Gaius Milton recently posted a commendable essay on the specious origin of the muddled “natural rights” concept. His essay asserted what many Traditionalist and non-Western scholars have known from the beginning – that these Enlightenment values which have become sacred to contemporary Western societies are flimsy fabrications.
For me, one of the greatest revelations I had, one which should have been obvious but which eluded me well into adulthood – is to follow the blood, then the money, then the merit – in that order. In evaluating an idea or proposal, keep cui bono (for whom) at the fore. Ambrose Bierce described politics as “a strife of interests disguised as a contest of principles”, a point which I embrace and extend to include philosophy, theology, and the soft sciences as well.
Every oligarchy carries with it a self-glorifying and self-justifying worldview. In some civilizations, this is more transparent than in others. India’s Brahmans ascribe to and promote a religion which promotes their own oligarchy as supreme in a structured relationship with India’s other oligarchies and groups. China’s Mandarins ascribe to a Confucian belief system which honors the behavior of a competent and humble bureaucrat in a highly ritualized society. Whatever the ruling class would have been doing anyway is spun as the highest thing one can be doing.
In the West, there have been a few competing oligarchies, relying on varying styles and degrees of crypsis to conceal their identities and motives. To understand why this half-baked notion of “natural rights” came about, to understand why so many promoted it, and to understand why it’s become canonical in Western thought requires understanding which oligarchy promoted it and why.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, I believe that there are four cardinal niches in the civilizational habitat: martial, managerial, mercantile, and menial. Oligarchies tend to consolidate their power through dominating one of these niches within a given society. Since the decline of the Roman Empire, the West has been largely dominated by a symbiotic relationship between a military aristocracy with origins among the Germanic warlords and the Catholic priesthood. During the Middle Ages, the ideals proffered by these elites were a fusion of Christian piety and militaristic honor codes.
But a new political force emerged among the increasingly wealthy peasants and landholders. They were successful professionals who were largely locked out of the Medieval power structure. They were opposed to the Catholic Church and the nobility – both of which were teetering on moral and financial bankruptcy. The increasingly wealthy and influential trade guilds gradually coalesced into the initiatic fraternity of Freemasonry, the institutional foundation of this ascendent mercantile elite.
This is the Enlightenment. Its agenda is that of the merchant, of the bourgeoisie. Its motto “liberty, fraternity, equality” isn’t a sacred and principled declaration. It’s a list of demands of a revolutionary vanguard translating their wealth into power. Their philosophy, perhaps most gracefully presented by America’s Benjamin Franklin, is essentially economic, chafing at decorum, ritual, and other transactional inefficiencies. It offers only superficial deference to religious piety and national identity. Sure, they had a strong sense of noblesse oblige; but even their concept of stewardship and charity is restricted to the economic dimension of the human experience.
When America’s founders “held these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal”, they were rebelling against the power of the church and the privileges of the nobility. They wouldn’t have imagined that their flowery phraseology would later serve to justify extending political and even economic “equality” to America’s Blacks. They didn’t realize that the meritocratic system designed around their “common sense” would be an open invitation for a hostile oligarchy to sweep in, beat them at their own capitalist game, then rend this nation apart and sell each chunk of it like a chop shop tearing down a stolen car.
I’m not recommending a simple restoration of the Ancien Régime and I’m not damning the American experiment or even Freemasonry altogether. But it should be evident at this point that we need to critically examine the ideals which ultimately led us to where we find ourselves today. A lot of what we’ve taken for granted as self-evident common sense may well be nonsense on stilts.