For centuries the first reading [of Good Friday] had been the prophecy of Hosea about the three days of death and resuscitation, while in the second a section from Exodus about the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb was read. Attached to the first reading was one of the most important chants of the Christian liturgies, i.e. the canticle Domine audivi, whereas the second reading was followed by Psalm 139 of the persecuted Messiah. Both were sung in tract form which bears evidence of the ancientness of the custom on the one hand, and suits excellently the mood of the exceptional liturgical situation, on the other.

In fact, this is not the moment when the responsorial chant of the faithful is by all means necessary and desirable. These texts — the words of the Church as she falls on her knees stunned by God’s powerful deed in the first tract, and the complaint of the Body of Christ united with its suffering Head in the second — can well-nigh dumbfound the community listening with attention to the words performed by a solo singer or a small choir. These readings and tracts can be found unchanged in every liturgical book of the Roman rite (the Tridentine rite included), differences appear only in the rituals of the non-Roman churches (Beneventan, Milanese).

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)


The concrete political situation of the present moment is not the subject of our analysis; it is nevertheless fairly obvious that ” democracy,” in spite of the ubiquity of this term, has failed the expectations of mankind. Democracy, no less than its bitter fruit—the tyranny of the one-party state—has foundered as a guarantor of freedom, the role in which it has posed for so long. Democracy, moreover, has betrayed its own idealism (which found such pregnant expression in the “Atlantic Charter”) with greater levity than any modern despotism. Democracy, no less than modern tyranny, is morally dead, a living corpse, a whitened sepulchre; yet tyranny with its monarchical externals is at least a sinister concentration of material forces and drives.

The latter’s physical menace, heralded by the dark cloud of corroding and demoralizing fear, is addressed to all of us. Therefore we need forms of government which can give us both freedom and strength – forms of government which fulfil the ethical as well as the practical demands of the times – of all times. If historical and geographic accidents had not favoured the rise of a gigantic empire on the western rim of the Atlantic which, through its dimensions, its numerous citizenry, and its safe distance, represented a unique counterweight, the western rim of the Old World would have lost its freedom twice within the last decade. Yet how inefficient this giant can be at times in face of the planning powers of evil we have seen when, in tired confusion, it surrendered at the green table after so many splendid military triumphs. Victory gained through the twin hierarchies of industry and the armed forces, was thrown away by the politicians.

America would act wisely if she would return to her great traditions; Europe, on the other hand, insofar as she is not enslaved, is faced by a categoric imperative. She must, must find the way back to her eternal well-springs or perish. The illusions, myths and lies of the last hundred years are going to save neither her soul nor her precarious physical existence.

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

But let us conjure up the memory of a late medieval feast. The guests have arrived in a great variety of clothes, and even the costumes of the males show the most adventurous diversity. But they all would have belonged to one faith and one basic ideology. Based on this common denominator, they would have uttered a whole score of views. Yet we can very well imagine a dinner given in a “modern democracy” – and not only a so-called “people’s democracy” of the Eastern pattern! – in which all the men arrive in a black uniform (the tuxedo or “tails”), all of them with clean-shaven faces, all of them uttering in unison with parrot-like monotony the same identical political and social cliches. After some questioning and investigation one would nevertheless find that this monotony stems from a chaotic cauldron of the most variegated religions and philosophies.

If a deist Mason, a Catholic, a Barthian, a vegetarian with Hinduist notions, and a “Freethinker” consider it as natural that they all believe in equality, majority rule, compulsory education and “progress” – then we have to doubt sincerely not only the logicality of their capacity to think, but also their real freedom of thinking! And it is also self-evident that a society with different premises, but bent upon achieving the same results from its “thinking” process, has to exercise a far greater pressure than one with a uniform religious basis. In its stark irrationalism such a society must be strictly anti-intellectual, and arrive at the very rejection of methodic thought.

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

Thus the problem of our time remains—to have good government with personal liberty; to have a maximum of security with a maximum of liberty. For the solution of such a problem, democracy offers no solution, because the masses, choosing between freedom and the illusion of economic security, will usually head straight for the will-o’-the-wisp. After having fallen prey to the fausse idee claire of democracy they will succumb to the even falser idee claire of national or international socialism. When we mention the masses, all the optimistic demagogy about the superb qualities of the Common Man comes to our mind. Indeed, the old monarchies were far from being models of perfection. The ancien regime, if we look merely at its seamy side, was made up of murder, inefficiency, corruption, narrowness, immorality, procrastination, intrigue, egoism, deceit and pettiness and it had long been in need of radical reform when it disappeared.

Yet it never promised a New Dawn or a Paradise on Earth and it must be conceded that it relinquished the stage of history with little opposition, almost in the expectation that the bombastically heralded New Experiments were bound to fail. And fail they did! The ancien regime had lasted a thousand years, and for over a hundred years the Continentals had tried to make a synthesis with the new forces. Then the stage was entirely left to the “Dawnists,” to our noble friend, the Common Man, and bankruptcy arrived not within a thousand years, but within half a generation. It came in a swift and deadly way. It murdered liberty by entirely new methods and it repeated the errors of the Old Government on a colossal scale: all the persecutions of Jews through the ages were dwarfed to microscopic size by Hitler’s delirious mass murders, and all the victims of the Inquisition burnt at the stake through centuries did not amount to one-fourth of the number of those cremated alive one afternoon in Dresden, when among 150,000 killed at least two-thirds perished fully conscious in the fiery flames…and this without an inquest, without the slightest effort to establish a real or even a subjectively imputed guilt at the very end of a war. To the horrors of the concentration camps almost girdling the globe we are at a loss to find any parallel.

Thus, the crown to many a European, especially to a Central European, indeed is a symbol of freedom—not only when he thinks of the terrors of the East, but also when he reflects upon the sly process of enslavement in the West.

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

History, unfortunately, is not rational or strictly logical, but a process which takes place in a Vale of Tears. Democracy rose in our civilization when the condition of the world least warranted it. It put tremendous weapons of technical progress into the hands of those least qualified to use them, and, allied with nationalism, it now becomes a powerful obstacle to the necessary unification of large regions. The Federation of Europe is lamentably handicapped by “politics,” that is, party-politics; and every word spoken by the various party leaders in the democracies must be weighed not so much as to their effect abroad as to their possible repercussions at the next elections. The disappearance of an effective monarchy is a special blow to the co-operation and amalgamation of the Old World, because monarchy alone would by now possess the full necessary supra-national outlook. It has got past the stage of tribal affiliations, which republicanism and democracy have by no means achieved. A Council of European Monarchs could be an effective co-ordinating body for Europe; an all-European Parliament, on the other hand, could not. Not only would it be faced, as a genuinely elected body of popular representatives, by an insuperable language problem, but, considering the level of our parliaments in wisdom and manners, as well as their ideological divisions, it would merely serve to break up, not to unify Europe. It is one thing that French deputies in the Chamber should shout at each other Scélérat! Assassin! Voleur!; but such verbal exchanges between a Communist gentleman from Toulouse and a Carlist gentleman from Pamplona might have deadly consequences. ” Civil wars” on an unprecedented scale could be the result.

Thus the historical problem of our day is and remains the establishment of minimal government-from-above assuring and maintaining personal liberty. This issue cannot be shirked or permanently delayed by preserving the illusory fluidity of democratic institutions which have final control of the central government. Sooner or later this flux will congeal into the tyranny or the virtual dictatorship of a mass-party. Little it matters whether such rule is based on repeated elections won through permanent appeals to the lower half of the social pyramid, or whether it rests squarely, as in the “People’s Democracies,” on the efficiency of a ubiquitous police. Little it matters that finally a new oligarchy arises which methodically suppresses even those layers who helped to establish its sway. And since only real elites have a genuine psychological and intellectual interest in liberty, it is evident that they must have a position in political life which is more substantial than their numerical share. Needless to say, we do not identify such elites with classes or castes; they are the people capable of creative action. And creation as well as creativeness stands in constant need of liberty.

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

We are being forced, anyway, to rely increasingly on government by experts, and we have pointed out before that the discrepancy between the things which are theoretically known, the scita, and those which ought to be known by the “politicized” masses, the scienda, is increasing by leaps and bounds. Even if it is true that general education is improving and that the general level of education is rising—which we sincerely doubt—the political and economical problems with their implications as well as the scientific answers for their solution are growing in number as well as in complexity. This is a race between an arithmetical and a geometrical progression.

To ask a peasant from Central Switzerland in a Landsgemeinde whether a concession should be given to a cheese factory is one thing, and to ask a man in the street in Kalamazoo or Welwyn Garden City what sort of diplomacy should be used towards Mao-Tse-Tung’s China is quite another. Yet this discrepancy is equally apparent in the modern “politicized” executives. In 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, it was sufficient for a Foreign Minister to have a good grasp of history, geography, genealogy and human psychology— besides the mastering of the French language. Today such knowledge, even theoretically, would be entirely insufficient. Twenty years of intensive study and travel, twenty years of delving into such additional subjects as international law, racial psychology, military affairs, economics, agrarian sciences, geopolitics and a whole score of other disciplines seem to be indispensable.

And yet, the grim truth has to be found in the fact that our modern foreign ministers have not ten per cent of the knowledge, the insight, the manners and the experience of a Metternich, a Castlereagh, a Talleyrand, a vom Stein or a Humboldt. Usually their linguistic capacities are so limited that without the help of interpreters they could only bark at each other. We have seen in the immediate past men who had the fine experience of selling champagne, of driving buses or imbibing their knowledge for their tasks from reading H. G. Wells. And the decline from 1815 to the level of 1919 is probably as great as the dègringolade from 1919 to 1945.

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

Among the Protestant faiths it is subjectivism—embodied in the principle of private interpretation—and the lack of a central, infallible teaching authority which render them so frequently “up to date” ; deprived of a captain and torn from its moorings, the ship of Protestantism drifts along the currents, while Greek Orthodoxy stays in a drydock of immobility. Catholicism now has to sail against the wind and against the currents. This is the reason why it so frequently seems out of tune with the spirit of the times—frequently but, perhaps, not always and not forever; because we are again beginning to live in an age of dogmatic affirmations. Even Protestant neo-orthodoxy is partly a reaction against liberal conformism, in an age when the failure of a Roussellian humanitarianism and of shadowy ethical notions without a religious foundation are so evident.

While Luther rejected rationality in the strongest terms, and thus fostered the rise of fideism and subjectivism, Catholic theology emphasized reason and logic very firmly. Yet it must also be added that the Church has always been apprehensive about the misuse of reason; this stand has not been affected by the strongly rationalistic and realistic character of Catholic theology since the days of St. Thomas. In contradiction to St. Thomas (and to Luther, after all) the Church often seemed to take the position that man is rather stupid than wicked. Protestantism, though rather pessimistic about the spiritual qualities of the “sin-cripple,” nevertheless gave him the Bible without explanatory footnotes, trusting in his intelligence (or “inspiration”).

Catholicism, on the other hand, frequently tended to adopt the view that a superficial half education was much worse than no education at all, and thus in Catholic countries we saw (and sometimes still see) a large number of illiterates side by side with an intellectual elite of high standards. The Protestant goal of education is usually one of good averages—the optimum for a democracy. In democracies there will always be resentment and contempt for the “highbrow” and the illiterate, the intellectual and the “peasant.” A comparison of the French Canadians with their English-speaking co-nationals, or of Americans with Argentines, will confirm this. The strong intellectualization of the professional classes in French Canada contributes to the incompatibility between the two “races.” In Quebec City, for instance, the poems of Claudel are sold at Woolworth’s and Kresge’s.

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

Our proposal for a form of government adapted to preserve liberty in modern times, and steer clear of the calamitous errors we have described, is based on four premises or, rather, postulates: (i) the greatest reasonably possible liberty of the person must be preserved and protected, since liberty is part and parcel of the common good; (2) the party system must be abolished because of its inherent drive and tendencies toward totalitarianism; (3) the ideological and philosophical struggles, which can neither be suppressed nor made an organic part of the governmental machine, have to be relegated to the private sphere of society; (4) the will of the majority has no right to prevail over the reasonable and the useful; the utilitarian and rational values in turn have to be subordinated to the commands of ethics and religion

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

Another matter is the spirit of the Reformation itself, which was only to a very limited extent in keeping with the spirit of humanism and the Renaissance. On the whole, as we have said before, it was a reaction against the spirit of the times; it was a rigoristic movement, and thus ” medieval” in the popular sense. Intelligent Catholics have always understood that the Reformation was a movement towards and for more religion rather than the opposite.

At the Diet of Nuremberg (1523) Pope Hadrian VI, through his Legate, made a moving declaration which squarely blamed the Church for the Reformation. Many Catholics – as, for instance, the late Mgr. Seipel, Chancellor of Austria, and Giovanni Papini – see not in the Middle Ages but in the Renaissance and the Baroque the great Catholic age. D. H. Lawrence was at least symbolically right when he wrote that the Pilgrim Fathers ran away from the new European liberty of the Renaissance. Of all early Reformers probably only Zwingli was a humanist, a humanitarian and a liberal; while Luther, no less than Calvin, preached a holy war against the “paganized” Catholic Church. Nothing could be more erroneous than to follow in the footsteps of nineteenth century liberal opinion and to see in Luther a herald of the Chromium Age, with “democracy,” civil liberties, bath tubs, refrigerators and the U.N. just around the corner.

There was something decidedly Islamic in original Protestantism, with its idea of an all-controlling hidden God and His infallible Prophet, its secularization of marriage, its puritanism and messianism. Even today some of the survivals of original (i.e., pre-liberal) Protestantism in remote parts of Scandinavia, Holland, Scotland and the United States have, at least culturally, more affinity with the Wahhãbïs than with the Catholics from which they stem. It must be borne in mind that not so much the authoritarian organization but the liberal theology of Catholicism was the target of the reformers.

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