Aurel Kolnai
The War Against the West

Above all, liberalism is despicable because we despise it. Holy 'Youth' repudiates democracy, and it does so even more on account of democratic 'banality' than of democratic 'corruption'. A most significant order of precedence! The paramount factor is not moral discontent but a thirst for more intense experience; not the blots on liberty but the cehecks to the display of power. It is far less the absence or threadbareness of rules and obligations than the presence of balance and poise, of domestication and the spirit of mutual arrangement, which makes liberalism so odious in the eyes of Moeller-Bruck and his partisans. The most appalling charge against liberalism is its preference for 'mediocrity' and 'middle-class principles' (particularly inasmuch as they recall the French middle-class with its self-reliant and unimitative culture of thinking and living). Even before the war, Moeller-Bruck wrote that liberalism meant not liberty but rather the cult of the human average: 'Liberty for everybody to be a mediocre man'; 'universal bourgeoisdom instead of universal nobility, importance given to everyday life rather than to exceptional life'. Perhaps we might venture to ask how exceptional life could be made universal; however, it would be short-sighted to treat it as an absurdity. For here once more we find ourselves in the heart of the great spiritual battle. Certainly not everybody's life can be 'exceptional', just as not everybody can be a prince or a 'leader'; yet to supply the 'exceptional lives' and princely exertions of power with the sap of life can very well be the general state of mind, the generally accepted raison d'etre of a society. In any case, we must put up with the average nature and existence of man ; the great point of disjunction is whether we prefer to inject as much liberty as possible into that very average life of everybody or decide to 'ennoble' average lives by ordaining them to become absorbed in the service of the 'exceptional' lives of their masters. In the first case, we uphold the liberty of men, notwithstanding all limitations perforce entailed in that liberty; in the second case, we deny liberty to men but grant them the bliss of participating (as servants) in a liberty not their own, but admittedly far less limited than theirs ever could be. Instead of inuring them to liberty, we make them amenable to slavery, which, too, is a possible, maybe an easier course.

Moeller-Bruck, however, is bent upon dissociating liberalism, i.e., any institutional realization of liberty, from liberty, i.e., the sentimental value of the word. Liberalism, he exclaims, is the utilization of 'principles' in the pursuit of business. Liberalism is 'the liberty of having no principles and the claim that this is a principle in itself'. Liberals are 'doctrinaires who yet do not even care about their doctriness'. Liberalism is equivalent to 'halfness', lack of principles, which yet does not save it from being at the same time 'rigid, disputatious, and rationalistic'. I agree that it might be a 'halfness' not to kill a man who for some reason has incurred my displeasure, and at the same time a cheerlessly 'rigid' attitude to protest against him killing me or my friends. Such are the strange disabilities of what we are accustomed to call briefly civilized life; and Moeller-Bruck does not prove so wholly illogical with his wistful exclamation: 'Primitive races have no liberalism'. Another of his monumental intuitions has come even nearer to the proverbial: 'It is through liberalism that nations perish'. Unfortunately, it seems as though nations of the Western type—England, France, and many others—were still hesitating to confirm the validity of that unquestionable and reassuring law. Moeller-Bruck, it is true, hints at the explanation, namely that these nations hitherto were inclined to use their somewhat insincere liberalism to encompass the downfall of other nations. This liberalism acts as a particular poison to the German nature. Now assuming that such was the case, one might inquire whether the fault did not lie with the German nature. Moreover, what is really rather a lack of goodwill is sometimes considered a tragic fate. Moeller-Bruck, for instance, declares that parliamentarism has no tradition in Germany. This is a pity, one would reply; but one reason the more immediately to start laying the foundations for that useful tradition. Yet the author corrects us at once, pointing out that the remark was by no means intended to encourage any such enterprise; he only meant to expose the debility of German democracy in order to facilitate its abolition. Nations must 'perish through liberalism'—so that liberalism may perish; and Western liberalism must be unmasked as a hellish device to entrap Germany—so that Germany may be justified in an anti-liberal policy both at home and towards her fellow-nations. For, though the 'Revolt against Liberty' may be tinged with madness, it is certainly no meaningless or aimless lunacy.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.