« "Market dominant minorities" | Gene Expression Front Page | Quick entry.... »
February 03, 2003

The Germanization of the liberal idea

{{John Jay Ray has already warned me that this series is too allusive for most of my readers (well... google it....).

I'm going to trend away from short pieces toward longer and less frequent ones. If you want to skip ahead, I've divided this piece into rough parts:

+Background- Long background on German tribes and liberal tendencies.
+Conclusion- You should be fine reading this.
+Last paragraph- If you read this alone, it is going to sound like a bald-faced assertion.

...and thanks to Jason Malloy for editing this piece-email me if you catch typing/factual errors still hanging around...also, John Jay has a nice complementary piece on Prussia.

-razib }}

I have previously concluded that Christianity is not an inevitable precursor of liberal values. This seems an almost trivial assertion. Did not Christ say “Render unto Caesar”? What does the City of God have to do with Athens, Rome, London or Washington D.C.? Some Christians would argue that though liberalism is not a logical end-point of the explication and practice of the Christian faith, liberalism is contingent upon a Christian society [1]. Both the Christians and I revere liberal values. Like a man torn between his mother and his lover it makes a lot of sense that a Christian would try to form a link between his faith so precious and his country so adored [2]. As a non-Christian, a rejecter of the God(s) Hypothesis and an admirer of the civilized pagan traditions, whether classical or Chinese (yes, I leave the Indian out for a reason, I simply find it unappealing and excessively esoteric), I would want to see the Faith that I see as the usurper and now superior of the traditions I study and respect cleaved from the liberalism that I hold dear. No man may deny his biases. You now know mine plainly if you had not the wit to intuit them beforehand.

It is true that it was a Christian civilization that birthed modern liberalism. Though there are many strands of the Western European stream of civilization that contributed to it over the five centuries between the medieval world and the modern, such as the Dutch, Italian and yes, even French, it will be the English experience that I will focus on. The lack of evidence is not evidence in and of itself, so the English experience, let alone Germanic, with liberalism need not be the only model under the great sky of the cosmos. It simply happens to be the one where we have some data to compare with our rich speculations about the nature of man and his politics.

The concept of the Anglosphere is now gaining much currency, thanks to Jim Bennett and his acolytes. Bennett & co. make a compelling case that the Anglosphere is the embodiment of the noble concept of nations expressing themselves through a liberal political order (the line between patriotic nationalism and myopic jingoism is easily blurred for some peoples). Freedom is the touchstone, connected to but also restrained by the rule of law and the will of the governed. The Index of Freedom seems to have quite an Anglospheric bias if one looks at the rankings ascending to descending. Even those nations where blood, religion and history traditionally have little to do with England but were touched in some way by the Anglosphere via colonialism or trade often rank higher than their neighbors that did not benefit from such an influence [3]. A closer look at the rankings will also show some peculiarities, Germanic countries tend to do well as a whole. The skeptic will point out that Estonia, a Finno-Ugric nation that was most recently under Soviet domination has a rather high ranking. My simple rebuttal would be that it seems not unlikely that nearly a thousand years of Swedish trade, subjugation and cultural imperialism had a profound impact on that small Baltic nation (which considers itself Nordic, a little Finland without the welfare state). Certainly it affected their faith as Estonians are traditionally Lutheran, and, to my knowledge, the only non-Germanic peoples who adhere to this faith out of habit and custom rather than fervor aside from their southern neighbors the Latvians [4].

By some strange coincidence (perhaps all coincidences are due to our ignorance?), England is also a Germanic nation, the Jutes, Angles and Saxons issuing out of the lands that we now know as Frisia (coastal Netherlands), lower Saxony (the region in which sits Hamburg) and Jutland (Denmark) [5]. Though only 20% of the modern English vocabulary is of Anglo-Saxon origin, the syntax of the language still reflects its Frisian sensibilities (in other words, English is a less ugly sounding form of Dutch, which itself is a prettified German). The traditional historical view of the Anglo-Saxon creation of England from the ashes of post-Roman Britain has shifted wildly between the thesis of cultural assimilation and the scenario of demographic replacement. Recently the evidence seems to be pointing more and more toward the latter [6]. During the period between 600 and 800 a peculiar decentralized Anglo-Saxon culture developed, what was later known as the “Heptarchy,” the seven kings of the seven kingdoms. The culture was Christian, and produced fine minds of the Church such as the Venerable Bede (Bede lived in the north of England, on the edge of the known world before Charlemagne put the West on the same footing as the East), while proselytizers like St. Boniface were instrumental in the conversion of their continental brethren (the Irish were also important in this period of missionizing, and even founded monasteries in the Alps). England was no isolated nation but part of the wide river of greater Christendom (which was truly fast receding before Islam, but had yet to shift its attention from the south and east to the north and west as the transition from tribe to nation, barbarian to urbane, had not yet ceased in the Occident). This evidence of English complicity in the culture of Rome does not indicate that the Saxons became something else, wooed and seduced by the lures of Latin culture along with the faith, which after all was Hebraic in origin if no longer in execution. It is a peculiar distinction, but England is the one case where Germanic tribes imposed their tongue and culture on what was once a Latin land [7]. While the myths and legends of the other Germanic tribes who settled on Roman soil tended to fade rather quickly, the early period of Christianization witnessed the preservation of German traditions and memories amongst the Anglo-Saxons; Beowulf being a prime exemplar. The pagan Germans all shared similar myths and legends, but only the most recently Christianized, or the ones least imbued with a Roman Christian sensibility preserved their ancient legends in their most elaborate fullness [8]. With these legends comes a remembrance of the days of barbarity, and the sharp contrast with the age of civilization, for good or ill. This waning pagan German spirit was reinforced in the 9th and 10th centuries by the ravages of the Danes. Much of north and east of England, “The Danelaw,” was under their rule after a truce was established with Alfred the Great. It was the Vikings that shattered the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, leaving Wessex to serve as the nucleus of the future English nation (I await the book written by a snarky historian titled “How the Vikings Created England”). But these cousins of the Anglo-Saxons settled down and added another infusion of Teutonic barbarity to the spirit of the land despite their own new found Christianity [9]. Harald Hadrada might have been baptized into the faith, but this last great Viking High King who died at Stamford Bridge contesting for the empty throne of Edward the Confessor experienced the life of his pagan forebears and embodied the paradox of a man who worshipped a God often seen to serve a temporally pliant pacifism but who lived and died by the sword and would bow to neither man nor gods.

In 1066 the Anglo-Saxons lost their England to a man of Continental inclinations, and many have asserted that with this last conquest of England the German spirit left the land to be replaced by the more sedate ghost of Latin civilization. But William the Conqueror was from Normandy, another child of the Germanic international. By the 10th century the Franks had long become another post-Roman vulgar Latinate aristocracy, their ancestors were now the Gauls and their culture bore the imprint of Rome more than the Rhine. But in the north a Viking warlord had carved out a duchy for himself in the midst of the richness of northern France. This pagan man, Rollo, accepted the faith of Christ just as his Danish cousins across the channel, but though the Norse blood of Norman culture transformed itself once rooted in the rich soil of northern Francia it left an indelible mark. Even during the time of William’s childhood there was a resurgence of the Old Religion in response to the perceived effeminacy of Christianity. William and his cohorts might have spoken a tongue descended from that of Caesar’s legions but their hearts beat like those of the Vikings, striking a fearsome balance between Latin civilizational superiority and discipline and German spirit and courage. They crossed the channel and smashed the Anglo-Saxons led by another man of Germanic bearing and courage, Harold Godwinson (who was part Danish just as William was Norse). This time courage and blood-lust betrayed the Saxons who broke their formation and chased the mounted Normans who seemed to be fleeing, only to turn and cut down the isolated pike-man. And so died the infantry tradition in the West until the rise of Swiss infantry on the cusp of the Renaissance in the face of Hapsburg lances.

The Normans created a centralized and powerful state in England, but it was a lesser fief in what was to become the Plantegenet Empire, stretching from Visigothic Aquitane, to post-Viking Normandy through green England with tendrils reaching into the Celtic fringe of Wales, Ireland and Scotland (Robert the Bruce was of Norman extraction). This was the first great period of English Empire as the Norman polity was the most powerful and consequential state in western Europe (and also created a powerful state in southern Italy that was a thorn in Byzantine attempts to regain supremacy amongst the Christian powers of the Mediterranean). Its elite was Franco-phone, but its sensibilities still drew deeply from the Latin-Norse hybrid culture of Normandy, producing the likes of Henry II and Edward I. As the centuries marched on the Norman Empire quickly became England as the French swept them aside from their Continental strongholds. The tongue of the Anglo-Saxons made a resurgence, the “Ancient Rights of the Englishmen” were once more asserted. The Norman interlude ended and England, worn away by the 100 years of war, become a second-rate power; its taxable base diminished because of the independence of its nobles and yeoman farmers, and its borders truncated by the loss of most of its Continental possessions (Calais being the exception). Before the time of Henry VIII England had sunk to becoming a minor power so that the pompous king’s goal to become Holy Roman Emperor was more humored than respected (the other contenders, the Hapsburg and Valois were the true contenders).

But what was once a weakness, inhibiting the vision of Tudors and Stuarts alike, the independence and liberties of their subjects, later became a strength. The repossession of Church Lands by Henry VIII enriched the monarchy and allowed for a time the simultaneous coexistence of low taxation and opulent royal decadence. By the time of Elizabeth it had reverted back to the old ways as the crown soon enough discounted the old lands and the potentate complained of her lack of revenues. This was succeeded by the ridiculous reign of James I, a poor Scottish King who thought he was going down the path to riches when he inherited the crown of England, only to find that, alas, the Tudor state was little better than Scotland in its extravagances. James began selling titles and bullying his nobility and gentry to satisfy his libertine inclinations (The King James Bible is named after a bisexual!). The tumult of the mid-17th century created England as we know it (The New Model Army, the failure of Cromwell to forge a lasting social compact, the emergence of Independents beyond the Puritan fringes), the balance between monarch and parliament, inexorably flowing one way while preserving the integrity of the former, the right to worship as one may please and the de facto decoupling of state from church (again, respecting the outward appearance of establishmentarianism nonetheless).

The rest is history, known by the general public in its outline if not details. The rebellion of the British settlers in the Colonies of North America, the abolishment of the slave trade by the British Empire, refuge given to dissidents like Marx, the rights of women through suffrage and so forth. While the French during their revolution tried to create a liberal order de novo, the seemingly reactionary British continued along their path of simultaneous respect for tradition and progression toward more liberty. Similarly, Social Democratic Scandinavia is ruled by monarchies, who nonetheless are liberal in their orientation, dominated by clean government, consensual politics and transparent legal systems. And like the British, nations like Sweden opposed Napoleon’s grand attempts to bring his own brand of progressive autocracy to Europe (remember that it was Napoleon who liberated many of the Jews from the ghettos of central and eastern Europe). Holland, also a Germanic monarchy, maintains the liberal order in continuity with ancient traditions, stretching back to the oligarchic Republic of old.

Ah, but there is a grand exception to this rule and that is Germany (and to a lesser extent Austria). The Kaiserreich should have logically been the precursor to the constitutional monarchies that seem so natural to the north and in west. But it collapsed under the weight of its own grandiose militarism and hubris. The Third Reich that followed in the wake of the Weimar failure went even further along the lines of autocracy [10]. The National Socialist experiment was the elaboration of a particular strain of Germanic thinking- militaristic, expansionist and tribal. But it ignored other aspects of the Germanic soul, the inward looking individualist who tends his own hearth and home and has a preoccupation with Heimat and is dominated by loyalties to family, village and locality before any abstract conception of race, folk or monarchy. The lesson to the learned is that there is no failsafe immunity from evil and the temptations of power, that barbarism has many faces and some are less appealing. But not to over-stretch the point, I would argue that the Third Reich was a development that drew much from non-Germanic sources as well, and was not a faithful exposition of northern European tribal tradition in its balanced fullness. The eagle symbolism and the Nazi salute were direct borrowings from Roman military tradition, while the first two Reichs (the Holy Roman Empire and the Kaiserreich) were cultural transplantations, mapping a Mediterranean concept of the Universal Monarch upon a still semi-tribal barbarian people. When one looks to the south at the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy that was burned down with the defeat of the Central Powers one can see a multicultural and somewhat Romance version of the northern European constitutional monarchies, absolutism giving way to consensual politics, the ghost of the past watching over the inexorable march into the future. Alas, history and circumstance intervened, and the experiment of the Dual Monarchy was abolished. In its place arose a host of nationalist polities that often veered sharply toward the Right and tended toward ethnic chauvinism. But history is filled with innumerable “what-ifs.” I can buttress my case with exotic and isolated points, for instance, the Prussian state that was the parent of the Kaiserreich and therefore, in one tradition of historiography, the ancestor of the Third Reich was shaped by a man of appallingly non-traditional inclinations- Frederick the Great. Considering the German tongue barbaric, he preferred French, and he rejected the God of his people for a deracinated deism and cultivated the Free Thinkers of his day. But this man who taxed his people like chattel and waged war on his enemies was profoundly illiberal in any way we might understand, his anti-Semitism was as deep as any in his day, while his court philosophers would quip that the potentate accepted free inquiry only when the conclusion agreed with his inclinations. He was the prototypical liberal despot, with all those that followed in his wake, from Catherine the Great to Porfirio Diaz, attempting to root out the past with futility but deforming the indigenous culture to the point of maiming it.

Of course, the above aside approaches the Great Man theory of history, that perhaps Frederick the Great was the one that destroyed the predestined path of Germany toward a soft liberalism synthesized with respect for local traditions. Perhaps, we shall never know. But in any case, I think at this point I have made a case that the indigenous traditions of the German peoples predisposed them toward acceptance of a liberal order that is girded by traditions and overlain by laws and accepting of the importance of consensus and local autonomy. Yes, they could be jarred, and there were alternative visions that could issue out of the Germanic cultural maelstrom (Nazism), but this was an aberration rather than the rule. These were people deeply influenced by their ancestors, by their culture & folkways. They were barbarians, unlettered and living in pre-state cultures where the bonds between the leaders of men and their followers were personal rather than abstract. The human touch still existed, and gods walked among them as heroes, worshipped with awe rather than abjection. The Romans met the Germans, and they saw their noble savages. Painted men who fought without fear and sacrificed lives deemed not worth living on their Holy Trees. These were no liberal democrats that we would know of, rather profoundly narrow-minded and self-concerned, as are all men in all ages. But what made these Germans different than the Celts of Gaul or the Iberians of Hispania? Why did England rather than Greece serve as the catalyst, the lighting-rod, for the dominance of the liberal order, in rhetoric if not in practice?

I have lingered long on the Germans and danced around the point. What I have shown is a repeated tendency to deviate away from autocracy, rather than a progressive growth of central power and absolutism that often characterizes most civilizations. The Germans did not invent democracy, republican ideals, patriotism and the like. In fact, they didn't even have words for these ideas, strictly speaking! The Germans were, in my opinion, by nature predisposed to reject authority, but humans being what they are, were still constricted by custom and tradition so as not to lose all connection to politics. Custom and tradition rather became the Common Law (in England) while liberties of free men despite what their chief might say became The Rights of Englishmen. These things are known in many cultures by other names. The Japanese feudal structure displayed a decentralism similar to that the of The Holy Roman Empire, though perhaps the monarch was more impotent than the German Emperors. China had amongst its Hundred Schools displayed tendencies toward anarchism and individual freedom, particularly the radical Taoist philosophers. India also had its “Republics” and “Confederations,” statelets and patchworks of princes that in the end were swept away by the Islamic conquest, but who continued to exist on the level of the village and locality underneath the thin layer of Muslim bureaucracy. The Celts of Gaul were once spirited folk who fought for their freedom against the advances of Caesar. But they lost. And that is part of the key to why some barbarians became free men while others did not. The Celts of the Continent were conquered and crushed, assimilated and swallowed by the maw of the ever-expanding Roman Empire. They were civilized, made literate, and their chiefs became Senators (particularly in the reign of Claudius) and Consuls. An Empire absorbed them and made them not what they were. They forsook the speech of their forefathers, and so lost continuity with the myths and legends that sustained their tribe’s identity and set them apart. Their religious practices, barbaric and brutal as they were, were suspended by the Romans who found human sacrifice abhorrent and the Druids' esoteric secrecy and xenophobia irritants. Their ancestors might have been the Gauls, but the inhabitants of Gallia became Romans in culture. Contrast this with the Irish, and the peoples of Scotland [11]. These two nations developed under a decentralized model, to some extent because of geography and history even more so than England. The Irish are a Roman Catholic people, and some would argue that the differences between Fianna Fael and Finn Gael paper over a unity that creates a one party state, but surely they have adapted to democracy and consensual government with more aplomb than the most contemptuous of Orangemen would have dreamed. The Scottish people contributed Adam Smith and David Hume in the 18th century, great expositors of the notoriously fuzzy and muddled British liberal tradition (Hume’s addition to the liberal pantheon is disputable, but in England a conservative could be a defender of liberal values because its special history). They had a greater hand in Empire and political movements than the more staid and contented folk of England (I ignore Wales because it is of little interest to the outside world, but it mirrors the fractured nature of the other Celtic nations, with an English speaking south and east and a Welsh speaking north and west- a variety of religious denominations peppered throughout). The Irish never truly developed a strong monarchy, their High Kings were similar to those of Scandinavia before Christianity, winning power by force of glory and gaining legitimacy through sacral rituals, even after putative Christianization. Brian Boru did not do with Ireland as he pleased, rather he was an expression of the Irish people and their resistance to foreign tyranny. But after each threat receded the local princes and towns regained their independence and had contempt for the scions of Niall. The Anglo-Norman (Old English) settlers in the Pale viewed the Irish as uncivilized pagans who were literally beyond the pale (the irony is rich that the descendents of Saxons would call the Gaels pagans). Certainly many would admit that the force of Irish Catholicism and its loyalty to Rome is ironic in light of the ancient Celtic Christian traditions that the Roman Church viewed as deviant, if not heretical. With the rise of Protestant England the Irish became willing converts to the Counter-Reformation; so there you have it- an Ireland part & parcel of an institution that has Mediterranean antecedents, but that does not make the Irish Italians, Spaniards or French, they are still Celts, unlike their brethren from the Po to the Seine and onward toward Galicia who have become Latins in name and fact.

The Irish and English, later the Scandinavians, Dutch and Germans, were barbarian peoples for whom the memory of Rome was light and distant. Christianity was distilled through their cultural traditions rather than as a cog in a Roman cultural machine. Roman culture, in its fully formed glamour, literacy, learning and religion, met the barbarians of northernmost Europe at just the right time, so that the individualism of the past could survive the influence of civilization. The barbarians of Gaul, northern Italy and Spain could not preserve their traditions in the face of Roman force of arms (and later, demographic numbers) as converts won by force in ages past converted their new non-Latin conquerors through marriage and trade.

So an inference is made- the Germans, and, to a lesser extent, the peoples of the “Celtic Fringe”, were there at the right place and right time. Jared Diamond’s ideas of a “Clade”-a meeting point between two cultures (thanks Jay) is important in this. Remember, there were many barbarian groups around the world, but the Germans could look to classical motifs to support their own predisposition. The Slavs came from a similar background, small villages dominated by peasants, but became enraptured by a particular sort of Greco-Roman idea, that of the autocrat or imperial monarch exemplified by the Byzantine Emperor Basil the Bulgar Slayer, a cold ruthless man who lived for battle and vengeance [12]. The Rome of the West was a vague memory, so the power & the glory of the free Republic had more impact than the feeble reality of the Holy Roman Empire or the ignominious ending of the old Empire (remember that Britain was abandoned by its legions).

What I have spoken of, the Germanic cultural international, exists. It is united by language, and where it survives, a common mythos. Certain modes of lifestyle, also influenced by the environment, tended to dominate (free farmers in small holdings rather than cash crops and plantations). But when Thomas More wrote his Utopia I doubt he had in mind his own German ancestors as models. When the founding fathers, of Anglo-Celtic stock, created this Republic, they certainly looked to the “Rights of Englishmen,” but they also modeled their Republic on classical motifs. The architecture and the terminology is the most explicit indication of this. The mixed forms of governance so admired by Montesquieu in England and further elaborated by his ideas about checks & balances, seem analogous to the ancient Roman Republic, where the different estates competed and Great Men fought for the glory and power of their City. Democracy, Republic, the Senate, even our terms of law, have much that derives from the classical age. Polybius thought that the mixed government of Rome was its genius and set the Latins apart from his own people, the Hellenes or Greeks. But we must never forget the Greeks...

They were a city folk, free citizens who fought in close formations and farmed their land for their own sustenance rather than the slave plantations that dominated Sicily during the period of the high pagan Roman Empire. Against the tyranny of their Indo-European cousins the Persians they made their stand at Marathon and at Salamis (to be fair the Persians were a relatively benevolent hegemonic race, as the Jews attest to in the Bible). They won, their discipline, their patriotism and love of country overwhelming the seething masses of quasi-slave soldiers conscripted and bribed from the Indus to the Nile. In their turn, the Romans under Scipio defeated the Carthaginians, who employed mercenaries rather than free citizens in their armies. When the city of Rome went to war, the people went to war. They fought, man to man, shoulder to shoulder, improving on the collective shock power of the phalanx with the nimble organization and reactive capacity of the maniple, cohort and legion. They were rational systems, designed to solve a problem- war. Even after the professionalism of the army after the time of Gauis Maurius the Roman armies marched with a cold discipline that collapsed only with the progressive Germanization of the rank and file [13]. Rome’s great genius was that it expanded and moderated the tempestuous extremes of the Greek governmental traditions (whether it be democratic or oligarchic). While citizenship in the polis was a matter of birth, Roman citizenship could be acquired by service to the Roman state or membership in the elite of a conquered peoples. By the end of the 1st century of the Christian era non-Romans, strictly speaking, were Emperors of Rome (the Julio-Claudian dynasty was the last efflorescence of the native aristocracy of The City).

The ancient ideas of citizenship were flexible and demanded service as well as conferring rights (something we forget today all too often). But the Greeks and Romans both degenerated toward the mean of the human civilized condition, that of despotism. The polis based culture of the Greeks continued for many centuries (indicated by the lack of interest of the Greek-speaking aristocracy of the Roman Empire in Imperial political positions such as the Consul as late the 2nd century), but its political power faded into legend after the rise of Alexander and his heirs. Republican Romans viewed the Hellenistic polities that arose from the ashes of Persia and Macedon as decadent and Oriental. Their attitudes seem to mirror that of the Greeks themselves only a few hundred years before toward the old civilizations of Egypt and the Levant. But power and greatness corrupts as Alexander’s companions saw their king become a god, the peerage of the Macedonian nobility being undermined by the groveling kow-towing that the Asiatic courtiers were introducing. Just as the orientalized Hellenistic monarchies fell before the vigor of Republican Rome, so an orientalized Rome fell before barbarian hordes in its own turn [14].

Liberalism in its modern form is the expression of the forces that shaped a particular culture at a particular point in time. One might say that the forces of the cosmos aligned at the correct moment so that the seed could take root. It is surely a vigorous thing, for liberalism has conquered the world in word if not spirit. But the spirit holds some of the key as to why liberalism is so ineptly executed across much of the world. The spirit of Anglo-Germanic culture has produced the social systems that moderate mob rule, preserved rule of law and individual liberty. These are the results of thousands of years of cultural evolution. While other barbarian peoples became “civilized,” bowing a knee to an autocrat that embodied the rational ruling principle of a people, the English managed to hold back some of the power for themselves. This was partially a product of their own experience, but they were also able to draw from classical sources to justify their own predisposition. The Greeks and Romans do matter, because there is a difference between what man thinks, and what man feels. The Germanic pagan feels in his bones the importance of freedom, but it takes Greek learning to systematize this against the onslaught of the logic of central rule. Greek cities-states and the Roman Republic provided an ancient and respectable model for the Founding Fathers to base their Republic on. It was a source of legitimacy that could be used to brush aside the objections of those that argued for the primacy and natural superiority of Monarchy.

While the axioms of liberalism that owe so much to Classical thinking can be easily exported, the barbaric spirit of the Germans cannot. That I believe is a great problem in modern liberalism. The social capital of civil society and cultural awareness necessary for liberalism to flourish takes time and can't be created de novo as the French Revolution shows. Certain cultures might be more receptive to liberal ideas because of the nature of their culture. India for instance has a corporate culture that is steeped in pluralism and consensus. Yes, for 1,000 years the Muslims ruled India, but they did not touch village life. In contrast, the Chinese state took many censuses and early on attempted to standardized village life (the Well Field system, the monomaniacal tendencies of the First Emperor) allowing the Emperor to act more easily an expression of a homogenous and uniform populace. The short term consequences (on the scale of centuries) was that China was a more successful civilization measured in terms of order, income equity and political unity. But in the long term, the sloppy messiness of the Indian cultural outlook might have made it more amenable to wedding the axiomatic principles of liberalism to the indigenous culture.

Some cultures, ravaged by the ahistorical progress of Communism have lost their traditional moorings. Even the Confucian tradition in my opinion has within it the seeds for liberty, because liberty is one common yearning of mankind. But the destruction wrought on Chinese culture by the Maoist onslaught has left a moral vacuum that has absorbed the most crass tenets of modern liberalism made of its pursuit of money- the new God that will Fail. Similarly, Russia is caught up in a moral chaos because the Russian Church is a feeble voice for a cruel nationalism that has long lurked within the belly of the Marxist-Leninist state.

Man’s natural state is that of a savage living in groups of 50-90. Unfortunately, such social organizations do not allow the concerted organization and cooperation necessary for technological progress. Liberal democracy is a way to put a face upon the faceless-the impersonal bureaucratic state that has created a level of order among the millions and billions. Just as Steinbeck alluded to the power of impersonal corporations and banks in The Grapes of Wrath, so the state can become a force in and of itself beyond the understanding of its millions of constituents. Monarchy and absolutism are solutions to this problem, the personification allows those who otherwise rebel against government interference in their family to have a human focus of hatred or adoration. In contrast, the liberal project is more difficult, because it diffuses the power throughout society amongst various organizations. It is an attempt to map some of the organization of the tribal, village, community onto the mega-state. A large amount of social capital is necessary; capital must be accrued over generations.

Modern liberalism is what it is because of its history. That goes without saying. It is the rationalism of the Greek married with the forms of the Roman and the instinct of the German. The last I believe can transcend cultures, because we were all barbarians to begin within. But most cultures followed the path toward despotism because such is a natural reaction to the unnatural aggregation of humans that are called states.

[1] There are many who might dispute with me that liberalism is not the form of governance most in accordance with Christian doctrine. To which I may only respond that they follow in a long tradition of justification of politics by faith alone. Those who believe that the Constitution, the Bible and Apple Pie have some ontological relationship that was dormant in the Mind of God before the rise of the American Republic will go the way of Christians who believed socialism, monarchy or anarchy were the logical forms of governance that the Faith implied. My position (spoken as a non-Christian granted) is that I see nothing in Christian Salvation, whether by Faith Alone, or via membership in the body of a Universal Church, that necessitates a certain form of temporal organization. Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out, this is a very Americo-centered blog, so the nation or country that is referred to is usually the United States unless the context makes it clear that it is not.

[2] I would assert that there is something inextricably true to the assertion that we are a liberal nation. That does not mean that I accept the “proposition nation” thesis without skepticism, a nation is an organic entity of many parts and complexity. But I am skeptical of the concept of a reactionary monarchist ever truly being able to love this nation or the radical communist that asserts the importance of universal revolution.

[3] Hong Kong & Singapore are the two prime examples that come to mind. India also, though Pakistan and Bangladesh have had less successful experiments with liberalism, indicating that there are varied levels of receptivity to the liberal idea amongst the panoply of the world’s cultures.

[4] By which I mean I suspect that the Missouri Synod Lutherans have converted many of non-Germanic extraction to their faith. But this recent evangelism is a product of the 20th century rather than part of the cultural legacy of a convert. Additionally, though the Latvians hew to the same faith and have the same long history of Germanic rule as the Estonians, they speak a tongue with a close affinity with their Lithuanian Catholic neighbors to the south. Lithuania ranks rather lower on the Index of Freedom than Latvia, even though it has a far lower proportion of Russians of Orthodox (ergo the conventional wisdom of illiberal inclination) cultural heritage.

[5] I have recently read that these three tribes have an association with the Danish-speaking German lander of Schleswig-Holstein.

[6] Aside from the genetic evidence, I always found it peculiar that there are only a few Celtic place-names in England, the Thames being one. To my mind it gives greater weight to the idea of a large-scale volkwanderung which the genetic evidence now indicates. This does not mean a total replacement, and the study I refer to deals with Y-chromosome lineages, that of the male line. The existence of the Cheddar Man’s descendent (through the female line) is witness to the long time depth of human habitation in England that predates the Anglo-Saxon invasion, and even the Celtic migration!

[7] Ah, such a contentious and disputable assertion. Notation 6 already points to a weakness of this theory-if there was large scale demographic replacement the Anglo-Saxons did little imposing of their cultural norms on the natives. As I believe that the truth lay somewhere in the middle, perhaps the male lineages being predominantly Anglo-Saxon, while many of the mtDNA lineages attest to Celtic and pre-Celtic peoples that preserved their blood through non-Germanic concubines of the pagan warlords, so there was some cultural imposition upon the indigenes. Additionally it seems that the Latinization of Britain was incomplete in comparison with Gaul. The last European Celtic tongue was spoken in Switzerland in the 5th century (Brittany is cultural transplant from Celtic Britain). In sharp contrast post-Roman and pre-Anglo-Saxon England showed a sharp rise in Celtic cultural markers. Though the elite were Romanized and gloried in the benefits of “civilization” (cities and all their luxuries and conveniences), and were part of the culture of the Empire, Latinization seems to have been cursory in much of the countryside. The period after Roman evacuation of the legions witnessed the emergence of a hybrid culture, but while Latin forms waned, Celtic ones waxed (the revival of Celtic religion in the form of temples is one indicator). What am I trying to get at here? The Anglo-Saxon cultural acquisition of England for the Germanic people might more-so be likened to the Germanization of Bavaria (once Celtic) than the conquest of Italy by the Lombards, France by the Franks or Spain by the Visigoths (German tribes that abandoned all but the vaguest memories of their pre-Roman, ergo, pre-Latinate, identity).

[8] Please note, I am well aware that many tribes such as the Goths were Arian Christians converted in the time of Constantius (circa 340) and so were saved by the faith before they settled in the Empire. On an interesting note, the Irish, like the Anglo-Saxons and unlike the other German tribes, preserved their mythology as well. Ireland, like Anglo-Saxon England, was Christianized on its own terms, rather than be swallowed by the Roman Christian culture like the Franks, Visigoths, Lombards, etc.

[9] Survey of surnames and a study of the English of what was once the Danelaw indicates quite clearly their impact on the land through blood and brawn.

[10] Many would argue whether the Kaiserreich was particularly autocratic in comparison to other western European polities. Certainly history has stained it badly because many assert that it holds the seeds of Nazism.

[11] Americans often think of Scotland as a Celtic land, but this not true, Celts are one element of the Scottish national identity. The Scotti who came from Ulster in Ireland ascended to power for a few centuries (their peak was probably under Aidan late in the 6th century) and left an imprint on the nation that is undeniable, in the very name of the country, no less. But the indigenous people from the days of Rome, the Picts, continued as a separate people until the 9th century when the half-Pictish Scottish King Kenneth MacAlpin united the two peoples and the Picts disappeared. To the south, the Brythonic Celts of Strathclyde and the Angles coming in from Northumbria struggled for supremacy, with the latter winning out. Finally, the Norse who came to the northern regions left their legacy in blood and speech. Scotland is a thoroughly cosmopolitan nation on the edge of the world….

[12] Why did the Slavs not become liberals? I suspect geography has something to do with it; a unified state is probably easy to maintain in the mixed-zone between the taiga and the steppe with its rich black earth and easy lanes of transport across cultivated plains. Additionally, the experience of their national culture being gutted by the Mongols almost certainly created a sense that they needed central strength to buttress themselves against the forces of history and the vicissitudes of central Asian migrations. Perhaps in a similar manner the decentralized temple-cities of Sumeria gave way to its culmination in the autocratic Neo-Babylonian monarchy attested to in the Bible. Geography dictated a strong military state in the Neo-Babylonian or Assyrian model despite the original tribal and fractured origins of the Mesopotamian milieu.

[13] From what I know the army of Constantine in the early 4th century was in large part already German. That of Theodosius the Great and his successors even more so. By the early 5th century the generals were also German, Stilicho and Arbogast being two examples.

[14] Diocletian and his immediate predecessors inaugurated many of the trappings of royalty, it was during his reign that the citizens became subjects, that the Emperor wore a diadem and sat at court surrounded by sycophants. In contrast, no matter how rich Augustus Caesar was (he owned more wealth than the Rome state) he termed himself princeps, the First Citizen. The term "Emperor", "Imperator", came into wide usage only about 100 years after Augustus’ day (prior to which "Imperator" was a term of military honor). The trend toward despotism accelerated during the reign of Septimius Severus in the early 3rd century as laws were presented as the word and will of the Emperor rather than that of the Senate.

Posted by razib at 11:00 AM

I might add that the geography of Europe becomes progressively more defensible the farther west and north you go, so the need for gigantic armies and militarized, autocratic polities lessens. Russia and Prussia are at one extreme of lacking defensible natural boundaries, Britain and Iceland at the other.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at February 3, 2003 08:08 PM

Could you have these essays reachable via a
sidebar link? That would be especially helpful
when I'm recommending it to other people.

Oh yes; nowadays what would be the quickest way to impart even a small part of that cultural capital to another nation. (middle east anyone?)

Posted by: Aaron at February 3, 2003 08:32 PM

steve makes a point, which i alluded to in one of my notations. of course, the geography angle has been hit time & again...so i underemphasized it this time. extricating and presenting the variables in a reasonable fashion without ommitting is almost impossible.

i've put the two initial pieces up under the blogroll so that the permlinks will be there. part #3 on islam & part #4 on confucianism will be up at some point there too.

as for how we export liberalism-some of that will be in the islam piece.

Posted by: razib at February 4, 2003 04:06 AM

You're welcome (for the Jared Diamond ref). I'll comment more once I've actually read this entire thing. ;)

Posted by: Jay Manifold at February 4, 2003 09:13 AM

This essay certainly provides a very dense precis of the cultural and historical roots of liberalism but I'm puzzled by the fact that the rise of property rights in the high middle ages is not mentioned. I would think that liberalism is closely intertwined with property rights, those being the only rights that guarantee a modicum of real economic power independent of the rulers. You allude to the rights of englishmen but the economic structure that made them more than just words seems to have been ignored. It would have been interesting to explore how natural property rights (i.e. you can't just steal things) came to be extended to what Hayek calls "several property", which had not enjoyed the same kind of recognition. Some of this, as an intellectual construct, surely derives from Roman law and it's unclear to me whether and to what extent the Germanic tribes had such a concept or how their concepts were blended with and rationalized by exposure to Roman law.
Returning to your first essay, is it not true that the independence of the Church, established by Gregory (XII?) created a model of independence from the rulers that had an overall salutary effect on the rights of property that were increasingly demanded by the bourgeoisie?

Posted by: John Purdy at February 4, 2003 10:04 AM

Hm, John Purdy is interested in one line of inquiry (the evolution of property rights) while I am fascinated by another that this piece suggests, namely, the role of myths and stories in shaping people's attitudes towards the ruler and the state. It could be argued that these in turn stem from the instinct or temperament of the people, and so in the case of the Germans are a natural outgrowth of the barbaric spirit that razib already mentions. But I think the relationship is more complex, and that the myths shape the spirit as well as the other way around. Anyway I'll have to do more reading before I can put forward a coherent thought on that topic :-)
Side note - as a son of two german immigrants I find razib's thesis rather flattering. Too bad that modern Germany does not live up to the liberal ideal. But it's been a hard century, and simply surviving (and prospering) as a people and a nation is an accomplishment. 'Dreimal totgeschlagen, und doch lebt er noch...' as my mother would say, by way of analogy with Germany.

Posted by: bbartlog at February 4, 2003 01:04 PM

well, i don't consider the swedes or dutch any less "german" than germans proper. many of the tribes of the german folk wandering originate in southern sweden/denmark in any case (vandals, goths, jutes, cimbri to name a few). remember that southern germany was once the domain of celts and much of eastern germany inhabited by slavs (the sorbs being a remnant).

Posted by: razib at February 4, 2003 04:27 PM

Re: [8], Razib, I believe that it's Arian, not Aryan. Different words, with different roots.

That's what I get for taking a Historical Methods course last spring focusing on Rome.


Posted by: Loweeel at February 5, 2003 09:36 PM

you are right-i initially had arian :) i think jason malloy might have over-edited it :) he is technically correct, goths were *aryan* christians, but i did mean those of the *arian* sectarian affiliation....

Posted by: razib at February 6, 2003 02:07 AM

Razib, is correct, that was my foul-uuup, Loweeel. That's what he gets for relying on cheap non-union labor.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at February 6, 2003 09:21 AM