The Baneful Sway of French Philanthropy

“A steady patriot of the world alone,
The friend of every country but his own.”*

The centenary of Armistice Day occasioned a good deal of gabble about the evils of nationalism, with the childless President of France, Emanuel Macron, going so far as to denounce it as “a betrayal of patriotism.” I do not see how one can revere the forefathers while reviling their posterity, but that may be because I am, unlike Macron, a father with posterity. What Macron calls patriotism, a more accurate politician called Philanthropy—indeed, in the poem from which my epigraph is drawn, George Canning called it “French Philanthropy.” This was,

                                                 “Not she, who dries
The orphan’s tears, and wipes the widow’s eyes

But French Philanthropy, whose boundless mind
Glows with the general love of all mankind;
Philanthropy, beneath whose baneful sway
Each patriot passion sinks, and dies away.”

When Canning says that the mind of a French Philanthropist is “boundless,” he means that it does not recognize borders and operates sans frontières.  Thus

“Through the extended globe his feelings run
As broad and general as the unbounded sun!
No narrow bigot he, his reason’d view,
Thy interest, England, rank with thine, Peru!

The globalist Macron is likewise no narrow bigot, so we may suppose his reasoned view is that the interest of France rank not one millimeter above the interest of anywhere else. Indeed, as “a steady patriot of the world alone,” we may suppose that Macron compensates for unconscious bias by ranking the interest of France a kilometer or two lower.

And by so doing, Macron exhibits a perverse patriotism that justifies his treason to France.  I say  that French Philanthropy is a perverse patriotism—even in France—because Reason and Philosophy bend and misshape the natural affection that a man feels for his homeland.   Another poet describes this natural and unreasoned affection this way,

“There’s a strange something, which, without a brain,
Fools feel, and which e’en wise men can’t explain,
Planted in man to bind him to that earth,
In dearest ties, from whence he drew his birth.”**

This natural patriotism is one of those reasons of the heart that, as Pascal told us, Reason does not know. It is not a fruit of intellection, since it is felt by even fools “without a brain.” It is an instinct that nature has “planted in man,” and that man will cherish so long as he does not think too hard about it. But, since there are “wise men” who cannot find a reason for this instinct, who cannot see why this instinct must be so, these wise men will call local affections an excrescence and set to work on its extirpation.

Thus, we see one again in French Philanthropy the mischief of the “meddling intellect” that is deaf to the “sweet lore which Nature brings,” and that in its deafness perverts and “misshapes the beauteous forms of things.”

That was the eighteenth-century English poet Charles Churchill writing about the “dearest ties” that bind a man to the land of his birth. Churchill went on to say this of French Philanthropy:

“To deem of every country as the same
Is rank rebellion, ’gainst the lawful claim
Of Nature, and such dull indifference
May be philosophy, but can’t be sense.”

I daresay this last line is as good a retort as a nationalist can hope to find when set upon by some hectoring Macron with his vile French Philanthropy. The human heart has reasons that Reason does not know, and nothing but mischief results when the meddling intellect begins fossicking through things that it cannot understand. In this case, the meddling intellect produces an anesthetized apathy that Churchill calls “dull indifference.” Or as Canning would write thirty years later:

“Philanthropy, beneath whose baneful sway
Each patriot passion sinks, and dies away.”

* * * * *

Patriotism first fell under the baneful sway of French Philanthropy in the eighteenth-century enlightening, even before the terrible revolutions that marked the end of that miserable century. Kant taught that enlightening meant putting everything to the test of Reason, and discarding anything for which unsufficient reason could be found. As he wrote in a famous line,

“Have courage to make use of thy own understanding! Is therefore the dictum of enlightening.”***

What Kant means is that enlightening obliges a man to discard, denounce, and destroy any of his beliefs, habits and sentiments that he does not, upon consideration, fully understand. Unfortunately, as the next two hundred and fifty years would demonstrate, there are many things both lovely and beautiful that even “wise men can’t explain.” And the “strange something” that forms the “dearest ties”  between a man and the land of his birth is one of these things.

Yet it seems French Philanthropists do not propose to let off enlightening until they have destroyed everything that is unreasonable, no mater how lovely or beautiful. And men like Macron will not be satisfied to extirpate patriotism only from France, for as Canning told us, the mind of a French Philanthrophist is “boundless,” and “through the extended globe his feelings run.”

Writing from Paris in 1792, the American radical Joel Barlow said that he was witnessing the birth of “a general revolution . . . whose progress is irresistible.” The essence of this revolution was (and remains) enlightening, or the destruction of every belief, habit and sentiment that does not pass the test of universal Reason. This work of enlightening will end in perfect uniformity, since to pass the test of universal Reason, every place and person must be exactly alike. The work of enlightening will thus end (unless stopped) in an undifferentiated universal state in which patriotic feeling for anything less than the world will have been eradicated as an irrational superstition.

“Such a revolution cannot stop short of fixing the power of the state on the basis allotted by nature, the unalienable rights of man; which are the same in all countries. It will eradicate the superstitions about territorial jurisdiction.”****


*) George Canning, “New Morality” (1798)

**) Charles Churchill, “The Farewell” (1764)

***) Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question, What is Enlightening” (1784).

****) Joel Barlow, Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe (1792)

18 thoughts on “The Baneful Sway of French Philanthropy

  1. We often hear about the evil of nationalism and the goodness of patriotism. Certainly, there was something wrong in the West that led to the catastrophe of 1914. Ultimately it may be the fault of map-makers with the map of the world dominated by the colors of the British, the Russian and French empires causing a great deal of unnecessary heartburn in German hearts.

    • I’m inclined to place more blame on the machinations of the declining powers in France and Britain, but the Great War clearly resulted from many factors. I think we all should be on our guard against making great calamities into clinching evidence for our pet theory of what’s wrong with the world.

  2. Pingback: The Baneful Sway of French Philanthropy | Reaction Times

  3. When I went through RCIA last year, I was very intrigued by the notion that the fundamental unit of society is the ‘family’. NOT, as I had previously held, the individual. Family gives context to individuals, and thereby gives the individuals something to support and defend. An individuals, with naught else, has Family.

    A Nation is to families as a family is to individuals. Without the Nation, we are tribal, with ultimate deference and loyalty to our families. Groups of families working for their mutual defense and welfare create a nation; the acts of kinship and citizenship are the foundations of that nebulous thing, Society.

    So the French Philanthropists, which seems to me a high minded parlour phrase for ‘Globalists’, want to undermine Nations. In the US, i feel they’ve already been at war with Families for some time. So a primordial stew of unbound individuals seeking meaning. They can either bind themselves like a volatile ion to their Nation, or break all bonds and seek the Globalist quagmire of individual supremacy.

    The ‘baneful sway’ is also a fascinating phrase. Why are people irresistibly drawn to that which destroys them? In thinking about the answer, lightning truck: It’s not that they are ignorant, it’s their meddling intellect, as you described. How do you ‘teach’ someone enlightened? It’s almost like they have to ‘un-learn’.

    Fascinating article, thank you.

    • I’m glad to hear you liked it. Classic conservative thinkers like Robert Nisbet argue that modernity aims to destroy all “intermediate institutions,” leaving only a mass of atomized individuals and the totalitarian State. The family is one of those institutions, although the destruction has so far been mostly limited to families in the lower classes. I think the popular ideology of enlightening and rationalism plays especial havoc in these classes because their power to understand is especially limited. Undermining authority is especially damaging to people who must place the greatest reliance on authority.

    • I prefer to regard the Polis (or the tribe, or the nation), the families and the individuals as three irreducible levels of the human self-organization. You can’t derive polis from families nor from individuals. Polis is self-existent;; families are always found embedded in a polis.
      And also Aristotle–order in a family without order in a polis is like a cancerous cell.

      • I heartily second Bedarz on these points. The whole is prior and subvenient to the parts thereof. Yet, no parts, then no whole, either. Nature is an integration. Nothing may be left out, without ruining the whole shooting match.

  4. No person exists in a void. Every person is someone else’s son/brother/niece/wife…etc. A family is persons in the context of close relationship. Families TEND to be related by blood/religion etc. Yet people can found new families, marry into or out of families, and be expelled from or adopted into families.
    Clans and tribes are the next level. All that was said before about families is true of clans and tribes. Loyalty to these builds on but need not replace loyalty and belonging to family. Rather, it enriches and expands them.
    Nations are the next level, absorbing but not extinguishing any of the underlying levels. They may have states of their own (Germans, Greeks etc) or they may not (Kurds, Scots etc).
    When it comes to ‘Internationalism’, this cannot exist unless there are nations to have ‘inter’ between. Religions like Christianity function socially in similar fashion.
    All normal human societies above the level of hunter-gatherer exist on more than one level. All attempts to abolish any one or more than one of these levels amounts to a grab for power. Current attacks on the family, the nation, Christianity etc are fuelled by a fundamentally totalitarian desire to eliminate all loyalties except that to the state – which can then rule unchallenged.

  5. The Guillotine is the prime symbol of French philanthropy. France is unique among nations. It destroyed itself in 1789, again in 1830, again in 1848, again in 1854, once again in 1870, and again in 1914, 1940, 1962, and 1968. Vive la France!

    • The Maiden was an early version of the Guillotine. It was imported into Scotland by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, when he was Regent for the young James VI. It wasn’t used until Jamie Saxt came of age and assumed power – whereupon the first person upon whom its efficiency was demonstrated was James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton.

  6. JM, thanks. One of your best posts – and that’s saying something.

    The phenomenon you notice is that of men growing more enamored of their pet theory than they are dedicated to the understanding of the raw data it was originally intended to explain. Men are fools. Me, too. They’ll ignore or discount or explain away or pooh pooh uncomfortable data for a long, long time, rather than disturb their pet theory, that had worked so well for them given their paltry initial data set, that it had seemed to answer quite well.

    The humanist is so committed to the purely abstract human that he forgets all concrete humans. In the end, that comes back to bite him; for, every humanist is first a concrete human. To the extent his humanism forgets concrete humans and their instinct notions, inherent in them as human, he forgets himself.

    So doing, he renders himself fodder for the guillotine.

    Reason must be ever a humble student of the concrete data; and never, ever, their master.

    • Thanks, Kristor. It’s not only that men ignore the data; they also saddle themselves with narrow definitions of data. The word just means that which is given. The feeling of distress one feels at the sight of blood is just as much data as the observation that it is red. In saying that one is subjective and the other objective, one has already waded into theory and interpretation. The funny thing with Kant’s dictum is that he tells us to have absolute confidence in Reason, but insuperable suspicion about everything else. It’s really rather mad!

      • Aye. In the final analysis, the data present themselves to us as reasons; facts implicitly propose acts. To reason is to read those reasons and operate upon them so as to arrive at a conclusion; a process that cannot but modulate them. That’s where our error creeps in.


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