Im 17. Jahrhundert begann eine Unordnung die andere abzulösen

PILCH Hartmut 2017-07-05/27.3

In dieser Wendezeit ging die Kritik an der Tyrannei einher mit einer langsamen Verschiebung des Naturrechtsverständnisses weg von Pflichten hin zu Rechten. Zur Lösung des Tyranneiproblems trug aber damals das christliche Politikverständnis, welches einerseits Religion und Politik trennte aber andererseits Gott über die weltliche Ordnung stellte, mehr bei als der Individualismus.

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Critics of Despotism in the 17th Century

Vindiciae contra Tyrannos is one of the books that demand checks on royal power. It was written in 1648 under strong Christian influence and inspired by Roman precedents. M. Stanton Evans attributes importance to it in his eye-opening treatise “The Theme is Freedom”. Evans convincingly shows that the wisdom of American Democracy, culminating in the US Constitution, is not a product of enlightenment philosophers like John Locke but of christian and feudalist traditions developed since Magna Carta, mostly in England.

It is quite stunning to see that the author of the Vindiciae used the pseudonym of Brutus, which refers to two assassins of tyrants, and also Stephan which refers to a third one. I always thought authors of such books proceded in a very cautious manner. Therefore when Francisco de Vitoria annoyed the Habsburg emperor Karl V. in the same century, he didn’t go as far as Cesare Beccaria 100 years later, and Beccaria’s radical advocacy against all corporal punishment and against property rights was also aptly used against him by conservative law scholars like Muyart de Vouglans. This also makes it difficult to discern what role the Christian tradition actually plays in the work. Is it the inspirer of the wish to limit royal power? Does it offer a real shield of protection for this pursuit? Evans would have answered affirmatively to both questions.

Meanwhile in the same century Chinese thinkers like Wang Fuzhi 王夫之 Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲 and Gu Yanwu 顧炎武 reflected on the catastrophic results of tyranny and concluded that throughout history the real big damage had always been done by monarchs (為天下之大害者,君而已矣). This was a rather risky position to take at the time. These thinkers seem to have been materialists, but some scholars try to trace it to thinking of western missionaries whose position at the court was also precarious. It also has to be pointed out that Confucian thinker Mencius 孟子 also saw a quasi-divine authority above the emperor and distinguished between lawful rulers and tyrants. But he was in this respect a marginal figure in Confucianism. The problem of how to oust obviously incompetent despots became more and more untractable and taboo-ridden as the dynasties passed. The tyrannical founder of the Ming dynasty ousted the effigy of Mencius from the Confucius temple for this reason. Evans convincingly argues that the Christian order, which separates God from politics and yet places God above the ruler, is particularly conducive to ordered freedom.

Leo Strauss sees the 17th century as the end of an epoch where Natural Law was characterized predominantly by duties. After Hobbes the rights gradually took over. Recently they even became the exclusive source of social norms. Especially in Germany normative individualism was elevated to become a supposedly underlying norm of the Basic Law, from which political parties must not deviate, lest they be subjected to persecution or prohibition, and it is reasonable to assume that the same is more or less true of the EU and even closely connected to the existence of the EU structure itself. The risk involved in this “normative individualism”, both for order and for liberty, should be obvious. One can see it as the ideology of a civilization that is losing its drive, its cohesion, its temperature, like a cooling planet. Gustave Le Bon describes the process in a particularly vivid manner in his Crowd Psychology of 1895. We are hearing again these days from US psychologist Jonathan Haidt that humans arrange their life around religious memes and the snowflake ideology, which is an extreme normative individualism, is particularly intolerant for this reason. Yet snowflakish normative individualism it is also an extremely weak ideology. It is fanatic about allowing nobody to propagate values that transcend the individual and could exert pressure on it. Yet the wish to transcend is rooted in human nature and often necessary for collective survival.

Rather than fighting for our collective, the individualist fights “for the way we live” (Merkel), which means for our values of illoyalty which we embellish as “openness” and which quite accurately represent what Plato calls a “state of pigs”. Pigs also have their way of life which can be adequately championed with the same ideology, i.e. the human rights ideology that Samuel Moyn describes as the “Last Utopia”, because it is just a minimal common denominator of a crowd that no longer can aspire to anything, not even restributive justice of the kind that the Left used to promote within the nation state.

This story of the decline of civilization associated with the rise of individualism is partially specualtive and certainly work in progress.


Figure 1.1: Quängelnde Mäuler begehren gleiche Nährung durch die Urmutter


Figure 1.2: Münchner Tauben fürchten Menschen nicht

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