De Jouvenel and the English monarchy

De Jouvenel’s On Power provides the reader with an extremely powerful analysis of power, and its development from the medieval period to the present which has profound implication from a neoreactionary point of view. MM has cited this work and its influence on his thoughts is clear upon close reading.

Many of the developments which De Jouvenel highlights are also covered to a degree by Szabo in his studies of the English medieval period, and the interactions and systemic results of conflicts between Power and competing powers within society have the utmost importance to any study of social organisation and the question of developing stable and coherent political opinions and formations.

Of central importance to De Jouvenel’s work, and something which is confirmed indirectly by Szabo is the manner in which Power in the form of the monarch operated over the medieval period to curtail the liberties of the barons, lords and other lesser powers who were a threat to the monarch. It is important to note at this point that De Jouvenel wisely chooses to name the central Power as “Power” to avoid any confusion engendered by the titles given to Power (such as Monarch, Parliament etc.) The result of De Jouvenel’s work is to present a extraordinary outline of how Power uses far against near to increase its own power. Power can best be envisioned as a black hole at the centre of human affairs- the ultimate sovereign.

In the early days of monarchy/ Power was curtailed by the fact that the monarch was merely a leader among clan leaders. For a monarch to access any of the resources of the Kingdom, he had to obtain the acquiescence of the numerous Lords who swore fealty to him as the resource were the private property of the lords. The Powers was thereby constrained. Power, however, does not remain constrained, and by nature seeks to extend power and become secure. For De Jouvenel –

“The monarchy owes it’s existence to a twofold triumph: a military one, of the conquers over subjects; and a political one, of the king over the conquers.” 1

The victory of the monarchy over the conquers is what is of interest to us, and for the Monarch to triumph over the nobility, the means employed were the same in all western monarchies – the people. This presents problems for large swaths of self identified neoreactionary who identify with monarchism.

To explain how this worked in greater detail, I will first leave De Jouvenel and refer the reader back to Szabo’s work in this area. Of primary importance is this piece ‘Jurisdiction as Property’ as well as this post ‘Political Property and Evolution’

From the post, we have this quote which is very interesting –

“ In the domestic context, justice was meted out by these privately owned courts more often than injustice, but it should be observed that breaking free of the jurisdiction of the local lord in order to come under the jurisdiction of the king was, more than any other event, referred to as gaining one’s “freedom”. If you were the subject of a lord as well as, mostly indirectly, of the king, you were “unfree”. If you were the subject of only the king and his ministers, you were “free”. At least that is how the king’s courts and ministers and any newspapermen that didn’t want to be imprisoned for libel by the king’s courts referred to it.”

And from the article, we have the following –

“Coke alternatively held that the College’s censors, which had tried, found guilty, and imprisoned the plaintiff, were not “made judges, nor a court given to them.” The charter had expressly granted the power to imprison, but it could not be implied (as it formerly would have been) that this included the power to try at least not if the court did not follow proper procedure such as recording the pleadings. Grants of jurisdictional or police powers must be interpreted strictly in order to prevent loss of a subject’s liberty at the pleasure of others. Coke thereby achieved what royal attorneys had often vainly tried to achieve during the quo warranto campaign of Edward I, namely a very strict (and in practice often ruinous) interpretation of franchise grants, but under the rationale of protecting the rights of subjects rather than of protecting the rights of the king.

In case it is not clear to the reader from the highlighted sections, the King’s court, and in effect the king, aggressively employed negative liberties (to be free from something) as a means to undermine the positive liberties of the lords and other franchises holders (the liberty to coerce.) This tactic employed by the monarchy in England was repeated by other monarchies throughout Europe, and the reason for De Jouvenel is quite clear –

“Every authority causes strife, and strife provides the state with its chance.

The growth of its authority strikes private individuals as being not so much a continual encroachment onto their liberty as an attempt to put down various petty tyrannies to which they have been subject. It looks as though the advance of the state is a means to the advance of the individual”2

The mechanism by which Power in De Jouvenel’s eyes operates is therefore one of employing the negative liberties of the individual in conflict against the various lesser powers which are in competition with Power. This is exactly what Szabo notes in his study of medieval English law. It is the conquest of the monarch over the lords –or Power over lesser powers/ rivals.

This process of Power seeking to connect with far (the people) as a means to undermine the near (the lords or competing powers) is a technique and tactic which is not constrained to medieval Europe, and is something which is inherent to unsecure Power. De Jouvenel helpfully provides numerous example from history, the most interesting of which is the example of Alexander the Great and the creation of Iranian units, and conferral of command to Persians as a means to undermine the Macedonian nobles. This was a clear example of advancing low against near. Other examples provided by De Jouvenel include the aggressive employment of plebs by European kings, Caesar usage of the people, Doge Falieri, Willaim of Orange and the general favouring of the low church by Power (the last observation should be of interest to religious traditionalists.)3

Of course, we do not need to revert to historical examples of this utilisation of the people as a means to engender greater absolutist central power when so many examples abound in the present. The key point however, and one which Moldbug has picked up on, is that there is no central intelligence behind the Power which exists in the west today. So whereas a Power which had some individuals/ individuals in control (in the form of a King for example) would employ weaponised individual freedom of the plebs against the Lords, it would have been done to rational limits. The inability to control this process anymore arguably resulted in the French revolution. Leftist powered Power outgrew the absolutist monarchy.

Powers transfer from the absolutist monarchy to the absolutist modern state in De Jouvenel’s opinion was not much of a qualitative change, but rather a quantitative change. The revolutions cut all restraining links which kept some check on the Kings absolutist tendencies (which were structural/ systemic ) and left a state administered by a parliament which having no feudal system to deal with was able to exploit the manpower in the nation to an even greater extent than the absolute kings could ever dream of, as De Jouvenel states

“The checks and balances were all swept away, and have, as Mirabeau saw, lay the Kings great opportunity. He wrote to him: “the idea of forming all the citizens into but one class would have pleased Richelieu, for an equality of this kind facilitates the work of power”” 4

The modern omnipotent state is thus

“The ancient regime’s urge to rule erected into a doctrine and a system. IN other words, the modern state is no other than the King of earlier centuries, it continues triumphantly his relentless work of suppressing all local liberties, it is, like him, leveller and standardiser” 5

Once we therefore put aside all names for various incarnations of Power, and instead apply a systemic analysis of human affairs, it is quite clear as De Jouvenel observes that a central Power is always maintained, and that all that changes is its strength, its security and as a result, its nature.

  1. P104 De Jouvenel On Power
  2. P130 De Jouvenel On Power
  3. See p 177, Chapter X, Power and the Common People
  4. P227 De Jouvenel On Power
  5. P220 De Jouvenel On Power