Monday, August 27, 2018

Vive la Révolution

And we're marching to Bastille Day
La guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Sing, oh choirs of cacophony
The king has kneeled, to let his kingdom rise
-          Bastille Day, Rush
Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)

Looking now at the background of the French Revolution – historically the mother of most of the ideological evils besetting not only Western civilization but also the rest of the world – we have to make an inventory of the roots of this iniquity.

EvKL considers the roots of the Revolution, in America, England, elsewhere on the Continent; he considers the people, the atrocities; finally, he points to the lasting legacy – a legacy which will be developed in the subsequent chapters of this book.  I will not spend time on the blood and terror; I will try to remain focused on the actors and the political philosophy.

Thomas Jefferson (and others)

Hamilton was convinced that Jefferson, while American Minister in Paris, had played a rather negative part. Hamilton said that “in France he [Jefferson] saw government only on the side of its abuses. He drank freely of the French philosophy, in religion, in science, in politics.”

From the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 dedicated to the legacy of Jefferson and Monticello: Jefferson had returned from France to Washington shortly before the falling of the Bastille; he was more enthusiastic about the revolution than was France’s own ambassador to the US, Jean Baptiste de Ternant.

His enthusiasm for the revolution became more heated, perhaps driven by his domestic battles with Hamilton, who – as noted – saw the revolution in a different light.  Even after knowledge of the execution of aristocrats came to America (but before Jefferson knew of the execution of Louis XVI), he penned these famous words:

“My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to the cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam & Eve left in every country, & left free, it would be better than as it now is.”

A quote not likely high on the “Jefferson Fan Club” list.  Returning to EvKL:

Hamilton was certain that Jefferson had not been innocent concerning the evolution in France after 1789 and John Adams was tortured by the thought that the United States and he himself had to take a large share of the blame for the horrors that followed the storming of the Bastille.

Citing a letter from Adams to Dr. Benjamin Rush, dated August 28, 1811:

“Have I not been employed in mischief all my days? Did not the American Revolution produce all the calamities and desolation to the human race and the whole globe ever since? I meant well, however. My conscience was clear as a crystal glass, without scruple or doubt.”

A sentiment repeated countless times by American leaders in the centuries since: I meant well; my conscience is clear.

It wasn’t only Hamilton who viewed the revolution in a negative light.  Jefferson's eventual successor as ambassador to Paris, Gouverneur Morris, offered to M. de Lafayette that he is “opposed to the democracy from regard to liberty.”

Yet Morris was a voice crying in the wilderness. As an American aristocrat he moved in the highest French circles and was nauseated by the leftist sentiments he encountered everywhere, not only among the nobility but also among the clergy.

If we consider today’s left, isn’t it comprised of many of the same people?  Today’s “nobility” (the elite) and “clergy” (both secular and religious)?

Comparing the Two Revolutions

Yet that there exists a "technical" filiation between 1776 and 1789 can hardly be denied, and it is precisely this "factual" connection which effectively masks the misunderstanding.

It was not necessarily so that 1789 would lead to 1792.  The revolution in 1789 France, like the revolution in America, had the support of the nobility; it was only in France where the revolution turned to terror in the hands of the bloodthirsty mobs – terror to include against many of the leaders of 1789.

In France, there were, of course, other factions beyond the nobility in support of revolution: the Jansenists (Bishop Henri Gregoire offered “kings are in the political order what monsters are in the natural”); the Huguenots (per Edmund Burke, “Their clergy are just the same atheists with those Constitutional Catholics, but still more wicked and daring.). 

Foreign influences – really misunderstandings – of earlier events in England and Switzerland (with the emphasis on personal liberty); a romanticized version of the situation in America (Rousseau vision: virgin forests, noble savages, free men, simple lives, log cabins, manors, and town halls in Grecian style); Americans in Paris (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane); finally, the stories brought back by the French who fought in America’s war.

Marquis de Sade

Given that he plays a leading role in the title of the book, perhaps it is worth spending some time on EvKL’s views of this character:

He is better known for his sexual aberrations than for his philosophy – sadism is named after him – but his real importance lies in the domain of politics….

I will spend time only on the “domain of politics….”

By and large the crimes of the Divine Marquis had been exaggerated: His deeds were neither so numerous nor so ferocious as reputed, since he spent most of his time in jails and hospitals for the criminally insane. However, he was not mentally ill.

De Sade was a resident of the Bastille, transferred out just days before the storming.  His role during his residency is described by EvKL:

Knowing about the unrest in Paris, he began to harangue the people from his window, saying that the prisoners were tortured and assassinated in the dark dungeons of the Bastille. He used a funnel to give greater strength to his voice.

It was for these pronouncements that de Sade was transferred from the Bastille.  Well after the fall of the Bastille, he would boast of the “ardor with which I called the people on the third of July to destroy the Bastille where the despots had me imprisoned: thus I possess the most glittering civic record of which a republican can pride himself.”

When the Bastille was stormed, no political prisoners were to be found.  Instead, with a small garrison of Swiss and some invalid soldiers in defense, the “prisoners” included four forgers, two others who were insane, and one dissolute young man.  Meanwhile, the Governor of the Bastille, the guards, and other unfortunates – after having surrendered – were butchered rather ingloriously.

De Sade's outlook was materialistic-atheistic-totalitarian, with a curiously contradictory anarchical bent. He believed that human beings were not superior to animals…

…or plants (however drawing the line at minerals).  He would write:

“Pedantic louts, hangmen, scribblers, legislators, tonsured scum, what are you going to do once we prevail? What will happen to your laws, your morality, your religion, your powers, your paradise, your gods, your hell…?”

"This total self-destruction would merely return to nature the opportunity of creation which we have taken from her by propagating ourselves."

You get the idea.  Further, children should belong to the state.  As to the family?

He insisted that any society based on fraternity should make incest mandatory between brothers and sisters…. Promiscuity will naturally end the concept of fatherhood which rests on man's ability to identify children as his own by an act of faith and conviction, but that does not matter.

EvKL’s assessment?

The French Revolution truly lived up to de Sade's visions, and there can be little doubt that, in a certain way, the "Divine Marquis" is the patron saint of all leftist movements.


A vain person, a shabby immoralist burdened with an unbalanced mind (especially during the last years of his life when his neuroses left him on the verge of insanity), Rousseau helped to father the French Revolution and subsequent developments.

Rousseau is well-known for the social contract:

Benjamin Constant, a genuine liberal, rightly called Rousseau's theory of the social contract "the most terrible aid to all types of despotism."

From Rousseau we get the universalist centralist state; he would bring men to liberty by force; the individual – the true individual – must be destroyed, replaced by a new man: void of individual personality and character.

His totalitarian attitude is well exemplified by the speech of Saint-Just on October 10, 1793. "You have to punish not only the traitors" he shouted, "but even those who are indifferent: You have to punish whoever behaves in the Republic in a passive spirit and does nothing for her, because ever since the French people has manifested their will, everything outside of the sovereign is an enemy."

The Enlightenment

EvKL does little to connect the Revolution to the Enlightenment, however he does offer one tidbit:

The tragedy of the intellectual leftist nobleman is best personified by Chretien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, a liberal of somewhat sectarian cast and a pillar of the Enlightenment.

While in a position of authority…

He used his position to promote the Enlightenment and, trying desperately to appear "tolerant," "progressive," "broadminded," he not only gave every imaginable aid to those who undermined the old order but even persecuted opponents of the Enlightenment.

Baron Grimm said without exaggeration that "without the assistance of Malesherbes the Encyclopédie would probably never have been published."

Malesherbes saw the light, but too late.  Arrested in December 1793 along with his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, he was executed…

…with the great delicacy that always distinguishes convinced leftists, the executioner had all the family beheaded in the presence of the old man (the grandfather of Alexis de Tocqueville) before his turn came (April 23, 1794).


Was the French Revolution merely the pendulum inevitably swinging the other way?  Not even close, says EvKL:

There was no more reasonable sequitur between "provocation" and "reaction" in the case of the French Revolution than in the case of the Jews and the Nazis, the Armenians and the young Turks, the old Russian regime, the Kerensky interlude and bolshevism, Portuguese colonial rule in Angola…

…etc., etc., etc.


The French Revolution is still with us in every way. Not only are its ideas everpresent, but there is much in its historic evolution that can teach us – in North America no less than in Europe.

An undermining of traditional values and norms, coupled with calls for moderate reforms; with Voltaire, a subverting of “religion, convictions, traditions, and the loyalties on which state and society rested.”  Most tellingly:

The process of decomposition and putrefaction always starts at the top – in the royal palace, the presidential mansion, among the intellectuals, the aristocracy, the wealthy, the clergy – and then gradually enmeshes the lower social layers. In this process it is interesting to notice how the high and mighty develop a sense of guilt and with it a readiness to abdicate, to yield to expropriation, to submit to the loss of privileges, in other words, to commit suicide politically and economically.

As if this could be written today….

Enlightenment and the Revolution had little to fear from the more intellectual clergy. Voltaire and Diderot both had been educated by the Jesuits (who are by no means the mind molders a certain type of propaganda makes them out to be).


This one is really too juicy to pass up…

The deeper meaning of history is theological and he who flees theology can only try to solve the riddles of history by offering banalities of a moralizing nature, such as an optimistic Old Liberalism and Marxism (related to each other in certain ways) have tried to provide.

Mmmm…emphasis added….


  1. "Were there but an Adam & Eve left in every country, & left free..."

    Ouch. This quote did not age well, nor should it have savored well at the time. I didn't know about this one. Jefferson was certainly robed in full leftist attire here.

    I do not deny that both him and Tom Paine had their leftist sides, as most thinkers on liberty have (especially in the days they were breaking away from entrenched centralized monarchies), but overall their right side trumps their left, and if modern leftists draw from them, they must omit the majority of their positions.

    "But other men were infinitely more responsible than John Adams in pushing the ideas of the French Revolution, men like the Anglo American Thomas Paine who much later became the hero of the Nazi playwright Johst. Other Nazis, for instance a certain Dr. Friedrich Schonemann, praised Jefferson and damned Hamilton, seeing in the former a precursor of the historic evolution leading to the victory of the Common Man-and of German National Socialism." - EvKL, Leftism

    Here, EvLK tries to show an instance where modern leftists (of a particularly nasty variety) have drawn from Jefferson and Paine. I'm sure Nazis just loved the notion of decentralized federated government, equality of liberty, freedom of speech, and the right of insurrection should the government infringe on the inalienable natural rights of the people. Here is an early example of the leftist's tactic of invoking Hitler to tarnish your opponents. Again, leftists must omit the majority of the convictions these men held, just as EvKL has done for his own non-leftist purposes.

    Maybe we should forgive him for this though since, "it took [him] many years in the United States to understand what makes
    that country "tick." Being a foreigner, maybe he never did quite understand. For instance nowhere does he mention in the book Hamilton's transgressions against liberty and the momentum he ignited towards further centralization of power in the line of Lincoln, Roosevelt I and the Progressive Revolution.

    I don't know for sure, but I get the impression EvLK is not so great on the central bank issue (Hamilton's baby). I wonder if Erik was more Chicago School or Austrian School in his views on economics? I'm guessing the former. I know he was friends with Bill Buckley. No accounting for taste I suppose.

    "related to each other in certain ways"

    I'm imagining a smug look of satisfaction on your face. =) It should hardly be surprising that a monarchist like EvLK would see similarities in liberalism and Marxism. Although it would be interesting to know exactly what similarities he does see. I don't know if he pursues this line of thought in the book.

    1. "EvLK would see similarities in liberalism and Marxism. Although it would be interesting to know exactly what similarities he does see"

      I second that!

    2. ATL, as you know I have struggled (and continue to struggle) with reconciling the good and bad of classical liberalism. While I, too, certainly can forgive the odd quote here and there, I think statements such as these point to the "bad" of classical liberalism.

      Do I believe a Jefferson would implement such a policy if he deemed it necessary? Irrelevant what I think but I can give a very strong benefit of the doubt that he would not – the thing is, there is something in the “bad” that would implement just such a policy. In other words, there is something in the liberal strain that made him write it, and it is that "something" that is of concern.

      What I am waiting for, however…the thing that limits my "smug look of satisfaction," is for someone to comment that what EvKL meant by "Old Liberalism" is not the same thing as is meant by the term "Classical Liberalism." So I will remain humble for another day or two.

      Both ATL & Rien, I also hope that EvKL draws this out further...maybe it is nothing more than the connection suggested by me in this comment – the common point (among others) being the aforementioned Jefferson quote.

    3. Old Liberalism to EvKL was the liberalism from the Enlightment until the generation of Professor Wilhelm Röpke (classified by EvKL as a Neo Liberal). Old Liberalism was marked by anticlericalism, faith in democracy as a political panacea, faith in man's reason and the continual progress of mankind (progressivism) and anti hierarchy/egalitarian sentiments. Sound familiar? Old Liberalism is indeed leftist.

    4. "for someone to comment that what EvKL meant by "Old Liberalism" is not the same thing as is meant by the term "Classical Liberalism.""

      He certainly included some classical liberals in that camp, including Mises and Richard Cobden. But he also included what I would consider fake liberals like Bismarck and Clemenceau. I can't say that I understand his classification of liberals, but I think he's classing them based more on cultural and religious views rather than political and economic. I tend to do the reverse, but perhaps this is a blindside of my libertarian tendency to compartmentalize everything, instead of taking in the whole picture. I also don't know enough about many of these characters to dispute EvKL's classification intelligently.

      "the thing is, there is something in the “bad” that would implement just such a policy"

      I certainly agree.

    5. From The Menace of the Herd, also from EvKL:

      " A certain symbiosis between liberalism and ochlocracy is a frequent phenomenon in the nineteenth and even in the twentieth century. In the case of cooperation of these two ideologies liberalism is ordinarily of the nonaristocratic, Manchesterian type which shows a remarkable parallel with communism. Both, bolshevism and modern, bourgeois liberalism, started as economic theories and became Weltanschauungen, world philosophies".

      Here it is the "something" in the bad liberalism: immanentization of the eschaton, as Voegelin would say.

    6. Ivo,

      "immanentization of the eschaton"

      That's quite a phrase. I was going to guess what this means, but my curiosity got the better of me. I gather that it means basically to endeavor to bring about Heaven on earth.

      I agree with you that all variants of leftism have their version of the Millennium or a Utopia they are trying to bring into reality (often by any means necessary), but I don't see how the paragraph above compliments this. We all have a Weltanshauungen. Even the most hard core conservative has a world view. That's why he cares to try and conserve something. This doesn't mean that he wishes to impose this world view on everyone else. If that were the case, he'd be a leftist.

      I'm not very familiar with Voegelin, though I do like his correlation of Nazism and Communism with Gnosticism. I'm not so sure that's the strongest correlation to be made, but it's one I certainly hadn't thought of.

      This all reinforces the conviction I first became aware of through G.K. Chesterton that all the terrible political philosophies of the West came about as a result of Christian virtues gone mad after they became detached from one another during the collapse of Christendom.

      Christian Eschatology: We await the Apocalypse and the coming of the Kingdom of God to earth and the reign of Jesus Christ as the one true King. He will judge the living and dead and his Kingdom will have no end.

      Secular Eschatology: We don't need God! We can bring about a better Heaven on earth without Him, just as soon as we convert or get rid of everyone who disagrees with us. We will judge who lives and who dies and our brutality in bringing about our vision will know no limits.

    7. "I don't see how the paragraph above compliments this. We all have a Weltanshauungen". I think that what EvKL meant by world philosophies in this quote was in the same sense of "Ideology" for Voegelin, that is a world view that believes in:

      (1) apocalypse, the idea that this present world of imperfection will be followed by a more perfect phase;

      (2) gnosticism, knowledge of how to bring about the more perfect world;

      (3) immanentization, that human action on earth rather than divine action in a transcendent realm will bring about the desired end;

      (4) scientism, the belief that modern science will assist us in finally transforming man and his natural world into paradise;

      I may be wrong in this interpretation, though. And I completely agree with your points that the terrible political philosophies of the West came about as a result of Christian virtues gone mad (could we say as a result of man embracing "Ideologies", or as would be called in others times, heresies?).

  2. The American and French Revolutions were bourgeois revolutions. They did not at all dismantle or for that matter even challenge the legitimacy of state apparatuses of power. They did not call for dismantling the mechanisms of oppression such as the judiciary, that complex of legislature, courts, prisons, police, and their bureaucratic administration. To the contrary, they not only kept these institutions of oppression in place they greatly expanded their sphere of intervention and power of domination. The American and French Revolutions merely transferred control of the state bureaucracies of power from the aristocracy and monarchy to the bourgeoisie. This is the fundamental effect, the realpolitik if you like, of these revolutions.

  3. Thanks BM, most... entertaining? (and ugly)
    I liked the epilogue best... it hits home. Theology, ideology, morality all synonyms?


    In his essay, "The Cultural Background of Ludwig von Mises," (a fantastic essay!) he mentions this:

    "This fact has to be faced: our German Liberals were secretly state-worshippers because they hoped that a powerful state would break the "forces of yesterday." Hence they were by no means identical with, let us say, the British Liberals of the Gladstone type. Thus a situation arose, even in the Austrian universities, in which Liberals and Socialists were not so far apart." - EvKL

    Perhaps this is what he meant when he mentioned "in certain ways" from a historical context?

    Why did liberals become interventionists?

    From the same essay:

    "In Germany, as well as in Austria, [], the National Liberals were, oddly enough, culturally and politically, though not economically, Liberals. As nationalists they wanted a strong state and thus they were by nature interventionists; in order to arrest the growth of socialism, they promoted the Provider State."

    So German liberals compromised their ideals by accepting an interventionist state in order to arrest socialism. Gee I wonder how that turned out? Reminds me of American conservatives who compromised their limited government convictions to combat communism.

    The lesson? Be like Mises (and Rorschach from Watchmen). Don't ever compromise.

    1. ATL: "So German liberals compromised their ideals by accepting an interventionist state in order to arrest socialism."

      Hmm, I do not know enough of this part of history, but were the German liberals big enough to actually have an impact on german politics? Or were they just a flee riding along and would have chosen a different route if they would have been in power?

    2. Yes they were big. It was the party of Bismarck.

    3. ATL: OK, now you have done it... I have to find a good history of Germany's formation and early years... sigh... lol (quite an interesting country actually - I've lived there for about 20 years)

    4. I thought Bismarck was a statist and his system was a blue print for Mussolini and Hitler. This discussion has flipped me upside down a bit.

    5. Rien,

      Here's another excerpt from the essay linked above that may fill in some gaps.

      "The synthesis of ethnic nationalism (German, Czech, Polish, Slovene, Italian, or Ukrainian), and classical liberalism, might seem a bit strange to Americans, but it was nevertheless a reality. A similar situation prevailed in Germany where Bismarck, originally a Conservative and a Prussian patriot, had broken with the Conservatives and received wholehearted support from the National Liberal party, whose backers were the grande bourgeoisie moneyed interests, big industry, and the adherents of a mild form of Pan-Germanism. The National Liberals were also motivated by an anticlerical bias directed against the Catholic rather than against the Lutheran clergy. Bismarck's Kulturkampf, his struggle against the Catholic Church leading to the imprisonment of bishops, the expulsion of the Jesuits, and the introduction of compulsory civil marriage (aping the French), fit very well into this pattern. Obviously, all this was not to the liking of Prussian Conservatives, to whom Bismarck was a man of the Left. Of course, the "Iron Chancellor" was anything but a traditionalist. The new German flag, Prussia's black and silver, was broadened with the red of the Revolution. Prussian Conservatives naturally stuck to the old colors."

      This is EvKL, not me, and I don't claim to have intimate knowledge on the subject, but EvKL was probably smarter and more knowledgeable about the Continent than I'll ever be, so I question him, if at all, with great care.

    6. RMB,

      I think you are right side up. Bismarck is definitely a leftist, and according to EvKL, "the leftist is always a statist." I believe you are correct about him.

      I think the disconnect here is the wide net with which EvKL, and perhaps history itself, has used to define a liberal. I've always heard (even from EvKL) that only in America did the term liberal get hijacked to mean its opposite, but it seems to me the same thing happened on the Continent and England if people like Clemenceau, Bismarck, and Churchill could be considered liberals.

      Political science needs a better classification system.

    7. "Political science needs a better classification system."

      At least EvKL defined his terms. Perhaps the trouble lies in the continuum - the spaces in between the "classifications" are not void, but filled with the thoughts of its neighbors.

    8. Much of the problem of understanding the the left-right continuum is that in Europe part of being a liberal is fighting against monarchy and the Catholic church while in the US it is just monarchy and size of state.