On Saxon Liberty
|Above: a Germanic "thing".|
This article was originally published in The Mallard on 22nd August 2020.
Freedom and individualism are deeply rooted in the Germanic peoples, from the earliest things and folkmoots to our primordial warrior-kings who swore themselves to their people (rather than to their crowns). Part of this is geography – Northern Europe was a wild and inhospitable environment which naturally rewarded the individual adventurer and pioneer, and an individualist, sparsely populated way of living. Part of it is also that the Roman Empire did not extend very far past the Rhine. The Southern Romance nations – France, Italy, Spain, et al – are effectively little more than Roman rump states. In these countries the State is almost as ancient as the individual, so that the idea the latter should be supreme over the former is ordinarily long forgotten and, when reintroduced by Anglo-American influence, only half-understood.
"Ah, but what of Britannia?", you say. Britain was always the backwoods of the Empire, and Roman influence was never very strong here. This is why a British Romance language never developed. Hence, it was very easy for the English (migrants and adventurers from modern day Denmark & Germany originally) to wipe out the remains of Roman influence entirely, including Christianity, when we came.
Some attribute the individualism of Northern Europe to Protestantism – but I would argue this is the opposite of the truth. We adopted Protestantism because it appealed to our individualistic nature; it did not foster this individualism in itself (though it may have helped to preserve and encourage it. However, Protestantism also directly led to the development of Whiggery, of which I shall speak shortly).
An exception does apply. Of all the Germanic nations, Germany is the least oriented towards freedom, and the most collectivistic. The geopolitics YouTube channel Caspian Report explains this anomaly nicely,
"Prior to unification, the territories of modern Germany were part of the Holy Roman Empire, which was a collection of hundreds of kingdoms, principalities, duchies and city-states. As a decentralised realm, the Holy Roman Empire was a self-contained world. Most of its rivers were not interconnected, and led to different seas, cities and markets. Some regions, such as Alsace-Lorraine, had more day-to-day communication with France, while others, such as Bavaria, identified with Austria. Since the German states lacked a physical link with one another, the local rulers did not have the means to consult with the central authority, and instead made autonomous decisions in terms of labour, finances and security. As such, over the course of history every principality developed into a de facto independent state. Moreover, since the principalities lacked the demographics to compete on their own, they had to get more efficient with their limited labour pools. In consequence, the local states developed sophisticated organisational systems that captured the talent of academics, bankers, military thinkers, et cetera. In other words, since quantity was not an option, quality and competence became the backbone of the German culture."
Hence, German bureaucracy and work culture, Prussian militarism, and so on. Additionally, the Holy Roman tradition places the Germans as the successors to Charlemagne and ultimately of Rome, with a destiny to reunite continental Europe – a dream they have finally accomplished with the European Union, a de facto German empire. They are really a Romance nation in Germanic clothing… the modern incarnation of those barbarian tribes "civilised" by the Romans.
But all continental Germanic peoples have been Romanised and continentalised to an extent. Ancient Germanic customary law, rooted in the inherent freedom of the individual, has universally given way to civil or Roman law. Only in English common law does it survive (the English jury is in effect a remnant of the ancient folkmoot). Indeed, more broadly England is perhaps the last and purest survival of the original Germanic spirit. Our own Romanisation at the hands of the Normans, of language and culture, was largely superficial. After all, the Normans themselves were really Germanic Vikings, and the useful myth of the "Norman yoke" only encouraged our suspicion of power and commitment to liberty. The Anglo-Saxon ethos is defined by valuing the individual, with all his creativity, eccentricity, and ambition, over the collective. As David Starkey is always keen to point out, this is why King’s College, Cambridge, has had more Nobel Prize winners than the whole of France. It was this ethos we exported to our colonies – especially to America, another wild inhospitable environment like Northern Europe, which intensified individual adventurousness and eccentricity even further (if you doubt this, just watch Tiger King). America gave the Germanic, Anglo-Saxon spirit a new name, the "American Dream", and falsely obscured it in neoclassicism.
Therefore a particular commitment to freedom and individualism defines the Anglosphere apart from continental Europe and the rest of the world. Attempts to continentalise England are misplaced and rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of our nature. While the continent continues its endless endeavour to resurrect Rome, we would be far happier as a people in union with our Anglo-Saxon brethren across the seas. That said, the Anglo-American conception of freedom has for too long been dominated by Whiggery, so that now it is associated with universal suffrage democracy, individual hedonism and atomism, and the entire neoliberal capitalist order – leading many on the right to disdain it and yearn for authoritarianism, even totalitarianism. If we continue to endorse the Whig ideas of freedom and English history, we risk losing the real liberty and individualism which makes us great and unique. We must return to a High Tory vision of freedom and of our history.
In order to deconstruct the Whig mythology, it is necessary to make clear that liberty and democracy are not complementary, as the Whig would have you believe, but in fact contradictory. The modern democratic State is more powerful than anything the Bourbons could have dreamt of. Indeed, tyranny is far easier under democracy, because it obscures power, and fools the people into believing they are governing themselves.
The idea that democracy is an essential "British value" is nothing but an ahistorical postwar myth. Before the Second World War, many on the right regarded recent democratisation as a historical aberration or misstep influenced by the French Revolution, and yearned to restore the monarch’s executive role. Indeed, the entirety of English and later British history can be viewed through this lens – as a struggle between the monarch and the people on one side, and Whig oligarchs seizing evermore power to themselves on the other, until the scales tipped, the Whigs won, and Britain became a wretched democracy.
The final victory of the Whigs came with the abdication of Edward VIII. Edward had pretences of being a more political king, and many on the radical right saw him as an ideal British dictator. The Whigs (which by this point had, ideologically, come to include the Tories) under Stanley Baldwin could have none of this, and they outmanoeuvred dear Edward, deposing him on the mundane grounds of his marital aspirations, and having him replaced with his stuttering dullard of a brother, who they correctly assumed would be far easier to control. America’s great ideological war against Hitler followed, during which we suffered de facto American occupation, and from which we emerged bleary-eyed to find "parliamentary democracy" in a suspicious list of “British values” which had only been there before in Whig circles.
This is what I mean when I refer to a "High Tory" conception of freedom. Throughout English history, as is the case in many monarchies around the world (such as Japan, in Ikki Kita’s analysis), the monarch and the people have always been aligned, but in-between them have come the aristocrats; the oligarchs; the bourgeoisie; the Whig class. Our entire democratic system developed as a means for these men to syphon power from the throne, and thus from the people. England has never suffered the absolute monarchy characteristic of the continent – our kings of old were powerful, and reigned executively, but they by and large respected the rights and liberties of the common man, who for the most part loved them in turn. This is because, despite the Norman usurpation, the English monarchy’s origins are in the ancient Germanic kings, selected meritocratically due to their warrior nature, and accountable (in a spiritual rather than democratic sense) to their kinsmen. Thus while the kings of France swore service only to their crown, the kings of England swore service to their people.
Even America was not intended as a democracy originally; the anti-democratic statements of the Founding Fathers are manifold and well documented. Rather, it was an aristocratic republic for white men of the landed gentry, about 6% of the population, until Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy spread the vote to poor white men in the 1800’s, the Suffrage movement spread it to women, and the Civil War and Civil Rights spread it to African-Americans. Of course, the aristocratic republic was a Whig construction, and far from a monarchy, but at least it was preferable to the mob democracy into which Whiggism inevitably devolves. Liberty or democracy – there cannot be one while the other survives. What are the chances now that America will renounce democracy in order to restore liberty? The same chances that it will finally renounce its false exceptionalism and reclaim its Anglo-Saxon roots (despite the obscuration of neoclassicism and the Melting Pot they yet remain). Unlikely, yet this would be America’s last hope, perhaps even the last hope of the Anglosphere as a whole – thus we pin our prayers on a figure of messianic magnitude, an American Caesar, most likely of British parentage and thus unindoctrinated in the American exceptionalist myth. And no, I’m not referring to Trump.
So the idea that Anglo-American freedom must come hand in hand with universal suffrage democracy is a toxic Whig fabrication. Likewise, individualism as I see it does not imply neoliberal capitalism. I am a social democrat, an economic nationalist – I support the nationalisation of natural monopolies, and welfare for those in need. Does this make me any less of an individualist? If anything, corporate tyranny and monopoly seem antagonistic to individual enterprise and a healthy sustainable middle class, which is the foundation of any free happy society. England has always been conceived as a nation of shopkeepers, which implies self-ownership, not wage slavery.
Additionally, hedonism and atomism justified by "individual liberty" is another liberal lie, and the very opposite of the truth. Freedom can only exist in a moral society, where the power of the State is balanced by the sovereignty of family, church and community. Those who uproot family ask for their children to be raised by the State, those who uproot the church deify the State, and those who uproot community replace it with State bureaucracy. The hedonists willingly dope themselves on easy sex, easy drugs and materialism, becoming lax and careless and all the more easy to control. Both the libertarian and authoritarian sides of the right desperately need to realise that true individualism and communitarianism (unlike liberty and democracy) are not mutually exclusive, but complementary – otherwise we will soon find ourselves in Huxley’s Brave New World.
My dream is of a Union of the Anglosphere… but before such an empire can take shape Anglo-Saxon civilisation must be renewed, and purged of tumourous cultural and ideological elements – namely Whiggery, the causes of Whiggery (Puritanical Protestantism), and the derivatives of Whiggery (socialism, mass democracy, wokery, et al). My greatest warning for English-speaking right-wingers tired of neoliberalism is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater! Freedom and individualism – these concepts mean more than their current crude representations under the neoliberal order. They are so deep-rooted in our culture their full ramifications are impossible to gauge, especially for those who have never spent much time outside an anglophone country. I reckon even the most authoritarian of right-wing Anglos would feel their loss in unexpected ways if our nations were suddenly to become more like Spain or China. The world would not be the same without the English eccentric, or the American pioneer!