This post is going to going to be a departure from my normal fare. Today I am going to dip my toe, however tentatively, into that murky pool of forbidden knowledge known as Neo-Reaction, or what some have deemed “The Dark Enlightenment.” Looking back over it, I realize this is a sloppy post, and I apologize for that. Its been difficult to compile and organize my thoughts on this subject and I may not repeat it. But enough of that, on to the actual post.
I. The Medieval System
Christian Europe after the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire and up until the heyday of the Renaissance (and in some nations even later) was organized into a loose caste system which was known as the “Estates of the Realm.” This system was also sometimes referred to as “The Three Estates”, because in many nations the system was made up of three different castes, each of which was referred to as an Estate. France was the archetypical nation that embodied this system. The Estates were as follows:
- The First Estate was composed of the clergy, ranking from the lowliest monk or parish priest all the way to up to Archbishops. They were also called “oratores”, or “those who pray.”
- The Second Estate was composed of the feudal nobility, ranging from the lowliest knight all the way up to Dukes and Princes. They were called the “bellatores”, or “those who fight.”
- The Third Estate was composed of the commoners, ranging from the lowliest serf all the way up to… well, scratch that. Rich merchants and highly skilled craftsmen were essentially the top of this estate. They were called the “laboratores”, or “those who work.”
A few important points:
- This social order developed organically over time, although philosophy and theology later came to ratify its existence.
- Something important to note is the absence of two key individuals in the social order in the above estates: the King and (for Catholic nations) the Pope. Technically the King (whomever he was) was above the system, and was in fact in charge of it in whatever nation that he ruled. The Pope, on the other hand, technically held spiritual authority over all Christians (including the King), and therefore was (according to some philosophers) superior to the King. [More on this later. ]
- Those elements of society outside the power structure were known as the Fourth Estate.
- This era was marked by a consolidation of economic and political power together under the nobility. As the economy was primarily agricultural, land equaled wealth. Since the nobility controlled nearly all the land, they largely controlled the economy. Merchants who amassed significant wealth through trade were few and far between, and in many instances the nobility took steps to restrict this development.
The clergy were held to be the first estate because they received their authority from God. The nobility, which received their authority from the clergy, were the Second Estate. And finally came the final, Third Estate, the commoners, who received whatever rights and authority they had from the nobility.
Each of the Estates played an important role in the social order, one that their simple descriptions doesn’t do justice. The First Estate, the clergy, did more than just pray. In fact, a better descriptor of them would be “those who preach.” For it is preaching, not praying, that gave them the power they wielded in European society at the time. They provided the moral authority and framework for the entire feudal system; in essence they set the rules of the game. The nobility did fight, a lot, although the petty nature of much of it has long made me think that they should have been called “those who squabble”. However, they also ruled too, and that was the greater part of their role in medieval society. It was the nobility’s governance over the commoners which marked their primary role in the system. Only the description of the commoners is accurate; they really were “those who work.” The commoners were the backbone of the system, driving the primarily agricultural economy and supporting the existence of the other two Estates.
The key thing to understand about the Estates of the Realm is the way the Estates interacted. The clergy used their influence to provide moral authority for the nobility to rule over the commoners. In essence, they instructed the commoners to follow the nobles. In return the clergy received special rights and exemptions from most of the noble’s governance. They clergy had their own lands, their own court system, and were in many respects independent of the nobility. The nobility used the moral authority they were granted to rule over the commoners. And the commoners provided material support to the other estates.
Here is a graphical representation of how this worked:
At its core, the Estates of the Realm was a simple caste system where each caste had a particular role. Even in those nations which technically had more than four estates, it is relatively easy to fold some of the estates in the one of the “Three”. Distilled to its essence, this is what you have:
- The first caste defined the moral order
- The second exercised political and economic control, through its monopoly on force
- The third kept the system running
I should point out that the symbiotic relationship between the First and Second Estates was not entirely peaceful. In fact, there was a constant struggle between them over the centuries. This is because their interests were close, but didn’t line up perfectly. At the heart of this conflict, at least in Western Europe, was the question of who was supreme: the King or the Pope? Over time, this struggle escalated, and was encouraged by divisions within the First Estate. The Reformation was as much a fight between the First and Second Estates as it was a fight within the First Estate.
Of course, this system eventually fell apart, with some nations holding onto it longer than others. But the model it provides us with- three divisions of society, each with a defined “role”, will be important in the next section. [For those interested in more info, here is the wikipedia article on the subject. I drew most of this info from memory, but the wiki helped fill in the gaps.]
II. The “New” System
This brings us to the present day. What I believe we are witnessing now in the United States and in most of Western Civilization is the development of a social order that bears a striking similarity to the Estates of the Realm. Remember, the core architecture of the “Three Estates” is that you have one Estate/caste which defines the moral order and is largely independent, you have one Estate/caste which rules the commoners and exercises political, economic and military control, and then you have one Estate/caste which is basically everyone else.
The cultural elites of the West, located in the Media, Academia and the overall “Education Establishment”, have begun to take on the role of the First Estate. Like the clergy in Medieval times, they are largely in a position to define the moral order for overall society. The amount of influence they now wield dwarfs anything that their opponents can muster. For some time the media, although it was just the “press” back then, was referred to as the Fourth Estate. This is because they were outside of the overall power structure as it existed back then, but still wielded influence (and through it power). No longer. Now the media is very much integrated in the social order. They are joined in this by a powerful Educational Establishment, which molds the minds of citizens starting in kindergarten (or even sooner) all the way through post-graduate education. It is this conglomeration of influence wielders who determine what is, and isn’t, acceptable in society. For an idea of what that means, see here. Under the present system Transgress those boundaries and at best you find yourself a social pariah, with fines and imprisonment possibilities for greater infractions of the social order.
- Already this new First Estate is being exempted from laws that affect the Third Estate. They receive other protections as well, including greater “free speech” rights and special tax rules.
Meanwhile, the Second Estate that is developing is composed of political elites and high level government bureaucrats at the upper echelons, while law enforcement and lower level bureaucrats fill up the lower ranks. These are the segments of society who are assuming the same kind of power and authority that the nobility once had. Also, it is more than simply the State, as it includes party leaders and activists.
- You can see this in the US through the greater amount of control over the economy that the Federal Government is assuming every day. “Obamacare”, which constituted a massive government intervention and involvement in large sector of the economy, is one example of this. The purpose of these laws, the true purpose, is to assume for government greater power over the economy. This is because the centralization of political and economic power is an essential component of the Second Estate asserting itself and ruling over the general populace.
- While the US military might be weakening, law enforcement in the country is increasingly militarizing. This process is not accidental- while there are some justifications for these measures, they also pave the wave for law enforcement to more easily squash domestic opposition, something which is not lost on those who form the new Second Estate.
The Third Estate hasn’t changed much since then. It is composed of ordinary individuals who are trying to get by in life. It exists now mostly as a tax base to support the other two Estates.
If you look back up to the graphic above depicting how the system worked, you can see that it hasn’t changed a bit. Each segment of society has its role to play. Now, this social order is still emerging, and hasn’t yet fixed itself in place. But the process is well advanced now. Those who dislike the present US administration likely appreciate this, although I suspect few realize just how much the present US President is a creature of the current First Estate. They built him up and launched him into place in order to carry out their goals. And thus far, they have largely succeeded.
The Church, in a very broad sense encompassing all Christian faith traditions, has lost so much influence and authority in the West that it is effectively no longer in the game. The old First Estate is largely broken. In fact many faith traditions have essentially been wholly taken over by the present First Estate, and now serve its interests.
As for the Second Estate, different political factions all operate within the system and accept its rules- their conflict is akin to the nobles of the past fighting over land and title. There is no fundamental disagreement over the propriety of the system, only a squabble over who controls the system and thus gets to divvy up the spoils.
This all brings us to the Fourth Estate. The press is no longer in this position, instead it has displaced the Church and assumed moral authority over society. If there is any part of society which can be considered to compose a present Fourth Estate, I would have to think it would be the few remaining intact Christian faith traditions coupled with the philosophers and polemicists in the Neo-Reactionary movement. Only there do you find any real opposition to the present order, and even there it is stronger in the latter than the former. Only Traditional Catholics, the Orthodox Church and certain isolated Protestant churches can be considered to be in opposition to the present order. The others have either compromised with it, accepted it or embraced it.
I think that understanding how the different segments of the present system work will help those in the Third and Fourth Estates to realize the complexity and insidiousness of the current social order. There really isn’t a unified social order, instead “the powers that be” belong to different components within society, each with their own set of goals. Oftentimes those of the first two Estates will overlap, but not always. If you consider yourself a foe of the first two Estates, it is vital to understand this- as this division is both a strength and weakness. It is a strength because you need to attack and destroy both in order to overthrow the system, and a weakness because their sometimes competing goals can be used to get them to fight one another. As for how to go about that, well, that’s a subject for another day…