No. Nothing to do with Spitzer. I’ve been reading some of the works of 18th Century
right-wing blogger German counter-Enlightenment intellectual Justus Möser. (Wikipedia.)
There are two short pieces by Möser included in a pretty good anthology, Conservatism [amazon], edited by Jerry Z. Muller.
Let’s get into it. The first essay (1772), whose title I borrowed to make you read this post – good title, eh? – was a fiery retort to ill-conceived reform measures by certain enlightened Hapsburg emperors (that’s code for: ‘liberals’) to abolish guild requirements that applicants be “conceived by honorable parents in a pure bed.” Why the hell should bastards be allowed to hold down decent jobs?
In some states more has been done for whores and their children in recent decades than for wives in the last millenium. Every enlightened intellectual set out as soon as possible to free illegitimate children and their mothers from all possible shame, and thought he deserved the praise of the entire human race for having freed from all reproach the poor, innocent offspring of a love that was forbidden, but all too tempting. These measures were noble motivated: nature, humanity, and humanitarianism clearly favored them. Yet they ultimately demonstrate the power of the unpolitical philosophy of our century. Once again fashionable humanitarianism triumphed over civic sense. It was at best the application to political institutions of Christian charity, which ought to be voluntary. When it comes to civic rights, one cannot move directly from the voice of nature or abstract rights. For in the state of nature there is no institution of marriage, and as soon as one transers concepts from the state of nature to the state of civil association, one falls prey to a dangerous confusion, whose actual results are more detrimental than are at first imagined.
I’ll pick up the pace.
It is true that marriage has its burdens and discomforts, and that many prefer being single … [But …]
Our ancestors, who were guided by experience rather than by theories, always demanded a certificate of honorable birth before they admitted someone into their guilds and clubs … Had someone sought to show our ancestors that illegitimate children on the whole displayed more genius than others or that they were entirely innocent of the guilt of their parents; had someone sought to demonstrate to them by reference to the principles of savages that the greatest whores must of necessity have been the most beautiful, attractive, and charming, since they were so widely sought … [well, the ancestors would have had some pretty sharp words.]
Don’t imagine, incidentally, that our ancestors did not recognize the hardships which have motivated our progressive intellectuals to sympathize with the whores. The sack in which our ancestors drowned those who committed infanticide to free themselves from their shame shows only too clearly … [I am sure you see what the sack shows clearly] … thwarting the efforts of progressive legislators
[I can’t say that the argument is entirely clear. But the idea seems to be that letting the children of whores work will greatly encourage whoring, while only somewhat mitigating the shame of it, ergo only somewhat mitigating infanticide, leading to a net increase in drowned whores.]
… In states where marriage loses its value, the punishment of crime must become harsher [no mere drowning in a sack for you, doxy!] …
Just as the disgrace with which our ancestors burdened a whore in order to preserve legitimacy was rational and appropriate, so too is the blot which they placed upon illegitimate offspring. The same logic holds … [Divine law “disincentives” – his term, not mine – sin even unto the fourth generation.]
A law which makes illegitimate children equal to legitimate ones is a policy error so momentous that I don’t see how the humanitarianism of our age can forgive it.
Oh yes he did. He concern-trolled the humanitarians. With a sack of drowned whores. You can say that you saw it on Mulberry Street.
But this is just a warm up for his next act. Diving 500 feet into a glass of water labeled “No Promotion According To Merit”.
To an officer:
While it touches me, dear friend, that your merit is so little recognized, still, your demand that the State should solely look to true merit is, if I may have your kind permission to say so, the strangest product of an hour’s idle contemplation. I, for one, should – paid or not – never remain within a State in which it is a rule to award all honors solely on the basis of merit. Rewarded, I should not have the heart to appear before a friend for fear of humiliating him; and unrewarded, I should live under somne sort of public calumny, because everybody would say of me, That man has no merits. [Paging Will Wilkinson.] … public service could not even exist if every promotion were based solely on merit [due to mass resignations, apparently] …
[snip several paragraphs about how awarding promotion on the basis of social status and seniority alone can keep us off the road of meritocracy, “a clear path to most extreme slavery.”]
Therefore, dear friend, give up your romantic thoughts of the happiness of a State where everything goes according to merit. When men rule and where men serve, birth and age, or seniority of service, are still the safest and least offensive rules for promotion. The creative genius, or the man of real virtue, will not be harmed by this rule; but an exception of this kind is very rare and will also only give offense to evil souls.
I’m thinking maybe a ‘not’ got dropped from that last sentence. But I’m not sure.
And no, apparently none of this is tongue-in-cheek. Although it is whimsical in tone. Very odd. Like if it turned out, after all, that Swift really had it in for the Irish to an unusual degree.
The thing that’s fascinating about it is that, a decade before Burke inaugurated modern conservatism as a political philosophy, all the stock rhetorical moves of the wingnut op-ed are already up and running. The anti-PC grumbling plus moral panic wires crossed with perverse incentive structures wires. There’s liberal-bashing, minus any hint of liberalism. Classical liberalism, that is. Burke is, obviously, Möser plus the ability to agree with Adam Smith about most things. Which is why Möser was born a pitch-perfect parody of modern conservatism, avant la lettre. He is a parody expressing the doubt that grafting individualism and laissez faire onto traditionalism makes sense.
Anyway, I am now officially a big Justus Möser fan. I think we should get together some sort of collective translation project, just so Sadly, No! can read the stuff.