ars libertatis

31 July 1909 – 26 May 1999

The temptation to inject Christian precepts into the practical order in such a naive way that they become self-defeating is especially great in a society where Christian trends have a sentimental and historic basis. Socialism and communism, though able to invade areas without a Christian tradition, could have been born only of civilizations with a strong Christian background. And not only the ethical content of Christianity fosters and promotes the temptation toward socialism, but also much of Christian imagery and doctrine. Along the path of the socialist utopia lies a day of judgment when the humble will be exalted and the rich and mighty brutally dispossessed. And from the Socialist-Communist utopia itself can be gleaned the picture of paradise lost-and regained: a new age of innocence, of peace and brotherly love, with envy, crime, and hatred banished forever.

Of course this “Edenism” is already present in democracy which is a conscious-subconscious effort - no more and no less so than nudism - to recreate Paradise. Democracy uses the magic formula, “We are not ruled, we rule ourselves” to relativize the State, the painful result of original sin, just as nudism tries to solve the sexual problem by shedding clothes. (As if nude people had no sexual problems!) Neither in our political nor in our sexual life does it make sense to pretend that we are like Adam and Eve.

Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse

In the last 200 years the exploitation of envy, its mobilization among the masses, coupled with the denigration of individuals, but more frequently of classes, races, nations or religious communities has been the very key to political success. The history of the Western World since the end of the eighteenth century cannot be written without this fact constantly in mind. All leftist “isms” harp on this theme, i. e. , on the privilege of groups, minority groups, to be sure, who are objects of envy and at the same time subjects of intellectual-moral inferiorities. They have no right to their exalted positions. They ought to conform to the rest, become identical with “the people,” renounce their privileges, conform. If they speak another language, they ought to drop it and talk the lingo of the majority. If they are wealthy their riches should be taxed away or confiscated. If they adhere to an unpopular ideology, they ought to forget it. Everything special, everything esoteric and not easily understood by the many becomes suspect and evil (as for instance the increasingly “undemocratic” modern art and poetry). Of course there is one type of unpopular minority that cannot conform and therefore is always in danger of being exiled, suppressed or slaughtered: the racial minority.

Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse

The modern magic of sameness has been enhanced not only by a technology producing identical objects (e.g., one type of car owned “commonly” by half-a-million people), but also by the subconscious realization that sameness is related to cheapness and that sameness makes for greater intelligibility, especially to simpler minds. Identical laws, identical measurements, an identical language, an identical currency, an identical education, an identical intellectual level, an identical political power (“one-man-one-vote”), identical pay rates, identical or near-identical clothes (the blue denim of Communist China!)-all this seems highly desirable. It simplifies matters. It is cheaper. It saves thinking. To certain minds it even seems "more just.

Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse

The great crisis of Protestantism in the Anglo-Saxon as well as in the Scandinavian world is intrinsically connected with the breakdown and shrinkage of the average man’s power of imagination; this is after all the loss of a faculty which is as serious as the loss of a limb or sense, or perhaps even more so. One of the most important differences between “modern” society and preindustrial society consists largely in the great antithesis between phantasism and realism, between man and machine. All fictional heroes in Europe, from Parzifal and Don Quixote to Peer Gynt and Dostoyevsky’s “Idiot,” are fantasist dreamers. The “traditional” European, and especially the nonprogressive easterner and southerner, has almost always an “inner realm” of which he is king. This is the reason why he does not feel the grim realities so keenly (as we outsiders imagine he does) and manages to retire into his realm of dreams like a tortoise into her shell. The total materialists (who are called “realists” without justification because their nonrecognition of metaphysics as well as lack of imagination makes them anything else but realists in a higher sense) have always led uncomfortable and drab lives, hurting themselves continuously, while the dreamer might live in all luxury among the creations of his phantasy. The dreamer and fantasist is in a way invincible while the “realistic” materialist is exposed to danger by more than one Achilles heel. The fantasist and dreamer has moreover the added advantage of a greater dexterity in the interpretation of the visible world, thanks to his well-cultivated artistic vision. With transcendental perception his eye sees through things and happenings, and he thus uncovers and senses the deeper causalities and reasons which remain hidden to the cold and expressionless fishy eye of the “realist.” Protestantism as well as technicism has contributed a great deal toward the firm entrenchment of “realism” in the modern world. The former preached an unnatural “soberness” while the latter actuated a real “desiccation” of the human mind.

Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse

The vast majority of Americans and Englishmen talking about “democracy” always include the element of liberalism in their concept of it—and this, as we have noted before, in spite of the fact that democracy and liberalism are concerned with two entirely different problems.

Democracy, let us repeat, is concerned with the question of who should be vested with ruling power; while liberalism deals with the freedom of the individual, regardless of who carries on the government. A democracy can be highly illiberal, while on the other hand an absolute ruler could be a thorough liberal—without being for this reason the least bit democratic. Even a dictator, theoretically, could be a liberal (see above, pp. 3, 10). Though admittedly the likelihood of a modern dictator having this propensity is very small because, as the leader of an ideologically-inclined mass party, he will have strong majoritarian (and thus totalitarian) tendencies. A purely military dictatorship based on the bayonets and sabres of a handful of professional soldiers has greater liberal potentialities (one has only to compare Franco, Oliveira Salazar and Pétain with Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin).

It should be self-evident that the principle of majority rule is a decisive step in the direction of totalitarianism. By the sheer weight of numbers and by its ubiquity the rule of 99 per cent is more “hermetic” and more oppressive than the rule of 1 per cent. (Of course unanimity, which was an early medieval principle of government, is not oppressive. Yet the question remains whether “unanimity” does not, in a sense, obviate “rule.” Psychologically, rule stemming from a person considered superior is less oppressive than coercion exercised by equals—not to mention that exercised by those felt to be inferior.) Even 51 per cent of a nation can establish a totalitarian and dictatorial régime, suppress minorities, and still remain democratic; there is, as we have said, little doubt that the American Congress and the French Chambre have a power over their respective nations which would rouse the envy of a Louis XIV or a George III were they alive today.

Liberty or Equality

Is Catholicism in its own way not of a fairly totalitarian nature?

We would like to answer this question by two illustrations. Let us remember, first of all, the old programme: “In necessities unity; in doubtful things liberty; in everything charity.” This programme should be heartily endorsed.

The first two postulates can well be likened to a tree standing with its trunk well rooted in the soil while its long branches, rich in leaves, are playfully moved by the wind. The trunk and the roots are the “necessities,” the branches and leaves the “doubtful things.” Yet the totalitarian societies of our modern era can be compared to a tree whose roots are perversely hanging in the air, while its branches and leaves are screwed to long metal poles and have thus become immovable.

This picture—at first glance—may seem to be rather unjust. But let us conjure up the memory of a late medieval feast. The guests have arrived in a great variety of clothes, and even the costumes of the males show the most adventurous diversity. But they all would have belonged to one faith and one basic ideology. Based on this common denominator, they would have uttered a whole score of views. Yet we can very well imagine a dinner given in a “modern democracy”—and not only a so-called “people’s democracy” of the Eastern pattern!—in which all the men arrive in a black uniform (the tuxedo or “tails”), all of them with clean-shaven faces, all of them uttering in unison with parrot-like monotony the same identical political and social clichés. After some questioning and investigation one would nevertheless find that this monotony stems from a chaotic cauldron of the most variegated religions and philosophies. If a deist Mason, a Catholic, a Barthian, a vegetarian with Hinduist notions, and a “Freethinker” consider it as natural that they all believe in equality, majority rule, compulsory education and “progress”—then we have to doubt sincerely not only the logicality of their capacity to think, but also their real freedom of thinking! And it is also self-evident that a society with different premises, but bent upon achieving the same results from its “thinking” process, has to exercise a far greater pressure than one with a uniform religious basis. In its stark irrationalism such a society must be strictly anti-intellectual, and arrive at the very rejection of methodic thought.

Liberty or Equality

The first steps toward a secularization and despiritualization of modern culture were made by the nineteenth-century “liberals” of the etatistic brand who started the downward trend by the institution of the obligatory civil marriage. Thus marriage became primarily a legal affair, a “free” and therefore dissolvable contract between two persons. The omnipotent state, which “sanctified” the marital bed with revenue stamps and legal permits, did not stop at that point. The modern Leviathan goes even further and investigates the racial and sanitary background of those concerned and then nods approval or raises a prohibiting warning finger.

The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large, 1943