforcement of his liberty against others. He is a man of good stock with excellent physical and mental capacities, good character, future-oriented goals, and a relatively loyal and equally robust extended family. Often he is an independent power that exercises authority over a set of consenting individuals, as in autocephalous societies like medieval kingships where a federation of aristocrats is presided over by a "king", or unwilling individuals, as in heterocephalous societies where kingship is imposed exogenously through conquest. Such a man is "free" in the ancient sense of the term.

The masses, in contrast, are individuals who are only self-sufficient to a limited extent and who, if at all, occupy positions of authority with a very limited scope, such as the head of a family. Often they are subject to the authority of the notables. Here we find the early bourgeoisie, the peasants, the proletariat, the serfs and slaves.

With these definitions in place we can assert an equally contentious axiom of human behavior:

Man has a will-to-power such that in every association he will inevitably attempt to maximize his power and aggrandize his person at the expense of others in that association.

Absolutism and equality

Wherever there is a set of nobles and each has relatively equal military and economic resources, there will be a true balance of powers and the tendency toward absolutism will be muted. However, where there is a chance for one noble to compel obedience from the others, there will be conflict, from which the positive relationship between absolutism and equality emerges. The reason for the conflict is clear: the independent authority of the less-powerful nobles represents an obstacle to the imposition of the aspiring absolutist's will.

Historically, the two principle ways for the absolutist to conquer the federation of conquerors are 1) by appealing to the interests of those subjugated by the rival nobles (Caesar), or 2) by conquering foreign peoples and employing them in offices traditionally performed by the other nobles (Alexander). In each case the authority of the exalted is marginalized at the expense of uplifting the unexalted.

The conquest of the conquerors does not signal the end of absolutism's egalitarian march; instead, the absolutist must continue down the hierarchy of independent authorities until there is no longer any impediment to his will. In each case those who are subject to, or enemies of, the authority in question ultimately benefit from absolutism's attack on the authority. Below the rule of the nobility are the religious, ethnic, municipal and familial authorities, all of which present potential obstacles to the absolutist's power, and all of which subjugate a potential class of new allies for the aspiring monarch.

But this trajectory is not followed uniformly to its conclusion in all possible associations. In non-democratic manifestations of absolutism, such as those that obtained in early-modern Europe, the process of equalization is arrested by external and internal restrictions.

External restrictions include the existing effective authorities that remain independent by virtue of their physical distinction from the personality of the absolutist, such as the Church, the nobility and the common people. The physical distinction between the monarch and other authorities magnifies class-consciousness within each authority so that the authority is strengthened vis-a-vis the monarch. Thus we see in the history of absolutism that the triumph over traditional authorities was rarely complete.

Internal restrictions originate from the absolutist himself and include those cosmological and religious principles that govern the scope of an individual's will-to-power as natural law did in the middle ages and Christian common law did in the age of absolutism. In addition to the moral and religious principles that may temper his appetite, economic calculation itself provides an internal restriction on the absolutist, as Hoppe has demonstrated. These restrictions explain the relatively "conservative" and pious dispositions of many monarchs.

Most of the external and internal distinctions are only eliminated with the success of the revolutions against absolutism. Empowered by the egalitarian creations of the absolutist, the masses finally wrest control of the monarch's apparatus for the enforcement of his will - the State - from the monarch himself. Borrowing the legitimacy accumulated by the State over the centuries of its growth, the masses then set about eliminating every opposition to its authority. In the place of the concrete personality of the monarch they set a whole multitude of egos, but the goal of the state remains the same, and its power increases.

No longer the manifestation of a single concrete person but rather the embodiment of the will of everyone under its power, the State is able to eliminate nearly every external restriction on its power. What the absolute monarch failed to do over the course of several centuries is accomplished in a few years by the new "republics."

No longer requiring the legitimacy of divinity to justify the state (for the State is now a creation of the people), the State abandons its commitment to a supernatural origin of law. Divine law is supplanted by positive law, which permits every arbitrary rule to be classified as law and enforced.

Both of these innovations accelerate the process of equalization so that every time a new aristocracy or elite threatens to emerge, the State quickly allies with those subjugated by the new elite, becoming the ally of workers, minorities, women, etc. Since there are authorities in all spheres of life, the State extends its legislative power to all spheres of society and effectively becomes total.


Betrand Russell and Ernst Nolte both thought, for different reasons, that dictatorship had a corrective function, culminating in Fascism in the wake of general strike and collapse of the state.

Nolte seemed to be relying on the belief that the body politic in European states, and Germany in particular, had a psychological attachment to traditional institutions and folkways and would react w/extreme violence when these things were menaced with destruction. In other words, the total state in some of its historical expressions operates to suppress liberalization and bolster the pillars of historical national identity and authority rather than eradicate them.

Hoppe I've gleaned rejects this view entirely, and in doing so not only suggests that the Third Reich was an analog of the Jacobin republic but also aims to rebut the claim presented by Burnham (through his acolytes in Sam Francis and Patrick Buchanan) that the managerial state is in itself value-neutral.

President Camacho
1) has clearly taken place (ever more forcefully with time) in post-bellum America, and as if the marginalization of the founding stock wasn't accelerating quickly enough, the last 50 years have seen 2) happen on an increasing scale, with the deliberate importation of alien groups like the Hispanics.

For Spengler, the 20th century Western world, like the Roman of the first century, had only "extensive possibilities"-- meaning expansionary-- and the its choice was "between willing this and willing nothing". A Culture's exhaustion of inward development sets its sights outward, and on this course the Western world looked irretrievably set by the First World War.

However, the criminalization of warfare following World War II and the guarantee of nuclear MAD halted this expansionary mindset in its tracks, and the State turned its attention inwards with a vehemence. Our contemporaries with the gift of hindsight, like Hoppe and van Creveld, have noted this, though it was murky at the turn of the 20th century.

Long before WWII States had been steadily increasing inward scope of control, but I have often wondered what the Western world would look like today had WWII ended without Hiroshima and nuclear proliferation. Would the American youth of the 1960s have really joined in the cultural revolution if they had the opportunity of a military conquest of China or India (or the Soviet Union) before them? Would the intelligentsia have still been obsessed with inward-focused "reforming" crusades if a new era of imperialism set in? How could the United States have embarked on a dangerous crusade to "liberate" its negro underclass if the constant threat of an actual annihilation war with the USSR was at stake which would require every bit of national energy?

There is effectively an American Imperium over the world today but it is of a fundamentally different character than the Roman-- built on ideological and propagandistic rather than military conquest.
Niccolo and Donkey

Let's bump this thread.