Keir Martland: In response to the violent white supremacist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, I thought that I would re-print the text of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s 1943 essay ‘Credo of a Reactionary.’ Kuehnelt-Leddihn was very far to the Right himself, which is what makes his own perspective on fascism, Nazism, and racialism so interesting. He was firmly of the opinion that an “extreme conservative arch-liberal” such as himself must abhor fascism and racialism. This essay is therefore a must-read for all open-minded ‘Alt-Right’ sympathisers, note in particular the distinction between patriotism and nationalism.
Credo of a Reactionary
By Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
The American Mercury 57, July 1943
I do not hesitate to announce that I am a reactionary. I take a deep pride in the fact. I see no more virtue in looking forward longingly to an unknown future than in looking backward nostalgically to known and proven values.
The term “reactionary” as I use it does not stand for a definite and immutable set of ideas. It stands for an attitude of mind. As a reactionary I resent and oppose the spirit and the trends of the epoch I am forced to live in, and seek to restore the spirit which had its finest embodiment in by-gone periods.
The circumstance that the term “reactionary” is applied as an epithet to fascists and other brands of modern man for whom a true reactionary has only contempt is no fault of mine. As an honest reactionary I naturally reject Nazism, communism, fascism and all related ideologies which are, in sober fact, the reductio ad absurdum of so-called democracy and mob domination. I reject the absurd assumptions of majority rule, parliamentary hocus-pocus; the bogus materialistic liberalism of the Manchester School and the bogus conservatism of the big bankers and industrialists. I abhor the centralism and uniformity of the herd life, the stupid mob spirit of racialism, the private capitalism as well as the state capitalism (socialism) which have contributed to the gradual ruin of our civilization !in the last two centuries. The real reactionary of this day is a rebel against the prevailing assumptions and a “radical” in that he goes down to the roots.
I am personally a reactionary of the traditional Christian faith, with a liberal outlook and agrarian propensities. Where so many around me worship the “new,” I respect forms and institutions which have grown organically over a long period of time. The periods that preceded the two great storms — the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ended by the Reformation; and the Eighteenth Century, ended by the French Revolution- are rich in forms and ideas of lasting importance. The universality of a Nicholas of Cues or of an Albertus Magnus, the glory of the Cathedral of Chartres and the late Baroque of Austria, inspiring figures like Maria Theresa, Pascal, George Washington or Leibnitz fascinate me more than the three “common men” of our time–Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler- or the democratic splendor of a department store or the spiritual emptiness of communist and fascist mass meetings magnetized by ecstatic mobmasters.
The introductory note to this decline of civilization was written by Martin Luther, who worshipped the nation, exalted the state and ranted against the Jews; by that royal barbarian on the English throne who supplanted the Catholic spirit of his country with a paralyzing parochialism; by the first “modern” — the Genevan who denied the basis of all philosophical freedom, Free Will — and the other Genevan who preached the return to the jungle and idyllic barbarism. These four horsemen–Luther, Henry VIII, Calvin and Rousseau –were but the heralds of more fateful things to come. The disaster was final when the French Revolution, faced by the eternal dilemma of choosing between liberty and equality, decided for equality. The guillotine and the Strasbourg magistrates who decreed that the spire of the cathedral be demolished because it rose above the equalitarian level of all other houses, are everlasting symbols of modernism and perverse “progress.”
The masses, forming organized majorities’ holding identical ideas and hating uniformly all those who dare to be different, are the present-day product of these various revolts. Priest and Jew, aristocrat and beggar, genius and imbecile, the political non-conformist and the philosophical explorer- all of them are on the list of the proscribed. The herd rules today almost everywhere with various means and under the most diverse labels. This tyranny is what I oppose.
As a reactionary, I believe in liberty, but not in equality. The only equality I can accept is the spiritual equality of two newborn babes regardless of the color, creed or race of their parents. I accept neither the degrading equalitarianism of the “democrats,” nor the artificial divisions of the racialists, nor the class distinctions of communists and snobs.
Human beings are unique. They should have the opportunity to develop the personalities–and that means responsibility, suffering, loneliness. I not only like the principle of monarchy but I like all people who are crowned. And there are all sorts of crowns, the noblest of them consisting of thorns. Modern Man –this docile, “cooperative” and urbanized animal–is not after a reactionary’s liking.
I believe in the family, in the natural hierarchy within the family, and in the natural chasm between the sexes. I love old men full of dignity and proud fathers, but I also love courageous and upright children. In a hierarchy the lowest member is functionally as important as the highest. And the abyss between men and women seems to me a good thing too; there is no triumph in building a bridge over a mere puddle.
I like people with property. I am not at all enthusiastic about the rootless fellow in an apartment house, with a social security number as his main distinction. I loathe the capitalism that concentrates property in the hands of a few, no less than socialism which wants to transfer it to that great nobody, the hydra with a million heads and no soul, Society. I like people with their own abode, their own field, their own views prompting them to independent action. I fear the herd: the 51 per cent who voted for Hitler and Hugenberg; the howling mob which supported the French Terror; the 55 per cent of Whites in Southern States who keep the 45 per cent of Negroes “in their place” with the help of blow torch and rope.
I dread all masses consisting of men afraid to be unique, to be persons; caring for safety more than for liberty, fearing their neighbors or “community” more than God and their conscience. These are the people who demand not only equality but identity. They suspect anybody who dares to be different. They want merely “ordinary, decent chaps” after the British, “regular guys” after the American or “rechte Kerle” after the German pattern. Modern Man seems to have only one wish: to see everything moulded after his own image; he loathes personality and wants to assimilate. What he cannot assimilate he weeds out. Our whole age is marked by a vast system of levelling and assimilating agencies comprising schools, ads, barracks, mass-produced goods, mass-produced newspapers and books and ideas. The darker side of this process can be seen in the social ostracism practiced against minorities in pseudo-liberal democracies; in the human abattoirs and concentration camps of the superdemocratic totalitarian nations; in the endless streams of homeless refugees wandering aimlessly all over the world. Common Man in any aggregation is pitiless, wholly lacking in generosity.
.Liberty, after all, is an aristocratic ideal. In Washington, right in front of the White House, on Jackson Square, there is a wonderful symbol: the monument to the first American egalitarian surrounded by the statues of four European noblemen who came to America to fight for liberty and not for identity–the Polish-White”- Russian nobleman Kosciuszko, Baron yon Steuben, the Comte de Rochambeau and the Marquis de Lafayette. Baron de Kalb is commemorated elsewhere and Count Pulaski’s name graces a highway in New Jersey and a statue in Savannah. Pulaski was the only general killed in the Great Rising of the American Whigs. We reactionaries (whether we know it or not) are all Whigs. Our tradition, in English-speaking countries, rests on Magna Charta, which only the ignorant will call “democratic.”
I have no relish for nineteenth century “liberalism” with its gross materialism and the pagan belief in the “survival of the fittest,” i.e. the most unscrupulous. For European conditions I am naturally a monarchist because monarchy is basically supra-racial and supra-national. Not only did free institutions survive better in the monarchies of Northwestern Europe than in the republican heart of the continent but in the ethnically mixed area of Central and Eastern Europe one ought to prefer monarchs of foreign origin with alien wives, alien mothers, and alien sons- and daughters-in-law to political “leaders” belonging passionately to specific nationalities, classes, parties.
I feel freer under a man who is nobody’s choice than under the appointee of a majority following blindly their overheated emotions. Voltaire had more chance to sway the courts of Paris, Potsdam and Petersburg than a Dawson, a Sorokin, a Ferrero or a Bernanos has to sway the “democratic” masses. The European monarchs intellectually and morally have matched their republican top-hatted epigones. The Bourbons certainly compare favorably with the politicos of the three French Republics. The Ftihrers of the totalitarian era have of course often been more “brilliant” and successful because less scrupulous. Backed by carefully staged plebiscites, they feel justified in indulging in slaughters no Bourbon, Habsburg or Hohenzollern would have risked. Plato told us more than two thousand years ago that democracy degenerates inevitably into dictatorships and de Tocqueville re-emphasized it in I835. Most fatheads on both sides of the Atlantic continue to confuse democracy with liberalism, two elements which may, or may not, coexist. A “prohibition” backed by 51 per cent of the electorate may be most democratic, but it is hardly liberal.
What we reactionaries want freedom and diversity. We believe that there is even a peculiar strength in diversity. St. Stephen, King of Hungary, said to his son: “A realm of only one language and one custom is foolish and fragile.” This is contrary to the demo-totalitarian superstitious belief in our epoch of uniformity. The Italian fascists who destroyed all cultural institutions of non-Italians in their country found imitators in the streamlined and progressive Technocrats who clamored, once this war had reached America, for the confiscation of the whole foreign-language press.
As a reactionary I like patriots, who get enthusiastic about their patria, their fatherland; and I dislike nationalists, who get excited about tongue and blood. The reactionary upholds the idea of soil and liberty, he fights against the complex of blood and equality.
As a reactionary I hold definite views as well as tentative opinions. “In necessary things unity, in doubtful things liberty, in everything charity” is a fine reactionary program. If I consider something to be Truth, I discount every opinion opposing it. But I disagree with certain medieval ecclesiastics or with the shortsighted conservatives who believed that error can be fought by force. Any meticulous eradication of error by artificial means (always directed against persons, not against the idea itself) ends by making the Truth unpalatable, stale, unattractive. As a reactionary I respect any person who courageously and sincerely holds erroneous views following his conscience. I have infinitely more respect for a fanatic Catalonian anarchist, an orthodox Jew, a hardbitten Calvinist or an ecstatic Dervish than for a humanitarian pseudo-liberal with a secret veneration for the omnipotent state. A real reactionary is a man of absolute faith and absolute generosity. He reconciles dogma and freedom.
As a reactionary I would like to see materialized in this country more of the anti-democratic ideas of the Founding Fathers. Indeed, few European writers fuIminated more strongly against the demos than Madison, Hamilton, Marshall, John Adams or even Jefferson who stood for an aristocracy of merit, not for mass-rule. Yet Hamilton’s centralism is basically leftish. Neither here nor in Europe should it prevail. What we need on either side of the Atlantic is more of a personal attitude. Colossalism and collectivism are the enemy. The farmer Schmidt from Hindelang, for instance, should first of all be proud to be the head of a family, the master of a homestead, and then to be a dweller of Hindelang. Upon further reflection he ought to find pride in being a peasant of the Allgau valley and also to be a Bavarian. His Germandom ought to be a mystical unity at the very horizon of his thoughts. But the modern tendency is to establish the hierarchy of loyalties the other way round. The Nazi emphasis on the ninety million Germans, the Soviet emphasis on “the masses,” the general identification of “bigger” with “better” show our debasement expressed in the worship of quantity, our contempt for the person, our whole modern despair in human uniqueness.
I hold that state, business, manufacture are the great slaveholders of our times, John Doe works like his spiritual ancestor, the medieval serf, one and a half days a week for his landlord. Of four weekly checks he hands over at least one to the corporation which rents him his habitat. Failure to do so would result in dispossession, a menace unknown to the villein of the thirteenth century. In the factory he slaves, unlike the guildsman, for unknown investors as well as for corrupt labor leaders, if not, as in the USSR, for a combination leviathan of State and Society. The workers should own the tools of production; there is no earthly reason why they should not own the factories in a literal sense or be the holders of all shares distributed after a certain key. A plant could be a living community no less so than the medieval workshop.
I like free people who are frequently “backward” people, like the Tyroleans, the Swiss mountaineers, the Scots, the Navarrese, the Basques, the grim peasants of the Balkans, the Kurds. They escaped the lesser evil of serfdom in the Middle Ages and the major evil of urbanization in modern times. They are very reactionary, conservative, liberty-loving. They can afford to be conservative because their culture is out of tune with modern times; what they have is worth preserving. The urban conservative, on the other hand, is nothing but an inhibited “progressive.”
I believe in the man of excellence, the man of duty as against the Common Man whose only strength lies in numbers, whose political manifestation is submission to prefabricated “convictions” or to “leaders” who unlike “rulers” do not differ from the masses but personify all their worst traits.
Today a handful of genuine reactionaries carry the brunt of the fight against super-progressivism in its totalitarian form. They know that democracy as a force cannot deal with the totalitarians; embryonic forms cannot succeed against their more mature manifestations. Plato, de Tocqueville, Donoso Cortes, Burckhardt all knew this. Progressive democracy like pseudoliberalism is nothing but a Gironde, a forerunner of the Terror.
Among this handful are Winston Churchill and Count Galen, Count Preysing and yon Faulhaber, Niemoller and Georges Bernanos, Giraud and d’Ormesson, Count Teleki, Calvo Sotelo, Schuschnigg and Edgar Jung. None of them did compromise with the wickedness of either the Gironde or the Terror in their modern forms; dead or alive, they will not yield. They do not, and they did not necessarily believe in a Brave Old Past as opposed to a Brave New World, but they saw the calamities of the present as growing out of the errors of the past into the catastrophes of the future. They are isolated by the suspicion that surrounds them. They are considered killjoys for not joining in the universal panegyric of Progress. They have become adamant and passionate. They will carry their banners even unto death, and their banners are very old, very proud and very honorable.