But the vast majority of Americans and Englishmen talking about “democracy” always include the liberal element in their concept of democracy—and this in spite of the fact that democracy and liberalism are concerned with two entirely different problems. The former is concerned with the question of who should be vested with ruling authority, while the latter deals with the freedom of the individual, regardless of who carries on the government. A democracy can be highly illiberal: the Volstead Act, quite democratically voted for, interfered with the dinner menus of millions of citizens. Fascism, National and international Socialism repeatedly insisted that they were in essence democratic—a claim which must be viewed in a strict philosophical and historical setting, and in this view becomes less hypocritical than observers in the Western hemisphere are wont to admit. The Soviet use of the ” democratic ” label is by no means a shrewd political manoeuvre of recent years, but a terminology already adopted by Lenin and continued by Stalin throughout the nineteen-twenties. If we accept St. Thomas’ definition of democracy [De regimine principum, i. 1) we will find that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (provided the proletariat forms a majority) is more democratic than the American Constitution—in which, in contrast to the sacred books of communism, the word ” democracy ” never figures.

On the other hand we can imagine an absolute ruler—an autocratic emperor, for instance—who is a thoroughgoing liberal…although it is obvious that he cannot be democratic in the political sense. Fifty-one per cent of a nation can establish a totalitarian regime, suppress minorities and still remain democratic; while an old-fashioned dictator might reserve to himself only a very few prerogatives, scrupulously refraining from interfering in the private sphere of the citizens. There is little doubt that the American Congress or the French Chambers have a power over their nations which would rouse the envy of a Louis XIV or a George III, were they alive today. Not only prohibition, but also the income tax declaration, selective service, obligatory schooling, the fingerprinting of blameless citizens, premarital blood tests—none of these totalitarian measures would even the royal absolutism of the seventeenth century have dared to introduce.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time (1940)


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