Formalism & the Sacred

Would not a neo-cameral monarchy leave us cold, as being nothing more than a bloodless business arrangement? Wouldn’t it fail to evoke our loyalty, our patriotic love? Would it not be incorrigibly – and horribly – profane?

No.

The formalism of neo-cameral monarchy would not by itself gut its sacred & familiar aspects. To suppose that it might would be to fall into improper reduction. It would be to think that society is *nothing but* its legal form. All civilized societies are legally formalized. Their formalizations derive from the reality of their ordered life. The determination runs from the concrete facts of social life to the formal legal theory of its proper order.

Then formal law, economics, political science, and so forth are not the actual blood and guts of society, are not its actual life, and nor therefore are they the substance of its dynamism or its operations, but rather, merely, formalizations thereof, modes of analysis and heuristics of signification. There is no such thing as a merely formal society. There are rather only actual societies that have each a certain definite, malleable and dynamic character.

So to look to a formalist scheme of politics – or any other – as a source of the inherently familiar order of society, or a fortiori its sacred dimension, is to err categorially. To do so would be like looking to physical theory for physical facts.

We should not then think that a formalist scheme could somehow evacuate the sacred or the familiar from society.

Lordship, e.g., is inherently familiar and sacred, or it is something other than lordship. It is from the living actuality of lordship that the formal theory thereof derives. We employ theory to order our approach to fact, not as that approach. Theory is to be sure itself a fact, but of a different category than its material; as maps are material, but are not the matter they map.

A society legally ordered along such lines as have come to be called formalist or neo-cameralist then – a political order wherein the state was legally treated as a corporation owned by holders of fungible shares – would not by that fact alone suffer deformities of the familiar and sacred aspects of lordship, or any other sort of vitiation of the fullness of organic society. The Church, by a very close analogy, is not profaned by her canon law or her creeds. Where it is not idolized, the letter does not kill. Rather, these formalisms usefully encode the form of her life, so that it may be understood. So likewise with the legal and formal aspects of any society. A university owns its campus, but there is more to the university than that ownership and that campus. The bishop, diocese, dean and chapter own the cathedral and its close, but there is more to the cathedral than these.

Could the monarch of a formalist society then, who had his office *only* on account of the fact that he owned more shares of the state than anyone else (an extreme example, that would rarely come to pass in real life), be the Father of his people? Could he be their King? Could he be their High Priest?

Why not? How would this be different from the Emperor who had his office *only* on account of the acclamation of his legions, who had defeated those of his rivals? How would it be different from the President who had his office *only* on account of having won more votes than his competitors? How would it be different from the King who had his office *only* on the approbation of his barons to his succession to his father’s throne?

14 thoughts on “Formalism & the Sacred

  1. Pingback: Formalism & the Sacred | Aus-Alt-Right

  2. The idea that this or that form of Constitution, by itself, is what shapes a culture’s basic understanding of the State is indeed logically inadequate and improperly reductionist, akin to trying to explain the winter by the snow. The Constitution is an expression of broad cultural sensibilities, not the other away around. That having been said, it’s hard to see just why exactly a culture that understands the State in terms of the sacred and the familiar would choose to formally constitute it on the model of a joint-stock company, as the prototype of the wholly impersonal, instrumental, and strictly interested form of human association.

    • The formal aspect of a business enterprise no more drives the concrete life thereof than its constitution drives the life of a nation. There are plenty of joint stock corporations – most, I would venture to say – that do not look at all like the Marxian caricature of commerce. Many, many of them are run almost like families.

      The notion that commerce is debased per se impugns all trade; and this is to impugn the life of the body in its social aspect. It is a characterization driven by a Gnostic impulse – the hatred of the corporeal.

      I’m not accusing you of Gnosticism, understand. It’s just that this common notion of commerce (and for that matter war) as inherently ignoble and icky, inculcated in us all by our schooling from infancy, is Gnostic in its valence. Who knew, right?

      “Commerce” is a togetherness of tradeable goods. So is a feast; so is a sacrifice. But none of these things are *only* a togetherness of stuff. Each is far more, and signifies more than it is. It is then no surprise, or shouldn’t be, to discover that commerce is in traditional societies generally transacted in the outer precincts of the temple, a place of sanctuary, a market fair, overlooked (like the Althing) by a tutelary god and so safe because set apart by dreadful ukases from the feuds and vendettas of clans and families that rage unchecked without.

      • Indeed, exchange, or the obligation to give and receive gifts, is coeval both with the human and the social, which are furthermore coeval with one another. Taking my cue from Marcel Mauss, I write of an obligation, not an option. To participate in the market is not an option. Incidentally, in a feudal society, such as the one that you describe, generically, in your post, there is a “horizontal market,” which takes place in the forum, but there is also a “vertical market,” which moves at ninety degrees to the forum. One of the sicknesses of Modernity is that it has only a “horizontal market,” from participation in which large numbers of people at the bottom and again at the top of the society are arbitrarily and unjustly exempted. The ones at the top are wickedly self-exempting.

        The difference between the two markets, and the disaster that ensues from abolishing the “vertical market,” are summed up by William Wordsworth in his sonnet from 1802:

        The world is too much with us; late and soon,
        Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
        Little we see in Nature that is ours;
        We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
        This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
        The winds that will be howling at all hours,
        And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
        For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
        It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
        A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
        So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
        Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
        Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
        Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

      • Aye. There is bid and there is offer, well and good enough, and as you say indispensable. But then there is offer up and bid down. The latter sort of exchange founds and orders the former, rendering it intelligible and valuable both; for the vertical market is the font of all the meanings signified by the signals of the horizontal, and of the values exchanged therein.

        It is with exchanges as it is with meals. A meal may be no more than an occasion of refueling, or as blessed and its complex of values and processes intentionally shared and enjoyed may be discovered as a sacrament, a salient of the rites of Heaven.

        So we find that exchanges are marked by ritual: from the mutual thanks that terminate a drugstore purchase to a feast marking a great agreement, complete with libations raised to Fortuna.

        With the market as with anything human, the horizontal too seldom oriented and ennobled by the vertical soon loses its way and wanders into sordid sloughs of despond.

      • Commerce, to be sure, isn’t by nature polluted, and exchange figures indispensably in every form of human relationship. It’s just that the modern business enterprise presumes a separation of the commercial from the other forms of human action. The joint-stock company, by design, is a contrivance for a set of people to make money for themselves and nothing else. Anybody with money or a relatively rare skill can get in, and once in has no obligations to the company or the others other than those prescribed by the strict black letter of the positive law. The members of the organization may well be friendly to one another, but they needn’t be, and arguably shouldn’t; their relationships aren’t inherently sacred, political, or familiar and they aren’t supposed to be. (E.g a CEO who refuses to lay off a bunch of employees out of some sense of paternal care that, in his mind, trumps the company bottom line is derelict in his duty to the shareholders).

        To invest this form of association with the sacred, political, familiar, etc. would be to change its nature radically. It strikes me that the fungibility of shares in particular would necessarily become severely restricted (I trust that the shareholders wouldn’t be free to sell their stock to, say, an Islamic consortium looking to leverage a Caliphate).

      • … the modern business enterprise presumes a separation of the commercial from the other forms of human action.

        This defect you notice, which is to be sure oft (though by no means always) to be found, particularly in large enterprises, is of modernity, rather than of the formal order of the joint stock corporation as such. You are not Gnostic; but modernity is.

        Modern notions have of course infected business law, so some reformation is in order. But that won’t transpire before a moral and metaphysical renovation of the West.

        I trust that the shareholders wouldn’t be free to sell their stock to, say, an Islamic consortium looking to leverage a Caliphate.

        Covenants restricting the sale of property to certain sorts of people or for certain sorts of uses are quite common.

  3. Pingback: Formalism & the Sacred | Reaction Times

  4. “Then formal law, economics, political science, and so forth are not the actual blood and guts of society, are not its actual life, and nor therefore are they the substance of its dynamism or its operations, but rather, merely, formalizations thereof, modes of analysis and heuristics of signification.”

    Very important line here. Failing to recognize this would be to fall into a Modern mindset.

    Historically, monarchy has changed dynasties often by virtue of conquest or internal strife, but the result had no less legitimacy than transfer by blood, so long as it retained its sacred character. Formalism just seems to be another method of power determination, that before long would fall into the general flow of regime. It is very amenable to Reactionary ends, in and of itself.

    • That’s my hunch. We should remember that all civilized societies have had some formal aspect – have had laws, rituals, taboos, offices, a specifiable political order, and so forth. This has not prevented or interfered with their sacral aspects. Nor has it prevented civil wars, usurpations, revolutions, radical reformations, and other like disruptions. A society is profane, not because its formalization is profane, but because the people have lost their faith. When this happens, social death soon follows, usually.

  5. Pingback: The Very Best of Last Week in Reaction (2016/08/07) – The Reactivity Place

  6. Speaking personally, I always felt like the preoccupation with the joint-stock company in particular was a weird contingency, and to begin with didn’t really ping in my mind as essential or even especially salient in ‘neoreaction’ until I read people trying to describe neoreaction.

    The way James Donald describes things is probably the closest example to my own intuitions. Gaetano Mosca defined a ‘political formula’ as basically a means of justifying power. Taken in this sense, I am rather agnostic on that front, suspicious even.

    No throne goes unoccupied; if a man does not take it, demons will in his stead. The most important thing to me is not justifying a throne, but that it is occupied to begin with (which is my justification).

    Sovereignty flows from power sources, and it is highly irresponsible to leave any power sources ‘lying on the table’. The sovereign is a general; he leads fighting men, and hence has the power of violence. The sovereign is a banker; he lends money for use in commerce, and hence has the power of oeconomica. The sovereign is a high priest; he gives The Word, and hence has the power of meme magic.

    If the sovereign does *not* hold these founts, his sovereignty is in dispute by pretenders, and may not well be the true sovereign at all.

    What especial matter is one certain particular scheme of owning hypothetical shares in a hypothetical business to this beyond the proximal or tangential? So often in history attempts to justify powers that lack power sources end up undermining themselves; indeed, they often create the environment for and serve as instigations of leftward/entropic memetic mutation (cf. ‘social contract’, ‘consent of the governed’, et cetera et cetera).

    • Agreed. You write:

      What especial matter is one certain particular scheme of owning hypothetical shares in a hypothetical business to this beyond the proximal or tangential?

      It is nothing special. The formalization of a society is the tail of the dog.

      So often in history attempts to justify powers that lack power sources end up undermining themselves; indeed, they often create the environment for and serve as instigations of leftward/entropic memetic mutation (cf. ‘social contract,’ ‘consent of the governed,’ etc.).

      Again, yes. When tradition falters – when the transfer from one generation to the next of comprehensive intelligence of cultural patrimony is somehow ruptured, so that no one any longer remembers what inherited social forms mean, or therefore how to inhabit and operate their society as a native – then the formalization of their culture is all they have to fall back on, and they operate it with no understanding, rather as if it were a magical cargo cult. They fall into ideolatry; and this is what generates the leftward, Gnostic tendency you notice.

      The letter kills: the people lose faith, lose heart, lose morale, lose vim. Then they stop reproducing themselves both biologically and culturally, and their society dies. They become a nation of aliens: a “proposition nation,” at best.

      Neo-camerally ordered polities are not immune from Gnostic disease, simply in virtue of their formal structure.

      Notwithstanding all that, the corporate scheme proposed by neo-cameralism has some important advantages over others:

      1. It allows for de jure personal ownership of the state and its markets, thus enclosing a crucially important commons.
      2. It allows for a durable aristocracy.
      3. It allows for non-violent movement between classes or castes – including those of the aristocracy and royalty – via asset sales.
      4. Because it allows any citizen to own shares, it opens room for the Polybian ideal of stable, functional political order: an apt admixture of kingship, aristocracy, and democracy.
      5. Being otherwise open to tweaking according to the requirements of circumstance, it can accommodate almost any cult or culture.

      No throne goes unoccupied; if a man does not take it, demons will in his stead.

      A crucial insight, that sees all the way to the bottom; no thing whatever can serve two masters; nor can any thing whatever serve less than one.

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