, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)
From the description of the book at the Mises Institute site:
[Kuehnelt-Leddihn] marshals the strongest possible case that democratic equality is the very basis not of liberty, as is commonly believed, but the total state…. He further argues the old notion of government by law is upheld in old monarchies, restrained by a noble elite. Aristocracy, not democracy, gave us liberty.
I will review here the first chapter: Democracy and Totalitarianism: The Prophets. To properly capture the meaning of the title of EvKL’s book, consider that democracy is the most appropriate, if not only, proper political expression for a society comprised of “equals.” So, you could consider instead: Liberty or Democracy.
The notion that tyranny evolves naturally from democracy can be traced back to the earliest political theorists…
Aristotle offers a glimpse; Plato's Republic offers “an almost perfectly accurate facsimile….” EvKL does not rely solely on such ancient sources; he focusses on those from the one or two centuries prior to the totalitarian twentieth century – those who saw the direction that the West was taking since the Enlightenment and could see where this path would lead.
The long gap in examples between Plato and the Enlightenment was because democracy during this intervening time was relatively unknown except for the case of certain city governments. This changed with the American and French Revolutions. Some observers saw this movement toward democracy as one which would provide stability and balance; others saw it merely as a step toward tyranny and total servitude.
EvKL offers a long list of such thinkers, concentrated in the first half of the nineteenth century. Something for me to consider, given statements I have made in the past: about half of these could be called liberals, and these were the most vocal in their denunciation of the pending evil:
Contemplating this list it is certainly no exaggeration to state that, during the nineteenth century, some of the best minds in Europe (and in America) were haunted by the fear that there were forces, principles and tendencies in democracy which were, either in their very nature or, at least, in their dialectic potentialities, inimical to many basic human ideals —freedom being one among them.
Democracy: the god that was destined to fail.
Standing Naked Before Man
Lord Canning, who had a sharp eye for the signs of the times, stated that “the philosophy of the French Revolution reduced the nation into individuals, in order afterwards to congregate them into mobs."
We saw this idea in Nisbet’s work. Democracy is based on all men created equal; democracy demands uniformity. It is this uniformity that threatens liberty and gives rise to tyranny:
Citing Benjamin de Constant, writing in 1814:
[Despotism] has an easier road with individuals: it rolls its enormous weight over them as easily as over sand.
Lower Your Shields
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to service us.
Resistance is futile.
Continuing with Benjamin de Constant
The same code of law, the same system of weights and measures, the same regulations, and (if one can arrive at it) eventually the same language—this is what one proclaims the perfection of any social organization. . . .
Arguments in favor of liberty that are grounded in universalism cannot stand in the way of the totalitarianism that results from conformity; certainly, universalism demands ever expanding (in geography and scope) conformity, and conformity neuters the individual – more precisely, conformity destroys the intermediating social institutions that stand between man and an all-powerful State.
Jacob Burckhardt writes, regarding a speech of President U. S. Grant:
The complete programme contains Grant's latest address, which points to a single state with one language as the necessary aim of a purely acquisitive world
In the words of an early example of pop-culture virtue signaling, we are the world.
The Lowest Common Denominator
In one of many observations offered by EvKL that has a very unfortunate similarity to events of our own time, N. D. Fustel de Coulanges offers: