Fell Doctors and Fell Doctrines

“When . . . I am told that a war is a war of opinions, I am told that it is the most important of all wars.”

Edmund Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796)

We have the phrase culture war from the German Kulturkampf, a word that is more accurately translated as culture struggle.  A Kulturkampf is a struggle to decide which opinions will be taught as public doctrines.  Public doctrines are the opinions that are taught by official teachers, by the men and women who hold the public office of teacher.  The highest rank in this cadre of official teachers is, of course, the doctor, a certified officer in some minute bureaucratic department of the Ministry of Truth.

The Germans coined the word Kulturkampf to name the struggle between the Catholic Church and the Prussian state to decide which of the two would supply the doctors and doctrines in the Catholic länder of the second German Reich, but episodes of Kulturkampf—wars of opinion—are a normal part of the life of every nation.

And a Kulturkampf—a war of opinion—is an essential part of national death.

* * * * *

A nation is a complex amalgam of blood, soil and doctrine, and we can very rarely speak of a nation where one of these elements is altogether missing.  But of the three elements, doctrine is clearly the principal element because it is common doctrine that makes a geographical and biological population into a people.  It is common doctrine—shared opinion—that forms men into something more than accidental neighbors or consanguineous tribes.

In the words of the great Swiss jurist Johann Bluntschli,

“A people comes into being by a slow psychological process, in which a mass of men gradually develop a type of life and society which differentiates them from others, and becomes the fixed inheritance of their race.”

* * * * *

When Patrick Buchannan said that we are engaged in a culture war over the soul of America, he meant that we are engaged in a struggle to decide who will be our doctors and what doctrines will they teach.  The outcome of this struggle will decide whether our grandchildren will be taught that Columbus was a hero or a villain, whether they will be taught to recite John 3:16, whether they will be taught to remember the Alamo with stirring pride or sinking shame.

It will decide whether they lay flowers or make water on our graves!

If we lose this war of opinion, the nation to which you and I belong will pass away and be one with Nineveh and Tyre, since national death is what happens when a nation loses its soul.  There will of course be human beings living in the land we call America, and they may very well call themselves Americans, but they will be no more Americans than today’s Greeks are Greeks, today’s Egyptians are Egyptians, today’s Romans are men of ancient Rome.  This is because, as Edmund Burke wrote,

“A body politick is not a geographical idea.”

A nation is tied to its land, but its land is not the nation.  Nor is nationality a gift of the land, a fact that follows, like a mailing address, from place of residence.  Bluntschli again:

“A mere arbitrary combination or collection of men has never given rise to a People.”

“To form a People, the experiences and fortunes of several generations must cooperate, and its permanence is never secured until a succession of families handing down its accumulated culture from generation to generation has made its characteristics hereditary.”

In a Kulturekampf, one side struggles to conserve the accumulated culture that families have handed down from generation to generation; the other side struggles to replace this culture with something else.  One side struggles to remain what it is and has been.  The other side struggles to kill the old nation and make its men and women into something new.

One need not suppose men and women are a bare table rasa in order to see that their genotype can be made into more than one phenotype, and that a genotype is made into a phenotype by doctrine.

* * * * *

This was the anthropological and political theory behind Burke’s Letters on a Regicide Peace (1794)The beating heart of a nation is not its territory or its population, but is rather its doctors and the doctrine they profess.  It was on this theory that Burke built his argument that Britain should not come to terms with the revolutionary Directorate of France.  It was true that the Directorate controlled the geographical territory known as France, but this did not make them France because France was “not a geographical idea.”

And the twenty-five million Frenchmen who resided in that geographical territory did not make that territory France because this population that the old French doctors had made into Frenchmen, the new doctors could make into something else.

“Instances enough may be furnished of people who have enthusiastically, and with force, propagated those opinions which sometime before they resisted with blood.”

Indeed, Burke was sure that if England acknowledged the legitimacy of the Directorate, those twenty-five million Frenchmen would be made into something else.  They would be made into a nation that propagated by force what it formerly resisted with blood.  This is because Burke agreed with Bluntschli when he (Burke) wrote,

“Nation is a moral essence, not a geographical arrangement, or a denomination of the nomenclator.”

A man did not become a Frenchman simply by taking up residence in France, or because a bureaucrat issued a passport bearing his name.  Nor did a Frenchman remain a Frenchman if French doctors lost the war of opinion and that Frenchman came under the tutelage of fell doctors and fell doctrine.  That Frenchman might murmur, he might even squeal, but his grandchildren, at least, will spit on his grave.

“I do not love thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this alone I know full well,
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell.”

Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Prospect of a Regicide Peace, in a Series of Letters (London: J. Owen, 1796), p. 57ff.
Johann Caspar Bluntschli, The Theory of the State, second ed., trans. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892), p. 87.
Thomas Brown after an epigram by Martial.

2 thoughts on “Fell Doctors and Fell Doctrines

  1. Thank you for this historical context. “A nation is a complex amalgam of blood, soil and doctrine”–wonder if we should add “language” to these three, not just the native tongue, but terminology that might be introduced as a result of ongoing culture war. (Thinking of the various woke-isms being imposed on us.)

  2. I wanted to keep the list short and simple and so mentally lumped language under doctrine. Language is taught and also normally embodies the same spirit as other cultural products like literature or liturgy. As you say, language is also subject to corruption. One of the many penalties of empire is that a nation loses control of its language and has its tongue tied by foreigners.


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