Blast from the past

Here are a couple of quotations from Louis de Bonald, taken from Critics of the Enlightenment, a recent compilation of writings by French counterrevolutionaries:

“When nations have been unable to retain their habits, they replace them by styles, ceaselessly changing them as they seek for what they have lost.” (52)

“The immense quantity of books makes us read more, and among the society of the dead as among that of the living, an overextended acquaintaince does not leave enough time for good friendships to form.” (79)

The first quote is striking but no longer seems applicable, since “style” has collapsed as an institution in the wake of the general collapse of the ’60s. Style is a sort of order, and liberalism induces social entropy that eventually prevents it from defining itself or going anywhere. That’s why young people still listen to ’60s music like the Beatles, and think they’re hip and cool when they use 50-year-old slang like “hip” and “cool.”

The book includes an intelligent-enough introduction by Philippe Beneton, who says that the counterrevolutionaries obviously lost, which should be a problem for guys who emphasize historical development so much, but the questions they raise are still real, pressing and unanswered. His own solution seems to be a sort of conservative liberalism.

I think that solution goes nowhere. “Conservative liberalism” isn’t a theory and can’t endure as a standard. Instead, it’s a state of affairs that comes about through the habitual tactical caution of liberalism and the consequent persistence of preliberal institutions. As the implications of equal freedom develop the preliberal institutions get discredited, and conservative liberalism becomes impossible. The choices then become continued development of liberalism, abandonment of political principle, and adoption of something other than equal freedom as a final standard (e.g., “theocracy”).

The collection’s worth reading since so little of this stuff is available in English. It’s a tiny fragment of what’s out there though, and maybe someone should organize a sort of cooperative internet translation project. Something to think about.

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