YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 16, 2011

Disraeli’s contribution to social democracy

One of the chief tactics of populists and progressives is to depict themselves as persons of the “grass roots”; as spokesmen for the common man and woman against “the money power.” And [hook-nosed] moneybags are held by them to control all information in the society, with the exception of underground messaging and alternative media. The internet has only facilitated such carelessness and populists can be found on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. I have found them to be haters and uninterested in the histories they claim to depict with accuracy, deluded into the belief that they are correcting the “propaganda” generated by serious students of the past. There is money in it, as the book sales figures or viewers of some “traditionalist” conservative stars can attest. This blog seeks to correct a common misconception I have found in the ranks of some who deem themselves conservatives: that Rousseau* generated the Jacobins, and that a straight line can be drawn between the furious mob behavior in the Reign of Terror and the Democratic or even moderate Republican (“RINO”) opposition.  And the enemy is “secularism, ” redefined to signify atheism, a.k.a., worship of the Goddess of Reason, rather than religious pluralism and the separation of church and state.

As everything on this website will attest, populism and progressivism did not spring, fully-formed, from the industrial working class, or small farmers, or any other sector of the population de-skilled or otherwise harmed by the industrial revolution and the concentration of ownership in corporations. Rather, its ideology was largely cooked up by those European intellectuals who identified with a threatened aristocracy, and who wrote copiously in order to persuade a frivolous and conspicuously consuming class of lords and ladies, princes and kings, that they had better unite with The People against the “laissez-faire” industrial bourgeoisie that was the chief cause of lower-class suffering with the advent of science, the machine age, utilitarianism, railroads, the Higher Criticism of the Bible, and of course, Darwinism. With a renewed devotion to “religion” (now seen as instrument of social control for all classes) the aristocracy would mend its ways, reverting to the gentle paternalism that was believed to have existed in the Middle Ages, and the new education-hungry working-class would settle for those reforms that did not threaten the social order as it had existed before mad scientists and engineers made the scene. The lower orders would be treated to lots and lots of spectacles and costume parties.

Benjamin Disraeli, a prolific author before he entered the British parliament, later to become Prime Minister and the Earl of Beaconsfield, wrote novels all his life, but the group of novels relevant to this blog was published in the mid-1840s, and meant to introduce “The New Generation” that would represent “Young England.”  Coningsby, Sybil, or the Two Nations, and Tancred, or the New Crusade,** were a trilogy intended to instruct Europe as to the chaos that was to be generated by the new industrial poor, whether they be slaves to the machine or miners–unless they were rescued by an enlightened and progressive aristocracy. Sybil, in particular, sounded the tocsin, and appeared the same year, 1845, as did Engels’ famous book on the condition of the working class in Manchester. Disraeli’s father, Isaac D’Israeli, never renounced Judaism, but did baptize all his children into the Church of England, home of the Elizabethan Compromise. What Disraeli accomplished was to provide the moderate conservative alternative to the red specter that was haunting Europe. The Good King would represent the People against all forces of dissolution, and all would be self-sacrificing as their model, Jesus Christ, had been. Without faith, there could be no sense of duty, and everyone was bound by duty and those rights that kept the peasantry prosperous, and the male working class not exhausted or forced to compete with female and child labor.

Sybil with book

Disraeli was hardly alone in his prescriptions for a measured progress, with his religious model apostolic Christianity and the “reverence” it embodied. He was writing in the tradition of Hume and Burke, of the German Romantics (including Herder and Goethe). His contemporaries, such as hero-worshipping Carlyle and the Christian Socialists, and later Bismarck, would echo the same tradition of conservative reform, staving off excess of every kind, whether it be upper-class selfishness (“individualism” or “puritanism”) or lower-class licentiousness and excessive interest in the heroism of some Old Testament figures (see Kingsley’s Alton Locke, a founding document of Christian Socialism, puported to be the confession of an ex-Chartist, now dying of consumption).

Populism is inconceivable without hero-worship and the obeisance to opinion leaders, stand-ins today for the Good King imagined by Disraeli. In the populist appeal to emotions (“compassion”) and false utopias, rather than to careful analysis of policy, the notion of a democratic republic is subverted beyond recognition, wherever it may be found, on the left or right. Class warfare, wielded cynically by some Democrats, works, for populists hate capitalism/the money power. That is the way we live now.

*See image from Columbia Today (Alumni Magazine responding to 1968 student strike): http://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/rousseau-amidst-primitive-columbia-student-strikers/.

** See cartoon and description of Tancred in Arab News: http://www.arabnewsblog.net/2011/05/11/tabsir-redux-tancred-or-the-new-crusade/. The blurb author misses the point of Disraeli’s trilogy: to relocate the fount of Christianity in Jerusalem rather than Rome. Disraeli seems to have reconciled his Judaic ancestors with Christianity by finding heroism, honor, and direct communication with the Deity in the Middle East. What this may hint about relations with his father is speculation on my part. He does mention “theocratic equality” in Tancred, which suggests that equality is defined in religious terms, not material ones (those of the working poor who rise in the class system are tamed through deference and self-control), and that an established religion is the major source of social solidarity.

With respect to his relations with Judaism, his move was simply to stress the Judaic origins of Christianity, thus knocking out the antithesis between Good Christian and Evil Jew and making Jerusalem and environs the cradle of civilization. I don’t know if he was the first to do this, but it was certainly an obsessive theme. In Tancred, he complains bitterly about antisemitism, and lets none of his characters off the hook. It is unfortunate that in the process, he cleaved to contemporary notions of race and national character. It is also interesting that his orientalist hero, Tancred, Lord Montecute, is prevented at the last minute from marrying the gorgeous Jewess Eva. In the last sentence we discover that his parents have come to Jerusalem to get him away from all those too rich, brilliant, and irresistible  Jews. There is also a hint that momma’s puritanism may have driven Tancred to excessive religiosity and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem/Syria, where any sensitive, shy fellow would have gone off the deep end, faced with all that glamor. As for Sidonia, a character sometimes identified with a Rothschild or even with Disraeli himself, Sidonia is wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, and the model man of the world, brilliant and a linguist, but he lacks a heart: Sidonia is incapable of emotional attachments–he is a rootless cosmopolitan, the very embodiment of THE MONEY POWER, as drawn by the would-be aristocratic anticapitalist, Benjamin Disraeli.

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6 Comments »

  1. […] industrial working class (drawn from deskilled artisans and peasants) against the bourgeoisie. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/.) Disraeli’s Young England and its Christian Socialist allies provided a model for forward […]

    Pingback by Solidarity on “the Left” vs. disunity on “the Right” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 3, 2014 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

  2. […] Take the quote from Heni’s article, above, describing the “irrationality” of antisemitism for confusing capitalists and communists–a claim I have seen countless times elsewhere. Convinced antisemites had no trouble with this supposed cognitive dissonance: Gentlemanly organic conservatives understood that atheistic science-plagued modernity had bred lucre-loving capitalists, and then in reaction to their [typically “Jewish” capitalist greed and exploitation] communism raised its ugly head. The solution to the onset of a disenchanted modern world would be a Christianized capitalism. Look no further than Christian Socialism, Bismarck’s welfare state, the Fabians in Britain, Rerum Novarum ( the encyclical issued by Leo XIII in 1891)  or the social gospel movement in America, followed here by populism and progressivism. Hitler himself advocated a “third way” between capitalism and communism,* meanwhile opposing “Jewish Bolshevism” in the Soviet Union as a mere front for “finance capital” and not socialism at all. My point is that these mostly European movements were reacting against the displacement of an aristocratic elite by the new men—the moderns, whose elevation of hard science, hard work, novel financial instruments, and free markets threatened the property and lifestyles of the landowning class and  their employees, dependents, and allies. In Britain, Young England represented a coalition between aristocrats and the working class against the rising industrial bourgeoisie (see Disraeli’s Sybil, or The Two Nations for their outlook; detail here: http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/). […]

    Pingback by The Enigmatic Face of Philosemitism | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — May 18, 2014 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  3. […] reiterated on this website, that European aristocrats and their social democratic offspring (see http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/) have indulged in psychological warfare to bind “the lower orders” to views that undermine […]

    Pingback by “America is in decline”: cui bono? | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 8, 2014 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

  4. [...] Were he an honest scholar, he would surely have recognized the lasting impact of the “Jacobin” controlled French Revolution as the Red Specter par excellence. He might have seen Freud’s “Id” as the rampaging People, known throughout Europe and America for their la-de-da attitudes toward sexuality and ever available aggression against bullying superiors (i.e., the Pleasure Principle); similarly the “the Superego” (internalized paternal conscience) could have stood for an aristocracy/haute bourgeois elite that could be either rigid or accommodating to the new industrial working class that threatened ancient elite prerogatives, while the Ego (or Reality Principle) would be the professional layer of healers and professors who espoused “moderation” in all things, and never, ever, bullied their patients or students to adopt those practices that served “social cohesion” and “political stability.” (For the alliance of aristocracy and working class against the ‘laissez-faire’ modernizing bourgeoisie, see http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/.) [...]

    Pingback by Peter Gay’s “Freud” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — February 23, 2013 @ 9:45 pm | Reply

  5. [...] or “ethical socialism” touted by Orwell scholars as the next big step in civilization. See http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/. [...]

    Pingback by Orwell, superpatriots, and the election « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 13, 2012 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

  6. [...] to my blog on Disraeli’s novels and his role in the development of British social democracy: http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/. How Disraeli adapted to the dominant Anglicanism is also taken up: he moved the center of [...]

    Pingback by The Romantic repudiation of Freud & Co. « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — February 19, 2012 @ 8:03 pm | Reply


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