Sometime in the spring of my first year of grad school Gawker or something (TechCrunch) ran a story on neo-reactionaries, and I spent an afternoon skimming Curtis Yarvin's blog. I was primarily struck by the immense amount of time he and his interlocutors spent reading old texts; of course I do that too, but, you know, professionally (hopefully). Other than that it seemed like a quirky little project -- misguided and blinkered in its aims, suffocated from a general lack of clarity around the positions of those whom it saw as its opponents (liberals, democrats, most thinkers in the history of ideas, etc.), and ultimately repugnant in its conclusions. Anyway.
And so it was with gnawing horror that I've watched over the last year as "neo-reaction" has inched ever closer to actual influence. This isn't about that. But that's why Yarvin sprung to mind as we discussed Filmer as an opponent for Locke in the social contract class I'm currently TAing for. "Didn't," I thought to myself, "Yarvin have a somewhat odd fixation on Filmer?" He did!
This isn't about that either (although, truly, why would you not go to Hobbes instead?).* No, this short post is about this revealing aside:
"(Also, one must admire Filmer's wicked gall in starting out by describing the "right of rebellion" as a Catholic heresy. Catholicism being admitted, at least by all fair historians, to be the creed of your average divine-right monarchist, as Protestantism is of vile democracy. So Filmer's move here is wildly misleading, but pure fun - not unlike comparing liberals to Mussolini. Nothing to do with anything, but it sure gets a rise out of 'em, and moves SKUs like no one's business.)"
Why is this revealing? Because it suggests that Yarvin is out of his depth. While radical Calvinists like John Knox were among the most important progenitors of revolutionary doctrine, it is of course from the counter-reformation and Jesuits Molina and Suarez that we see important contributions to the natural law theory of the state, to say nothing of the earlier conciliar movement and constitutionalism. Suarez, in particular, in the Tractatus de Legibus ac deo Legislatore denied patriarchal theories of government and the divine right of kings. Intellectual history is hard, and if you just pick up old books and skim them you're likely to get important things wrong. So it goes.
Read Hobbes instead of Filmer.
*A quick glance seems to suggest that part of Yarvin's attraction to Filmer is precisely that Filmer's legitimation of sovereign authority is so specious: "Really, what Filmer is saying, is: if you want stable government, accept the status quo as the verdict of history. There is no reason at all to inquire as to why the Bourbons are the Kings of France. The rule is arbitrary. Nonetheless, it is to the benefit of all that this arbitrary rule exists, because obedience to the rightful king is a Schelling point of nonviolent agreement. And better yet, there is no way for a political force to steer the outcome of succession - at least, nothing comparable to the role of the educational authorities in a democracy." But this is pretty dumb. Here's Rousseau in the Social Contract: "Obey the powers that be. If this is supposed to mean, 'yield to force,' the precept is good, but superfluous. I say that it will never be violated" (Book I, Ch 3).
Rousseau also, as it turns out, has an amusing answer if we wish to take Patriarcha seriously on its face (after wondering if he might not in fact turn out to be Adam's legitimate heir): "Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that Adam was sovereign of the world just like Robinson was of his island, as long as he was its sole inhabitant. And what made this empire convenient was that the monarch, secure on his throne, had neither rebellions, nor wars, nor conspirators to fear" (Book I, Ch 2).