…and, therefore, liberty.
, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)
The history of the wild, wild left…
Leftism in the Western World has roots reaching way back into the dim past. Leftist ideas and notions made themselves felt again and again in late medieval and modern history, but for its first concrete and, in a way, fateful outbreak and concretization we have to look to the French Revolution.
That’s the Cliff’s Notes version….
My intent is to focus on the time beginning with the European Middle Ages. My reasons for not reaching back any further in time should be clear to regular readers; also, I think it will be clear from some of what is offered by EvKL. For example, regarding the political liberties of the Greece of Plato and Aristotle:
…while social liberties were perhaps marked, political liberties were few, though here we have to bear in mind that the concept of the person as we know it did not exist in antiquity. It makes its appearance in the Western World-and solely in the Western World-only with the advent of Christianity.
Is there really much point to go further back in time? To a time when a person was not considered a person? Well, maybe I will go back just a little, regarding the egalitarian idea of democracy:
Not only the democratic government, but the "dear people" were opposed to Socrates and he can, without exaggeration, be called a victim of democracy, of the vox populi.
Salvador de Madariaga has said that Western civilization rests on two deaths – the death of Socrates and the death of Christ. And indeed the Crucifixion was also a democratic event.
Two wolves and a sheep (well, a Lamb in one case) voting on what to have for dinner.
During the Middle Ages "democracy" had a bad connotation among intellectuals who alone knew its meaning.
Democracy existed in some smaller societies, in the Alps and the Pyrenees, Iceland and Norway. The larger and more developed societies had mixed governments with a monarch at the top – a monarch by birth or elected by a small elite.
The mixed governments are balanced ones. The king was not at all powerful. Rex sub Lege [the king under the law] was the standard formula. He had no right to levy taxes and the penury of monarchs is a permanent feature of medieval and post-medieval society. The king's power was curtailed by powerful vassals, the Church, the diet in which the Estates were represented, and the free municipalities who had great privileges. Absolutism and totalitarianism were unknown in the Middle Ages.
No democracy, no absolutism, no totalitarianism; decentralized and competing governance institutions. No State – not even a hint of what we live under today. At a time when the individual was found, and only in a Christian culture and tradition.
Of course, there were religious sects that were quite leftist in their orientation. EvKL offers the Waldensians as one example. “What distinguished them from the Reformers was the cult of poverty…”
EvKL then spends some time on John Wycliffe:
Wyclif began by first denouncing papal supremacy, thus earning the sympathies of his king. He then proceeded to question transubstantiation and the prerogatives of the clergy for which he received the support of the nobility. Finally he advanced democratic theories and denounced wealth altogether, and so gave impetus to the agrarian revolt.
That was in the fourteenth century. Then came Luther:
An analogous development took place when Luther (who knew the writings of Wyclif) declared the Pope to be antichrist and received the protection of the princes against the Emperor; and then, when he denounced the clergy and the monastic institutions, he won the applause of the nobility.
Luther went no further. When he saw the extremist fruits of his labor, he denounced the movement.
You can see in both Wycliffe and Luther the attraction to the kings and nobility of Europe – a way to break free from Rome. Both Wycliffe and Luther looked back to Marsilius of Padua, who…
…in support of Emperor Ludwig I and trying to undermine the political claims of the papacy, also attacked its hierarchical status and finally developed a democratic theory of government. He declared that original political power resides in the people collectively or at least in its better (valentior) part.
EvKL offers an overview of how these events led to movements of identitarian politics, envy regarding class, and “for the first time in Christian European history, a king was formally put to death,” in the seventeenth century.
Why such a focus on theology?
Proudhon said that it is surprising how at the bottom of politics one always finds theology.
All politics, including every “ism”…including libertarianism.
The reader might feel inclined to believe that our emphasis on theological ("religious") ideas, movements, and arguments so far are merely due to the profoundly religious character of the Middle Ages.
Not so, says EvKL. Even the tragedy of Socrates offered “political, philosophical, and religious sentiments and concepts.” For the first 1,700 years of Christianity, this interconnection continued in the West, with this shifting as demonstrated by the aforementioned French Revolution.
…in the last 200 years it has become evident that the isms cannot coexist peacefully with theistic religions, but have to fight them with all the means at their disposal. And vice versa.
It seems man can only serve one god.
It is precisely this fact that the modern totalitarian ideologies – from simple leftism to national socialism, international socialism, and communism – have not only a pseudomonastic but also a "heretical" aspect that make them so unacceptable and so incompatible with the great religions of the West: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
EvKL goes on to make a rather interesting point regarding the various “isms”
They derive most of their strength, as we shall see later on, from the secularized version of a few Christian tenets.
And an even more interesting point, and on which I am eminently unqualified to opine:
…the Reformation, contrary to an obsolete concept still surviving in English-speaking countries and finding its way into textbooks and films, was by no means the "beginning of liberalism" (genuine or fake), nor anything like the fulfillment of the Renaissance, but a late medieval and "monastic" reaction against humanism and the spirit of the Renaissance.
Up until I read this statement, let’s just say that I held to that “obsolete concept still surviving in English-speaking countries.” Now I don’t know what to believe.
To Luther the Renaissance (no less than Humanism) was a foul compromise between Christianity and paganism.
From his book
, EvKL offers:
St. Clement Maria Hofbauer declared about the Reformation: "The revolt from the Church began because the German people could not and cannot but be devout."
So what was the deal with the German Martin Luther (continuing from this book)?
Thus the real year of the Reformation is not 1517, but 1511, when Martin Luther, the Augustinian friar on his mission in Rome, for the first time in his life was face to face with the Renaissance.
The moral situation in Germany, according to EvKL, was no better. Apparently instead of finding hope in Rome, he left with despair…and a hammer…and a nail.
Returning to the current book:
Because the Reformation was a reaction against Humanism and the Renaissance, we should not be surprised that the Middle Ages in a certain sense continued in the Reformed world.
Corresponding to my view that while 1517 is an easy milestone to identify, the struggle of Christendom and the ultimate loss of decentralized and competing power structures occurred due to events dating from both before and after this time – culture and tradition and governance did not change overnight in all places, in the same way, at the same time.
Various sects, approaching various degrees of what we would describe as communistic, came forward at this time, led by men such as Thomas Münster, the former monk Pfeifer, Jan van Leyden. The Anabaptists: giving up all property, open sex, expectation of an imminent Judgement Day. Yet this leftism was not permanent:
The collapse of Anabaptism in northeastern Germany under the joint blows of the Catholics and the Lutherans terminated in the great leftist wave on the Continent for well over 200 years.
With the downfall of the first Stuart monarchy and the execution of Charles I (a truly world-shaking event), a new outbreak of populism emerged from the lower social layers and even endangered Cromwell's regime.
England in the seventeenth century provided a breeding ground for leftist thought; certain of these thoughts made their way to the colonies and thereafter to the United States.
Up till the War of Independence, however, they were hardly articulate. Still, it would be a great mistake to think that there was any specifically leftist or "progressivist" element in New England Puritanism.
Paul Kecskemeti said rightly: “…the basic idea upon which the Puritan political system was founded was that Church members alone could have political rights. This ensured that the Puritan commonwealth could be nothing but an oligarchy. As wealth was one of the criteria (though by no means the only one) on the basis of which it was determined whether one belonged to the 'elect,' the commonwealth was necessarily controlled by the wealthy.”
Which, of course, says something about the objectives of the founding fathers of the revolution, I am afraid.