Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Fatherland of Philosophy

History is the fatherland of philosophy.

-          Diodorus Siculus

Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)

EvKL offers that in every analysis of political phenomena, “we should always remain firmly grounded on philosophical soil, yet never lose sight of the historical realities – in the widest sense of the term.”

Citing Don Luigi Sturzo:

Philosophy and history will always remain two branches of one knowledge and speculation of man. If their convergence and reciprocal influence ceases, philosophy becomes sterile tautology and history an incoherent succession of meaningless facts.

I am reminded of Murray Rothbard, who offered:

The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith.

How are we to determine if an ethical ideal is “impractical”?  How would we determine what might be considered “practical”?  Clearly an understanding of human nature is necessary, and it seems to me that a good place to start understanding human nature is to examine man’s history.

In this, as you know, I have struggled through the political philosophy of Classical Liberalism and that of one of its offspring, Libertarianism.  Both ideas are quite impractical – if not dangerous – absent an understanding of, appreciation for, and grounding in the history that brought forth these liberalizing (in the best sense of the term) philosophies.

So, count me in with Diodorus, Sturzo, EvKL, and Rothbard on this one.

Liberty and Religion

We are convinced that religion—or, to be more precise, the character of a culture's religious basis—is the most important element in determining the affinities between nations and political forms. The success of specific political forms depends on the closeness and harmony of such affinities.

This is a very strong statement by EvKL, and, perhaps, not so different than statements that I have made in the past.  EvKL offers other factors that influence political forms: a collective historical experience, the geographic environment (as it affects a people’s psychology), economic realities.  Well lower on the list, EvKL would place “race.”  For those that he places higher (and to include “religion” as the highest), how could these be described other than with terms such as culture and tradition?  Where is culture and tradition to be found other than via an understanding of a people’s history?

Those who advocate that libertarianism is for all, universal, perhaps it is worth considering: religion, historical experience, a people’s psychology as impacted by geography: these are not universal.  So why is it rational to believe that a political philosophy could be applicable universally?

Christianity and Equality

Christianity was by no means egalitarian, but merely established new values and new (physical as well as metaphysical) hierarchies.

Christian equality regards the equality of human souls at the beginning of their existence.  Beyond this?  To suggest that Judas Iscariot at the end of the noose and John the Apostle in his last days on Patmos are somehow spiritually equal runs contrary to any possible human understanding of the words “spiritual” and “equal.”

If we focus our attention upon the biological, characteriological, intellectual and physical status of the individual, the inequalities are even more apparent.

Egalitarianism is, therefore, a hypocrisy (Rothbard does invaluable work in devastating this idea of egalitarianism).  Returning to EvKL: if egalitarianism is accepted and acted upon, its menace is greater:

Then all actual inequalities appear without exception to be unjust, immoral, intolerable.

Keep in mind, this book was published in 1952.

The situation is even worse when brutal efforts are made to establish equality through a process of artificial levelling ("social engineering") which can only be done by force, restrictions, or terror, and the outcome is a complete loss of liberty.

He had the French Revolution to look back on; he also had the future catastrophe of the West in his sights.

Democracy and Liberalism

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.

While democracy is the perfect form of government for the “all men are equal” crowd, it really has nothing to do with – and, in fact, almost always runs contrary to – the idea of freedom of the individual.  Does the average man even aspire to liberty?  Those on top certainly do not; those on the bottom may or may not but find no way out of their situation.  Those in the middle are left with resources barely sufficient to struggle through the day, with no energy or time for high-minded ideas like “liberty.”

It should be self-evident that the principle of majority rule is a decisive step in the direction of totalitarianism…. 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.)

This is so obvious, an example almost seems a waste of words: merely consider something as simple as work relationships.  It is easy to follow the “rule” of a real leader – often having nothing to do with a formal organization chart; it is a struggle to follow the lead of an incompetent, who happens to hold a title higher than yours.

Direct democracy is feasible in small units, and it still survives in New England town meetings and in certain Swiss cantons.

Contrasted with mass democracy – criticized (then) recently by Pope Pius XII and even Rousseau.  Yet technology has offered ever-increasing possibilities for mass-democracy.

…we have to ask ourselves whether a good (provided it really is a good) can become an evil if it exists in an unadulterated form. Moral philosophy and moral theology, unlike chemistry, admit of no alloys….Valid ethics have to be at least “theoretically practicable."

Again, as offered by Rothbard.

Christianity and Government

From a Christian point of view, the form of government must be judged based on its ethical content.  Yet, EvKL offers:

…the ranks of the philosophic defenders of democracy have been strengthened by moral theologians, not only of the Protestant persuasion, but even of the Catholic Church.

I have offered that there is no possibility to move toward liberty or a libertarian society absent Christian leaders taking up their proper role; in the West, this certainly means denouncing almost everything about the Progressivist agenda (i.e. denouncing almost every action – military, social, foreign policy, and otherwise – taken by Western governments; rightly criticizing the social justice agenda).

We believe that their concept of man is artificial, that their notions of the common good are out of focus, that their idea of society is a curious patchwork of opposites partly atomistic and partly totalitarian…

Their mistakes are not only of a philosophical but also of a theological nature. There is a very strong flavour of Rousseau in their arguments.

EvKL offers an examination of Original Sin; without going into this detail, he suggests that even atheists can agree with Christians regarding man’s shortcomings without agreeing on the causes.

Yet it is precisely this overlooking of original sin with its moral and intellectual results that seduces the democratic ideologists of the Neo-Thomist persuasion to arrive at their rigid and dogmatic constructions. They have, by necessity, the most daring educational schemes which take into account neither innate intellectual inequalities nor the absolute limitations of our capacities.

It is believed by leftists of all stripes that man can be purified, given their view that Original Sin is mythology.  Yet, it seems to me that one need not accept the idea of Original Sin to accept the idea that man is not perfect; we need not agree on the reasons why this is so in order to agree that it is so.  Any political philosophy that ignores – or attempts to eliminate this reality – is a political philosophy doomed both to failure and to tyranny.

Borders…or Lack Thereof

The ethical dogmatists of democracy run into equally hopeless difficulties when they have to deal with the problem of territorial allegiances.

What of the right of secession?  Which “majority” then rules?  Ireland for independence, or all of Great Britain against Ireland’s independence; six northern counties of Ulster to keep their ties with Britain, or the majority of Irishmen against this notion?

The problem of boundaries and local allegiance would exist in a world state also. It is rather naïve to believe that borders are felt merely on account of customs officials and passport regulations.

We “feel” borders around our homes; we “feel” borders around our communities; we “feel” borders around our traditions.  In a private property order, we would do much to defend these borders – this having nothing to do with “customs officials and passport regulations.”

From Medieval to Modern

It is evident that modern government has achieved an autonomy from society (we mean auto-nomy: the power to make and live by its own laws) which would baffle and frighten the medieval observer. Nietzsche's “coldest of all monsters" would terrify pre-Renaissance man.

This quote of Nietzsche is offered here, more fully and with some context:

A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: "I, the state, am the people."

It is a lie! Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.  Destroyers, are they who lay snares for many, and call it the state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.

Where there is still a people, there the state is not understood, but hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs.

Take some time to dwell on the implications of that last sentence.

Governance during much of Medieval Europe was voluntary, oath-based, driven by generally accepted traditions; governance during this time was most certainly not what we would call a State.  Medieval man would truly be embarrassed by the flabby shell of a man that has come to replace him.


I cannot make sense of Classical Liberalism or Libertarianism absent the culture and tradition from which it came and absent the presence of this culture and tradition through which it can be maintained.

Religion – and specifically Christianity – is the enemy of liberty?  Given the history of this liberty, it is impossible to accept this idea as rational; it is quite reasonable to consider those who put forth this idea as enemies of liberty.


Not all medieval men were “good” Catholics,” yet the vast majority of medieval men (and certainly the nobles) accepted and defended Catholic tradition and authority – authority exercised in the spiritual frame, which guided noble action in the physical frame.

No, I do not advocate a theocratic state; no, I do not believe that only Christians (however you define that term out of the thousand possibilities) can be “libertarian.”  My point is very simple: absent a grounding in and appreciation for the foundations that brought forth this libertarian idea, there is no possibility of achieving this libertarian idea.

Libertarians who stay silent on this point – or worse, mock and ridicule it (actually, I am not sure which of the two is worse) – are not after liberty.  Knowingly or unknowingly, they are after your enslavement.


  1. "No, I do not advocate a theocratic state; no, I do not believe that only Christians (however you define that term out of the thousand possibilities) can be “libertarian.” My point is very simple:" - BM

    "Theocracy is the destruction of human freedom in the name of God. Libertinism is the destruction of moral norms in the name of freedom. Neither will do." - Father Robert Sirico

  2. It is interesting, but I don't think Catholic doctrine since St. Thomas (maybe before even) holds that original sin affects the intellect. That is one of the things Reformers stood on as reasons for protesting and then seceding from the Roman Catholic church.

  3. "Yet it is precisely this overlooking of original sin with its moral and intellectual results that seduces the democratic ideologists of the Neo-Thomist persuasion to arrive at their rigid and dogmatic constructions."

    It's funny that totalitarians consider themselves to be the least dogmatic people ever. Yet, the rigid adherence and enforcement of the party line is a dogma that is punishable by banishment, imprisonment, destruction or even death for any blasphemy against it.

  4. I am north of the St Mary’s River. This Sault Ste Marie “feels” different than the one I see across the river. But I also felt most at home two days ago at Catholic Mass at St. Anne’s on an island with no cars. Which would I fight for, despite grand jury reports?

    1. ... and crossing from Massachusetts to Vermont, as I did on Wednesday, felt different to me - I could almost see the difference in the landscape, in the structures ... and looking across the river to New Hampshire from Vermont, as I've done on numerous occasions, gives evidence of the economic depression brought on by Vermont government meddling while, just across the river, there are few signs of a depressed economy. Even where I grew up in Maryland, just the differences between counties was noticeable. So, I have to agree with you 100%. I can't explain it but I have to agree.

    2. Two points:

      @Bionic: "To suggest that Judas Iscariot at the end of the noose and John the Apostle in his last days on Patmos are somehow spiritually equal runs contrary to any possible human understanding of the words 'spiritual' and 'equal'."
      The difference was in the choices they made.

      @Bionic: "Yet, it seems to me that one need not accept the idea of Original Sin to accept the idea that man is not perfect; we need not agree on the reasons why this is so in order to agree that it is so."
      I have received a lot of flack for putting this forward on Misean blogs by people who say that this is implied in the statement but I disagree. I feel that Mises' base axiom, "People Act", is inadequate. The more complete axiom should, instead, be "People Act Ignorantly" - I think this is much more descriptive of the process and paves the way to deeper insights.

  5. The Z-man has an interesting observation in his latest podcast: Everywhere democracy takes hold, religiosity suffers.

    Could it be that democracy devours itself?

    The Z-man offers a quote from John Quincy Adams:

    “I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.”

  6. Gary North:

    “There is always a theocracy.

    The debate is over who or what the social system's god is. A society's god makes the laws.

    Theocracy is government by God's law--not just civil government, but all government. It is not a top-down imposition of biblical law by an elite of priests, but, in contrast, a bottom-up imposition of biblical standards over every area of life--areas not regulated by civil law for the most part--by those people who are morally responsible for making decisions. As the process of dominion extends the authority of Christians over more and more areas of life, we will see the creation of a comprehensive theocracy. It will not come as the result of some sort of "palace revolution," but as a result of millions of God-fearing people working to extend the reign of Christ over every area of life.”