Liberty or Equality
Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (born July 31, 1909 in Tobelbad (now Haselsdorf-Tobelbad), Austria-Hungary; died May 26, 1999, in Lans, Austria) was an Austrian Catholic nobleman and socio-political theorist. 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. 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. His early books The Menace of the Herd and Liberty or Equality were influential within the American conservative movement. His best-known writings appeared in National Review, where he was a columnist for 35 years.
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 anti-monarchical feelings and a concomitant 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 D. 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, including but not limited to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Kuehnelt-Leddihn claimed this was 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, or sound Protestantism, or even—probably—sound popular Sovereignty (i. e. 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 egalitarianism, conformity, materialism and centralization. He argued that Nazism, fascism, radical-liberalism, and communism were 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 totalitarian and that all democracies eventually degenerate into dictatorships. This he did not say of “republics” (which word, for Kuehnelt-Leddihn, has also the meaning of what Aristotle calls πολιτεία), e. g. Switzerland, or the United States as to its Constitution; however in his view, the United States has 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 it “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, while democracy naturally advocates for equality, even by enforcement, and thus becomes antiliberal. As modern life becomes increasingly complicated across many different sociopolitical levels, Kuehnelt-Leddihn submits that the Scita—i.e., the political, economic, technological, scientific, military, geographical, psychological knowledge of the masses and of their representatives—and the Scienda—i.e., 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.