The field of sociology has hitherto been dominated by the Left at least as far back as living memory extends, and so extensively that sociology and Socialism have been almost synonymous terms in vernacular English. To be on the political Right during that time meant seeing the entire world exclusively in terms of economics and foreign policy, and seeing economics strictly from the point of view of laissez-faire Liberalism. This admixture of Rightism and Liberalism was dominated by its Liberalism, and thus by a rigorously atomistic interpretation of the concept of “methodological individualism” that emblazoned the motto, “there is no such thing as society!” on its theoretical banner. Everything other than business and warfare was willingly ceded to an assortment of intellectuals, urban reformers, rural populists, aspiring technocrats, and crusading do-gooders on the dime of captains of industry who doled out patronage at the behest of the fashionably philanthropic society ladies they were married to- all of whom (with the possible exception of their industrialist benefactors) supported the political Left, were the political Left, and founded academic departments of sociology in order to build a corpus of systematic knowledge upon which the Left’s policy agenda could be developed, refined, and implemented.

By the late 1960s, the New Deal-type Democrats that first held the reins of the new discipline passed them to a new, younger, and much more radical breed, the infamous “New Left”. Under New Left auspices, the agenda grew more and more radical, exquisite, and bizarre, to the point where Karl Marx himself was no longer above being scorned as just another racist, sexist, and heteronormative White male. Quality-control began to deteriorate accordingly, and sharply- a trend aggravated and accelerated by preferential-employment policies (adopted early and aggressively by sociology departments, which had helped birth them) that saw a great deal of new hires and promotions go to mediocre scholars on the basis of their race and gender. By the late 1980s, the public reputation of the discipline was ruined, and moreover there was no longer anything the department of sociology could really do for the Left that various sloganeering political hacks, journeyman pollsters and market researchers, and media talking-heads couldn’t do better (since the latter were unencumbered by scientific pretensions, and unlike the sociologists did not even have to pretend to be rigorous and objective). The academic prestige of sociology fell through the bottom of the graph, followed by its funding, all in a way from which it would never recover.

Even as academic sociology was abandoned to starve and rot on the vine, and deservedly so, outside the orbit of the University there has been an upsurge of sociological activity- this time, on a newly-reconstructed political Right that has renounced Liberalism, become intensely interested in community, tradition, and social obligation as opposed to utility-maximizing individualism, and in any case forced to confront the prospect of the imminent collapse of Western modernity and to think of ways how less congenitally dysfunctional and self-destructive social arrangements might be built from its rubble.

In the interest of doing my small part to help this development along, I thought it would be a good idea to try to stimulate discussion of the foundations and fundamentals of sociological analysis, inasmuch as failure to do so consistently was one of the defects that killed the first iteration of sociology (viz. a strong empiricist tendency, above all on the part of the statisticians, tended to disdain reflection on foundations as the useless Scholastic pastime of so many misplaced philosophers- a point of view that proved to be as wrong as it possibly could have been). What follows is an unsystematic and very cursory and indicative presentation of my opinions on just a few of the many, many issues involved:

-Society is a sui generis phenomenon and the object of its own proper and dedicated science. Like any science, sociological analysis proceeds under the assumption that its object is explicable only in terms of itself; it can neither be immediately read off of the properties of lower-order constituent units, nor understood as the by-product of, or wholly determined by, some extraneous phenomenon or class of phenomena.

It follows that social and historical processes cannot be adequately explained in terms of unconscious biological processes and/or the physical properties of physical objects, e.g. the non-human environment (the approach of evolutionary biology), nor in terms of individual efforts to maximize utility (the approach of economics). Close inspection of these reductionist “explanations” of social phenomena infallibly reveals insurmountable logical inadequacy to their objects somewhere in the picture: they confound necessary and sufficient conditions, presume the existence of the very things they’re trying to explain, tautologically state definitions in the guise of explanations, or try to explain variables by invoking constants.

In formulating or assessing any sociological hypothesis, it’s always a good idea to stop and ask just what that hypothesis may be taking for granted, and whether or not it may be missing the forest for its trees. In the long run, it’s better to be too vigilant about this subject than not vigilant enough; many reductionist and other bad explanations in sociology intuitively seem extremely plausible on their face.

-Society is always anterior to the individual. There was no historical moment where hitherto isolate and unsocialized individuals banded together to form a society, and there could not possibly have been one. The “social contract” is nothing more than a juridical fiction (and wasn’t originally intended to be). Less blatantly obvious, but no less fallacious, examples of the same reasoning include Ludwig von Mises’ claim that the economic law of comparative advantage is the elementary principle of all human association, or various theories of the origin of Sovereignty in a primordial conquest.

-The existence of society itself has to be taken as a scientific given, in the same way that life has to be taken as a given in biology. There’s no strictly scientific accounting for either, at least within the epistemic limits of the present, and it’s waste of time and resources to try.

-It is a much more economical use of time and resources to carefully study societies of which we actually have empirical knowledge than to speculate about what may or may not have gone on in those of which we don’t have any such knowledge and can’t, i.e. speculation concerning pre-historic origins is generally a waste of time.

-It is legitimate and indeed, necessary, in sociological analysis to distinguish different classes of factors (political, economic, technological, religious, etc.). But it’s a bad idea to categorically and rigidly set up any one such class as determinant with respect to the rest (e.g. “politics is downstream of culture”, or the other way around)- what Spengler termed “causal analysis”. The distinction between politics, economics, religion, etc. is often no more than analytical, designating only different aspects of the same phenomenon. Even where the political, economic, religious, etc. can be said to exist as discrete phenomena, they tend to be interrelated in ways that defy description in terms of simple cause-and-effect sequences.

For this reason (among many, many others), statistical techniques based on regression analysis, i.e. which attempt to uncover relationships between variables that can be expressed as mathematical functions, have been a resounding and embarrassing failure in all the social sciences. The effort to discover such relationships should be regarded as tantamount to the practices of alchemists, and avoided accordingly.

-Ideas matter in history. A lot. So much, in fact, that carefully studying them is at least half of the battle in sociological analysis.

Unfortunately, it rarely is. A generic tendency of modern social thought, whether in the social sciences, journalism, or movement/party strategizing, is to identify the political and economic interests at work in any given situation and treat the symbolic-ideational as merely incidental to it all (“ideology”). This type of thinking rests on a dubious implicit materialism according to which political and economic factors are more real than ideology- a grievous Marxist error to be avoided. It is true that the reality of human social practice often and even typically systematically fails to correspond to its ideological representations, which serve precisely to obfuscate and conceal that reality. But it is also true, and true by definition, that ideology could not possibly serve this function if it were not an independent variable with independent effects all its own and not altogether reducible to this or that set of interests and agendas.

Likewise, since society is always anterior to the individual, economic and political actors generally aren’t free to simply invent ideologies as they go, and as suits their purposes at any given moment. Ideologies, in order to be effective, must appeal to, and be compatible with, broader social and cultural traditions (or they would end up rejected by their target audience- as the Democrats in the USA learned to their cost last November when they openly proclaimed their intention to carry through a cultural revolution, and were rebuffed by the electorate accordingly).

Methodologically, it follows that the best way to go about studying ideologies and other systems of ideas and symbols is to do just that, and for the most part leave aside questions concerning the intentions of its creators. (Think of it in terms of reverse-engineering: knowing that whoever designed what it is you’re trying to hack was probably motivated by personal profit isn’t likely to be decisively helpful in the endeavour).

-Another methodological best practice in the study of ideologies, and sociological analysis in general, is methodological holism. The object of sociological analysis is a system of interrelated component parts that either have no existence independent of a wider system in which they’re found, and/or take on an altogether different significance when replaced in another, different system. What you’re looking at is never a box of discrete and self-sufficient modules with no intrinsic connection to one another and shouldn’t be treated as such; concepts like the “mental modules” imagined by evolutionary psychologists should accordingly be avoided like the plague. (It is, however, perfectly legitimate to single out parts for specialized analysis, as long as these caveats are borne in mind).

-Modern sociology was originally modeled on nomological-deductive natural science and bears the imprint of its origins in that it always strives towards the construction of highly abstract and general theories as its goal. This can create some problems of public communication of findings. Historians, in particular, will inevitably critique the sociological analysis as superficial, uninformed, dilettantish, and Procrustean. Additionally, sociological categories tend to be much broader than corresponding categories in both the study of history and in traditional philosophy/humanities (for example, considered as a sociological phenomenon the idea of the “social contract” goes far, far beyond the texts of Hobbes, Locke and other figures of the philosophical canon). The disparity between sociological and other types of scholarship can, and typically does, lead to mutual incomprehension and sometimes, butthurt and animosity.

It is of supreme importance not to be intimidated by these sorts of critiques- something that is easier said than done, since the people who make them typically have a level of highly specialized and detailed erudition that would be superfluous and downright counter-productive for the sociologist to try to acquire (since the sociological activity is akin to making an aerial map of all the streets in a city, while traditional scholarship is more concerned with the detailed description of each street from the ground-level point of view), but nonetheless can be disorientingly impressive in a democratic culture that, as Nietzsche observed, exalts and rewards specialized detail-work, and disdains and distrusts synthetic forms of knowledge as intolerably aristocratic.

The only truly convincing refutation of the type of criticisms that any sociological analysis will get from partisans of traditional disciplines is the ability to work deductively from abstract precepts down to the real-concrete and so decisively prove beyond any doubt that you know what you’re talking about after all, and have earned the right to exercise analytical fiat in determining how much detail is enough for your purposes. Logic doesn’t make mistakes; and who needs to know every nerdy detail there is to know about this or that when you’ve got a model from which you can deduce its very existence, and its important formal properties. This is the goal to strive for, not beating the critics at their own game in their home field (a fight you cannot win, but need not).

-A society exists only as a pattern of human action that is stable over time, and therefore only to the extent that it succeeds in requiring individuals to act in certain ways and forbidding them from acting in others. This means that authority is the master organizing principle of good sociological analysis. In insisting on framing sociological questions first and foremost in terms of power as opposed to economics, Moldbug and NRx have at long last liberated the epistemological terrain of sociology from both the Marxian reign of terror and error on the Left that fatally retarded the development of sociological thought in the Academy, and the strictly cognate fallacies of Smithianism that held it back everywhere else. (It is no coincidence that both the Conservatives and their ostensible bitterest enemies, the Socialists, act as one united front against the new Reaction, and this is one of the reasons for it).

From the point of view of the now-obsolete economism (whether Marxian or Smithian), all social dynamics were reduced to the economic conflict between labour and capital. But in the wake of the Copernican scientific revolution of NRx, which looks at social problems and processes from the point of view of power, it has now become possible to go beyond this oversimplification (which, as even the Marxists had to admit in spite of themselves, was inadequate to the facts of social conflict in the industrialized West by the mid-20th c.) and pose the question of conflict between social strata in terms of caste. Inter alia, this has had the effect of bringing the phenomenon of the Cathedral to light (something that, according to Marx, was a mere appendix of the capitalist class at most)- a development of epochal scientific importance.

-Power, in any society, is ultimately resolvable into the right to direct the legitimate use of physical violence. The key to unlocking any society to analysis is to identify which actor or actors have this right. (N.B. the latter may not be personally involved in the actual execution of physical violence).

-A society, I have said already, exists only as a pattern of human action that is stable over time, and therefore only to the extent that it succeeds in requiring individuals to act in certain ways and forbidding them from acting in others. Individuals must learn what the rules are, and they must through intentional effort will their conduct into conformity with the rules, or alternately, actively subvert them within limits, in any case suppressing some of their spontaneous wants and drives in the process. Either way, good sociology recognizes some degree of free will against totalizing determinism, and affirms the centrality of voluntary and intentional action, of human agency, against social and moral automatism. Automatism sees individual conduct as automatically pre-harmonized with the functional needs of society by means of an unconscious teleology operating wholly beneath the threshold of intentionality, either in the form of:

  • putative “instincts” ultimately explicable in terms of the unconscious interplay of unconscious biological processes (e.g. “the selfish gene”) and the physical properties of the physical environment.
  • the “unintended consequences” of purely self-interested, utility-maximizing rational economic action (the “invisible hand”, “spontaneous order”, or “law of association” imagined by laissez-faire economics).
  • conscious, but wholly passive resignation to the facts of the environment in which action takes place, with the result that action is entirely determined by the shape of its environments (the dream of every Utopian, and every actual or aspiring central planner and technocrat).

All of these phenomena are real enough, no doubt; but they do not suffice to explain social order in general or come close. Additionally, it is no coincidence that, in the foregoing automatist conceptions, Sovereignty implicitly or explicitly appears either as superfluous, pernicious, or benevolently totalitarian. Moral-social automatism is thus clearly a modernist conceit and dangerous Left-wing ideology that is also an obstacle to arriving at sound scientific knowledge of how society actually works. Against anarchism, good social science affirms the indispensability of the Sovereign power in lending moral precept the force and gravity it needs to attain to the status of obligatory public right, as opposed to a matter of mere private taste and opinion; against totalitarianism, good social science affirms the indispensability of religion and the family in instilling moral precept and cultivating discipline in the individual, and of ordering social relations at the local level by means of the authority of Church and (patriarchal) household, so that unfeasible and unworkable regimes of omnipotent and omnipresent State control and coercion become unnecessary.

-The last axiom I will set out here is that, since:

  • society exists only as a stable pattern of action that can be secured only through individual conformity to obligatory rules of right conduct
  • there can be no right without Sovereign might
  • given that, in human society everywhere we find it, the primary use of physical violence rests with men, who have the legitimate right to use force to the extent that they have a corresponding duty to protect women and children, (and, to the extent that social stratification proceeds, legally servile men to whom full manhood status is denied, and one way or another deemed fictive women and/or children to a greater or lesser extent):

it follows that every human society is “patriarchal”. A society founded on internally consistent feminist principles is about as plausible as a physical object that can’t be located in space, or a physical process that doesn’t take place in time. It is a Utopian chimera that has never existed anywhere and cannot. The modern Liberal democracies in which feminism is the official ideology, for example, would not even be conceivable without the modern State- and no matter how anonymous, internally fragmented, and depersonalized the latter may be, its Sovereign powers- above all, the administrative-police power upon which the very idea of public policy, a fortiori the whole agenda of the political Left, depends- was historically defined in very explicitly patriarchal terms. There is no such thing as feminism; what actually happens is that women end up “married to the State”, which correspondingly emasculates legally servile men (which, in the Liberal democracy, means every nominally “free and equal” male “citizen”) the way any patriarchal and Sovereign authority does.

Methodologically, it follows that Aristotle had the right idea, and that the Aristotelian household (man+wife+children+servants+property), not the abstract individual, should be regarded as the atomic unit of political and social structure. The elemental variable dimensions that differentiate one type of society from another are fruitfully understood in terms of how the full complement of powers and privileges of the household are recognized or abrogated, generalized and so asymmetrically distributed between and among castes and estates, and so on. It has been shown that the State as we know it can be profitably analyzed as a special case of such a generalization and asymmetric social distribution of patriarchal power, a “macro-household” that lords over lesser, private “micro-households” of severely diminished autonomy. This is the sort of direction a reconstructed, Reactionary sociology ought to take.

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22 thoughts on “A Miscellany of Foundations and First Principles for the Study of Sociology

  1. Sociology is a very interesting case because it actually has some counterrevolutionary roots. Comte and Saint-Simon were both readers of Maistre and Bonald. In addition, French sociology birthed one of the most reactionary philosophers who ever lived: Antoine Blanc de Saint-Bonnet. However, I’m not sure how far his influence extended.

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  2. How do you intend to ground an understanding of (sacred) authority, religion, and free will if you deny the usefulness of all speculation on human origins (the origin of language, religion, the aesthetic, the distinctively human forms of exchange)? I can see your point if it is that it is idle to speculate on what cannot be known, empirically, if one speculates by multiplying myths of origin. However, if one limits himself to asking what must have been minimally necessary for symbolic language, or religion (the sacred) to emerge, e.g. the shared consciousness of a shared human scene or event, then one can develop useful heuristics for human self-understanding. Adam, over at the GABlog (Generative Anthropology), is demonstrating the power of such heuristics applied to NRx questions of sovereignty, absolutism, ideology, etc. In any case, you wish a return to Christian religion, and what is religion but a form of anthropological speculation on human origins: In the beginning was the word… and the word was God.

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    1. I may actually have been a bit too categorical about dismissing origins. What I had in mind above all when I wrote that was:

      a) awful evolutionary speculation that often, even typically, doesn’t know a whole lot about just what it is precisely that it’s trying to explain (or seem to care).

      b) attempts to assign historical dates and timelines to that which pre-dates written history (a big waste of time IMO).

      I just think that the present, and the past for which we have written records, should be studied and analysed thoroughly before we address questions of pre-historical origins.

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  3. I’m sorry but I must offer some healthy critique here.

    >”there is no such thing as society!”

    Nobody claimed this, at least no important thinker. Ludwig von Mises claims that society comes before the individual, heck, even Herber Spencer claims that society comes before the individual. Indeed many classical liberal thinkers spoke of libertal tradition as partucular tradition as any other, etc. And as far as the neoliberal thinkers are concerned, they especially believe in society, they just happen to think goal of the society should be achieving hedonistic, materialistic, non-consequentialist utilitarianism (and unlike libertarians, they are very, very statist to boot, so they advocate that state should intervene to achieve those goals wheter in “perfecting” the market, or by removing “discrimination”), and individualism is, to them, a societal value to be enforced by all possible mechanisms (which is why libertarians, who believe in ‘whose property, his rules whatever they may be’ and neoliberals who believe in ‘maximize individual pleasure, minimize individual suffering’ hate each other). Good critique of classical liberal, and libertarian positions thus would have been in critiquing their belief that society can exist without the commonweal.

    Furthermore the term “methodological” is used exactly to point out that it’s NOT ideological individualism. Simply put, economic actors are “autistic” in that despite the fact that that they come from a specific society which formed them and informs their opinions, and yes, economic choices, it’s not like they are being mind-controlled by some societal magicks at the moment when they’re deciding which bread to buy. An arab may never chose to buy pork meat, but when he buys his halal meat, he’ll still weigh between different meats offered whatever his reasons and measures may be.

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    1. Healthy critique is always welcome around here.

      “There is no such as society” was something originally uttered by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and became a battle-cry of the Thatcherites, and of the Reagan warriors and Consitutionalists in the USA. The latter, in particular, would become very defensive and hostile to anybody who suggested that society is prior to the individual, and would immediately stigmatize any such person as a “collectivist” or even a Stalinist, in much the same way that SJWs on the Left call people “racist”. The idea that “there is no such thing as society” self-avowedly came from their reading of Mises and Hayek. Mises had argued at length for a radically nominalist conception of society against sociological holism, and derided Durkheim (one of the canonical figures in modern sociology) and sociology in general as pseudoscience and a form of misplaced mystical thought. Likewise, Hayek regarded the idea of a general science of society as nonsense, tantamount to a science of “natureology”.

      “An arab may never chose to buy pork meat, but when he buys his halal meat, he’ll still weigh between different meats offered whatever his reasons and measures may be.” True. Why won’t he buy pork, though? Mises repeatedly tries to prohibit any inquiry into what informs the preferences and values of economic actors. By the same token, any goal-oriented action is to be regard as rational, no matter the means chosen. To cite his own example; a farmer who resorts to a magical rite to help his crops grow acts no less rationally than somebody who uses modern industrial-scientific techniques.

      That’s all well and good for for purposes of strictly economic analysis. But a sociologist might be very much interested in the reasons why Moslems shun pork, or why some farmers resort to magic while others avail themselves of much more efficient and effective means. For Mises, though, questions concerning both ends and the choice of means are ruled out of court at the outset- because his conceptual framework isn’t adequate to answer them. The utilitarian theory of action, while perfectly valid in its domain, isn’t sufficient for a general science of human action and doesn’t come close. One of things that makes Mises frustrating to read is his failure to recognize limiting-cases for his propositions- something that, as Talcott Parsons pointed out, is true of the utilitarian tradition in general.

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      1. Yes, I’m well aware of Thatcherites and Reaganites, but I’ve never held any respect for them, on the contrary, even back in my radically-centrist libertarian days I’ve held them in contempt (owing to Rothbard’s fierce derision of them, he thought they were even worse than contemporary Left, and sure enough, he was right). They were all Friedmanites at best, and none of them has probably ever even seen a von Mises book, let alone cracked one open. As for von Hayek, they’ve probably never read anything other than his very worst work, namely “The Road to Serfdom”. For von Mises, the very concept of an isolated human being is a fiction, a mental construct for the elaboration of economic theory but impossible in reality, man can never exist apart from society! Furthermore he states that:
        “…The only factors directing the market and the determination of prices are the purposive acts of men. There is no automatism; there are only men consciously and deliberately aiming at ends chosen. There are no mysterious mechanical forces; there is only the human will…”
        and
        “Nobody ventures to deny that nations, states, municipalities, parties, religious communities, are real factors determining the course of human events. Methodological individualism, far from contesting the significance of such collective wholes, considers it as one of its main tasks to describe and to analyze their becoming and their disappearing, their changing structures, and their operation.”
        and
        “As a thinking and acting being, man emerges from his prehuman existence already as a social being. The evolution of reason, language, and cooperation is the outcome of the same process; they were inseparably and necessarily linked together.”

        However society has no ego, therfore it cannot act. Only an individual can act. Sovereign can act. But sovereign isn’t a society, he’s merely a part of society. Huge influence upon society maybe, but not any more than society is influence upon him. I find Aquinas useful here, because for him there’s no society without the commonweal-those simply trading across the border share no ultimate end. Aquinas also ingeniously combines analysis of individuals and collectives, neither denying the existance of collective ends, nor drowining out the individual in deterministic forces. My wish is in the future to purge Austrian thought from utilitarianism and Kant (which is what ultimately pwns von Mises), and return it back to teleology, and Aristotle (or Aquinas as it were). I think von Mises avoids those questions out of fear, fear of falling into a positivistic trap, fear he’s right to feel because of his faulty Kantian positions.

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  4. Great stuff. I have one reservation, though:

    [S]ociety has no ego, therefore it cannot act. Only an individual can act.

    It’s true that only individuals can act as such. But society can act to the extent that it exercises a formative influence on the subjective values, dispositions, and thoughts of individuals, and thus on what individuals do. Society can thus be conceived as a higher-order actor that “acts” by virtue of being able to organize and mobilize individual acts, considered as lower-order units of the social system. This conception is fully consistent with methodological individualism and most of the other important points Mises makes- although it requires us to go beyond the utilitarian insistence that individual values and preferences be regarded as given data inaccessible to further analysis. See Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action (which came out a year after the original German-language edition of Mises’ Human Action, and which covers much the same terrain, but goes far beyond it).

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  5. Excellent work.

    “Power, in any society, is ultimately resolvable into the right to direct the legitimate use of physical violence”

    I am skeptical, unless you are using an overly rarified definition of power. It goes against the anti-reductionist thrust of the rest of your essay. And it isn’t true.

    The ability to withhold something that someone wants is power, but it doesn’t always resolve to the legitimate use of violence, for two reasons. (1) Because what people want is often something voluntary from other people: love, friendship, validation, respect, status, admiration, awe, enthusiasm in sex, being left alone for rest, etc.—and this can’t always easily be coerced. More so than liberals might think, but still not always coercible. (2) Because goals sometimes require initiative and cooperation. You talk about the “legitimate” use of physical violence. This isn’t resolvable into just the use of physical violence because there are some things that violence cannot easily or assuredly command, legitimacy being one of them.

    Further, the ability to shape goals is power, but doesn’t always require physical violence to ensure. Propaganda and education, the normal Cathedral means of shaping human ends, are not ultimately exercises in threatened violence. There is some overlap, but they do not reduce without remainder. I am acutely aware of this as a Mormon: the prophet and apostles cannot coerce me or the rest of the Saints. But they still have an enormous amount of authority.

    What this line of thought ultimately leads to, I think, is that power is not the key to sociological analysis. It is the key to political science, or should be, just as economics is the study of exchange and production in terms of incentives and markets. Both are enormously important. But neither one is what social analysis reduces to. The key is in your essay. Sociology should be the study of how goals express themselves and where they come from. Instead of reducing desire and agency to some material phenomenon, taking them seriously, but on the mass scale. Corporate phenomenology. Perhaps not that, exactly, that’s more what anthropology should be. But whereas psychology should properly be the study of human desires and agency from an internal perspective, sociology should be the study of human desires and agency as arising within relationships, from an external perspective.

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  6. Thanks. With respect to your points (and asking in advance to be excused for any tendency towards rambling and/or sloppy thinking):

    “Power” is notoriously difficult to conceptually define with precision in sociological theory. Here I’m thinking of power mainly in terms of obligations from which people can’t walk away with impunity and from a moral point of view, aren’t supposed to, and more specifically in terms of the right to give legitimate orders (or alternately, cause them to be given by appeal to the authority of those who have that right) and the duty of those who receive the orders to obey them. This (loose and imprecise) definition doesn’t encompass every strategy of will whereby people withhold something somebody else wants on order to get what they want, nor just any threatened or actual coercion.

    Might does not make right, exactly- but the claim to either wield superior might or the ability to appeal to it always enters into the constitution of legitimacy (and it indeed, the very *concept* of legitimacy, which denotes that which assumes the form of law, or has the sanction of law). Superior might is not always about direct compulsion; it elicits sentiments of respect, admiration, awe, deference, love, etc. As Bin-Laden is supposed to have said: if you take a strong and a weak horse to town, the people will naturally like the strong horse. At an elementary human level, a man who can see to it that his enemies are punished is sure to also win friends, followers, and women. And, while most people will take orders from superiors more or less willingly, they vigorously resent the idea of taking orders from an equal, and still more from an inferior. Hence authority perceived as weak is more likely to be resisted, and thus forced to use direct coercion where a stronger one wouldn’t be, precisely to the extent that the latter is perceived as having a greater stock of potential force at its disposal (one of the reasons criminal sanctions tend to become more lenient as Sovereign power as a whole becomes more overwhelmingly irresistible).

    The social power of any religion whether traditional or secular (e.g. the Cathedral) rests with the ability of its functionaries to convincingly claim:

    -privileged access to, or knowledge about, some super-human final authority whose will cannot be successfully resisted by any human being, at least in the long run (a personal God for traditional religion; impersonal deterministic forces such as “the arc of History” for the seculars).

    -a privileged ability to convey and authoritatively interpret the will of this final irresistible authority, in the form of rules that everybody else has to follow under pain of Divine retribution in this life or the next, and therefore,

    -the right to direct the exercise of Sovereign power wielded by men according to the will of the Divine as given in revelation and jurisprudence.

    This doesn’t always entail outright theocracy- but every religion, and every secular ideology, that can will try to shore up Divine authority with the power of the temporal sword in order to “legislate morality”, impose observance, censor unorthodoxy and heresy, and enforce compulsory education (the latter especially prominent in case of the secular ideologies). Having the public firepower behind a religion or an ideology elevates its teachings to the status of universal truth and reason (since they have the force of necessity for every thinking subject- the criterion of rationality against mere opinion). It also enables the creation of safe spaces for indoctrination (above all, the modern school) in which overt violence does not ordinarily have to be deployed to the very extent that it is a condition of their existence. The shenanigans at the University these days, for example, go on because dissident students and faculty fear being assaulted with impunity and/or banned from campus (and, here in Canada, subject to criminal charges in addition) if they speak out. And the contents of that indoctrination always claim that the good guys of the narrative will ultimately overwhelm the bad, who will surely be condemned to damnation, or alternately the secular dustbin of History.

    Physical force, or the promise thereof, is thus inscribed in the structure and functioning of religion and ideology at every level- and not just as a material reality, but as an idea in systems of ideas. Resolving power into force, then, need not be crassly reductionist.

    Re: the distinction between various disciplines: I think a sociology in which the analysis of power has pride of place would still be distinct from traditional poli-sci in that it would go far beyond the formal institutions and instruments of the State, for example in seeing the family both as the prototype of other forms of power and as a central unit of their analysis. It can and definitely should be the broad study of “how goals express themselves and where they come from” under the hypothesis that where they come from is an irreducibly social milieu, “the study of human desires and agency as arising within relationships”. If nothing else, the point of view of power, in my view, indispensably helps orient inquiry to where it needs to look in order to find answers. For example, a privileged object of traditional sociological analysis was supposed be the social norms and rules that, once internalized by the individual, adjust both the desires and the conduct of the individual to the needs of the social milieu. The question of just who or what these norms refer to for their legitimacy, the extent to which they can be enforced, etc. can be a decisive one. This is true especially in our own societies, in which the State has a hand in everything that happens, every aspect of life and thought ends up politicized one way or another, and every norm and value ends up being contested (including those upon which the State itself is founded and depends).

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  7. Excellent, excellent stuff. I would highly recommend the author get his hands on Pareto’s Compendium of General Sociology and then the fully unabridged 4 Volume set of the Treatise translated into English and published by Harcourt, Brace & Howe in 1935 as “The Mind and Society” (a supremely cringe-worthy title, granted). The kernel of all reactionary sociology is found in Pareto. The methodological architecture described by Pareto coupled with the intellectual and moral tradition of the continental counter-enlightenment hold the key to over-turning and dispossessing the current occupants of the “Cathedral” (really,”Synagogue.”)

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  8. Thanks Carl. Yes, Pareto…I’ve been meaning to read him for a long time now, but keep getting put off by the length to slog through, trying to remember what the different types of “residues” are, etc.! But definitely I’m going have to take the plunge eventually.

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  9. You might be interested in this (some weird usage of the word ‘individualism’ up ahead):

    http://www.cato-unbound.org/2015/08/05/steven-horwitz/hayek-family-social-individualism

    One of many von Hayek’s achievements is that he was one of the first people to recognize that human brains are hunter gatherer brains, that humans are clearly geared for tribalism, because the tribe is the default environment of man, and that socialism is the hijack of that tribal impulse. This is why he saw family as an individualising and inherently individualist phenomenon (in his weird sense of what he called ‘true individualism’), because family stands in contrast to the tribal social structure (individual family is less important in a tribe, than tribe itself, whereas in a liberal* social structure family is more important than the state). Too bad that he was a liberal, with his insight he might have gotten much farther had he not kept trying to cram his insight into advocacy of liberal policy. It might have also solved the problem of his contradictory usage of words ‘liberal,’ and ‘individualism,’ and the rest of confused mess he’s gotten himself into.

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  10. Just discovered your essays. I very much enjoy them, they’re stimulating, thoughtful and well-written. As someone Red Pilled to some extent (although far short of “kill the Joos”/ 1488) I agree with some, though vehemently disagree other, of your positions. (I’m more in the vein of thinking that most of the problems we’re living through come from the socialist Left being simply a failed fork off of a pretty much ok classical liberalism that did quite well on the whole, and hit a sweet spot with Constitutionalism. It especially did quite well to get rid of some of the hierarchical social structure stuff you validate – and is in fact going to continue as the way of the future, learning as it goes.)

    Like the guy above, I don’t think you can quite get rid of speculations about the ancestral environment, risky and sketchy though they may be, since all this 5,000 years or so of civilized social stuff is just the last second of a notional “clock” that goes back for hours, with human beings being pretty much physiologically (and therefore brain-wise) the same for all that time, but living in very different material circumstances (tribal, hunter-gatherer, etc.). For that reason, I think the foundation of sociology has to be evolutionary psychology and memetics – which, to be sure, will probably back up a good deal of what you’re saying (and some of what the alt-Right and nRx are saying in general) but may differ in other respects.

    My feeling is that the reason for the strength and appeal of the revolutionary Left (and its type of analysis of society) in the most general sense (to include liberalism and libertarianism) is that the social structures we’ve inherited from the agricultural/city state Bronze age (which was also constantly irritated by pastoral/raider cultures) revolved around CO-EVOLUTION WITH MONOCULTURES (grains or herds), and this influenced our social structures to become (in an example of memetic convergent evolution) somewhat insectile (IOW for a while, we plastically memed ourselves into living like bees and ants guarding/herding food stores).

    And this type of insectile (stratified, caste) social structure is actually not natural to us, it doesn’t sit well with us. Psychologically we do in fact feel “atomistic”, comprised of roughly equal, relatively autonomous units, and we feel that we ought to loom relatively larger in our milieu (i.e. in our minds we’re “bigger” in relation to our surrounding society than the kinds of social structures you’re talking about will allow, we don’t feel like the insignificant drones or cogs that our social structures during the past few thousand years or so wanted to make us be).

    And all this is the echo of truth in the Rousseauian vision of an asocial “time before”, it’s also behind things like Eden myths, that sort of thing, even down to the idea of the individual being prior to society. It’s true as you say that some form of social bonding is anterior to the individual, but the grain of truth in the “atomistic” or social contract idea is that a more individualistic type of society was prior to the cog-in-a-machine (or “sheeple” – another great essay btw!) type of society.

    To put this another way, we’re OVER-ENGINEERED for the kind of life that would satisfy the social insects. We’re over-engineering for pyramidal, hierarchical social structures. We can mould our behaviour that way, certainly, for a while (and we did it for a few thousand years because we had to, as the abundance of the paleolithic in the context of which we’d formed our basic psychological character – again, the “garden of Eden” – dried up), but as soon as the need for co-evolution with monocultures ceased, and a simulacrum of the abundance of our ancestral environment came back (with the rise of capitalism), we shucked it off.

    In this perspective I view the Left, liberalism in the broad sense, as a necessary course-correction away from the insectile life, back to a more naturally human feeling of freedom and equality – but now with other difficulties and fresh problems arising from the manner in which we shook off the insectile memetic trance, the “phasing” of it, and with population density, technology, and now more recently the “overshoot” of the socialist Left.

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  11. Thanks for the thoughtful reply Peter. My own take on the classic Liberal/Constitutionalist tradition was that it did indeed work very well for a long time (and still has yet to become catastrophically dysfunctional, although cracks are beginning to appear). However, the “socialist fork in the road” wasn’t a deviation, but created by the Liberal tradition itself (even if many of its exponents couldn’t bring themselves to see it).

    I’m not generally a fan between drawing analogies between humans and other species- I think that one of the vices of evolutionary psych is that all too often it fails to respect the biological specificity of the human species, but with respect to the insectile, arguably it would be the modern Liberal order which most closely approximates it. Consider how modern work is organized, for example; it’s not a coincidence that Liberal moralists adored ants and bees as models of industry and the work ethic. And, as in the hive, each modern worker-citizen is in principle totally independent of the others (insects don’t form families or voluntary associations) but totally subordinate to the hive-State. Liberalism was indeed successful in producing a *feeling* of freedom and equality- but the social reality experienced as freedom and equality turns out, on inspection, to be anything but.

    The Constitution did not abolish hierarchy and moreover wasn’t supposed to; even in the USA, the traditional distinction between gentry, nobility, and King is inscribed in the formal structure of Congress. What Liberalism did do was to *disorganize* hierarchies by doing away with every formal social rule that governed and regulated the hierarchical relations between individuals. In other words, it only introduced anomie and social disorganization. We still draw distinctions between those who give orders and those who must take them- but often have no agreed-upon procedure for deciding who is who, or what their respective rights and obligations are. A predictable outcome is bitter struggles for power, which is always held tenuously, since its legitimacy is always subject to being called into question. The result of this, in the USA, is that inter alia the Democrats are talking about impeaching the President while rival factions fight in the streets and riot every few weeks; professors and public figures are fired from their jobs or forced to resign following increasingly bizarre accusations of racism or sexism, which accusations are their own conviction; and life in general a game of constant status-seeking one-upsmanship that assumes the form of holier-than-thou purity spirals which seriously distort the decision-making process in a democracy in which decision-makers are terrified of public opinion. The Constitution is powerless against all this, since it happens *because* of Constitutional traditions, not in spite of them.

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    1. >However, the “socialist fork in the road” wasn’t a deviation, but created by the Liberal tradition itself (even if many of its exponents couldn’t bring themselves to see it).

      Now, now. Let us not accuse Liberalism of what is not guilty of. Old Liberalism speciated into Social Liberalism/ Liberationism* on one side (e.g. John Stuart Mill), and Classical Liberalism / Libertarianism on the other (e.g. William Graham Sumner). Socialism on the other hand, has evolved from Romantic-era Conservatism, i.e. from Reaction as is clearly shown to be the case in Leon Bramson’s book “The Political Context of Sociology” which you should check out. It’s not for no reason that Carlyleans commonly espouse what seems to be Juche. As a counterweight to romantic idealization of collectivism, check out Helmut Schoeck’s book “Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour”.

      I don’t think that it can be denied, even by most ardent a reactionary that America during the era of the Old Republic (1791-1861) produced superior outcomes, and that its later domination of world came riding on inertia of progress created by Old Liberalism (that later came to be viewed as an evil, reactionary ideology consigned to loonies of John Birch Society). Of course, the problem with Old Liberalism was that it was powerless to prevent Liberationists from taking over, which powerlessness itself is the consequence of its errors (chief amongs which are secularism, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, constitutionalism, and of course, separation of powers, and open entrance into government / state-employment). As you yourself noted in “Liberty after Liberalism” post, the problem with reactionaries is that they commonly want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and institute National-Bolshevism, or whatnot, even after the superiority of society based on family, and property over Sovet one has been witnessed.

      * – The guys who rule the world presently. Progressives are by no means capitalists, but neither would I call them socialists. Herbert Spencer called them the New Tories worse than the old. Indeed the present economy very much resemples Tory corporatism during the Mercantilist era, but instead of making you to go to mass, they make you go to diversity seminars, and sensitivity training. Of course, Progressives have the benefits of the school system for indoctrination, whereas Tories did not, though Sir William Temple wanted to send the children from the age of four and above to public workhouses where they would be kept employed for at least twelve hours a day.

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  12. The germ form of Socialism could already be seen in the some of the things the English Whigs of the 17th-18th cs. had to say (they were in favour of land reform and caps on wealth, extensive State regulation to keep degeneracy in check, and even sumptuary law), and of course in Rousseau’s dictum: “citizens must be made completely independent of one another and completely dependent on the State, for only the power of the State makes its members free”. The Romantic reaction made its main contribution in popularizing the snooty anti-bourgeois sentiment later to be taken up by Leftist intellectuals, and by drawing attention to the sociological limiting cases of individualist atomism (although the Reactionary critique was systematically misunderstood by the Socialists, who inevitably saw in the category of “society” only a vindication of the supremacy of Leviathan over the isolated individual, where what Reactionaries of course had in mind was the corporation; in short, the Socialists interpreted “society” in terms of *Liberal* categories, e.g. those of Rousseau). But the Socialists certainly didn’t get their ideas about freedom, equality, secularism, individualism, and liberation from the Reactionaries, though; all that represented the continuity of Liberalism. By the 20th c. the difference between Liberalism and Socialism was a branching point in the road to Liberation, or better yet an argument over whether we’ve already arrived there or not, and consequently over whether or not the State is doing enough to intervene in social relations.

    I agree that the USA did many, many things well, and continues to, and that Reactionaries ought to take Liberal discourses of government and Statecraft very seriously. National Bolshevism is a gigantic error and would leave us worse off, and moreover without changing the toxic fundamentals (above all, the omnipotence of the “public” monopoly-State over so-called “private individuals”, which cannot help but beget equality, secularism, and a plague of other evils). I do *not* support this sort of thing!

    Also, agree that the ruling class today can’t be rigorously called “Progressive”, although of course they let the Cathedral do what ever it wants in the non-economic. It is likely that the Deep State just doesn’t take the social side of things seriously and disdains to pay any attention to it.

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