Locke versus Filmer, or why you are all communists.

Moldbug quite memorably makes the observation that America is a communist country, and then goes further and makes it obvious that all of the world is America now, so all of the world is communist. He also traces this communism back through American history to America’s founding and then even further back and places this founding as the continuation of an English political conflict between Tories, and Whigs.

We can get under the engine of this broad claim and start to get at the mechanism behind this conflict and the roots of this communism. For a start, we can look at the claim of communism. Moldbug clearly used this for rhetorical effect, and it works to a degree, but we don’t need to retain this for analysis purposes. Instead we can concentrate on the status of the origin of property in the various strains of thought which is what defines this communism.

In the first instance we have the Tory conception which was expressed by Filmer. Now Filmer’s concept of property has been dismissed ad nauseum for being based on biblical grounds unlike Locke’s which were based on…biblical grounds, but there is a difference in that Locke’s ideas were developed in service to the Whig’s position in society and they won, so there is that. Why were Locke’s positions popular with the Whigs, whilst Filmer’s were popular with the Tory loyalists? Locke’s position was one supportive of rebellion, anarchism and oligarchy – which is what the Whigs were about. We can really consider this a case of two power centers forming two distinct cultures based on their specific interests – the monarchy versus parliament. Parliament won

History shows that the Whigs won so effectively that they purged Filmer Tories from every effective position of power in England following the failed Jacobite Rebellion. From this point on, every Tory position would be based on the grounds of Locke and we see the conservative is born. Every single incarnation of Toryism (and there have been many of that pathetic shadow) would forever be reborn on some new absurd position trying to justify a position built upon the ever shifting basis of anarchic property tied in with the individual coming before society, or communism if you will. We have had Burkean conservatism, Peelite conservatism, modern American conservatism, compassionate conservatism and now the alt-right – it is the never ending joke.

Now, when we read Locke and his refutation of Filmer, it is worthwile comparing the means of persuasion employed by both writers, and to observe their differing tones. For example, here is Filmer offering a logical, well thought out, appropriately historically supported positions on the nature of kings:

“Whereas many out of an imaginary Fear pretend the Power of the People to be necessary for the repressing of the Insolencies of Tyrants; wherein they propound a Remedy far worse than the Disease, neither is the Disease indeed so frequent as they would have us think. Let us be judged by the History even of our own Nation: We have enjoyed a Succession of Kings from the Conquest now for above 600 years (a time far longer than ever yet any Popular State could continue) we reckon to the Number of twenty six of these Princes since the Norman Race, and yet not one of these is taxed by our Historians for Tyrannical Government. It is true, two of these Kings have been Deposed by the People, and barbarously Murthered, but neither of them for Tyranny” ?”[sic] Chapter II, XVIII, paragraph 1

And now we can turn to Locke who tells you that IF WE DON’T HAVE FREEDOM, AND LIBERTY MEN WILL SODOMISE AND EAT THEIR OWN BABIES!!!!!!

“But if the example of what hath been done, be the rule of what ought to be, history would have furnished our author with instances of this absolute fatherly power in its height and perfection, and he might have shewed us in Peru, people that begot children on purpose to fatten and eat them. The story is so remarkable, that I cannot but set it down in the author’s words. “In some provinces, says he, they were so liquorish after man’s flesh, that they would not have the patience to stay till the breath was out of the body, but would suck the blood as it ran from the wounds of the dying man; they had public shambles of man’s flesh, and their madness herein was to that degree, that they spared not their own children, which they had begot on strangers taken in war: for they made their captives their mistresses, and choicely nourished the children they had by them, till about thirteen years old they butchered and eat them; and they served the mothers after the same fashion, when they grew past child bearing, and ceased to bring them any more roasters,” Garcilasso de la Vega hist. des Yncas de Peru, l. i. c. 12” [sis] Two Treatises of Government, Chapter VI, S57

“Be it then, as Sir Robert says, that anciently it was usual for men to sell and castrate their children, Observations, 155. Let it be, that they exposed them; add to it, if you please, for this is still greater power, that they begat them for their tables, to fat and eat them: if this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same argument, justify adultery, incest and sodomy, for there are examples of these too, both ancient and modern; sins, which I suppose have their principal aggravation from this, that they cross the main intention of nature, which willeth the increase of mankind, and the continuation of the species in the highest perfection, and the distinction of families, with the security of the marriage bed, as necessary thereunto.” [sis] Two Treatises of Government, Chapter VI, S59

No very flattering and demonstrates the weakness of Locke’s position, which is why I think he concentrated as pedantically as possible on Filmer’s claim of descent from Adam. It is the weakest part of Filmer’s arguments and frankly we can do without it and cut straight to the reasoning behind both author’s positions.

Locke’s reasoning is without basis in my opinion as it works from a state of nature which has never existed. So why are we still taking his writing as a serious and respectable body of work? Why do I need to argue past this point? His claims of the independence of the individual and the labor theory of property are obscenely wrong.  Everything about his thinking is disastrously wrong but given it was a rejection of absolutism it was useful, and anything pushing individualism has been warmly received by the modern state for its destructive value. The advocate of individualism is the foot soldier of a centralised state. Now, some may have trouble with this concept because on the face of it the contradictory nature is hard to get past, but it is only a contradiction if you don’t think it through and realise the destruction of individualism is aimed at everything and everyone except the centralising power, which in this case was democratic governance seated in parliament.

Filmer on the other hand has many serious points to make which don’t rest on biblical exegesis at all, and instead rest on logic. Take for example his issue with the idea of law bounding the king:

“The Father of a Family governs by no other Law than by his own Will; not by the Laws and Wills of his Sons or Servants. There is no Nation that allows Children any Action or Remedy for being unjustly Governed; and yet for all this, every Father is bound by the Law of Nature to do his best for the preservation of his Family; but much more is a King always tyed by the same Law of Nature to keep this general Ground, That the safety of the Kingdom be his Chief Law: He must remember, That the Profit of every Man in particular, and of all together in general, is not always one and the same; and that the Publick is to be preferred before the Private; And that the force of Laws must not be so great as natural Equity it self, which cannot fully be comprised in any Laws whatsoever, but is to be left to the Religious Atchievement of those who know how to manage the Affairs of State, and wisely to Ballance the particular Profit with the Counterpoize of the Publick, according to the infinite variety of Times, Places, Persons; a Proof unanswerable, for the superiority of Princes above Laws, is this, That there were Kings long before there were any Laws: For a long time the Word of a King was the only Law; and if Practice (as saith Sir Walter Raleigh) declare the Greatness of Authority, even the best Kings of Judah and Israel were not tied to any Law; but they did whatsoever they pleased in the greatest Matters.”[sic] Chapter III, I, paragraph 2

It is clear what he is saying here is that A) those lower on the rung of authority cannot bind those higher as this make no sense, and B) the sovereign is bound by consequences. Further to this, he notes the following regarding law:

“Whereas being subject to the Higher Powers, some have strained these Words to signifie the Laws of the Land, or else to mean the Highest Power, as well Aristocratical and Democratical, as Regal: It seems St. Paul looked for such Interpretation, and therefore thought fit to be his own Expositor, and to let it be known, that by Power he understood a Monarch that carried a Sword: Wilt thou not be afraid of the Power? that is, the Ruler that carrieth the Sword, for he is the Minister of God to thee —— for he beareth not the Sword in vain. It is not the Law that is the Minister of God, or that carries the Sword, but the Ruler or Magistrate; so they that say the Law governs the Kingdom, may as well say that the Carpenters Rule builds an House, and not the Carpenter; for the Law is but the Rule or Instrument of the Ruler.”[sic]  Chapter III, II, paragraph 4

Here he is saying rule of law is nonsensical. Law is merely a tool in the hands of someone. Were he alive today, he would no doubt be amazed at the manner in which modern conservatives look at the law and the constitution in particular as some form of magic document that rules.

On other issues, Filmer is no less logically robust, whilst Locke rests on assertions and not arguments. Anything based on the state of nature is not an argument and shouldn’t be accepted as one, it is an assertion based on a point of faith (that we are born free and equal.) One such robust position is in the underlying logic behind the patriarchical model put forward by Filmer. While we can merely set aside the whole issue of progeny from Adam, we can nonetheless maintain Filmer’s conclusion that governance does indeed mirror a paternal relationship, and that authority can only flow down from those with authority to those with less. Take for example Filmer’s questioning of Bellarmine’s assertion of the people being able to chose their king:

“Had the Patriarchs their Power given them by their own Children? Bellarmine does not say it, but the Contrary: If then the Fatherhood enjoyed this Authority for so many Ages by the Law of Nature, when was it lost, or when forfeited, or how is it devolved to the Liberty of the Multitude?”[sic] Chapter II, I, paragraph 2

If we concentrate on the theology and not the logic, we are doing a great disservice. What is at stake here is simply this – can those with less authority bind those with more? The logic is obscene. Filmer makes the point even more strongly in reference to law:

“What though the Government of the People be a thing not to be endured, much less defended, yet many men please themselves with an Opinion, that though the People may not Govern; yet they may partake and joyn with a King in the Government, and so make a State mixed of Popular and Regal Power, which they take to be the best tempered and equallest Form of Government. But the Vanity of this Fancy is too evident, it is a meer Impossibility or Contradiction, for if a King but once admit the People to be his Companions, he leaves to be a King, and the State becomes a Democracy; at least, he is but a Titular and no Real King, that hath not the Sovereignty to Himself; for the having of this alone, and nothing but this makes a King to be a King. As for that Shew of Popularity which is found in such Kingdoms as have General Assemblies for Consultation about making Publick Laws: It must be remembred that such Meetings do not share or divide the Sovereignty with the Prince: but do only deliberate and advise their Supreme Head, who still reserves the Absolute Power in himself; for if in such Assemblies, the King, the Nobility, and People have equal Shares in the Sovereignty, then the King hath but one Voice, the Nobility likewise one, and the People one, and then any two of these Voices should have Power to over-rule the third; thus the Nobility and Commons together should have Power to make a Law to bind the King, which was never yet seen in any Kingdom, but if it could, the State must needs be Popular and not Regal.”[sic] Chapter II, XVI, paragraph 1

In effect, Filmer is making it absolutely clear that those arguing in favour of constitutional monarchy are violating logic, and they are. From our 21st century perch, we should be in an excellent place to judge just who is right on this point – Locke or Filmer? There is where it gets interesting. It is obviously clear from conventional history and practically all conventional political theory that Locke was completely correct but seeing as this history and theory is based on Locke, there is a serious problem here. If we start out with the assertion that X is true, will always be true, and is not to even be questioned, then what will this say about our results if X is false. Garbage in, garbage out.

We can see this being played out over the issue of spontaneous order which is thoroughly Lockean. Using Hayek as are sparing partner, we can approach the “spontaneous development” of common  law as based on Locke. For Hayek, common law derives from custom which is spontaneous and developed independent of authority. The Lockean nature of this is pretty obvious. For Filmer this is a fiction:

“If the Nature of Laws be advisedly weighed, the Necessity of the Princes being above them may more manifest it self; we all know that a Law in General is the command of a Superior Power. Laws are divided (as Bellarmine divides the Word of God) into written and unwritten, not for that it is not written at all, but because it was not written by the first Devisers or Makers of it. The Common Law (as the Lord Chancellor Egerton teacheth us) is the Common Custom of the Realm. Now concerning Customs, this must be considered, that for every Custom there was a time when it was no Custom; and the first President we now have, had no President when it began; when every Custom began, there was something else than Custom that made it lawful, or else the beginning of all Customs were unlawful. Customs at first became Lawful only by some Superiour, which did either Command or Consent unto their beginning. And the first Power which we find (as it is confessed by all men) is the Kingly Power, which was both in this and in all other Nations of the World, long before any Laws, or any other kind of Government was thought of; from whence we must necessarily inser, that the Common Law it self, or Common Customs of this I and, were Originally the Laws and Commands of Kings at first unwritten

Nor must we think the Common Customs (which are the Principles of the Common Law, and are but few) to be such, or so many, as are able to give special Rules to determine every particular Cause. Diversity of Cases are infinite, and impossible to be regulated by any Law; and therefore we find, even in the Divine Laws which are delivered by Moses, there be only certain Principal Laws, which did not determine, but only direct the High-priest or Magistrate, whose Judgment in special Cases did determine, what the General Law intended. It is so with the Common Law, for when there is no perfect Rule, Judges do resort to those Principles, or Common Law Axiomes, whereupon former Judgments, in Cases somewhat like, have been delivered by former Judges, who all receive Authority from the King, in his Right and Name to give Sentence according to the Rules and Presidents of Antient Times: And where Presidents have failed, the Judges have resorted to the General Law of Reason, and accordingly given Judgment, without any Common Law to direct them. Nay, many times, where there have been Presidents to direct, they, upon better Reason only, have changed the Law, both in Causes Criminal and Civil, and have not insisted so much on the Examples of former Judges, as examined and corrected their Reasons; thence it is that some Laws are now obsolete and out of use, and the Practice quite contrary to what it was in Former Times, as the Lord Chancellour Egerton proves, by several Instances.” [sic] Chapter III, IX -X, paragraph 1

What Filmer is implying here is explosive. He is making the point that laws don’t come into being by themselves, but are authorised by a higher power in all cases. Common law was not made irrespective of the sovereign but was, and is, determined by agents acting on his behalf, and transmitting his will either directly or in accordance with the presumed wishes of the sovereign. The sovereign obviously being unable to sit in court for all cases and talk with every judge must delegate, and as such has a judiciary working in accordance with his will. In this instance, we can see that authority is the determiner of all action within the area of common law, and this holds true across society as a whole if this logic is maintained. All action that occurs within the authority of the sovereign is by default either within the sovereign’s will and therefore acceptable, or it is not, and it is illegal and/or a threat. Any other definition nullifies the entire concept of sovereignty as a meaningful term. There is no spontaneous action independent of authority but all of our means of formally viewing the world (political theory, political science, politically acceptable history) are premised on the concept that there is. Notably, in areas with more practical usage (such as property law) this premise is quietly and (I am sure quite innocently) ignored.

Approaching the matter from a non-lockean perspective, and using, say for example, Filmer’s refusal to accept the sovereign can be bound by lower powers, or that authority can be reversed, we get Moldbug’s history. In this history, revolutions are led by elites in a position of authority, the entire concept of democracy is rendered a sham by following the trail and determining which institution is sovereign, and the republican governance structure comes into view as the mere surface camouflage that it is. In short, we go from Lockean consensus history based on a giant lie, to a realistic history based on a giant uncomfortable truth regarding authority.

We can even see Filmer acknowledging the determining factor of power on theory, thus presaging his own banishment from polite discourse on page 7:

“SInce the time that School-Divinity began to flourish, there hath been a common Opinion maintained, as well by Divines, as by divers other learned Men, which affirms,

Mankind is naturally endowed and born with Freedom from all Subjection, and at liberty to chose what Form of Government it please: And that the Power which any one Man hath over others, was at first bestowed according to the discretion of the Multitude. (1)

This Tenent was first hatched in the Schools, and hath been fostered by all succeeding Papists for good Divinity. The Divines also of the Reformed Churches have entertained it, and the Common People every where tenderly embrace it, as being most plausible to Flesh and blood, for that it prodigally destributes a Portion of Liberty to the meanest of the Multitude, who magnifie Liberty, as if the height of Humane Felicity were only to be found in it, never remembring That the desire of Liberty was the first Cause of the Fall of Adam.

But howsoever this Vulgar Opinion hath of late obtained a great Reputation, yet it is not to be found in the Ancient Fathers and Doctors of the Primitive Church: It contradicts the Doctrine and History of the Holy Scriptures, the constant Practice of all Ancient Monarchies, and the very Principles of the Law of Nature. It is hard to say whether it be more erroneous in Divinity, or dangerous in Policy.

Yet upon the ground of this Doctrine both Jesuites, and some other zealous favourers of the Geneva Discipline, have built a perillous Conclusion, which is, That the People or Multitude have Power to punish, or deprive the Prince, if he transgress the Laws of the Kingdom; witness Parsons and Buchanan: the first under the name of Dolman, in the Third Chapter of his First Book labours to prove, that Kings have been lawfully chastised by their Commonwealths: The latter in his Book De jure Regni apud Scotos, maintains A Liberty of the People to depose their Prince. Cardinal Bellarmine and Calvin, both look asquint this way.” [sic] Chapter I, I, paragraph 1

By acknowledging that Catholic and Calvinists have the issue of being able to depose the king as the basis of their opinions, Filmer is observing that interest and the actor’s particular role in the power system underpin theology and theory. Power in effect being above culture. Both the Jesuits, and the Calvinists being the theologians of the Papacy and the oligarchic (parliamentary) sections of society respectively, were developing justifications for undermining monarchy. All actors playing high-low versus the middle in effect in a three way battle.

The resultant winner was the Calvinists faction pushing what Moldbug identifies as communism which is a conception of property which renders authority optional.

Everyone is a communist now.

[Edit: The quote in paragraph 20 was a duplicate of another quote, this has been corrected.]