Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn — Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse — Liberty and Equality: The Challenge of Our Times — Videos

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The Mises and Hayek Critiques of the Modern Political State | Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn – Liberty or Equality Ch. 01-02

Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn – Liberty or Equality Ch. 03-04

Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn – Liberty or Equality Ch. 05-08

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Kuehnelt-Leddihn and American Conservatism

Let us begin with what is most excellent and lasting in the work of the late Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn—his profound understanding of, and unyielding opposition to, the Left.  According to the Austrian-born polymath, the Left has its roots planted firmly in democracy.  In its modern form, that object of near worship owed its birth to the French Revolution, but once loosed upon the world it soon transformed itself into socialism—international and national.  Contrary to received opinion, that is, Kuehnelt-Leddihn regarded communism, fascism, and nazism as rivals rather than enemies, brothers under the skin; like their progenitor, democracy, they were all ideologies of the Left.  That is why the Hitler-Stalin Pact should have occasioned no surprise.

The Left, then, comprises a number of ideologies, all of them, in Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s view, toxic.  But although he insisted that the French Revolution was a primal act of rebellion not only against monarchical order, but against God, he failed to draw the logical conclusion—that ideologies are substitute (or secular) religions.  Man, Edmund Burke wrote, “is a religious animal,” and he warned that if Christianity be suppressed or rejected “some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition might take place of it.”

In contemporary America, the reigning superstition goes by the name of Political Correctness (PC).  This ideology possesses neither the intellectual sophistication nor the internal order one finds in at least some varieties of Marxism.  It is a coalition of mini-ideologies that often appear to be contradictory:  feminism, “gay rights,” “civil rights” (preferential treatment of Black Americans), unrestricted abortion, open immigration for those from south of the border, and environmentalism.  It shows sympathy for Islam and a relentless hostility to Christianity.  It combines secularism (sometimes extending to atheism) with egalitarianism.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn died in 1999 and therefore did not live to witness the full flowering, if that is the word, of the PC ideology.  We know, however, that he would have fought against it.  He was, he insisted, a “man of the Right,” “conservative” being too foggy a label.  In fact, he styled himself a “liberal” in the tradition of Tocqueville, Montalembert, and Lord Acton.  Born in 1909 in what was then the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, he maintained a lifelong preference for monarchical, Catholic, and multi-ethnic societies.  (He himself spoke eight languages fluently and had a reading knowledge of 11 others.)  Never could he forgive Woodrow Wilson for the pivotal role the American president played in the Great War victors’ decision to break up the Habsburg Monarchy.

What political form a postwar European Right should take he did not, for some time, specify in detail, though he always insisted that it should base itself on an ideology that could mount a challenge to leftist ideologies.  That “ideology” was a misleading choice of words becomes obvious when one considers his definition of it:  “It is a coherent set of ideas about God, Man and the world without inner contradictions and well-rooted in eternal principles.”  This is a Weltanschauung, not an ideology.

Whether or not political parties should base themselves upon a Weltanschauungdepends largely upon circumstances.  One thing is certain however: Rightist governments are never of the masses.  They are elitist and authoritarian, but notideological (in the sense of a secular religion) or tyrannical.  “All free nations,” Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote, “are by definition ‘authoritarian’ in their political as well as in their social and even in their family life.  We obey out of love, out of respect (for the greater knowledge and wisdom of those to whom we owe obedience), or because we realize that obedience is in the interest of the Common Good, which…includes our own interest.”

Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s mind was European through and through, and as a result he criticized what he called the Anglo-American mind because of its belief that “a genuine conservative contemplates nature, favors age-old traditions, time-honored institutions, the wisdom of his forbearers, and so on.”  The trouble with Burke was that he stood for common sense, which “creates no dynamism whatsoever,” and that he eschewed political ideologies.  Did he not, in his classic Reflections on the Revolution in France,write that he reprobated “no form of government merely upon abstract principles?”

No one would deny that, their common hostility to the French Revolution notwithstanding, there is an immediately recognizable difference between the Anglo-Irish Burke and, say, the French-Savoyard Joseph de Maistre.  American conservatism, however, is not Burkean, Russell Kirk being a somewhat isolated figure.  Nevertheless, Kuehnelt-Leddihn believed that America was in dire need of an ideology if it were to have any chance of winning the struggle for men’s minds.  In a 1990 letter to me (in Hungarian, one of the languages he mastered), he wrote that “among my writings the Portland Declaration is very important.”  That declaration constituted his proposal for an American “ideology.”

The Portland Declaration (1981) grew out of a conference held in Portland, Oregon, and sponsored by the Western Humanities Institute.  Kuehnelt-Leddihn “compiled” the 26 principles it proclaimed, and they breathe his spirit.  The final paragraph of his brief introduction to the published text of the proposal is worthy of note.  “We must have before us a guiding vision of what our state and society could be like, to prevent us from becoming victims of false gods.  The answer to false gods is not godlessness but the Living God.  Hence our ideology must be based on the Living God, but it should appeal also to men of good will who, while not believers, derive their concepts of a well-ordered life, whether they realize it or not, ultimately from the same sources we do.”

Among other things, the Portland Declaration took its stand on diversity (the Left had not yet hijacked the word) rather than uniformity, the spiritual equality (but distinct social roles) of men and women, opposition to the centralization of power, minimal government of the highest quality, an independent supreme court, the teaching of religion in schools, and patriotism rather than nationalism.

Whether or not these principles, taken together, constitute an ideology may be doubted.  And so may Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s belief that the Portland Declaration is a “utopia,” a possible definition of which, he argued, was a state/society “that can reasonably be established by sober reflection and honest effort.”  This was another choice of words that muddied the waters of understanding.  “Utopia” (“no place”) is rightly understood to be some idea of a perfect society, but one that the less starry-eyed know to be unrealizable, and probably undesirable.  To be sure, Karl Mannheim, in his influential Ideologie und Utopie (1929), maintained that utopias, even if unrealizable, are necessary because they give direction to historical change.  Kuehnelt-Leddihn knew Mannheim’s book well and was undoubtedly influenced by it.  He once maintained that “a cure for cancer” was a “utopian” directive, even though it is neither unrealizable in principle nor a re-imagination of an entire society.

As Kuehnelt-Leddihn recognized, his notion of an ideology—if not as a “utopia”—would be welcomed by America’s neoconservatives.  In the excerpt from Leftism Revisited here presented, he pointed out that Irving Kristol, the “godfather” of neoconservatism, had once stated “that the Right needed an ideology if it hoped to win the battle against the Left.”  In that spirit, neoconservatives have insisted that America is a “propositional,” or “creedal,” nation.  That, they claim, is what makes the country “exceptional”—that, and the assumption “that the United   States is somehow exempt from the past and present fate, as well as from many of the necessities, of other nations.  Ours is a special creation, endowed with special immunities” (Richard M. Weaver).

Very well, but what is the proposition or creed?  The answer seems to be that which is proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  To Kuehnelt-Leddihn these “truths” were anything but “self evident.”  He did not believe that all men were equal—not even, as he once told me, before God.  “We are all granted sufficient grace,” he said, “but remember, Christ Himself had a favorite disciple.”  Nor would he have accepted the notion of God-given rights, as opposed to responsibilities.  As for the “pursuit of Happiness,” only an American could imagine this to be an “unalienable right.”

The so-called paleoconservatives reject the notion of an ideological nation.  For the best of them, America is, or once was, bound together not by a “proposition,” but by “the bonds of history and memory, tradition and custom, language and literature, birth and faith, blood and soil” (Patrick J. Buchanan).  On the other hand, they share Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s aversion to reckless foreign interventions—unlike neoconservatives, they oppose crusades for “global democracy.”  We know that the Austrian admired George F. Kennan, the political “realist” who warned against an interventionist foreign policy and identified himself as a “European conservative,” one who was to the right of the paleoconservatives.   For his part, Kennan regarded Kuehnelt-Leddihn as “a kindred spirit in political philosophy.”

While most paleoconservatives are “realists” in their approach to foreign policy, they are not all traditionalists with respect to domestic affairs; some, especially the young, sympathize with libertarianism—a sympathy that Kuehnelt-Leddihn sometimes seemed to share, witness his insistence that he was a rightist and an anarchist.  The French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s “numerous books are,” he wrote in Leftism Revisited, “full of notions and ideas that any true lover of liberty or any true conservative could underwrite, concepts that are part and parcel of the ‘arsenal’ of rightist thought.”

It is true that Proudhon detested democracy, but the doctrine of anarchism must ignore man’s fallen nature and assume that we are capable of living together without an authority outside of ourselves.  To be sure, libertarianism is not quite anarchism, but neither is it the disciplined liberty defended by Tocqueville.  John Stuart Mill’s libertarianism, as set forth in On Liberty, would, as James Fitzjames Stephen pointed out, undermine the world’s great moral traditions, all of which expect far more of men than that they not harm another.

Perhaps, after all, Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s writings could have its most salutary influence on contemporary cultural, rather than political, thought.  As the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci argued persuasively, the real war between Left and Right is waged at the level of culture.  Those who establish “cultural hegemony” will ultimately control political life because they are able to form public opinion.  That is precisely what PC propagandists have succeeded in doing, thanks to their takeover of the media, universities, popular culture, and many churches.  It is in the realm of culture, too, that Weltanschauung matters most.  Not all rightists are Christians or believing Jews, but if they do not look to the Judeo-Christian moral tradition for guidance, one wonders where they will find it.  That tradition and the culture it informed have been dealt what appear to be mortal blows in recent years.  If the culture war has indeed been lost, America will never again be the land some still remember.

https://www.crisismagazine.com/2012/kuehnelt-leddihn-and-american-conservatism

 

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

WORKS PUBLISHED INThe Journal of Libertarian Studies

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909-1999) was an Austrian nobleman and socio-political theorist who described himself as and enemy of all forms of totalitarianism and as an “extreme conservative arch-liberal” or “liberal of the extreme right.” Described as “A Walking Book of Knowledge”, Kuehnelt-Leddihn had an encyclopedic knowledge of the humanities and was a polyglot, able to speak eight languages and read seventeen others.

ALL WORKS

Monarchy and War

War and Foreign PolicyWorld HistoryPolitical Theory

05/10/2018THE JOURNAL OF LIBERTARIAN STUDIES
It is important to understand the relationship between monarchy and war, and between monarchy and warfare.

FORMATS

PDF 

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The Cultural Background of Ludwig von Mises — New Formats Available

Austrian Economics OverviewHistory of the Austrian School of Economics

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s timeless essay “The Cultural Background of Ludwig von Mises” is now easier to read.

READ MORE

The Mises and Hayek Critiques of Modern Political State

BiographiesPolitical Theory

02/02/2005AUDIO/VIDEO
Presented as part of the Austrian Workshop seminar series. Recorded on 17 November 1997.

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The Cultural Background of Ludwig von Mises

BiographiesWar and Foreign PolicyWorld HistoryHistory of the Austrian School of Economics

04/05/1997ESSAYS IN POLITICAL ECONOMY
Writing about the cultural background of Ludwig von Mises, an eminent former compatriot of mine, poses some difficulties: how to present you with a world radically different from yours, a world far away, which in many ways no longer exists.

FORMATS

Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse

World HistoryPolitical Theory

07/15/1974BOOKS
A comprehensive study of the major trends in leftist thought from the era of the French Revolution.
FORMATS

Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time

World HistoryPolitical Theory

03/02/1952BOOKS
In this treatise, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn argues that “democratic equality” is not based upon liberty — as is commonly believed — but the total state.

FORMATS

PDF 

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The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large

Legal SystemWorld HistoryPolitical Theory

06/15/1943BOOKS
A relentless attack on the idea of mass government based on the egalitarian ethic, and its tendency toward the total state of Stalin and Hitler.

https://mises.org/profile/erik-von-kuehnelt-leddihn

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

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Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.jpg

Photo portrait of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
Born July 31, 1909
Tobelbad (now Haselsdorf-Tobelbad), Austria-Hungary
Died May 26, 1999 (aged 89)
Lans, Austria

Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (born July 31, 1909 in TobelbadStyriaAustria-Hungary; died May 26, 1999, in LansTyrol) was an Austrian political scientist and journalist. Describing himself as an “extreme conservative arch-liberal” or “liberal of the extreme right”, Kuehnelt-Leddihn often argued that majority rule in democracies is a threat to individual liberties, and declared himself a monarchist and an enemy of all forms of totalitarianism, although he also supported what he defined as “non-democratic republics,” such as Switzerland and the United States.[1][not in citation given]

Described as “A Walking Book of Knowledge”, Kuehnelt-Leddihn had an encyclopedic knowledge of the humanities and was a polyglot, able to speak eight languages and read seventeen others.[2] His early books The Menace of the Herd and Liberty or Equality were influential within the American conservative movement. An associate of William F. Buckley Jr., his best-known writings appeared in National Review, where he was a columnist for 35 years.

Life

At 16, he became the Vienna correspondent of The Spectator. From then on, he wrote for the rest of his life. He studied civil and canon law at the University of Vienna at 18. Then, he went to the University of Budapest, from which he received an M.A. in economicsand his doctorate in political science. Moving back to Vienna, he took up studies in theology. In 1935, Kuehnelt-Leddihn travelled to England to become a schoolmaster at Beaumont College, a Jesuit public school. Subsequently, he moved to the United States, where he taught at Georgetown University (1937–1938), Saint Peter’s College, New Jersey (head of the History and Sociology Department, 1938–1943), Fordham University (Japanese, 1942–1943), and Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia (1943–1947).

In a 1939 letter to the editor of The New York Times, Kuehnelt-Leddihn critiqued the design of every American coin then in circulation except for the Washington quarter, which he allowed was “so far the most satisfactory coin” and judged the Mercury dime to be “the most deplorable.”[3]

After publishing books like Jesuiten, Spießer und Bolschewiken in 1933 (published in German by Pustet, Salzburg) and The Menace of the Herd in 1943, in which he criticised the National Socialists as well as the Socialists directly OE indirectly, as he could not return to the Austria that had been incorporated into the Third Reich.

After the Second World War, he resettled in Lans, where he lived until his death.[4] He was an avid traveler: he had visited the Soviet Union in 1930–1931, and he eventually visited each of the United States.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote for a variety of publications, including ChroniclesThought, the Rothbard-Rockwell ReportCatholic World, and the Norwegian business magazine Farmand. He also worked with the Acton Institute, which declared him after his death “a great friend and supporter.”[5] He was an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.[6] For much of his life, Kuehnelt was also a painter; he illustrated some of his own books.

According to his friend William F. Buckley, Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn was “the world’s most fascinating man.”[7]

Work

His socio-political writings dealt with the origins and the philosophical and cultural currents that formed Nazism. He endeavored to explain the intricacies of monarchist concepts and the systems of Europe, cultural movements such as Hussitism and Protestantism, and the disastrous effects of an American policy derived from antimonarchical feelings and ignorance of European culture and history.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn directed some of his most significant critiques towards Wilsonian foreign policy activism. Traces of Wilsonianism could be detected in the foreign policies of Franklin Roosevelt; specifically, the assumption that democracy is the ideal political system in any context. Kuehnelt-Leddihn believed that Americans misunderstood much of Central European culture such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire,[8] which Kuehnelt-Leddihn claimed as one of the contributing factors to the rise of Nazism. He also highlighted characteristics of the German society and culture (especially the influences of both Protestant and Catholic mentalities) and attempted to explain the sociological undercurrents of Nazism. Thus, he concludes that sound Catholicism, sound Protestantism, or even, probably, sound popular sovereignty (German-Austrian unification in 1919) all three would have prevented National Socialism although Kuehnelt-Leddihn rather dislikes the latter two.

Contrary to the prevailing view that the Nazi Party was a radical right-wing movement with only superficial and minimal leftist elements, Kuehnelt-Leddihn asserted that Nazism (National Socialism) was a strongly leftist, democratic movement ultimately rooted in the French Revolution that unleashed forces of egalitarianismconformitymaterialism and centralization.[9] He argued that Nazismfascismradical-liberalism, and communismwere essentially democratic movements, based upon inciting the masses to revolution and intent upon destroying the old forms of society. Furthermore, Kuehnelt-Leddihn claimed that all democracy is basically totalitarianand that all democracies eventually degenerate into dictatorships. He said that it was not the case for “republics” (the word, for Kuehnelt-Leddihn, has the meaning of what Aristotle calls πολιτεία), such as Switzerland, or the United States as it was originally intended in its constitution. However, he considered the United States to have been to a certain extent subject to a silent democratic revolution in the late 1820s.

In Liberty or Equality, his magnum opus, Kuehnelt-Leddihn contrasted monarchy with democracy and presented his arguments for the superiority of monarchy: diversity is upheld better in monarchical countries than in democracies. Monarchism is not based on party rule and “fits organically into the ecclesiastic and familistic pattern of Christian society.” After insisting that the demand for liberty is about how to govern and by no means by whom to govern a given country, he draws arguments for his view that monarchical government is genuinely more liberal in this sense, but democracy naturally advocates for equality, even by enforcement, and thus becomes anti-liberal.[10] As modern life becomes increasingly complicated across many different sociopolitical levels, Kuehnelt-Leddihn submits that the Scita (the political, economic, technological, scientific, military, geographical, psychological knowledge of the masses and of their representatives) and the Scienda (the knowledge in these matters that is necessary to reach logical-rational-moral conclusions) are separated by an incessantly and cruelly widening gap and that democratic governments are totally inadequate for such undertakings.

In February 1969, Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote an article arguing against seeking a peace deal to end the Vietnam War.[11] Instead, he argued that the two options proposed, a reunification scheme and the creation of a coalition Vietnamese government, were unacceptable concessions to the Marxist North Vietnam.[11] Kuehnelt-Leddihn urged the US to continue the war.[11] until the Marxists were defeated.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn also denounced the US Bishops’ 1982 pastoral The Challenge of Peace[12] “The Bishops’ letter breathes idealism… moral imperialism, the attempt to inject theology into politics, ought to be avoided except in extreme cases, of which abolition and slavery are examples.”[12]

Writings

Novels[edit]

  • The Gates of Hell: An Historical Novel of the Present Day. London: Sheed & Ward, 1933.
  • Night Over the East. London: Sheed & Ward, 1936.
  • Moscow 1979. London: Sheed & Ward, 1940 (with Christiane von Kuehnelt-Leddihn).
  • Black Banners. Aldington, Kent: Forty-Five Press & Hand and Flower Press, 1952.

Socio-political works

  • The Menace of the Herd. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1943 (under the pseudonym of “Francis S. Campell” to protect relatives in wartime Austria).
  • Liberty or Equality. Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Press, 1952; 1993.
  • The Timeless Christian. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1969.
  • Leftism, From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House Publishers, 1974.[13]
  • The Intelligent American’s Guide to Europe. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House Publishers, 1979.
  • Leftism Revisited, From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1990.[14]

Collaborations

  • “Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.” In: F.J. Sheed (Ed.), Born Catholics. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1954, pp. 220–238.
  • “Pollyanna Catholicism.” In: Dan Herr & Clem Lane (Ed.), Realities. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1958, pp. 1–12.
  • “The Age of the Guillotine.” In: Stephen Tonsor (Ed.), Reflections on the French Revolution: A Hillsdale Symposium. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1990.

Articles

Notes and references

  1. Jump up^ Campbell, William F. “Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: A Remembrance,”First Principles, September 2008.
  2. Jump up^ William F. Buckley, Jr. (1985-12-31). “A Walking Book of Knowledge”. National Review. p. 104.
  3. Jump up^ Erik v. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Letter to the Editor, “Our Coins Criticized: Visitor Finds Artistic Faults in All Except the Quarter”, The New York Times, Nov. 26, 1939, p. 75.
  4. Jump up^ Rutler, George W. “Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn,”Crisis Magazine, November 19, 2007.
  5. Jump up^ “Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909–1999)”Acton Institute. Archived from the original on 2009-06-26. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
  6. Jump up^ Rockwell, Lew. “Remembering Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn“. LewRockwell.com Blog, July 31, 2008.
  7. Jump up^ “Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddih (1909–1999),”Archived2013-07-02 at the Wayback MachineReligion & Liberty9 (5), 1999, p. 3.
  8. Jump up^ Baltzersen, Jorn K. “The Last Knight of the Habsburg Empire,”Lew Rockwell, July 31, 2009.
  9. Jump up^ Congdon, Lee. “Kuehnelt-Leddihn and American Conservatism,”Crisis Magazine, March 26, 2012.
  10. Jump up^ Lukacs, John. “Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: A Memoir,”The Intercollegiate Review35 (1), Fall 1999.
  11. Jump up to:abc Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn “No Quick Peace In Vietnam”, National Review, February 11, 1969.
  12. Jump up to:ab Camilla J. Kari, Public Witness: The Pastoral Letters of the American Catholic Bishops: Liturgical Press, 2004. ISBN0814658334 (p. 86).
  13. Jump up^ Brownfeld, Allan C. “Leftism, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn,”The Freeman, July 1974.
  14. Jump up^ Chamberlain, John. “Leftism Revisited,”The Freeman41(7), July 1991.

Regarding personal names: Ritter is a title, translated approximately as Sir (denoting a Knight), not a first or middle name. There is no equivalent female form.

See also

Further reading

  • Nash, George H. (2006). The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. ISI Books ISBN 9781933859125
  • Frohnen, Bruce; Jeremy Beer & Jeffrey O. Nelson (2006). American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia. ISI Books ISBN 9781932236439

External links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_von_Kuehnelt-Leddihn

Classical liberalism

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Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom. Closely related to economic liberalism, it developed in the early 19th century, building on ideas from the previous century as a response to urbanization and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States.[1][2][3] Notable individuals whose ideas contributed to classical liberalism include John Locke,[4] Jean-Baptiste SayThomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo. It drew on the classical economic ideas espoused by Adam Smith in Book One of The Wealth of Nations and on a belief in natural law,[5] utilitarianism[6] and progress.[7] The term “classical liberalism” was applied in retrospect to distinguish earlier 19th-century liberalism from the newer social liberalism.[8]

Evolution of core beliefs

Core beliefs of classical liberals included new ideas—which departed from both the older conservative idea of society as a family and from the later sociological concept of society as complex set of social networks. Classical liberals believe that individuals are “egoistic, coldly calculating, essentially inert and atomistic”[9] and that society is no more than the sum of its individual members.[10]

Classical liberals agreed with Thomas Hobbes that government had been created by individuals to protect themselves from each other and that the purpose of government should be to minimize conflict between individuals that would otherwise arise in a state of nature. These beliefs were complemented by a belief that laborers could be best motivated by financial incentive. This belief led to the passage of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, which limited the provision of social assistance, based on the idea that markets are the mechanism that most efficiently leads to wealth. Adopting Thomas Robert Malthus‘s population theory, they saw poor urban conditions as inevitable, they believed population growth would outstrip food production and they regarded that consequence desirable because starvation would help limit population growth. They opposed any income or wealth redistribution, which they believed would be dissipated by the lowest orders.[11]

Drawing on ideas of Adam Smith, classical liberals believed that it is in the common interest that all individuals be able to secure their own economic self-interest. They were critical of what would come to be the idea of the welfare state as interfering in a free market.[12]Despite Smith’s resolute recognition of the importance and value of labor and of laborers, they selectively criticized labour’s group rights being pursued at the expense of individual rights[13] while accepting corporations’ rights, which led to inequality of bargaining power.[14][15][16]

Classical liberals argued that individuals should be free to obtain work from the highest-paying employers while the profit motive would ensure that products that people desired were produced at prices they would pay. In a free market, both labor and capital would receive the greatest possible reward while production would be organized efficiently to meet consumer demand.[17]

Classical liberals argued for what they called a minimal state, limited to the following functions:

  • A government to protect individual rights and to provide services that cannot be provided in a free market.
  • A common national defense to provide protection against foreign invaders.[18]
  • Laws to provide protection for citizens from wrongs committed against them by other citizens, which included protection of private property, enforcement of contracts and common law.
  • Building and maintaining public institutions.
  • Public works that included a stable currency, standard weights and measures and building and upkeep of roads, canals, harbors, railways, communications and postal services.[18]

They asserted that rights are of a negative nature, which require other individuals (and governments) to refrain from interfering with the free market, opposing social liberals who assert that individuals have positive rights, such as the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to health care and the right to a living wage. For society to guarantee positive rights, it requires taxation over and above the minimum needed to enforce negative rights.[19][20]

Core beliefs of classical liberals did not necessarily include democracy or government by a majority vote by citizens because “there is nothing in the bare idea of majority rule to show that majorities will always respect the rights of property or maintain rule of law”.[21]For example, James Madison argued for a constitutional republic with protections for individual liberty over a pure democracy, reasoning that in a pure democracy a “common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole…and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party”.[22]

In the late 19th century, classical liberalism developed into neo-classical liberalism, which argued for government to be as small as possible to allow the exercise of individual freedom. In its most extreme form, neo-classical liberalism advocated Social Darwinism.[23]Right-libertarianism is a modern form of neo-classical liberalism.[23]

Friedrich Hayek’s typology of beliefs

Friedrich Hayek identified two different traditions within classical liberalism: the “British tradition” and the “French tradition”. Hayek saw the British philosophers Bernard MandevilleDavid HumeAdam SmithAdam FergusonJosiah Tucker and William Paley as representative of a tradition that articulated beliefs in empiricism, the common law and in traditions and institutions which had spontaneously evolved but were imperfectly understood. The French tradition included Jean-Jacques RousseauMarquis de Condorcet, the Encyclopedists and the Physiocrats. This tradition believed in rationalism and sometimes showed hostility to tradition and religion. Hayek conceded that the national labels did not exactly correspond to those belonging to each tradition: Hayek saw the Frenchmen MontesquieuBenjamin Constant and Alexis de Tocqueville as belonging to the “British tradition” and the British Thomas HobbesJoseph PriestleyRichard Price and Thomas Paine as belonging to the “French tradition”.[24][25] Hayek also rejected the label laissez-faireas originating from the French tradition and alien to the beliefs of Hume and Smith.

Guido De Ruggiero also identified differences between “Montesquieu and Rousseau, the English and the democratic types of liberalism”[26] and argued that there was a “profound contrast between the two Liberal systems”.[27] He claimed that the spirit of “authentic English Liberalism” had “built up its work piece by piece without ever destroying what had once been built, but basing upon it every new departure”. This liberalism had “insensibly adapted ancient institutions to modern needs” and “instinctively recoiled from all abstract proclamations of principles and rights”.[27] Ruggiero claimed that this liberalism was challenged by what he called the “new Liberalism of France” that was characterised by egalitarianism and a “rationalistic consciousness”.[28]

In 1848, Francis Lieber distinguished between what he called “Anglican and Gallican Liberty”. Lieber asserted that “independence in the highest degree, compatible with safety and broad national guarantees of liberty, is the great aim of Anglican liberty, and self-reliance is the chief source from which it draws its strength”.[29] On the other hand, Gallican liberty “is sought in government…the French look for the highest degree of political civilization in organizational, that is, in the highest degree of interference by public power”.[30]

History

Great Britain

Classical liberalism in Britain developed from Whiggery and radicalism, was also heavily influenced by French physiocracy and represented a new political ideology. Whiggery had become a dominant ideology following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and was associated with the defence of the British Parliament, upholding the rule of law and defending landed property. The origins of rights were seen as being in an ancient constitution, which had existed from time immemorial. These rights, which some Whigs considered to include freedom of the press and freedom of speech, were justified by custom rather than by natural rights. They believed that the power of the executive had to be constrained. While they supported limited suffrage, they saw voting as a privilege rather than as a right. However, there was no consistency in Whig ideology and diverse writers including John LockeDavid HumeAdam Smith and Edmund Burke were all influential among Whigs, although none of them was universally accepted.[31]

From the 1790s to the 1820s, British radicals concentrated on parliamentary and electoral reform, emphasising natural rights and popular sovereignty. Richard Price and Joseph Priestley adapted the language of Locke to the ideology of radicalism.[31] The radicals saw parliamentary reform as a first step toward dealing with their many grievances, including the treatment of Protestant Dissenters, the slave trade, high prices and high taxes.[32]

There was greater unity to classical liberalism ideology than there had been with Whiggery. Classical liberals were committed to individualism, liberty and equal rights. They believed that required a free economy with minimal government interference. Writers such as John Bright and Richard Cobden opposed both aristocratic privilege and property, which they saw as an impediment to the development of a class of yeoman farmers. Some elements of Whiggery opposed this new thinking and were uncomfortable with the commercial nature of classical liberalism. These elements became associated with conservatism.[33]

A meeting of the Anti-Corn Law League in Exeter Hall in 1846

Classical liberalism was the dominant political theory in Britain from the early 19th century until the First World War. Its notable victories were the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, the Reform Act of 1832 and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The Anti-Corn Law League brought together a coalition of liberal and radical groups in support of free trade under the leadership of Richard Cobden and John Bright, who opposed militarism and public expenditure. Their policies of low public expenditure and low taxation were adopted by William Ewart Gladstone when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer and later Prime Minister. Classical liberalism was often associated with religious dissent and nonconformism.[34]

Although classical liberals aspired to a minimum of state activity, they accepted the principle of government intervention in the economy from the early 19th century with passage of the Factory Acts. From around 1840 to 1860, laissez-faire advocates of the Manchester School and writers in The Economist were confident that their early victories would lead to a period of expanding economic and personal liberty and world peace, but would face reversals as government intervention and activity continued to expand from the 1850s. Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, although advocates of laissez-faire, non-intervention in foreign affairs and individual liberty, believed that social institutions could be rationally redesigned through the principles of utilitarianism. The Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli rejected classical liberalism altogether and advocated Tory democracy. By the 1870s, Herbert Spencer and other classical liberals concluded that historical development was turning against them.[35] By the First World War, the Liberal Party had largely abandoned classical liberal principles.[36]

The changing economic and social conditions of the 19th century led to a division between neo-classical and social (or welfare) liberals, who while agreeing on the importance of individual liberty differed on the role of the state. Neo-classical liberals, who called themselves “true liberals”, saw Locke’s Second Treatise as the best guide and emphasised “limited government” while social liberals supported government regulation and the welfare state. Herbert Spencer in Britain and William Graham Sumner were the leading neo-classical liberal theorists of the 19th century.[37] Neo-classical liberalism has continued into the contemporary era, with writers such as John Rawls.[38] The evolution from classical to social/welfare liberalism is for example reflected in Britain in the evolution of the thought of John Maynard Keynes.[39]

United States

In the United States, liberalism took a strong root because it had little opposition to its ideals, whereas in Europe liberalism was opposed by many reactionary or feudal interests such as the nobility, the aristocracy, the landed gentry, the established church and the aristocratic army officers.[40]

Thomas Jefferson adopted many of the ideals of liberalism, but in the Declaration of Independence changed Locke’s “life, liberty and property” to the more socially liberal “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“.[4] As the United States grew, industry became a larger and larger part of American life; and during the term of its first populist PresidentAndrew Jackson, economic questions came to the forefront. The economic ideas of the Jacksonian era were almost universally the ideas of classical liberalism.[41] Freedom was maximised when the government took a “hands off” attitude toward the economy.[42]

Historian Kathleen G. Donohue argues:

[A]t the center of classical liberal theory [in Europe] was the idea of laissez-faire. To the vast majority of American classical liberals, however, laissez-faire did not mean no government intervention at all. On the contrary, they were more than willing to see government provide tariffs, railroad subsidies, and internal improvements, all of which benefited producers. What they condemned was intervention in behalf of consumers.[43]

Leading magazine The Nation espoused liberalism every week starting in 1865 under the influential editor Edwin Lawrence. Godkin (1831–1902).[44]

The ideas of classical liberalism remained essentially unchallenged until a series of depressions, thought to be impossible according to the tenets of classical economics, led to economic hardship from which the voters demanded relief. In the words of William Jennings Bryan, “You shall not crucify the American farmer on a cross of gold“. Classical liberalism remained the orthodox belief among American businessmen until the Great Depression.[45]

The Great Depression of the 1930s saw a sea change in liberalism, with priority shifting from the producers to consumers. Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal represented the dominance of modern liberalism in politics for decades. In the words of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.:[46]

When the growing complexity of industrial conditions required increasing government intervention in order to assure more equal opportunities, the liberal tradition, faithful to the goal rather than to the dogma, altered its view of the state. […] There emerged the conception of a social welfare state, in which the national government had the express obligation to maintain high levels of employment in the economy, to supervise standards of life and labour, to regulate the methods of business competition, and to establish comprehensive patterns of social security.

Alan Wolfe summarizes the viewpoint that there is a continuous liberal understanding that includes both Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes:[47]

The idea that liberalism comes in two forms assumes that the most fundamental question facing mankind is how much government intervenes into the economy… When instead we discuss human purpose and the meaning of life, Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes are on the same side. Both of them possessed an expansive sense of what we are put on this earth to accomplish. […] For Smith, mercantilism was the enemy of human liberty. For Keynes, monopolies were. It makes perfect sense for an eighteenth-century thinker to conclude that humanity would flourish under the market. For a twentieth century thinker committed to the same ideal, government was an essential tool to the same end.

The view that modern liberalism is a continuation of classical liberalism is not universally shared.[48] James KurthRobert E. LernerJohn MicklethwaitAdrian Wooldridge and several other political scholars have argued that classical liberalism still exists today, but in the form of American conservatism.[49] According to Deepak Lal, only in the United States does classical liberalism—through American conservatives—continue to be a significant political force.[50]

Intellectual sources

John Locke[edit]

Central to classical liberal ideology was their interpretation of John Locke‘s Second Treatise of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration, which had been written as a defence of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Although these writings were considered too radical at the time for Britain’s new rulers, they later came to be cited by Whigs, radicals and supporters of the American Revolution.[51] However, much of later liberal thought was absent in Locke’s writings or scarcely mentioned and his writings have been subject to various interpretations. For example, there is little mention of constitutionalism, the separation of powers and limited government.[52]

James L. Richardson identified five central themes in Locke’s writing: individualism, consent, the concepts of the rule of law and government as trustee, the significance of property and religious toleration. Although Locke did not develop a theory of natural rights, he envisioned individuals in the state of nature as being free and equal. The individual, rather than the community or institutions, was the point of reference. Locke believed that individuals had given consent to government and therefore authority derived from the people rather than from above. This belief would influence later revolutionary movements.[53]

As a trustee, government was expected to serve the interests of the people, not the rulers; and rulers were expected to follow the laws enacted by legislatures. Locke also held that the main purpose of men uniting into commonwealths and governments was for the preservation of their property. Despite the ambiguity of Locke’s definition of property, which limited property to “as much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of”, this principle held great appeal to individuals possessed of great wealth.[54]

Locke held that the individual had the right to follow his own religious beliefs and that the state should not impose a religion against Dissenters, but there were limitations. No tolerance should be shown for atheists, who were seen as amoral, or to Catholics, who were seen as owing allegiance to the Pope over their own national government.[55]

Adam Smith

Adam Smith‘s The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was to provide most of the ideas of economics, at least until the publication of John Stuart Mill‘s Principles of Political Economy in 1848.[56] Smith addressed the motivation for economic activity, the causes of prices and the distribution of wealth and the policies the state should follow to maximise wealth.[57]

Smith wrote that as long as supply, demand, prices and competition were left free of government regulation, the pursuit of material self-interest, rather than altruism, would maximise the wealth of a society[58] through profit-driven production of goods and services. An “invisible hand” directed individuals and firms to work toward the public good as an unintended consequence of efforts to maximise their own gain. This provided a moral justification for the accumulation of wealth, which had previously been viewed by some as sinful.[57]

He assumed that workers could be paid wages as low as was necessary for their survival, which was later transformed by David Ricardo and Thomas Robert Malthus into the “iron law of wages“.[59] His main emphasis was on the benefit of free internal and international trade, which he thought could increase wealth through specialisation in production.[60] He also opposed restrictive trade preferences, state grants of monopolies and employers’ organisations and trade unions.[61] Government should be limited to defence, public works and the administration of justice, financed by taxes based on income.[62]

Smith’s economics was carried into practice in the nineteenth century with the lowering of tariffs in the 1820s, the repeal of the Poor Relief Act that had restricted the mobility of labour in 1834 and the end of the rule of the East India Company over India in 1858.[63]

Classical economics

In addition to Smith’s legacy, Say’s lawThomas Robert Malthus‘ theories of population and David Ricardo‘s iron law of wages became central doctrines of classical economics. The pessimistic nature of these theories provided a basis for criticism of capitalism by its opponents and helped perpetuate the tradition of calling economics the “dismal science“.[64]

Jean-Baptiste Say was a French economist who introduced Smith’s economic theories into France and whose commentaries on Smith were read in both France and Britain.[63] Say challenged Smith’s labour theory of value, believing that prices were determined by utility and also emphasised the critical role of the entrepreneur in the economy. However, neither of those observations became accepted by British economists at the time. His most important contribution to economic thinking was Say’s law, which was interpreted by classical economists that there could be no overproduction in a market and that there would always be a balance between supply and demand.[65] This general belief influenced government policies until the 1930s. Following this law, since the economic cycle was seen as self-correcting, government did not intervene during periods of economic hardship because it was seen as futile.[66]

Malthus wrote two books, An Essay on the Principle of Population (published in 1798) and Principles of Political Economy (published in 1820). The second book which was a rebuttal of Say’s law had little influence on contemporary economists.[67] However, his first book became a major influence on classical liberalism. In that book, Malthus claimed that population growth would outstrip food production because population grew geometrically while food production grew arithmetically. As people were provided with food, they would reproduce until their growth outstripped the food supply. Nature would then provide a check to growth in the forms of vice and misery. No gains in income could prevent this and any welfare for the poor would be self-defeating. The poor were in fact responsible for their own problems which could have been avoided through self-restraint.[68]

Ricardo, who was an admirer of Smith, covered many of the same topics, but while Smith drew conclusions from broadly empirical observations he used deduction, drawing conclusions by reasoning from basic assumptions [69] While Ricardo accepted Smith’s labour theory of value, he acknowledged that utility could influence the price of some rare items. Rents on agricultural land were seen as the production that was surplus to the subsistence required by the tenants. Wages were seen as the amount required for workers’ subsistence and to maintain current population levels.[70] According to his iron law of wages, wages could never rise beyond subsistence levels. Ricardo explained profits as a return on capital, which itself was the product of labour, but a conclusion many drew from his theory was that profit was a surplus appropriated by capitalists to which they were not entitled.[71]

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism provided the political justification for implementation of economic liberalism by British governments, which was to dominate economic policy from the 1830s. Although utilitarianism prompted legislative and administrative reform and John Stuart Mill‘s later writings on the subject foreshadowed the welfare state, it was mainly used as a justification for laissez-faire.[72]

The central concept of utilitarianism, which was developed by Jeremy Bentham, was that public policy should seek to provide “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”. While this could be interpreted as a justification for state action to reduce poverty, it was used by classical liberals to justify inaction with the argument that the net benefit to all individuals would be higher.[64]

Political economy

Classical liberals saw utility as the foundation for public policies. This broke both with conservative “tradition” and Lockean “natural rights”, which were seen as irrational. Utility, which emphasises the happiness of individuals, became the central ethical value of all liberalism.[73] Although utilitarianism inspired wide-ranging reforms, it became primarily a justification for laissez-faire economics. However, classical liberals rejected Smith’s belief that the “invisible hand” would lead to general benefits and embraced Malthus’ view that population expansion would prevent any general benefit and Ricardo’s view of the inevitability of class conflict. Laissez-faire was seen as the only possible economic approach and any government intervention was seen as useless and harmful. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 was defended on “scientific or economic principles” while the authors of the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 were seen as not having had the benefit of reading Malthus.[74]

However, commitment to laissez-faire was not uniform and some economists advocated state support of public works and education. Classical liberals were also divided on free trade as Ricardo expressed doubt that the removal of grain tariffs advocated by Richard Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League would have any general benefits. Most classical liberals also supported legislation to regulate the number of hours that children were allowed to work and usually did not oppose factory reform legislation.[74]

Despite the pragmatism of classical economists, their views were expressed in dogmatic terms by such popular writers as Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau.[74] The strongest defender of laissez-faire was The Economist founded by James Wilson in 1843. The Economist criticised Ricardo for his lack of support for free trade and expressed hostility to welfare, believing that the lower orders were responsible for their economic circumstances. The Economist took the position that regulation of factory hours was harmful to workers and also strongly opposed state support for education, health, the provision of water and granting of patents and copyrights.[75]

The Economist also campaigned against the Corn Laws that protected landlords in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland against competition from less expensive foreign imports of cereal products. A rigid belief in laissez-faire guided the government response in 1846–1849 to the Great Famine in Ireland, during which an estimated 1.5 million people died. The minister responsible for economic and financial affairs, Charles Wood, expected that private enterprise and free trade, rather than government intervention, would alleviate the famine.[75] The Corn Laws were finally repealed in 1846 by the removal of tariffs on grain which kept the price of bread artificially high,[76] but it came too late to stop the Irish famine, partly because it was done in stages over three years.[77][78]

Free trade and world peace

Several liberals, including Smith and Cobden, argued that the free exchange of goods between nations could lead to world peace. Erik Gartzke states: “Scholars like Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Richard Cobden, Norman Angell, and Richard Rosecrance have long speculated that free markets have the potential to free states from the looming prospect of recurrent warfare”.[79] American political scientists John R. Oneal and Bruce M. Russett, well known for their work on the democratic peace theory, state:[80]

The classical liberals advocated policies to increase liberty and prosperity. They sought to empower the commercial class politically and to abolish royal charters, monopolies, and the protectionist policies of mercantilism so as to encourage entrepreneurship and increase productive efficiency. They also expected democracy and laissez-faire economics to diminish the frequency of war.

In The Wealth of Nations, Smith argued that as societies progressed from hunter gatherers to industrial societies the spoils of war would rise, but that the costs of war would rise further and thus making war difficult and costly for industrialised nations:[81]

[T]he honours, the fame, the emoluments of war, belong not to [the middle and industrial classes]; the battle-plain is the harvest field of the aristocracy, watered with the blood of the people…Whilst our trade rested upon our foreign dependencies, as was the case in the middle of the last century…force and violence, were necessary to command our customers for our manufacturers…But war, although the greatest of consumers, not only produces nothing in return, but, by abstracting labour from productive employment and interrupting the course of trade, it impedes, in a variety of indirect ways, the creation of wealth; and, should hostilities be continued for a series of years, each successive war-loan will be felt in our commercial and manufacturing districts with an augmented pressure

[B]y virtue of their mutual interest does nature unite people against violence and war, for the concept of concept of cosmopolitan right does not protect them from it. The spirit of trade cannot coexist with war, and sooner or later this spirit dominates every people. For among all those powers (or means) that belong to a nation, financial power may be the most reliable in forcing nations to pursue the noble cause of peace (though not from moral motives); and wherever in the world war threatens to break out, they will try to head it off through mediation, just as if they were permanently leagued for this purpose.

Cobden believed that military expenditures worsened the welfare of the state and benefited a small, but concentrated elite minority, summing up British imperialism, which he believed was the result of the economic restrictions of mercantilist policies. To Cobden and many classical liberals, those who advocated peace must also advocate free markets. The belief that free trade would promote peace was widely shared by English liberals of the 19th and early 20th century, leading the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946), who was a classical liberal in his early life, to say that this was a doctrine on which he was “brought up” and which he held unquestioned only until the 1920s.[84] In his review of a book on Keynes, Michael S. Lawlor argues that it may be in large part due to Keynes’ contributions in economics and politics, as in the implementation of the Marshall Plan and the way economies have been managed since his work, “that we have the luxury of not facing his unpalatable choice between free trade and full employment”.[85] A related manifestation of this idea was the argument of Norman Angell (1872–1967), most famously before World War I in The Great Illusion (1909), that the interdependence of the economies of the major powers was now so great that war between them was futile and irrational; and therefore unlikely.

See also

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_liberalism

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