The following is by a European-Preservationist named Michael Gladius, writing for Europeancivilwar.com. The bolded and underlined sections are my additions, marking spots that particularly stood out to me.
Legalism vs. Natural Law, or Why We are still living in the Victorian Era
by Michael Gladius
We rightly look upon the Victorian era with disdain. Their attitudes were bizarre and unnatural, sterile and cold-fish. They preached a code that is at odds with human nature and could only last if backed by iron-fisted obedience.
So, naturally, we’ve kept as many of these bad ideas as possible.
We like to think that we have moved on from such unnatural and unhealthy behaviors, but when one reads about the Victorians in depth and detail, one can’t help but notice patterns that are identical to today’s attitudes and behaviors. When we compare ourselves today to the Victorians in our entireties, we have to admit that we are just like them. Nothing has actually changed; rather, we’ve traded and swapped their virtues and taboos, and called it something new. We hold the same attitudes, but draw the reverse conclusions. And so the debate continues over what should be a taboo and what should be socially acceptable. At no point have we ever stopped to reconsider our assumptions.
The logic of our morals is crucial. Moral rules always come with a reason ‘why.’ Herein lies the difference between Natural Law and Legalism. The source of Natural Law is our human nature, and what our deepest needs are. In Natural Law, the law serves the man, and aids him in maturing and developing his full humanity. Natural Law recognizes the patterns of human development and behavior, as well as each man’s individuality, and acts as a roadmap showing him the effects of his decisions upon his nature and his happiness. Rather than relying on imposed force, Natural Law compels man to do whatever will make him truly happy, and reveals those things that will make him miserable. Since human nature does not fundamentally change, Natural Law cannot fundamentally change.
Legalism, on the other hand, draws its authority from another source. In Legalism, the law is detached from the man, and his nature. Law is no longer a roadmap, but a fence to keep him out of specific areas. Law is blind, and equally binding upon all men, regardless of their individuality. Rather than being built into the nature of man, law is now something laid upon him from outside his nature. Ultimately, this law is arbitrary, as its only authority is imposed force. The whims of those in power are now able to change the law at their leisure. Arbitrary changes to fundamentals are permitted. Tyranny is inevitable.
The Victorians clearly fall into the camp of Legalism. The first, and favorite, virtue of the Victorians was obedience, and with it the notion of imposed discipline. The Victorian-era British army and navy stressed discipline for its own sake, and the Victorians considered sports to be a perfect way to train people to obey rules to the letter. To the Victorians, obedience was rigid, regulated, blind, and absolute. One was not allowed to question his orders, as being esoteric was considered ‘proper.’
Naturally, they ended up preaching responsibilities without rights.
The Victorians saw obedience as a great virtue, and disobedience of any form to be a terrible embarrassment. Today, we have their exact same mindset, but have arrived at the reverse conclusions: we preach that disobedience is a great virtue, and obedience is a terrible embarrassment. We believe obedience is wrong for the exact same reasons that the Victorians thought it was right. We now demand rights without responsibilities.
Likewise, their entire notion of Chivalry was one of total obedience and self-sacrifice without hesitation. Chivalry was about manners and etiquette, but also presumed an extroverted, blindly obedient, physically-inclined personality. Intellectual work was frowned upon as anti-social because it distracted men from their sports and social lives. One was supposed to blindly ‘sacrifice himself for the cause,’ i.e., whatever his superiors told him, no questions allowed. It was detached from himself, and he was to embrace the cold, bleak life as a cog in the great disembodied social machine.
Again, we see how this attitude has been retained: Women complain that chivalry is dead, and men’s groups like ‘Return of Kings’ look with disdain upon ‘white knights’ whom they deem unmanly and therefore part of the problem.
One who speaks of tradition as a good thing today is considered narrow-minded, because our Victorian mindset sees tradition as a slavish obedience to the outdated aspects of our past. The Victorians thought this rigid, narrow-minded behavior was perfection; yet for the exact same reasons, we today think it’s inhumane. Far better, we say, to be above following those silly rules. We should live the way we want, because we are free, and freedom means we make up our own rules and answer to no one. We must constantly keep seeking the newest, greatest fad to avoid becoming like those stuck in the past. Disobedience is being ‘open-minded,’ which presumes we are more intelligent, and will be no man’s fool.
At no point did we ever reconsider what obedience, or Chivalry, or any of these virtues actually are about. If we did, we’d realize our definitions are the same arbitrary inventions of the Victorian era, and therefore wrong. We never consider that obedience is not blind and total. We cannot fathom an obedience that is personal, based on mutual trust, and is not esoteric. We have to have the extreme: either obey the rules completely, one hundred percent of the time, or disobey completely, one hundred percent of the time. We, like the Victorians, call the extremes ‘the middle ground.’
The temperance movement and racial attitudes are equally good examples of this (actually) extremist mindset: rather than preaching moderation, which is what temperance actually is, the Victorians sought total abolition of alcohol. They preached that the white race was privileged, and therefore superior because this was a good thing. The Victorians were no strangers to breaking down barriers and attempting to remake the world as they saw fit. It doesn’t take long to see that same attitude today, with the reverse conclusions, from the Libertarians demanding everything be legalized to White guilt proclaiming that the white race is inherently evil because it is privileged.
This is the completely wrong mindset and definition. Real tradition comes from the timeless aspects of our heritage. True tradition is organic and open-ended because it is based on Natural Law. Rather than being slaves to the law, as Jesus famously described the ruling elite of his day, the law exists to serve and to guide man throughout his life. No two men are identical, and tradition avoids forcing a one-size-fits-all model onto them. Rather, tradition fosters each man’s growth until he is the best version of himself. Our growth will be organic, like the growth of a forest of trees. Each tree has a similar, but not identical, pattern of growth.
Each of us is so unique, that no two men will ever walk the same path of life. They will walk at different times, with different thoughts, and different destinations. Each will grow stronger for different reasons, in different ways, and at different times. Therefore, tradition is like a user’s manual for a car: it tells us how to properly operate the car, when to take it in for maintenance and what to do if trouble arises. Real tradition shows what virtue is and is not, ways to increase virtue, and how to make amends for when mistakes are made. Tradition is addicted to the truth of human nature.
When St. Thomas Aquinas, an expert in Natural Law, wrote his Summa Theologia, he rarely mentioned sin. He speaks constantly of man’s actions as motivated by love for some good, regardless of whether that good to be attained is an illusion or authentic. The more freedom a man has, the more easily and joyously he will perform good deeds, because he knows they will make him truly happy. Virtue is part of his nature, and it is necessary for him to become perfected. In Heaven, we shall be finally perfected by God, and experience the fullness of our individual identities. Unlike Orientals, who speak of a Heaven where individualism disappears, our Heaven is the perfection and fullness of our individualism, made possible only by God.
In contrast, our Victorian attitude of Legalism comes from a friar named William of Ockham. He preached the ‘liberty of indifference,’ i.e., man’s freedom is indifferent from good and evil. Rather than understanding freedom to be man’s capacity to do good things, this new mindset makes man’s freedom a choice between two choices that he is equally indifferent to. Therefore, the law must tell him what to do. From there, it’s a straightforward path to absolutism as every man needs greater and greater detail on every possible contingency in life. The number of fences increases constantly, and the hemming in is quickly felt.
We see this in the Victorian notion of Chivalry. Our notion is based on the Victorian, rather than the Medieval, ideal. We see chivalry as responsibilities without rights, altruistic, and a total self-emptying of oneself. We feel the need to pick one or the other extreme, and the results are comically predictable. Groups like ‘Return of Kings’ criticize chivalry without realizing the difference, and feminists embrace the servitude of responsibilities without giving men any credit. Men must either be submissive to women, and treat them as demigods, sacrificing themselves for them without any hope for a reward, or be dismissive of women, and treat them as enemies, taking whatever we can from them, particularly sex.
Real chivalry was based on rights and obligations being one and the same. Knights were a highly specialized class (in fact, a guild) of professional full-time soldiers who required land and resources in order to produce as many heavy cavalry as could be mustered. A knight who failed to provide as many heavy cavalry as he could risked losing his lands to someone who would. We today think of rights and responsibilities as unrelated, but our ancestors would have considered them wholly dependent upon each other. Freemen who owned their own land had neither rights nor responsibilities, and they were not considered chivalrous, nor obligated to follow the code. Unlike today, where we favor laws that apply equally to everyone, in Medieval times there could be multiple sets of laws applying to different people living under the same roof. When the Germans occupied Roman lands, the Roman subjects were subject to their laws and the Germans to their respective laws. The Germans did not see any contradiction in allowing different sets of laws for different tribes and groups when they all lived together. Each man was accountable to his tribe, which was his family by either descent or by blood oath. This again hearkens back to tradition and Natural Law, which are centered upon the man, rather than his location. Chivalry was the code that applied to the Knightly guild, and only knights were to be held accountable to it.
Another dramatic example of our Victorian attitude is the realm of sexuality. The word ‘chastity’ today conjures up images of sexual repression; it is to be emotionless and blindly altruistic. The Victorians believed that men enjoyed sex more than women, and that women should consider sex to be a painful, yet necessary, inconvenience that should not be talked about. Sexuality, to them, was almost an aberration that could be divorced from the rest of human nature. Today’s feminists preach the same message: marriage favors men and suppresses women, men are supposedly congratulated for having multiple partners while women are judged, and that motherhood is dreary and grey. For the exact same reasons, both groups draw equal and opposite (wrong) conclusions. Sex has been separated from ourselves and our natures with such things as ‘friends with benefits,’ ‘no strings attached’ relationships, and discussing sex as if it occurs in a vacuum. We automatically respond to the word ‘chastity’ with a negative reaction, because we still see it as repression, or doing nothing and keeping things cold and impersonal. The only alternative, we’re told, is to open all of the floodgates and to make sex the topic we can’t stop talking about. We reject the stiffness, only to stumble without a foundation.
Our Medieval Catholic ancestors thought differently. They believed that women enjoyed sex more than men because the pleasure of sex was followed by the joy of giving life to a child. The man enjoyed it once, whereas the woman was able to enjoy it twice. Chastity is not saying ‘no’ to one’s sexuality; rather, it is saying ‘yes’ to a healthy, human sexuality. Real chastity seeks to make relationships more personal and more human. It sees sexuality as a significant part of who we are, and rejects the notion that our sexuality can be divorced from the rest of our selves. Chastity seeks self-discipline and moderate self-restraint so that our bodies and hearts are truly ours to offer. Furthermore, chastity recognizes that sexuality is more than just the act of sex; it affects everything else that we are, and vice versa. It seeks to purify and enrich sex, that our all-encompassing, profoundly human sexuality will be a path to virtue and a source of unity in marriage. It is a powerful route to happiness, and no more inherently evil than eating or drinking.
There are many more examples, but these examples suffice to illustrate the difference between Natural Law and Legalism: obedience/discipline, chivalry, and sexuality. If we are to be true traditionalists, we must not fall into the trap of prescribing a return to the Victorian era. Many of the puritanical Victorians went on to become Marxists and cultural revolutionaries. These same people bled Europe’s youth white and broke their strength in the First World War. Then the young Marxists, who took after their parents perfectly, burned their heritage in the Second War, followed up by the so-called ‘68ers’, who sought to eradicate their heritage with foreign ideals and foreign bodies.
If we are to be true traditionalists, then we must reject Legalism and offer something that is more human in its place. It begins in our personal and family lives. Our traditional, timeless lifestyle must be based on Natural Law; that is, to be fundamentally human. We are each a unity: body, mind and soul are united and only death can separate them. What we do to our bodies affects our soul and minds, our thoughts affect our spirits and emotions and desires, and our souls have the final say in what we do in all but the most extreme of circumstances. We cannot become better if we treat them separately. The Victorians tried to separate them, as do their heirs today; both are doomed to fail. We will do differently, and we will succeed where they failed.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Michael for an extremely well-written article. The last paragraph particularly is exceptionally important to my mind, and I could not agree with him more.
The article also got me thinking on a variety of tangents…
Its interesting to ponder what kind of systems might replace Western social-democracy over the next 50-100 years as the nation-state system begins to break down. With technology increasingly making everyone location-independent, and with few if any nation state vs nation state wars, people are bound to keep identifying less and less based on national identities. The rise of cryptocurrency and corporations minting their own individual currencies suggests the same. At the same time it seems like- as he very cogently articulates- the same philosophical battles are underlying everything. Its hard to know what’s gonna happen.
Will we one day have Mexicans in Wisconsin voting in Mexican elections?
Will Muslims in Canada and Australia be under the authority of a Sharia court system based in the Arabian peninsula?
Will companies become the new nation states and wars between giant corporations become common?
Will the Muslims embrace degenerate modern ‘Westernism’?
Will religion die out? Or be replaced by new religions like the one created by the robot prophet in that weird film Cloud Atlas?
Its certainly going to be an interesting century.