VIII. Words! Only Words!
(The Remnant, April 30, 1991)
“…all this lovely mechanism, which functioned so easily and so philanthropically in the inventor’s study, seems, before long, to be wicked in practice. It becomes disordered, it spreads terror and death around it. Before long, no more remains of it than a pile of debris on a heap of corpses around which, from all points on the horizon, come running the beasts of prey.” (Louis Veuillot, Mélanges, V, 339-340)Taparelli d’Azegliio’s most comprehensive discussion of the practical consequences of the Revolution in the realm of politics can be found in his Critical Examination of Modern Representative Governments (1854). This book, put together from articles published by the author in the pages of La Civiltà Cattolica, expands upon an earlier work, his Theoretical Essay on Natural Law (1846), and reveals the influence of a variety of counterrevolutionary thinkers of the school of Joseph de Maistre.
Modern revolutionary political theory, the Jesuit explained, was tied to one form or another of the doctrine of popular sovereignty, a doctrine grounding all government in the Will of the People, and understanding The People to be some mystical aggregate of atomistic individuals. Furthermore, the dominant liberal shade of revolutionary thought took it for granted, as did Montalembert, that a representative, constitutional system of the type established in Britain and America, was essential to any true expression of the popular will.
Such concepts, Taparelli insisted, bound any State founded upon them to a tissue of anti-incarnational errors so destructive to Catholic Wisdom as to compel the Orthodox to press unhesitatingly for their rejection. They strike against Christ and the natural order which Christ came to redeem and perfect in endless different ways. They make man’s will seem more important than God’s created structure of things, a structure which can be learned partly by Reason as well as by Faith. They disdain the real facts of history incarnating a given ruler or type of government in a specific nation over the course of time. They cause people to be represented, even in those places where representative government did have an historical justification, without reference to the kaleidoscope of incarnational communities (Church, family, guild, university, etc.) which give serious strength to the diversity of human concerns and perfect the naked individual. Hence, they ignore the truth that society:
…is not a gathering of grains or a heap of human individuals, but an organic body served in various functions by various groups without whose representation it would never be able to be called truly representative. Just as a calf would not be represented by that heap of macerated flesh to which it is reduced by the knife of a butcher. (Taparelli, La Civiltà Cattolica, I, ii, 1850, 135)
Popular sovereignty, constitutional representative government, and
treatment of men as atoms isolated from the network of societies in which they grow are supposed to assure the victory of freedom and the people’s will in the life of the State. But, Taparelli insists, such claims are substanceless boasts. The reality is, as one might expect, quite the opposite. Just as in every other realm, the assault on Catholic Wisdom in politics involves not only an objective evil, but a mockery of the expressly-stated desires of the revolutionaries themselves. It is self-deluded as well as being wrong. Rather than assuring the freedom and victory of the popular will that they boast they want, modern revolutionary political ideals ensure the domination of the strong, who can easily hide behind the bumper-sticker slogans of liberty and democracy.
A glance at the experience of the French Revolution, Taparelli argued, makes this abundantly clear. The French revolutionaries claimed that they were replacing wicked institutions which oppressed mankind with a People’s State ushering in a new era of Virtue and Happiness. But what actually happened? France’s historical authority, incarnated over the course of centuries, was both monarchical land multiform, each of the social bodies spoken of in Taparelli’s quotation above playing an important role in life. Efforts to change this, on the basis of ideas alone, were like insisting that a tall man wear short man’s clothing.
The chaos loosed by revolutionary tampering with France’s historical social and political structure was just what was needed by a confident, clever, violent group of people—a mixture of bourgeois capitalists and ideological fanatics bubbling up from the murky, earth-bound world of lawyers, economists, and shysters of all description—to dominate the nation. This group of gangsters then was able to do whatever it wished, appealing to the argument that revolutionary concepts and constitutional guarantees absolutely assured that everyone’s freedom and will were nevertheless being protected.
Taparelli found this development particularly irksome. King Louis XVI’s subjects could approach their ruler to demand redress of grievance. Not so the citizens of the new Free France! Even if 99% of the population were to beg its revolutionary leaders to stop abusing it, the response would be that no abuse could possibly have taken place. After all, the men in charge were no longer rulers. They were mere representatives of popular will. Did the people (who no longer had a network of powerful communities protecting them) not all have equal rights? Did the Revolution not insist , dogmatically, that the people ruled? Why, the simple suggestion that there could be an abuse indicated that those bringing it up were not part of the People, but Enemies of the People, whose imprisonment and execution ought to be looked upon by every decent man as a great victory for liberty and democracy. And so it came to pass in the 1790’s.
And so it must come to pass, every time man’s will is held to be superior to God’s just order of things, unleashing the insatiable lusts of the wicked; everywhere that we who are weak are forced to fight without the aid of powerful, historically-rooted communities against strong men whose “equal rights” always ensure their victory; every place that chaos is unleashed by the imposition of disembodied, a-historical political theories. This was true in the 1850’s, when Taparelli wrote. It is even more true today, when, in the prophetic words of St. Hippolytus, the “songs of the adversary are sung from the altar”.
More about the methods by means of which the strong dominate the modern representative system in the next Remnant.
Nota bene: The series was at this point interrupted, so that work on the book entitled Removing the Blindfold (Remnant Press, 1999) could begin.
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