This is the second book in the Carlyle series that Mencius Moldbug recommended. This review will focus on the work and then provide some thoughts on Mr Moldbug's view of Carlyle. For a brief summary see here.
Wikipedia says that the purpose of the work is to denounce "the political, social, and religious imbecilities and injustices of the period." This statement is true, but it misses the most interesting part. For Carlyle the injustices and imbecilities arise because we are not following the laws of nature/God (as he generally puts it in the work) or because society is moving away from order (a more Moldbuggian way of putting it – if I may take the liberty of interpretation).
Incidentally, in reading this book, I was struck by how religiously-grounded Carlyle's arguments are. You'll be able to see this in the excerpts below. I would have been quite confused by the deeply-religious nature of the work, were it not for some helpful guidance:
Order in Carlyle is obedience to the law of God in government, and enforcement of the law of God is the test of good government. And what is the law of God? Does it have anything to do with mixed fibers? It does not. It is no more than truth, justice and order – each of which reduces to the other. . . .
There is no such thing as too much truth, too much justice, or too much order; the ideal society is one in which all these qualities are seen to their maximum extent. In the society that is Cosmos, truth, justice and order all pertain.
So when we read "God" or "the laws of God" we should be thinking "order, truth and justice." Carlyle condemns society for turning off the divine (orderly, just) path – hence soceity's inevitable decline. I should point out that I am still struggling to understand Carlyle's religion. He seems to have "lost his Christian faith" as Wikipedia puts it and yet seems to be deeply religious and in others. He has reverence for many religious figures and appeals to a higher, broader universal religion that governs the world and society.
Then his great man theory enters (see the previous link) – a theory which runs throughout the work. The great men are the ones who can see through all the noise and understand these universal laws. It is these men that must rule. Many men will not understand the rules and these men must be ruled. They need to be ruled – order, truth and justice demand it.
I would be remiss in not commenting on the defense of slavery in this book. I'll let Moldbug explain and comment (from the same post):
For example, property and in particular real estate represent a class of obligations behind which there is no principle but historical accident. I am obliged not to trespass on your land. I did not agree not to trespass on your land, but I am obliged nonetheless. And why is it your land, rather than my land? Because it is.
Moreover, everyone is born into a web of involuntary obligations: the family. No one gets to pick their parents. Moreover, every family is part of a human society and thus accepts the obligations of that society. You do not need to go to Carlyle for an explanation of the relationship between slavery, family, and community, for you can find it in Aristotle. Indeed, the definition of family in most times and places has included slaves.
The relationship of master and slave is a natural human relationship: that of patron and client. Like true familial relationships, these essentially feudal structures are bidirectional. The client must obey and serve the patron; the patron must care for and protect the client. On one side of the relationship is always authority; on the other side, always dependency. Either side may violate its obligations, resulting in state intervention.
In the most ordered and flexible feudal societies, the relationship of patron and client becomes a true governance relationship. The patron is personally responsible for all offenses of the client against society – this is a core tenet of Roman law, applying both to slaves and children. In return, the patron holds the power of the magistrate over his clients. In the old days of the Roman Republic, a father could order the execution of his son on his own word alone. This is even a bit extreme for me, but it demonstrates the concept.
But wait: when one is born a serf, bound to the land with obligations, one is bound not to a person but to a political entity. In the case of serfdom, assuming the extremity of personal restriction, this is a small political entity. This may be a problem if you are a restless fellow and like to get around, but seeing Europe was not the primary concern of most pre-industrial agricultural workers. Moreover, regardless of the size or nature of the entity to which you are born bound, allowing you to stretch your legs is no risk at all so long as that entity has the power to catch you and bring you back. Again, this is true for both serfs and slaves.
Suddenly we see the relationship between slavery and government. Serfdom and slavery can be described as microgovernment and nanogovernment respectively. In government proper, the normal human role of patron is filled by a giant, impersonal, and often accidentally sadistic bureaucracy, which is sovereign and self-securing. In serfdom, this role is filled by a noble house or other large family business, which in turn is a client of the State, and just as fixed to the land as its serfs. In slavery, mastership is exercised by a mobile individual whose slaves go with him.
(Democracy here appears as simply a mechanism for controlling subjects by deluding them into believing that they control the entire enterprise, a pretense which cannot be maintained in the context of serfdom or slavery. In this role it is certainly unnecessary, as physical enforcement technologies are quite sufficient. The mind-control state is obsolete.)
In all these relationships, the structure of obligation is the same. The subject, serf, or slave is obliged to obey the government, lord, or master, and work for the benefit of same. In return, the government, lord or master must care for and guide the subject, serf, or slave. We see these same relationship parameters emerging whether the relationship of domination originates as a hereditary obligation, or as a voluntary obligation, or in a state outside law such as the state of the newly captured prisoner (the traditional origin of slave status in most eras). This is a pretty good clue that this structure is one to which humans are biologically adapted. . . .
Probably the closest most Americans have come to idealizing slavery, without of course knowing it, is in the good press that large Japanese corporations once got for maintaining a policy of lifetime employment. Lifetime employment and slavery are, of course, practically synonyms, and indeed the same phenomena of reciprocal loyalty and dependency were said – repeatedly, in my memory, in the '90s on NPR – to emerge. Right down to the company uniform and song. This, too, is a Carlylean bond, although a rather weird one to the Western eye.
We thus observe slavery not as a perversion, but as a natural relationship, like gay marriage. (Gay marriage is unquestionably a natural relationship, although history – for whatever reason – seldom has a good outcome for societies in which large numbers of males are born gay. Whitman and Carlyle both have points to score on this issue.)
Of course, like gay marriage (or ordinary marriage), slavery is not without its abuses [Carlyle specifically likens emancipation to divorce]. When we think of the word "slavery," we think of these abuses. Thus, by defining the word as intrinsically abusive, like marriages in which one party beats the other, we can conveniently define away all the instances of slavery (or, for that matter, marriage) in which the relationship is functional.
Carlyle is in fact ready to be as indignant as anyone over these abuses. He reasons: since slavery is a natural human relationship, this bond will exist regardless of whether you abolish the word. And it does – if only in broken and surreptitious forms. However, if you are a genuine humanitarian and your interest is in abolishing the abuses, the best way to do so is to – abolish the abuses. So, for example, he proposes reforms such as stronger supervision of slaveowners, a standard price by which slaves can buy their freedom, etc, etc.
In this extreme example, we see the general pattern of Carlylean order. Again, order is about the bonds between members of society, which consist of obligations voluntary and involuntary, which are promises made and kept, and enforced by law where law is needed to enforce them. Especially critical to Carlyle is the hierarchical bond, the relationship of command, which is one critical form of social glue without which large organizations cannot function.
I'll leave it at that. Well, I must add one caveat. I'm still struggling with the idea that "order, justice and truth" can be directly substituted for "God" without the loss of something important – namely the source. It's easy to define – and source – "justice" if you can reference God. Without God, it becomes a bit more complicated. From whence does justice come without God? These bonds exist – they are. Our form of government and efforts at "emancipation" cannot change the fundamental fact of their existence (there is no way to get to "ought"). Is biology enough to solidify this fundamental existence?
There's no real way to help you understand the work without letting you get immersed in the style. So, some (somewhat) random highlights follow:
That the few Wise will have, by one method or another, to take command of the innumerable Foolish; that they must be got to take it; — and that, in fact, since Wisdom, which means also Valor and heroic Nobleness, is alone strong in this world, and one wise man is stronger than all men unwise, they can be got. That they must take it; and having taken, must keep it, and do their God's-Message in it, and defend the same, at their life's peril, against all men and devils. This I do clearly believe to be the backbone of all Future Society, as it has been of all Past; and that without it, there is no Society possible in the world.
The second essay on prisons was my favorite, I read it after the car was stolen:
If you love your thief or murderer, if Nature and eternal Fact love him, then do as you are now doing. But if Nature and Fact do not love him ? If they have set inexorable penalties upon him and planted natural wrath against him in every god-created human heart, — then I advise you, cease, and change your hand. . . .
'Revenge,' my friends! revenge, and the natural hatred of scoundrels, and the ineradicable tendency to revancher oneself upon them, and pay them what they have merited: this is forevermore intrinsically a correct, and even a divine feeling in the mind of every man. Only the excess of it is diabolic; the essence I say is manlike, and even godlike . . .
More on the first theme:
The next sections are about picking the best men and putting the best, a task which must, in turn, be performed by able men.
Just a random, interesting observation:
A man of real dignity will not find it impossible to bear himself in a dignified manner; a man of real understanding and insight will get to know, as the fruit of his very first study, what the laws of his situation are, and will conform to these.
That a Parliament, especially a Parliament with Newspaper Reporters firmly established in it, is an entity which by its very nature cannot do work, but can do talk only, — which at times may be needed, and at other times again may be very needless. Consider in fact, a body of Six-hundred and fifty-eight miscellaneous persons set to consult about 'business,' with Twenty-seven millions, mostly fools, assiduously listening to them, and checking and criticizing them: — was there ever since the world began, will there ever be till the world end, any 'business' accomplished in these circumstances?
The free man is he who is loyal to the Laws of this Universe; who in his heart sees and knows, across all contradictions, that injustice cannot befall him here; that except by sloth and cowardly falsity evil is not possible here. The first symptom of such a man is not that he resists and rebels, but that he obeys.