The Establishment of a Traditional Society: Workers

Part II ⇒

This is the first part of the chapter on the workers from La Tradizione Romana [The Roman Tradition] by Guido De Giorgio. In this part, De Giorgio reviews the metaphysical foundations of the notion of castes and prepares the groundwork for the discussion of the specific functions of the workers. In his understanding of the degeneration of castes, De Giorgio says here what Nietzsche should have said, had he had the proper background. What De Girgio describes as the “principle of freedom” is an essential point to understand.

They constitute the third and final caste that corresponds to the domain of Forms in the sphere of the active life. They should really form the penultimate caste, the last begin the Servile workers, but from the median and reconciliatory point of view in regards to a true and proper return to the spirit and traditional form most easily realizable in the current conditions of humanity, we adopted the threefold formula while knowing that in a more perfect traditional society the number of castes must be raised to four in analogous correspondence with the full realization that, as we pointed out, beyond Silence, it includes a state, the supreme, absolutely undefinable, state designated, in the most complete tradition, with the name of “Fourth” and that is the domain of Absolute Ineffability.

This state comprises and resolves the threefold formula—Silence, Rhythms, Forms—in an integrative indistinction that distinguishes it precisely from them as the mystery of the irreducible unity in its ineffable essentiality. In it the divine cycle is completed totally and integrally. From here the analogous necessity of a fourth caste that would include the Servile workers whose activity assumes the most austere, most elementary, most terminal form.

The constitution of castes must be understood in this way, according to the great law of analogy, i.e.,  in relation with the divine cycle and not from a purely human and partitive point of view that would have no reason to exist through its fragility and inadequateness to the truth. It is not despotism that creates the castes and especially the servile caste, but rather a necessity of development inherent to the mirroring in the human world of a divine complex that is the one and only reality. The current state of humanity, the apparent abolition of castes, corresponds to the erroneous and confused vision that men make themselves of the divine world: the Divine Principle is currently for men everything they want it to be, i.e., an indecisive and vaguely imminent fog, as men, having abolished caste distinctions, are likewise everything that they want.

The vision of a divine chaotic level corresponds to the leveling human chaos where all pseudo-mysticisms, philosophies, and nontraditional currents flow together, constituting the impure bundle of solidified forms.

But the abolition of castes is unrealizable and they exist even if not explicitly admitted and recognized: their hidden, invisible existence, over which democratism has stratified a leveling haze, creates an incongruence that should strike every person equipped only with good sense. Everyone know that men are not currently in their place and that the division of the active life is arbitrary and unjustified, because everyone is pushed, constrained by circumstances, by his own impulse and not by a conscious force of order, of the state, and of duty. Everyone knows that there are servile workers who dominate and masters who serve, and that even in the two first castes there are atrocious anomalies and that in the third caste these are furthermore still more remarkable: that is due to the absence of the traditional spirit, to democratic leveling which believes it can enslave those who cannot be enslaved, the determinative characteristic of the inalienable and indivertible human person.

This lasts for centuries and the current confusion is only the result of a slow and progressive degeneration due to the purely apparent superiority of man over the divine, of servitude over freedom, of confusion over order, and disorder over true hierarchy. What determined this fall must be ascribed to the incomprehension of that which constitutes the nature and the form of freedom, confuses with the arbitrary, and forces on everything the humanizations of reality that is actually of an absolutely divine order. Now the constitution of castes is based on the true concept of liberty considered in its four essential forms: absolute liberty in the Priests, conditioned liberty in the Warriors, conditionality in the Workers, servitude in the Servile workers. The two extremes are represented by the first and last caste in as much that what is affirmed in the first is denied in the last and vice versa: they constitute the alpha and omega between which the distinctive qualification exist. Reuniting the two extremes in the unification of the absolute principle that is God, one reaches the integral equalization that cannot be realized unless in the divine place, which is definitely affirmed by all traditions. One will easily understand that by reflecting on the true purpose of castes, to arrange the imbalances in a hierarchy where every element is contained in its own sphere in a way to constitute a homogeneous whole in which nothing introduced disturbs the traditional linearity. Seen from above, the constitution of castes is not presented as a scale that goes from the higher to the lower, by as a system of concentric circles around an absolute point that is the traditional unity.

All the castes are therefore to be considered on the same level and is unfortunately the incomprehension of this elementary truth that has produced the democratic illusion and error. Instead of putting themselves at the higher point of view that is the divine order, men have descended into the human level that has no value when it is cut off from the divine and thus the revolt has happened in the sense of the same caste which, going beyond its limits, has flooded like a river that runs over the banks and violently levels what it floods. Then, after having cut off the human from the divine, with a logic of free will whose unconsciousness is truly stupefying, the divine plane is confused with the human and what is equal in the eyes of God, they want to transform to equality in the eyes of man, not knowing that equalization is possible only through a being who is beyond the plane considered and, as such, through His own summit, glimpses a unique level while this level does not exist below. They even go back to the sacred texts in order to justify this error of perspective, interpreting it in the most absurd way, overturning every traditional order, abandoning the true God to create a god in man’s own image and likeness. It is seen in the abolition of true order, that distinctive, determinative and determined order of castes, the affirmation of the principle of liberty, not knowing that this in the absolute sense exists only in God, while in man it is conformity to the law of God. According to which every element of creation must remain absolutely in its place in order to be the normal element of nature. But since this democratic leveling was unnatural and restrictive, the castes were transformed into classes and the activity generally understood as a complementary way in the unity of tradition and contemplation, was transformed into work, i.e., into pain, coercion, since such is the meaning of the Latin word.

That explains the class warfare that is the degenerate form of disputes between the castes, which, as we said, is always limited to the first two for reasons of quite another order then those who fuel the claims of the current lower classes. Now “work”, properly called, can be applied only to the caste of Workers if this is considered as the last for the reason already mentioned, and not to the Warriors and Priests whose activity is absolutely of a totally different order. The latter are tutelary of the divine constitution, the former protectors of the human constitution, and neither of the two castes therefore leads by its activity to the satisfaction of its own needs: therefore in a truly traditional society, it is necessary that the last caste provides the maintenance of the first two, neither the Priest nor the Warrior, being able to work, and that in an absolute way, since work would impede the fulfillment of their very difficult task, the maintenance of the traditional order.

Referring to the circular symbolism of which we just mentioned, if this represents the traditional world as a circle whose center is constituted by the Priests and the circumference by the Warriors, the very close relationship of these two castes in a perfectly organized society will appear: the Warriors represent the centripetal convergence that binds all the points determining them in the univocal axis. They, with their power, defend the traditional purity, which cannot be accomplished materially by the Priests who are contemplatives and who must be protected in the external order by the Warriors. In the convergence resulting from the harmony between these two powers, the two greatest energies of the traditional world, true, integrally solid, power is achieved, the forest of swords that protect God’s enclosure. We recommend to everyone to achieve in its fullness the results that would be obtained from the harmony and the cooperation between the spiritual authority and temporal power through the true destinies of humanity brought back into the great traditional riverbed.

8 thoughts on “The Establishment of a Traditional Society: Workers

  1. Following the dissolution of the Roman Empire, there was a concerted effort (documented in Georges Duby’s “The Three Orders”) to re-establish society on the basis of the three functions described by Georges Dumezil.

  2. Has there ever been a culture that has gone from being like ours to having castes? I can’t think of one in recorded history, but there might be something in mythology that speaks to moving from a dark age to a traditional society.

  3. Thank you for the original quotation. Giorgio’s creation of a neologism shows that he understands and maintains the essential distinction between labor and opus.

    “Why would Arendt put the nobility with the workers in the medieval era? They didn’t think so.”

    If the caste system functions as an order then no part can be disregarded; the whole thing is equally traditional and must remain in balance. I made a very bad summary of Arendt on the way to that point. She was not trying to lump workers and nobility together, but rather show how politics was degraded from a formerly sacred status. Classical politics was seen as part of the pursuit of the sacred, while medieval secular power became distinct from spiritual authority, although it aimed for harmony between the two. (Modern politics, of course, is even worse!) The classical philosophers focused much of their efforts on trying to perfect the earthly city, but Augustine told us to abandon the earthly city and seek the divine. Obviously Arendt’s argument was way more complex than this but my memory works best with concrete examples.

  4. RE (2), this is the sentence: “le caste si sono trasformate in classi e l’attivita’ generalment intesa come via complementare, nell’unita’ traditionale, di quella contemplative, si e’ trasformata in lavoro, cioe’ in pena, in costrizione, poiche’ tale e’ il sense del termine latino”

    Rather than the normal word “lavoratore”, he calls this class the “operarii”, a neologism.

    Why would Arendt put the nobility with the workers in the medieval era? They didn’t think so.

    The worker’s freedom is conditioned since he works with forms as an individual, unlike the Priests and Warriors (although the difference between “conditioned” and “conditionality” is unclear, at least in English.) The Priests tries to transcend form, and the freedom of the warriors is conditioned by his necessary activity in the world, but not by individual forms, they deal with the whole. That does not mean the worker is not free.

    The labor of the animal is always natural. The work of man is transcendent and is the reflection of a supernatural reality.

  5. This discussion reminds me of Josef Pieper’s “Leisure, the basis of culture”. If you guys have time it’s worth picking up. Fairly short, but very good.

  6. Graham:

    (1) By analogy of India, the fourth caste is part of the initial caste system and is not outside it. Arguably the creation of outcastes is unbalancing and therefore undesirable in Tradition.

    I wonder if this missing fourth has anything to do with Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, where the fourth is a necessary part of stability in three dimensional geometry, even though fourths constantly seem to go missing in those dialogues.

    (2) Can we get the original word Giorgio is using here? He doesn’t seem to be talking about work (opus) but labor. Labor, in both its masculine and feminine meanings, is a necessary task but one that requires less intellect than work.

    Now some writers claim that work is supposed to be inferior to philosophy. Hannah Arendt places both contemplation and politics above work in classical civilization, and only contemplation in medieval civilization. In my opinion, though, an opus is something that, despite being physical, rises above the animal need for labor, as reflected in the ornate work put into all physical objects at the height of great civilizations.

  7. There are three points somewhat unclear to me.

    (1) He speaks of a ‘Fourth’ state which unifies the others in ineffability, and of an analogous ‘fourth’ state of Servile Workers. Am I correct in understanding that they comprise those who are ‘outside’ the caste system, the former by being above it, the latter by being beneath it?

    (2) Later he speaks of work versus activity. Am I right in taking this distinction to have some relationship to the principle of freedom? With respect to the circular symbolism he employs, do the rings nearer the centre ‘act’ in a higher degree, while those approaching the periphery ‘work’? It is unclear to me. AK Coomaraswamy writes that the artisan’s activity is composed of both contemplation (in conceiving the work) and servile labour (in executing it). Personally, I have found that purely intellectual endeavours feel more nearly like work (in the sense of pain and toil) than do endeavours where ‘theory’ flows into manual activity.

    (3) The meaning of the principle of liberty escapes me. Man’s liberty is conformity to the law of God – so far so good. Caste forms a part of this law, self-evidently, so we can say that far from being oppressive, it is most free — a man is most free when he occupies the station conforming to his nature. But can we still say that the upper castes, insofar as they are closer to the centre, have ‘more freedom’ than the lower castes? There is something quantitative about this thought, and which is incongruent with my experience of being more free when operating within my natural capacities.

    I do hope that the next installment will have more to say about the role and possibilities of the Workers. As an aside, for those who may have forgotten, Guenon’s Reign of Quantity has several excellent chapters bearing on the crafts and their spiritual possibilities.

  8. Cant believe I’m the first to reply, this is brilliant ! clear wording and not obtuse and babbling nonsense like many works long in form but short in substance.

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