A reader (and forgive me, I cannot remember what your nom de cyber is) in a startlingly magnanimous act gave me a copy of Leftism Revisited: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot authored by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn from Austria. The terms of the bargain were that I would write a review in return.
First impressions: Mr. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn displays an impressive and deep grasp of history and politics, and, like others who have encountered him, I am almost awed by how well read and well traveled he is. If you want an American to realize he is provincial, have him read Kuehnelt-Leddihn.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn is an unabashed monarchist, a conservative in what might be called the European sense of the word: one who upholds the dignity and sacral character of the throne and the altar, the crown and the miter.
A point of view more foreign to my own cannot be imagined: on the flag of the commonwealth in which I live blaze the immortal words SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS, and the seal displays armed Liberty with a naked sword over a fallen king, his crown in the dust. My commonwealth, Virginia, also (perhaps unwisely) entered into an alliance or federation with other sovereign states surrounding, and much of our sovereignty, far beyond what was originally agreed, has been stolen away. They could not have won their liberty from the British Crown without us, and so we have been ill repaid. Nonetheless, I am the heir of the deeds and words of Virginians such as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Zachary Taylor, John Marshall, Patrick Henry, George Wythe, John Paul Jones, and so on.
My point here is that the collectivist and communist are actually closer in position to me than a monarchist, because communism springs out of (or perverts, take your pick) Enlightenment political theories, Rousseau’s social contract, Locke’s theories of the innate rights of man, Adam Smith’s labor theory of value, and so on. Kuehnelt-Leddihn's love of monarchic polities is based on an older, I will call it Catholic, world view, and this has been tempered (or made bitter) by the sad testamony of history, the insanities and enormities, the sheer mass of bloodshed, unleashed by democracies and populist movements worldwide.
Nonetheless, I found the book thought-provoking and compelling. Nay, further, I will say it is a’must-read’ for anyone who calls himself a conservative. The analysis of the thought and history of Leftism is peerless, insightful, and lucid.
Let me say a brief (painfully brief, to the point of misleading) word about the main topics Kuehnelt-Leddihn covers.
THE LEFTIST MIND
Kuehnelt-Leddihn, following Aristotle and de Tocqueville, identifies hale and corrupt forms of government. (Good Form: Monarchy, the rule of one man in the interest of the common good. Bad Form: Tyranny, the rule of one man for his own benefit. Good Form: Aristocracy, the rule of a group in the interest of the common good. Bad Form: Oligarchy, the rule of a group for its own benefit. Good Form: Republic or Polity, the rule of the better part of the people in the interest of the common good. Bad Form: Democracy, the rule of the worse part of the people for their own benefit.)
In this section he makes an argument against equality based on a simple ambiguity. He conflates political equality, equality in the eyes of a law, with homogeneity in accomplishment, intelligence, wealth, and so on. His argument is as foolish as arguing that since all man are not the same height and weight, therefore paupers who steal bread should be punished by different laws and forms of justice than princes committing the same crime. The argument was so poorly thought out that I nearly tossed the book aside, but forced myself to continue reading for the sake of the reader who gave me the book.
His argument that liberty and equality have a tension or hostility between them is more convincing. He uses the word ‘democracy’ to refer to what I have in all other places heard called ‘populism’, that is, the drive of the more numerous but lower classes to impose uniformity on all members of the polity. The envy of the poor and low against the rich and high Americans, with our unique social mobility (anyone can become president) tend to underestimate. The healthy American response to seeing a rich neighbor is ambition: the drive to compete and outperform him, not envy, the hellish desire to bring him low.
He repeats the Founding Fathers in the USA had no love of democracy, which they identified with mob rule, the populist madness that killed Socrates, and elevated Caesar to power. They were Whigs, who sought to elevate the landed aristocracy and parliamentary powers above the monarch, who was reduced to an elected administrator, and in other ways to limit the powers of the government to prevent both the state from above and the demos from below from imposing unfreedom and uniformity on the elite. The exception of America is that the elite was open to new members, not a club restricted by birth.
He offers a tremendous list of the shortcomings of Democracy, but the argument nowhere lists the shortcomings of Monarchy. Nonetheless, I found one point most telling: the monarchs in Europe. whose power was hedged in by parliaments of Bishops and Dukes, and held in check by the international character of the Church, were always relatively poor. Heed that, O Libertarians. Your ability to keep your precious private property out of the hands of the tax-gatherer is higher, and hedged about by more protections, when you are ruled by a monarch of limited means and limited power, than when you are ruled (or owned) by an unchecked and uncheckable congress or diet or national assembly.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn introduces the distinction between ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ loyalties. Horizontal loyalty was what was seen in the French Revolution, when all ‘citoyens’ were required to think, speak and act the same, serve as conscripts in the army, and exterminate nonconformists as in the Alsace Lorraine area. Vertical loyalty (if I understand his description) was something more like what Ayn Rand describes, where loyal yeoman Eddie Willers serves natural aristocrat Dagny Taggart, with no expectation of any equality of honor or income. Vertical loyalty allows for ambition, vertical loyalty allows for the accumulation of private property and private fortunes, which Mussolini, as well as Stalin and Mao (not to mention Rousseau and Obama) regard as the fundamentally antisocial and original sin of mankind. One need only hear populist denunciations of Wall Street fat cats or plutophile doctors and insurance companies to grasp what is meant by horizontal versus vertical loyalty. The main appeal of the romance of the Noble Savage of Rousseau, was that the savages owned little or no property: even a chieftain among the American Indians was only marginally wealthier than the least of his tribe and clan. The main appeal of Communism is that the bitter hatred and envy felt against rich Jews can be expiated in an orgy of sadism and bloodshed, and the image of one of clean and gleaming futuristic factories, electrified homes, aeroplanes and steel mills, all worked by antlike yet happy armies of men (and women!) in dun or olive drab uniforms.
Democracy, so says Kuehnelt-Leddihn, is inherently flattening. The abolition of the distinction between male and female so prevalent among Marxist-Feminists, and the abolition of the distinction between men and beasts so prevalent among Marxist-Greens, is rooted in their their Harrison Bergeron-esque love of equality, their horizontal loyalty.
LEFTISM IN HISTORY
Kuehnelt-Leddihn emphasizes the connection between dictatorships (starting with Caesar, a dictatorship properly so called) and populism.
A number of popular historical myths are exploded by Kuehnelt-Leddihn, and this book is invaluable merely for that. I cannot in the space of a book review defend these positions, indeed, I can little more than adumbrate them.
He argues that the American Revolution was not a revolution but a war of Independence. (Speaking as a Virginian, I can testify that the House of Burgesses was in command of this commonwealth before, during and after the war, and the poor did not rise up to despoil the rich).
The French Revolution, on the other hand, he identifies as the turning point and seminal moment for the ills of the later centuries. All the features later displayed in the movements of the Russian Socialists, the German National Socialists, and the Italian Fascists, are here in primitive form. The sheer sadism and savagery of the French Revolution he dwells upon, and hints of further savageries not described. And here I mean Sadism literally: the Marquis de Sade was a supporter of the Revolution and a member of the government. The description of the storming of the Bastille was shocking to me—I had not heard how few prisoners were released (eight) nor how the crowd sadistically tortured and killed guards, prison officials after they had surrendered to promises that they would not be harmed. The mob laved the prison cook with butter and burned them slowly over a griddle. I had not heard of the practice of taking guillotine victims, and posing the headless still-warm corpses in erotic displays for the mockery of the mobs. I had not heard of the plans of the Committee of Public Safety to pull down steeples and all tall buildings in the name of egalitarianism.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn follows the intellectual history of Leftist thought from its origins in the French Revolution through democracy to romantic socialism, to scientific and international socialism, to communism, Marxism, Fascist Statism , Hitlerism, national socialism and socialist racism. This tour is worth reading if for no other reason than to see the vaporing of Pierre Joseph Proudhon, whose plans for Utopia included having children clean the streets and farmers wearing gay costumes and singing at their labors, a two-hour workday, all property own in common, and other hallucinations.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn puts to rest once and for all that old canard which defines Hitler and Mussolini as “Rightwing.” In their thought and rhetoric and social policy, in word and in deed, they were leftist and progressive from start to finish. This argument, however, will never cease, since the Left have no other criticism to level against conservatives unless they accuse conservatives of the very things they themselves are guilty of: this is why (so I assume) leftwing argumentation has that particular character of being so aggressive yet insubstantial, so loud and self-righteous and yet so filled with hatred for righteousness. If the Left could not call us Nazis and racists, what argument could they level against the ideals of limited government, the free market, gun-ownership and the rights of man? If you entertain any doubts on this point, from what strand of political theory Hitlerism and Fascism spring, and of which party they are heretics, read this book, and the question will be settled. Or did you think Hitler got his ideas from John Locke and Thomas Jefferson?
Kuehnelt-Leddihn mentions of the twenty-five points in the Nazi Party’s 1920 platform, which are socialist. "The program championed the right to employment and called for the institution of profit sharing, confiscation of war profits, prosecution of userers and profiteers, nationalization of trusts, communalization of department stores, extension of the old-age pension system, creation of a national education program of all classes, prohibition of child labor, and an end to the dominance of investment capital." Does that sound like it comes from the Cato Institute to you?
Kuehnelt-Leddihn places particular emphasis on the religious, or, rather, irreligious origins of these political thought. Like GK Chesterton, he sees the connection between Christian theology and all recent political philosophies springing from Europe.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn in this section spends much ink defining the difference between real liberalism (limited government and the rights of man) and false liberalism (socialism). I can sum up the difference in a sentence: real liberals are now called libertarians, or Goldwater Republicans. False liberals are the Leftists.
THE LEFT AND US FOREIGN POLICY
In the final section of the book, Kuehnelt-Leddihn examines the Leftist influence in American foreign policy, and he excoriated Woodrow Wilson, particularly for the reprehensible policies toward the Hapsburgs, and the Balkanization of Eastern Europe.
World War Two comes under particular criticism: Churchill and FDR and Truman are denounced for the firebombings of Desden and the atom-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and, of course, for giving Eastern Europe into the hands of the Soviets, rather than, as Patton wished, freeing them.
The abysmal horror of the Viet Nam war is lightly touched upon, and, again the emphasis is on the incompetence and insularity of the American foreign policy.
In the concluding chapters, Kuehnelt-Leddihn repeats his theme, and proscribes a medicine for the future. He opines that Conservatives cannot be content to be the anti-ideologues: he recommends the Principles of the Portland Declaration (http://www.phillysoc.org/Portland.htm) as a foundation for a stronger conservative edifice.
To give you a sense of his thinking, here I quote in full Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s definition of the Left and Right. He defines descriptively, by listing their salient characteristics.
- materialism: economic, biological, sociological
- messianism assigned to one group: a nation, a race, a class
- centralization: elimination of local administrations, traditions, characteristics, etc.
- totalitarianism: pervasion of all spheres of life by one doctrine
- brute force and terror, not authority, an endogenous force
- ideological one-party state
- complete state control of education
- socialism: the opposite of personalism
- provider (welfare) state: from the cradle to the grave
- militarism (not bellicosity): conscription, people's armies, levée en masse
- rigid ideology enforced by the state: complete anti-image of "The Enemy"
- antimonarchical leader system: the leader (Führer, Duce, Vozhd')
- antiliberalism: hatred of freedom
- antitraditionalism: against the historic past, against "reaction"
- territorial expansionist tendencies as form of self-realization
- exclusiveness: no other deities tolerated
- elimination of corps intermédairs (intermediary bodies)
- conformity of mass media: press, radio, television
- elimination or relativizing of private property: where it survives in name, it is totally under state control; the entrepreneur is merely the steward of his "property"
- persecution, subjection, or control of all religious bodies
- "right is what benefits the People" (Hitler); "right is what benefits the Party" (Partynost', Lenin)
- hatred of minorities
- glorification of the majority and the "average man"
- glorification of revolution, revolt, upheaval
- plebeianism: fight against the former elites
- hunt for "traitors"; resentment agaisnt emigrants
- populism and "uniformism" (people's courts, people's cars, etc.)
- ideological roots in French Revolution
- constant reference to democratic principles
- dynamic monolithism: state, society, people become one
- coordination through slogans, poems, songs, symbols, phrases
- secular rites replacing religious rites
- conformism as vital principle
- incitement of mass hysteria
- technology in the service of power
- freedom--below the belt
- everything for the state, everything through the state, nothing against the state (Mussolini)
- totally politicized life: tourism, sports, recreation
- nationalism or internationalism as against patriotism
- struggle against extraordinary people, against "privileges"
- total mobilization of envy in the interest of party and state
1. The opposite of all the above or its absence.