This very long article, which you can find at Thermidor Magazine, represents at stab at the intellectual project of a “full reboot of the social sciences” associated with the political project of the new Reaction. I propose that this reboot entails overhauling the canon of historical founding figures of the discipline, among which an 18th century English writer by the name of John Brown should be counted. Brown clearly saw, at the very time the present Liberal order was only beginning to really get off the ground, that this order bears within itself an inherent potential to create self-destructive pathology. There is, of course, nothing unusual in this broad claim- but what is interesting is the way Brown makes it. Brown poses the problem of social pathology (“degeneracy”) in terms of a systematic feminization and overall degradation of the governing caste, which if carried far enough is guaranteed to render elites utterly unfit and the State incapable of functioning. In short, Brown looks at social problems of his times exactly the way the new Right does now, and uncovers that much of the pathology of the present was already clearly present in the England of 1757 in an early form. I critique some shortcomings in Brown’s analysis of the etiology of the disease, and go beyond him to discuss what has changed since his day, how, and why. I have brought almost everything I have in my intellectual arsenal to this piece- more accurately, short treatise- and dare say that you won’t have wasted your time by reading it.

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10 thoughts on “Degeneracy in the Age of Enlightenment and Beyond: The Trailblazing Neoreactionary Sociology of John Brown

  1. This is excellent. You mention towards the beginning that Brown was “famous in his time”. I’ve actually never come across him, so I was wondering: do any of the sources you cite discuss his contemporary reception, and how he fit into the debates of those decades?

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  2. Heh, for a long time now I’ve been joking that all our problems stem from the fact that your neighbours aren’t allowed to beat you up for acting stupid.

    However, a caveat. Christian opposition to dueling wasn’t some proto-SJW stuff, Church has always opposed dueling. Gladiatorial combat was banned when Roman Empire became Christian, those who participated in chivalric tournaments were denied communion in the Middle Ages, etc. etc. Early Christians denounced military service, but were later forced to accept it as the empire became Christian. Still, church canons deny soldiers communion for three years after killing (which is admittedly significantly shorter denial of communion than that for killing outside of war).

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  3. @qlatham: There is a discussion of Brown and the context in which he wrote (namely, debates over the battle-readiness of the military following some military fiascos) in Philip Carter, “Men and the Emergence of Polite Society: Britain 1660-1800” (Essex: Pearson Education, 2001) at 128 et seq.

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  4. @Michael Rosenblatt What I was talking about when I said “proto-SJW” was social movement activity against dueling carried out on private initiative in the 17-19th cs, especially by Protestant moral crusaders looking to reform manners and morals in general, not the historic opposition of the Church to dueling and single combat. These campaigns clearly prefigured the gun-control crusade of the 20th c. and the SJW in general

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    1. Oh, sorry. 🙂
      I know that reactionaries in general like to disregard love and forgiveness side of of Christianity. I knew a guy who, having read church proclamations on the question decried it as “What the hell do priests understand about honour?”

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    1. Pitirim Sorokin in his “Social and Cultural Dynamics” expressed views similar to Sir Glubb, and contra Brown re: cyclical nature of civilisations. Of course, it is not (meta)phisically necessery for civilisation to die like biological organisms do, however there appears to be a general trend towards accumulation of corruption and deneracy (and contra NRx treatment of absolute monarchy as a Platonic form) with time in every State until something performs a reset (e.g. in the eastern Roman and the ancient Chinese Empires it was periodic dynastic resets in which different dynasty would assume the power and clear away the conferva of previous dynasty).

      To me it seemes that the unofficial Mandate of Heaven in the eastern Roman Empire, and the official one of China are responsible for longevity of said civilisations. Western Divine Right absolutisms on the other hand made it impossoble for a dynasty to be replaced. Would there have been revolutions if dissaffected parties were able to simply install their own dynasties I wonder? Such an opportunity, it seems, disincentivises revolutionary tendencies toward doing away with the entire social order. Why would they if they can simply grab the lordly positions for themselves?

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      1. Glad you mentioned Sorokin. I’ve been meaning to do a write-up of Sorokin for quite some time and may finally get around to it in the next few weeks. Sorokin said that his findings didn’t support the cyclical theory (which for him, is just a variant of unidirectional Hegelian-type thinking), but suggested that there is, in history, an irregular oscillation between the possible types of culture-mentality, each of which develops to the point where it can go no further, followed by general reboot and reset to a new culture-mentality from among the possible types. (It is, according to him, impossible to predict in advance which one will actually be selected from the possibilities).

        Re: the mandate of Heaven: Yes, China managed to remain remarkably stable over the long-term in spite of constant instability at any given time (I read somewhere that during at least one of these dynasties there were peasant rebellions happening every month). Some ideas associated with the mandate of Heaven look to me very much like our Western doctrines of popular sovereignty- and yet they kept their system going for a long, long time.

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      2. Yes, I did not mean cyclical in that vulgar sense. Rather what I had in mind was that whatever the type of culture, and government, or prevailing ideology even, there seems to be a general trend toward increasing amount of corruption and degeneracy with time. It can easily be observed in the same country i.e. ancient China at the beginning of a dynasty and at the end of that particular dynasty. We can observe it even under the worst of “sensate” civilizations, e.g. USSR, by comparing Stalinist Dynamism versus Brezhnevian Stagnation (well, in this particular case, Stagnation was lesser evil even though it was highly demoralizing for the spirit of the populace).

        Yes and “Byzantine” model is much more explicit than the Chinese one in its popular sovereignty component. Emperors were often brought down by crowds shouting anáxios–unworthy. Officially the Roman state never stopped being a republic, and so no state office was officially hereditary, which is why practice was adopted of reigning emperors proclaiming their sons co-emperors to ensure succession. Officially emperors were named by the senate, but in practice emperors installed themselves but were popularly acclaimed by crowds shouting áxios–worthy. In fact, with time, the process of deposing the reigning emperor evolved into a quasi-formal state ritual of sorts. I think this “Byzantine” model is much more interesting model to study than High Tory Jacobitisim and whatnot, given that it has evolved out of a republic. It is much more likely that given the current state of affairs shift towards the monarchy would happen along the Roman lines. Absolutism was the creature of Reformation, nobody’s going to believe Divine Right these days.

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  5. I think you may really be onto something here Rothblatt. The most important detail about the Byzantine system is that the people recognize the Emperor’s claim to an inherent right to rule, as opposed to appointing a ruler (as they would in a democracy). This side-steps both democracy and Divine-right absolutism.

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