See Disclaimer Below.

Posts Tagged ‘nation state’

Review of Adam Zamoyski’s Phantom Terror

In Arts & Letters, Books, Historicism, History, Humanities, Law, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Philosophy, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on July 22, 2015 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This review first appeared here in Taki’s Magazine.

Born in America and raised in Britain, Adam Zamoyski is not a tenured university professor devoted to obscure subjects that appeal only to audiences of academic guilds. Nor does he write for a small readership. That’s why his books sell and his prose excites; he can narrate a compelling account while carrying an insightful thesis. His latest book, Phantom Terror, bears a subtitle that will cause libertarian ears to perk up: “Political Paranoia and the Creation of the Modern State, 1789-1848.”

Challenging the validity of modern states and their various arms and agencies is the daily diet of committed libertarians, but Zamoyski is not, to my knowledge, a libertarian of any stripe. Yet he challenges the modern State and its various arms and agencies, whatever his intentions or beliefs, and he refuses to shut his eyes to the predatory behavior of government. To appreciate the goals of his book, one must first understand how he came to his subject.

The story is simple: While researching, Zamoyski uncovered data suggesting that governments in the decades following the French Revolution deliberately incited panic among their citizens to validate increasingly restrictive policies. The more governments regulated and circumscribed individual freedoms, the more they took on the shape of nation states: geopolitical entities that had their roots in 16th- and 17th- century Europe but had not fully centralized.

If there’s a main character here, it’s Napoleon Bonaparte. Zamoyski has written about Napoleon in previous books, including 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow (2005) and Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (2008). Having escaped from exile in Elba in February 1815 and suffered defeat at the Battle of Waterloo later that year, Napoleon, once the Emperor of the French, had been reduced to the status of a prisoner, stripped of his dignity and rendered militarily ineffective, his health quickly declining.

Tsar Alexander of Russia, seeing the great Napoleon neutralized, called for a holy covenant with Emperor Francis I of Austria and King Frederick William III of Prussia. For Alexander, who envisioned the State as the realization of a divine idea, the three united rulers reflected the trinitarian Christian God from whom their autocratic, quasi-sacred powers derived. Alexander believed that the unsettling of tradition and order during the French Revolution could be counteracted or cured by the systematic institutionalization of despotic government. First, though, the masses needed to be instructed in the manifest nature of revolutionary threats lurking behind every corner, in every neighborhood, among friends and family, in unexpected places.

And then came the police, a new body of official agents vested with administrative powers and decorated with the symbols and insignias of authority.  Until then the term “police,” or its rough equivalent in other European languages, designated minor officials with localized duties over small public spaces. European states lacked the administrative machinery of a centralized enforcement network besides the military, whose function was to conquer foreign territory or defend the homeland, not to guard the comfort, health, and morals of communities in disparate towns and villages. The latter task was for parochial institutions, custom, churches, nobility, and other configurations of local leadership.

In the wake of the French Revolution, with its ritualistic brutality, mass hysteria, and spectacular regicide, sovereigns and subjects began to accept and support the power of centralized governments to deploy political agents, including spies and informers.  According to Zamoyski, the growing police force—secret agents and all—was less interested in basic hygiene, sanitation, and safety and more interested in subverting the political clout and conspiratorial tendencies of local nobility.

To maximize their power, emperors and government ministers gave color to grand falsehoods about their weakness. Only in their exaggerated vulnerability, catalyzed by true and imagined Jacobins, Freemasons, Illuminati, and other such bugaboos, could they exercise their strength.  Seizing upon anxieties about civil unrest, rulers cultivated in their subjects a desire for police protection, supervision, and surveillance. Conspiracy theories worked in their favor. Francis ordered his police to be vigilant about the spread of Enlightenment ideas; he enacted censorship measures by which people disciplined themselves into obedience, leaving the police to serve, often, as mere symbols of control.

Zamoyski does not focus on any one state but moves from city to city, leader to leader, depicting how European governments staged rebellion for their own benefit.  Several individuals figure prominently for their different roles during this turbulent time: Edmund Burke; Empress Catharine II of Russia; William Pitt; Klemens von Metternich; King Ferdinand VII of Spain; King Louis Philippe; Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington; Charles Maurice de Talleyrand; Robert Steward, Viscount Castlereagh; Joseph Fouché, and marginal characters both stupid and intelligent, of high and low station.

Eventually repression and tyranny backfired. The State apparatus and its leaders across Europe adopted the very tactics and practices they feared in their opposition; they became the kind of terrorists they had attempted to crush. By transforming into their own worst nightmare, they brought about the revolutions (e.g., the Revolutions of 1848) they meant to avoid and inspired the movements they intended to eradicate.

Entrapment, espionage, propaganda, tyranny, sedition, secrecy, conspiracy, treachery, reaction, regime—it’s all here, and it reveals that the operations of power are counterintuitive and complex, even if they’re logical. Hesitant to draw parallels with our present managerial nation states and their version of authoritarian rule, Zamoyski nevertheless marshals enough evidence and insinuation to make speculation about the current order inevitable.

There’s the shadow of Foucault in the background: Zamoyski portrays power as dependent on its lack, exploring how those with authority allow certain freedoms to then suppress them. There’s no power that’s not power over something. Permitting only such personal autonomy and agency as could be subdued enabled European governments to put their authority on display. States manufacture resistance to exercise—indeed show off—their muscle.

With their sprightliness these chapters win for themselves a certain charm. Zamoyski has not just recounted the sequence of events during a fascinating era but exposited an exciting theory about them and the forces driving them. It’s too soon to understand the logic behind the rumors, and the disinformation, we know world powers spread today. Zamoyski provides no direction to this end. He does, however, use history to awaken our imagination to the workings of global power structures, forcing us to ask questions and seek answers about the phantoms of terror that continue to haunt us.


A Tale of the Rise of Law (Part Two of Two)

In Arts & Letters, Britain, Fiction, Historicism, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law, Law-and-Literature, Liberalism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Politics, Western Civilization, Writing on March 13, 2012 at 1:00 am

Allen Mendenhall

This essay originally appeared here at Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature (Issue 2.1, 2012)

As the sovereign, or king, was never fixed in Geoffrey’s lifetime, even if the idea of sovereignty was, The History treats law as transcending any particular human sovereign. Geoffrey creates a need for law by portraying it as sovereign, anchored in a classical past and cloaked in religious terms. Austin works as a functional lens through which to view The History’s suggestion that law is necessary to provide shape to the nation-state. Geoffrey’s text signals what Mooers calls the “outgrowth” of twelfth-century legal principles that enabled coercive, nationalist projects and agendas before people could speak of concepts like nation-states. Put another way, Geoffrey was an originator of and a participator in twelfth-century jurisprudence not necessarily a transcriber of an ancient corpus juris.5 This claim is not to reduce Geoffrey’s text to the grade of propaganda but rather to adduce jurisprudence from The History to support a claim that Geoffrey champions legal theory instead of simply documenting it. Because the term “uniform and rational justice” does not admit ready definition, I defer to Mooers’s clarifying focus on the comprehensive systemization of law manufactured by royal writs and other like instruments (341). Uniform and rational justice had to do with the proliferation of court systems whereby centralized authorities could begin to impose and enforce sets of common, consistent rules. The twelfth century was, after all, the age laying the institutional structures of the Anglo common law.6 The common law was the distillation of custom (a claim made by its iconic protagonists such as Bracton, Fortescue, and St. German) and thus was of time immemorial, beyond the memory of man. But the solidification of the common law as a mass system enforceable by a centralized body – the precursor to the modern state – began in the twelfth century. Roman law may have influenced these common, consistent rules and inspired Henry I, Matilda, Henry II, Geoffrey and their contemporaries, but tracing the concept of uniform and rational justice back to pre-Britain is not my aim, for that would entail looking beyond Britain in a way that Geoffrey refuses (or fails) to do. Medieval and early modern common law derived its authority from religion, and medieval jurists claimed unequivocally that common law was derived from God.7

Geoffrey’s first sustained treatment of law and the sovereign and their relationship to uniform and rational justice appears at the end of Brutus’ section. Here, Geoffrey submits that when Brutus built his capital on the River Thames, Brutus not only presented the city “to the citizens by right of inheritance,” but also gave those citizens “a code of laws by which they might live peacefully together” (74). Coming as they do after Brutus’ many battles and conquests, these laws suggest peace and order befitting a civilization prophesied by a goddess: Diana. No sooner is this putative history of a nation professed in terms of law than it is consumed in mythology and institutional legend. That Brutus, the eminent Trojan, would establish this city (“Troia Nova” or “New Troy”) suggests that the British legal system had the proper pedigree, according to Geoffrey and his contemporaries. 

Authored during the reign of Henry II in the late 1180s, roughly half a century after the publication of The History, Ranulf de Glanvill’s landmark legal treatise, The Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Realm of England Commonly Called Glanvill, is important as it suggests that The History reflects ideas common to the period, showing the workaday application of various strands of jurisprudence. Moreover, like The History, The Treatise anchors law in history and tradition, asserting that the “laws and customs of the realm had their origin in reason and have long prevailed,” and as if to neutralize anxieties about the fact that many of these laws remained unwritten, Glanvill adds that if “merely for lack of writing, they were not deemed to be laws, then surely writing would seem to supply to written laws a force of greater authority than either the justice of him who decrees them or the reason of him who establishes them” (2). The epigram preceding the prologue of Glanvill, apparently affixed to the text after Glanvill’s death, adds to this invocation of history and celebrates Glanvill himself as “the most learned of that time in the law and ancient customs of the realm” (1). Foregrounding custom and tradition seems like a strategy for both Geoffrey and Glanvill as well as other contemporary writers who sought to anticipate objections to law or to mobilize support for legal mechanisms currently in flux (because the monarchy is in flux).     

The History is thus a model for government and for those subject to government. It mythologizes what law can be – derivations of divine prophesy couched in terms of Roman mythology and not Christian truth – and so inspires readers to ensure that law realizes its full potential. From Geoffrey’s attention to Brutus, for instance, readers are supposed to learn that law corresponds with peace and that the king initiates and sanctions law. It is Brutus, after all, who drives away the giants from the caves of Britain into the mountains and who commands the populace to “divide the land among themselves,” “cultivate the fields,” and “build houses” (72). Geoffrey uses Brutus to establish the image of an authoritative king and, more specifically, a glorified body as a site of sanctified authority.8   

Glanvill underscores the centrality of peace to law and even suggests that law, which vests in the king, endeavours primarily toward peace and harmony. Glanvill opens by rendering law as the sovereign’s decorative yet lethal façade: “Not only must royal power be furnished with arms against rebels and nations which rise up against the king and the realm, but it is also fitting that it should be adorned with laws for the governance of subject and peaceful peoples” (1). Like Geoffrey, Glanvill does not put a name on the sovereign; he merely extols law and its utility to the king. These lines suggest that peace cannot exist without war and that law obtains in the jurisdiction not to make peace or war but to assist the king in the functioning of his office. Uniform and rational justice does not arise for its own sake but for the service of the sovereign so that he “may so successfully perform his office that, crushing the pride of the unbridled and ungovernable with the right hand of strength and tempering justice for the humble and meek with the rod of equity, he may both be always victorious in wars with his enemies and also show himself continually impartial in dealing with his subjects” (1). For Glanvill and for Geoffrey, law is mostly about utility to the king in that it sanctions sovereign violence and centralizes power such that one individual, the sovereign, can issue commands to his subjects, demand the submission of his subjects to his authority by visiting punishment upon those who violate his commands and, therefore, ensure the habitual obedience of multiple subjects across a vast territory.

The lack of a centralized authority or definite sovereign is the reason that Britain falls into disarray when, after Brutus’ death, Brutus’ sons Locrinus, Kamber, and Albanactus divide the kingdom of Britain into thirds (Geoffrey 75). As a result of this partition, the brothers are unable to maintain the military presence necessary to preserve the polis and its laws, and therefore the island suffers from foreign invasion and bloodshed. Likewise, Maddan’s sons quarrel over the crown upon Maddan’s death, and as a result, law becomes something oppressive as one son, Mempricius, given to sodomy and other “vices,” murders the other son, Malin, and “by force and by treachery” does away with “anyone who he feared might succeed him in the kingship” (78). Unlike Brutus, Mempricius exercised “so great a tyranny over the people that he encompassed the death of almost all the more distinguished men” (78). Geoffrey redeems law by giving Mempricius the fate of being devoured by wolves, presumably due to his despotism (78). The suggestion here is that although laws are, as Austin claims, the commands of a sovereign, a sovereign like Mempricius will forfeit sovereignty if his commands take on forms that the polis cannot or will not habitually obey. God or Nature will destroy him for that failing, since the devouring by wolves seems to have some kind of divine justice. Such bodily mutilation signifies destruction of law itself; as Goodrich points out, law and the body are interactive in religious terms:

[The annunciation] is logos, the word as incarnation of divine presence, the spirit made flesh. For the law, the spirit made flesh takes the form of a text, vellum or skin in which is inscribed the form of the institution, of society and its subjects as the unified members and membrane of a body, the corpus iuris civilis or civilised body, the corpus mysticum or body politic, Leviathan or law. (248-49) Read the rest of this entry »

A Tale of the Rise of Law (Part One of Two)

In Arts & Letters, Britain, Christianity, Fiction, Historicism, History, Humanities, Imagination, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law, Law-and-Literature, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Politics, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Western Civilization on March 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Allen Mendenhall

This essay originally appeared here at Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature (Issue 2.1, 2012)

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain is a tale of the rise of law that suggests that there can be no Britain without law – indeed, that Britain, like all nation-state constructs, was law or at least a complex network of interrelated processes and procedures that we might call law. During an age with multiple sources of legal authority in Britain, The History treats law as sovereign unto itself in order to create a narrative of order and stability.1 This article examines the way Geoffrey establishes the primacy of law by using the language-based, utilitarian methodologies of John Austin, who treats law as an expression of a command issued by a sovereign and followed by a polis, and whose jurisprudence enables twenty-first-century readers to understand Geoffrey’s narrative as a response to monarchical succession and emerging common law. The first section of this article briefly explains Austin’s jurisprudence and provides historical context for The History. The second section considers The History in terms of uniform and rational justice in the twelfth century, situating Geoffrey’s jurisprudence alongside that of Ranulf de Glanvill and analyzing the complex relationships between sovereignty, law, polis and nation state.

 The Jurisprudence of John Austin

Austin treats law as an expression of will that something be done or not done, coupled with the power to punish those who do not comply: “A command […] is a signification of desire […] distinguished from other significations of desire by this peculiarity: that the party to whom it is directed is liable to evil from the other, in case he not comply with the desire” (Province 6).  Accordingly, law is a command that carries the power of sanction. Austin, who writes in the nineteenth century, is in many ways different from the twelfth-century Geoffrey. Whereas Geoffrey employs fiction to instruct his contemporaries in the official narrative of incipient nationalism, Austin proclaims that many “of the legal and moral rules which obtain in the most civilized communities, rest upon brute custom, and not upon manly reason” (Province 58). Austin adds that these legal and moral rules “have been taken from preceding generations without examination, and are deeply tinctured with barbarity,” and also that these takings are particularly harmful because the rules “arose in early ages” during “the infancy of the human mind” when people ruled based on “the caprices of fancy” (Province 58). Because The History is more mythology than fact, Austin probably would have accused Geoffrey of perpetuating “obstacles to the diffusion of ethical truth” and of “monstrous or crude productions of childish and imbecile intellect” that nonetheless “have been cherished […] through ages of advancing knowledge” (Province 58). Austin, in short, was skeptical of mythology and claims about absolute law, whereas Geoffrey embraced mythology and implied that law was a constant corrective.

Despite this disjuncture, or perhaps because of it, Austin’s theories provide an illuminating framework in which to consider The History. Austin’s proposition that laws are commands backed with the power to sanction stands in contradistinction to Geoffrey’s suggestion that law emerged out of an ancient precedent and achieved its fullest expression under the great King Arthur. The conception of law as merely language reinforced by the possibility of physical threat undercuts the idea that law is based in first principles discovered by the fathers of civilization. Austin’s proposition – that customary laws carry no threat of punishment and therefore are not laws at all unless a sovereign, who can punish, declares them to be laws – also contradicts Geoffrey’s suggestion that law is embedded in custom and represents a point of authority from which kings may or may not deviate. Finally, Austin’s proposition that “every law which obtains in all societies, is made by sovereign legislators” (Lectures 566), even if such law derives its lexicon from divine inspiration or religious texts, weakens Geoffrey’s suggestion that law is relatively fixed in custom and tradition despite the whims and fancies of a given age. To employ Austin’s jurisprudence is not to privilege Austin’s reading over Geoffrey’s or Geoffrey’s reading over Austin’s but to treat Austin as a lens through which to examine how Geoffrey navigates the legal terrain of his day and negotiates conflicts about law and monarchy that unsettled the harmony of the burgeoning state. Geoffrey uses myth both to validate law and British unity and to reassure the anxious polis of law’s ultimate supremacy over temporary ideological disruptions. He establishes models of behavior for both monarchs and the polis. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: