The Three Powers

“All divines grant that the power of the Church is more noble than any power of princes or emperors.”

Matthew Kellison, The Right and Jurisdiction of the Prelate and the Prince (1621)

“There has been great controversy concerning the power of bishops, in which some have awkwardly confounded the power of the Church and the power of the Sword.”

Augsburg Confession (1530)

“The Government has been legislated into the hands of bankers and brokers, and reduced to a dependence on corporations.” 

Lewis Steenrod, Speech in the House of Representatives (April 17, 1840)

The first step in political understanding is to see that every society has a ruling class, and that the myth of popular government is an opiate of the masses.  If you need help taking this step, I suggest you consult Main’s Popular Government (1886) or Burnham’s Machiavellians (1943).

The Emperor, James Carroll Beckwith (c. 1890)

The second step is to see that the ruling class has three departments, one controlling the spiritual power of the church, one controlling the military power of the state, and one controlling the productive power of the economy.  In India, these were historically called the Brahmans, the Kshatriyas, and the Vaisyas.  In the West, they were called the nobles, the clergy, and the bourgeoise.

The masses ruled by these three classes were in India called the Sudras, and were in the West called peasants, peons, or the working class.  These are the people the Brahman’s teach, the Kshatriyas command, and the Vaisyas employ, and who from time to time get it into their heads to try teaching, commanding, and employing themselves.  When this happens, they mount a slave revolt or peasants’ rebellion under the banner of some sort of communism.  This leads to anarchy and famine, and this to a reconstituted ruling class.

Or ruling classes, since the princes of church, state and commerce may act in combination, but they are never altogether consolidated or unified.  Each class is always struggling for supremacy (if we give that word its true meaning).  When the nobles enjoy supremacy, we call the polity an aristocracy.  When the clergy enjoys supremacy, we call it a theocracy.  When the bourgeoisie enjoy supremacy, we call it a plutocracy.

In the West, these three powers were often described as the Power of the Sword, the Power of the Keys, and the Power of the Purse.

Westminster, London, George Hyde Pownall (c. 1900)

You may picture this political arrangement if you imagine a set of chessmen.  In the first row stand the pawns, numerous but negligible, representing the peasant masses.  Behind them stand the powers.  At the outer edge stands the rook, which I take the liberty to interpret, not as a nobleman’s castle, but as the fortified town of the merchant princes or bourgeoisie. Next in from the rook is the knight, obviously representing the military power.  Next in from the knight is the bishop, just as obviously representing the ecclesiastical power.  And at the center are the king and his consort, his power limited to authorizing the actions of the other powers on which his own survival depends.  He cannot stand without the others, but when he falls, the others fall with him.  (The curious and deadly power of the queen deserves its own post.)

The regnant ruling classes often fortify their power by spreading fear of their predecessors in power. This is obvious today in the fear-mongering of our regnant clergy, who routinely scare the peasants by raising an alarm that the relic clergy of the deposed church is plotting a renewed “theocracy.” There are few things more mordantly funny than reading some high-class academic, journalist, or judge, warning against the “theocratic” ambitions of the nominal “bishops,” “priests” and “preachers” who staff the toothless hierarchies of our quondam churches.

Three Clerical Scholars, Thomas Rowlandson (c. 1789)

Like their predecessors, today’s ruling classes are hierarchical, and their lower ranks merge without strong division with the peasants or working class.  Just as a lowly curate was closer to the peasants than to the cardinals of the Church, so today’s lowly academic, journalist or judge is closer to the working class than to the Brahmans of the regnant priestly order. The owner of a small business is, likewise, closer to the workers than to the true merchant princes, and the same goes for petty officers at the base of the state apparatus.

As I said a moment ago, these three classes are rivals for supremacy, and when one usurps the supreme power and exercises control over the other two, we call it a revolution.  At the turn of the eighteenth century, for instance, bourgeois revolutions established what we call “industrial society.” It is a mistake to see industrial society and the industrial revolution as simply a matter of vast machines and smoky factory-towns, since these were mere symptoms of a society in which bourgeois values (i.e. productive values) were dominant or supreme.

A society is “industrial” when the officers of the state and church feel obliged to do what is “good for the economy.”  It is “militaristic” when moneymen and priests answer to the man who holds the sword. It is religious when, at the behest of the priests, the knights who hold the sword ride away on crusades, and the burgers who hold the purse build great cathedrals to the sky.

Reading the Newspaper, Jules Chéret (c. 1890)

We all know that kings were traditionally crowned by the head of the church.  Charlemagne was, for instance, crowned by the Pope, and British monarchs have long been crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  In the modern United States, we call the coronation an inauguration, and the “crown” is bestowed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  From this we may draw the inference that he is roughly equivalent to our archbishop or pope.  This we may also infer from his strangely sacerdotal garb, and from his prerogative to interpret our sacred text, the Constitution, in ways few Sudras can comprehend.

Just as Popes never had the autocratic power of Protestant nightmares, so the Chief Justice is constrained by the tradition and hierarchy of his church.  In recent years, it has become common to call this church “the Cathedral,” and to see that it takes in the judiciary, the academy, and most of the media complex.  This Cathedral now holds the Power of the Keys, which are no longer the Keys to Heaven, but are the Keys to social respectability and self-respect.  It does not use the word excommunication, but it has fearsome powers of ostracism, public-shaming and harassment that amount to much the same thing.

As a geographer, I am naturally interested in the capitals, or head cities, in which these ruling classes work and reside.  Many countries have a single metropolis in which the heads of all three powers are collected.  London and Paris are, for instance, the unified political, cultural and economic capitals of the British and the French.  Separate capitals are not uncommon, however.  A thousand years ago, the economic capital of England was in London, but the political capital was in Winchester and the cultural capital was at Canterbury.

In the United States, the political capitals of the states are very often separated from the economic capitals, and this separation was reproduced when the federal government became a real force after adoption of the Constitution.  Since 1800, Washington has been the seat of military and political power, while New York has controlled the ultimate Power of the Purse.  The economic primacy of New York has many sources, some of which are profoundly geographical, but much can be made of the fact that its first name was New Amsterdam and the Dutch Republic was very close to a pure plutocracy (1).

Hudson River Waterfront, Colin Campbell Cooper (1904)

As there was no established church hierarchy, there was no obvious seat of ecclesiastical power, and, in the early years of the Republic, almost all secular culture was imported from London, Paris, and the German universities.  By the 1840s, however, Boston had clearly emerged as the center of American literary culture, and as the capital of the American civic religion.  The Power of the Keys to social respectability lay largely in the hands of a class known even then as the “Boston Brahmins.”  Yankee schoolmasters, preachers and college presidents spread out from Boston to every corner of the land, bringing with them such Yankee notions as transcendentalism, feminism, spiritualism, abolitionism, and even, in some cases, vegetarianism.  Ichabod Crane was a well-recognized type, and he was not in real life chased back to New England by a terrifying headless horseman.

Teacher with Pupil, A. B. Frost (c. 1900)

By the turn of the nineteenth century, the money power of New York had begun to draw in some of the cultural power of Boston, although Washington remained (as it largely remains) the primate city of philistines.  Railroads and the telegraph had also shrunk the distance between Washington and New York, so the three cities functioned as the principal nodes in the metropolitan district of the American empire (2).  The size and complexity of the country required satraps in the provinces, but the Powers of the Sword, the Keys, and the Purse remained fixed on the Atlantic seaboard.

California has been the only serious challenger to this metropolitan dominance, with a large colony of Brahmins clustering around the entertainment industries of the Los Angles’ basin, and a very fair showing of moneymen in the Bay area.  The migration of power to the west coast is also encouraged by the declining importance of Europe and the rise of Asia, since a country’s seats of power normally locate directly behind its frontier with its most powerful neighbor.  This may be to facilitate military operations, economic trade, or cultural exchange, so all three powers are attracted to this type of “forward capital” (3).  The powers in California are today sufficient to defy the powers on the Atlantic seaboard, but they do not appear capable of asserting supremacy over them.

The universities are the natural home of the clergy, and anyone not stupefied by propaganda can see that they are our established church.  Moneymen still exercise  influence over some parts of the curriculum, but universities are staffed by Brahmins and their principal power is the Power of the Keys. Not the Keys to Heaven, as I said earlier, but the Keys to respectability and polite society.  In the last analysis, a politically correct university is a convent finishing school for genteel girls of both sexes.  Because Harvard is the most prestigious of these convent finishing schools, Boston remains the cultural capital of the United States.

A Man Driving a Team of Six Girls, Thomas Rowlandson (c. 1779)

Which of the three powers is now supreme?  Is it the power of the Sword, the power of the Keys, or the power of the Purse?  It seems to me obvious that the Sword is weakest since the Commander in Chief (and not just the present one) takes orders from the moneymen and is threatened with impeachment when he doesn’t take orders from the Brahmins.  As to the relative strength of the Keys and the Purse, this can be judged from the fact that much of the university curriculum is anti-capitalist, but capitalists still give money to the universities.  Thus, we must concede supremacy to the power of the Keys and say we inhabit a theocracy.


(1) “From the beginning [the Dutch] have been ruled by merchants and business men, rather than by kings and princes . . .” (William Yoast Morgan, A Jayhawker in Europe [1912]).

(2) Vaughan Cornish, The Great Capitals: An Historical Geography (1923).

(3) ibid.

14 thoughts on “The Three Powers

  1. Pingback: The Three Powers | Reaction Times

  2. Great article, sir! You wrote:

     The Power of the Keys to social respectability lay largely in the hands of a class known even then as the “Boston Brahmins.”  Yankee schoolmasters, preachers and college presidents spread out from Boston to every corner of the land, bringing with them such Yankee notions as transcendentalism, feminism, spiritualism, abolitionism, and even, in some cases, vegetarianism. Ichabod Crane was a well-recognized type, and he was not in real life chased back to New England by a terrifying headless horseman.

    To prove these assertions, let facts be submitted to a candid readership:;rgn=full+text;size=100;view=image;q1=Horace+Mann

    • Thanks, Terry. It’s good to hear from you. These advocates presented the largely false idea that the nation’s children were mostly uneducated, and on a cursory reading seemed merely to advocate universal education. But the reality was that most children already received an education and their moral formation was left to the churches and their parents. The real proposal from these writers was that there be compulsory government education with themselves in charge. As with most things, I think this should have been left to the states, so that Massachusetts had common schools and Alabama did not. It will be said that Massachusetts spread its doctrines by persuasion, in articles such as this one, but the tide of persuasion and propaganda seems to have run in one way only. Alabama seems never to have lectured Massachusetts on the evils of common schools.

      • Alabama seems never to have lectured Massachusetts on the evils of common schools.

        No. And I should imagine that is because, by contrast to the meddling Yankee, Southerners have always been more inclined to “live and let live.”

        As you know, R.L. Dabney wrote numerous scathing articles on the evils of common schools, predicting with a high degree of accuracy what their establishment in the South portended for the future of the Southern States. But of course this was in reaction to their forcible establishment in the southern states during “Reconstruction”; he didn’t presume to lecture them on those evils we see in full relief today until after the the Yankee system was imposed on the South against her will and contrary to her immediate and long term interests. Speaking of which, had the meddling Yankee spread his doctrines by persuasion, as opposed to by force, Dabney and others would have had no cause to expose in such articles the palpable defects of the Yankee system, and the imbecility of its advocates making wild predictions (as in the article I linked to above) that under such a system 99 out of 100 students enrolled would thereby become wonderful parents and model citizens, etc. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that any intelligent Southerner at the time bought into such abject nonsense in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. But I should also keep in mind that the Yankee common schools were ultimately imposed on the South and her wiser heads by her conquerors; it isn’t something the South engaged voluntarily or of her own free will.

        I agree with everything you wrote above.

  3. I presently have a student working on a Master’s degree and following my suggestion to study the school system of Brazos county in the 1920’s and 30’s. It was a public system by that time, and certainly was not lavish, but he found (as I suspected he would) that every child in the county, black or white, had a schoolhouse less than two miles from home. Truancy was not punished in the rural areas, and students began dropping out around age 12, but every child had access to education. This student, a school teacher by profession, was at first amazed to discover that there were black schools, and not only a few. One interesting aspect of this is that these rural parents had a very sane and sober appreciation of the dangers of over-education. I may write a post on this. Most people today think there is no such thing as too much education, whereas history teaches us that over-education leads to personal unhappiness and social unrest. There were smart farm boys who would have been wasted had they stayed “down on the farm,” but fathers understood the folly of raising frustrated future farmers with a taste for book learning.

    The optimism of the article you link is striking, but it reflects educated opinion in the early 19th century. People had complete confidence that men and women could be made into near angels if only they were raised in the right environment. Obviously, there are benefits to a good environment, but these do not change the nature of the species or the individual.

  4. > The universities are the natural home of the clergy, and anyone not stupefied by propaganda can see that they are our established church.

    They are certainly part of it, but I’m not convinced that they are the real ideological power. I suspect Harvard has more reason to fear the displeasure of the New York Times than the New York Times has reason to fear the displeasure of Harvard. Certainly university administrators live in terror of reporters, and teachers are increasingly intimidated by their media-brainwashed students.

    It’s true that the terrible ideas that oppress us today all come with the names of academics attached, but that would be true whether the universities are imposing their ideas or if they are only generating ideas from which their true masters pick which are to be imposed. As an analogy, theologians are the ones who come up with new theological ideas, but the pope decides which ones are enforced. Who is our pope?

    It’s also true that reporters go through journalism programs at the universities, but I am skeptical of the claim that universities are radicalizing anybody. The freshmen come in as raving fanatics thanks to the press and entertainment industry, and they drive the university further Left than even it would like to go.

    We would have to see what happens should the arms of the established church ever disagree to know for sure who is master.

  5. I don’t disagree with anything you say. I see this in Darwinian terms, and so suppose that the present church evolved to survive within the environment of selective pressures that crippled the old Church. Even when criticism cannot overthrow explicit dogma and doctrine, it can spread a general skepticism, so the doctrine of the new church is fluid and its dogmas are very seldom clearly stated. Christian clerics are forced to defend passages in a single book that is readily accessible and cannot be disowned. The doctrines and dogmas of the new church are spread out across a large and ill-defined “literature,” any single work in which can be abandoned without yielding much real ground. Thus the old Church was somewhat like a fortress that would fall if its massive walls were breached, but the new church is like a guerrilla army that can lose innumerable skirmishes and yet still control the jungle. As innumerable Orthosphere debates with Winston Scrooge have shown, “liberalism” has a way of slipping through the fingers of anyone who thinks they have finally laid hold of it.

    The absence of a clear hierarchy is also an adaptation because there are no clear targets and it permits endless use of the “no true Scotsman” defense. As you have often pointed out at T&A, the clerical abuse scandal is a coherent phenomenon because all the misbehaving clerics are employed by the same institution. The clerics of the new church are distributed throughout many seemingly unrelated institutions, so a misbehaving professor is not an obvious discredit to journalists and and judges of the same kidney. These people are “planted” in multiple institutions, rather like the old communist sleeper cells, and their actions are coordinated without any explicit chain of command.

    As I said, I think the structure of the new church is evolved, not planned. The people of the West have been on the lookout for an authoritarian church since the time of the Protestant Reformation, so the church that actually exists is not easily recognizable as a church. Thus it has no Pope, no hierarchy, no Bible, and no explicit rites of worship and initiation. But as you say, it does have fanatical believers who must have somehow been catechized.

    A big part of the selective pressure is found in the supposedly secular school system, since this kills off doctrines that it recognizes as religious, but allows others to survive and be taught to all children at pubic expense. Feminism is a clear example of a new religion that can get past the antibodies of the secular university. There is no she-pope of feminism, no feminist Koran, and no feminist rites of worship, but it is in all other respects an intolerant and sectarian religion that should be confined to private seminaries. The spirit of feminism is clearly religious, but it has shed the forms of the older regions in order to survive in what are ostensibly secular institutions.

    • > …the supposedly secular school system, since this kills off doctrines that it recognizes as religious, but allows others to survive and be taught to all children at pubic expense. Feminism is a clear example…

      Very good point. It’s remarkable how the Left is able to have its doctrines declared noncontroversial and settled. The idea that government should be neutral between feminism and patriarchy and that kids should be free to develop their own opinions on this is unheard of. Similarly for attitudes toward blacks and Jews.

      I am admittedly not neutral on the question of where the center of evil is. I have a great deal of affection for the university system, and I openly support covering up the misdeeds of institutions I like. However, my impression really is of wider social forces driving the university rather than vice versa. Probably you would say where I go wrong is in thinking that there must therefore be some other sector of society which is not being driven, but is doing the driving. For example, I imagine editorialists for the New York Times feeling no particular pressure to push society even further Left, but deciding to do so on their own initiative. But that supposition may be false. The car that we’re on doesn’t need a driver.

      • I’m not a reductionist on this question. Just because an observable pattern does not require a conspiracy, it does not follow that it is not the work of a conspiracy. When the “wall between church and state” was erected, people noticed there were holes in it. Being intelligent and intentional creatures, they thereupon designed churches that could drive through those holes. The same people work very hard to obscure the fact that the functional church evolves in response to selective pressure, so the rubes are always on the lookout for a church that looks like the Church of Rome c. 1400. It’s as if a virus tricked us into taking precautions against saber-toothed tigers.

      • My own quibble with conspiracy theories is that we should not imagine that when they’re alone scheming what we accuse them of scheming of that they speak or think about it the way we would.

        For example, I think there’s a very deliberate campaign to destroy the white race: to make whites a minority everywhere, to vilify their histories, to demoralize their children. But I doubt any of them ever say “Let us work on our plans to destroy the white race. Bwah hahahaha!” (At most, they’ll say they want to destroy “whiteness”, which is supposedly an ideology ambiguously connected a to concrete people.) It’s all “diversity” and “justice” and “marginalized narratives” even in the seclusion of their own minds. I remember some time ago, some secret files from George Soros’ foundation were leaked and revealed…them saying pretty much the same things amongst themselves that they say in public. Which is, indeed, pretty horrifying.

        In a sense, the is a conspiracy. There is purpose and deliberation.

        In another sense, there is not. It’s all in the open but translated into an alien vocabulary.

      • I agree. The modern Left thinks of itself as gentle and kind, and so has to be ruthless in a roundabout way. It contains plenty of ruthless individuals, but its public discourse is softened with euphemisms such as “whiteness.” One thinks of those French aristocrats who enthused over Rousseau, but couldn’t quite see just where they fit into the New Order. Many of those French aristocrats (ditto Russian) seem to have believed that the Revolution would transform everything but them. They might have to accept some mild austerities, but they believed that the liberated peasants would be grateful for their liberation, and that all would be a group-hug of fraternity. But what those aristocrats and churchmen learned was that vilification has momentum, and that hot blood does not cool overnight.

  6. Agree with your supposition that the NYT is more influential than Harvard and is the foremost driver of the Cathedral.
    What’s the scheme again? Academia explores where the Left will go in the future, news media determines where it goes now, and entertainment media drags along the slower-on-the-uptake?
    But, despite the NYT being the most important engine on the crazy train, I don’t think it has the power to bring the whole thing to a halt. If the editorial board woke up one day and decided to make it a centrist paper, it seems likely that the Left would just rally around the Washington Post, CNN, or whatever in its place.
    The ultimate driver of the Left is the spirit beneath it.

    • That’s an interesting model of leadership. A dispersed group faces the problem of coordination, and so must agree on a leader to coordinate their thoughts and actions. But this leader has very little authority and can be replaced by a substitute. It works rather like a pop star who “leads” pop fashion, until all of a sudden they don’t. Do teens control pop stars or pop stars control teens? It’s a dialectical relationship. Does the NYT control the respectable Left, or does the respectable Left control the NYT? Same answer.

  7. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 06/23/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores


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