Liberalism is a most important by-product of Rationalism, and its origins and ideology must be clearly shown.
The “Enlightenment” period of Western history which . . . set in after the Counter-Reformation laid more and more stress on intellect, reason and logic as it developed. By the middle of the 18th century this tendency produced Rationalism. Rationalism regarded all spiritual values as its objects and proceeded to revalue them from the standpoint of “reason.” Inorganic logic is the faculty men have always used for solving problems of mathematics, engineering, transportation, physics and in other non-valuing situations. Its insistence on identity and rejection of contradiction are practicable in material activity. They afford intellectual satisfaction also in matters of purely abstract thought, like mathematics and logic, but if pursued far enough they turn into mere techniques, simple assumptions whose only justification is empirical. The end of Rationalism is Pragmatism, the suicide of Reason.
This adaptation of reason to material problems causes all problems whatever to become mechanical when surveyed in “the light of reason,” without any mystical admixture of thought or tendency whatever. Descartes reasoned the animals into automata, and a generation or so later, man himself was rationalized into an automaton — or equally, an animal. Organisms became problems in chemistry and physics, and superpersonal organism[s] simply no longer existed, for they are not amenable to reason, not being visible or measurable. Newton provided the universe of stars with a non-spiritual self-regulating force; the next century removed the spirit from man, his history and his affairs.
Reason detests the inexplicable, the mysterious, the half-light. In a practical problem in machinery or ship-building one must feel that all the factors are under his knowledge and control. There must be nothing unpredictable or out of control. Rationalism, which is the feeling that everything is subject to and completely explicable by Reason, consequently rejects everything not visible and calculable. If a thing actually cannot be calculated, Reason merely says that the factors are so numerous and complicated that in a purely practical way they render the calculation unfeasible, but do not make it theoretically impossible. Thus Reason also has its Will-to-Power: whatever does not submit is pronounced recalcitrant, or is simply denied existence.
When it turned its gaze to History, Rationalism saw the whole tendency as one toward Reason. Man was “emerging” during all those millennia, he was progressing from barbarism and fanaticism to enlightenment, from “superstition” to “science,” from violence to “reason,” from dogma to “criticism, from darkness to light. No more invisible things, no more spirit, no more soul, no more God, no more Church and State. The two poles of thought are “the individual” and “humanity.” Anything separating them is “irrational.”
This branding of things as irrational is in fact correct. Rationalism must mechanize everything, and whatever cannot be mechanized is of necessity irrational. Thus the entirety of History becomes irrational: its chronicles, its processes, its secret force, Destiny. Rationalism itself, as a by-product of a certain stage in the development of a High Culture, is also irrational. Why Rationalism follows one spiritual phase, why it exercises its brief sway, why it vanishes once more into religion — these questions are historical, thus irrational.
Liberalism is Rationalism in politics. It rejects the State as an organism, and can only see it as the result of a contract between individuals. The purpose of Life has nothing to do with States, for they have no independent existence. Thus the “happiness” of “the individual” becomes the purpose of Life. Bentham made this as coarse as it could be made in collectivizing it into “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” If herding-animals could talk, they would use this slogan against the wolves. To most humans, who are the mere material of History, and not actors in it, “happiness” means economic well being. Reason is quantitative, not qualitative, and thus makes the average man into “Man.” “Man” is a thing of food, clothing, shelter, social and family life, and leisure. Politics sometimes demands sacrifice of life for invisible things. This is against “happiness,” and must not be. Economics, however, is not against “happiness,” but is almost co-extensive with it. Religion and Church wish to interpret the whole of Life on the basis of invisible things, and so militate against “happiness.” Social ethics, on the other hand, secure economic order, thus promote “happiness.”
Here Liberalism found its two poles of thought: economics and ethics. They correspond to individual and humanity. The ethics of course is purely social, materialistic; if older ethics is retained, its former metaphysical foundation is forgotten, and it is promulgated as a social, and not a religious, imperative. Ethics is necessary to maintain the order necessary as a framework for economic activity. Within that framework, however, “individual” must be “free.” This is the great cry of Liberalism, “freedom.” Man is only himself, and is not tied to anything except by choice. Thus “society” is the “free” association of men and groups. The State, however, is un-freedom, compulsion, violence. The Church is spiritual un-freedom.
All things in the political domain were transvalued by Liberalism. War was transformed into either competition, seen from the economic pole, or ideological difference, seen from ethical pole. Instead of the mystical rhythmical alternation of war and peace, it sees only the perpetual concurrence of competition or ideological contrast, which in no case becomes hostile or bloody. The State becomes society or humanity on the ethical side, a production and trade system on the economic side. The will to accomplish a political aim is transformed into the making of a program of “social ideals” on the ethical side, of calculation on the economic side. Power becomes propaganda, ethically speaking, and regulation, economically speaking.
The purest expression of the doctrine of Liberalism was probably that of Benjamin Constant. In 1814 he set forth his views “progress” of “man.” He looked upon the 18th century Enlightenment with its intellectualistic-humanitarian cast as merely preliminary to the true liberation, that of the 19th century. Economics, industrialism, and technics represented the means of “freedom.” Rationalism was the natural ally of this trend. Feudalism, Reaction, War, Violence, State, Politics, Authority — all were overcome by the new idea, supplanted by Reason, Economics, Freedom, Progress and Parliamentarism. War, being violent and brutal, was unreasonable, and is replaced by Trade, which is intelligent and civilized. War is condemned from every standpoint: economically it is a loss even to the victor. The new war technics — artillery — made personal heroism senseless, and thus the charm and glory of war departed with its economic usefulness. In earlier times, war-peoples had subjugated trading-peoples, but no longer. Now trading-peoples step out as the masters of the earth.
A moment’s reflection shows that Liberalism is entirely negative. It is not a formative force, but always and only a disintegrating force. It wishes to depose the twin authorities of Church and State, substituting for them economic freedom and social ethics. It happens that organic realities do not permit of more than the two alternatives: the organism can be true to itself, or it becomes sick and distorted, a prey for other organisms. Thus the natural polarity of leaders and led cannot be abolished without annihilating the organism. Liberalism was never entirely successful in its fight against the State, despite the fact that it engaged in political activity throughout the 19th century in alliance with every other type of Stated-disintegrating force. Thus there were National-Liberals, Social-Liberals, Free-Conservatives, Liberal-Catholics. They allied themselves with democracy, which is not Liberal, but irresistibly authoritarian in success. They sympathized with Anarchists when the forces of Authority sought to defend themselves against them. In the 20th century, Liberalism joined Bolshevism in Spain, and European and American Liberals sympathized with Russian Bolsheviks.
Liberalism can only be defined negatively. It is a mere critique, not a living idea. Its great word “freedom” is a negative — it means in fact, freedom from authority, i.e., disintegration of the organism. In its last stages it produces social atomism in which not only the authority of the State is combated, but even the authority of society and the family. Divorce takes equal rank with marriage, children with parents. This constant thinking in negatives caused political activists like Lorenz V. Stein and Ferdinand Lasalle to despair of it as a political vehicle. Its attitudes were always contradictory, it sought always a compromise. It sought always to “balance” democracy against monarchy, managers against hand-workers, State against Society, legislative against judicial. In a crisis, Liberalism as such was not to be found. Liberals found their way on to one or the other side of a revolutionary struggle, depending on the consistency of their Liberalism, and its degree of hostility to authority.
Thus Liberalism in action was just as political as any State ever was. It obeyed organic necessity by its political alliances with non-Liberal groups and ideas. Despite its theory of individualism, which of course would preclude the possibility that one man or group could call upon another man or group for the sacrifice or risk of life, it supported “unfree” ideas like Democracy, Socialism, Bolshevism, Anarchism, all of which demand life-sacrifice.
From its anthropology of the basic goodness of human nature in general, Rationalism produced 18th century Encyclopedism, Freemasonry, Democracy, and Anarchism, as well as Liberalism, each with its offshoots and variations. Each played its part history of the 19th century, and, owing to the critical distortion of the whole Western civilization entailed by the first World Wars, even in the 20th century, where Rationalism is grotesquely out of place, and slowly transformed itself into Irrationalism. The corpse of Liberalism was not even interred by the middle of the 20th century. Consequently it is necessary to diagnose even now the serious illness of the Western Civilization as Liberalism complicated with alien-poisoning.
Because Liberalism views most men as harmonious, or good, it follows that they should be allowed to do as they like. Since there is no higher unit to which all are tied, and whose super-personal life dominates the lives of the individuals, each field of human activity serves only itself — as long as it does not wish to become authoritative, and stays within the framework of “society.” Thus Art becomes “Art for Art’s sake,” l’art pour l’art. All areas of thought and action become equally autonomous. Religion becomes mere social discipline, since to be more is to assume authority. Science, philosophy, education, all are equally worlds unto themselves. None are subject to anything higher. Literature and technics are entitled to the same autonomy. The function of the State is merely to protect them by patents and copyrights. But above all — economics and law are independent of organic authority, i.e., of politics.
Twenty-first century readers will find it difficult to believe that once the idea prevailed that each person should be free to do as he pleased in economic matters, even if his personal activity involved the starvation of hundreds of thousands, the devastation of entire forest and mineral areas, and the stunting of the power of the organism; that it was quite permissible for such an individual to raise himself above the weakened public authority, and to dominate, by private means, the inmost thoughts of whole populations by his control of press, radio and mechanized drama.
They will find it more difficult yet to understand how such a person could go to the law to enforce his destructive will. Thus a usurer could, even in the middle of the 20th century, invoke successfully the assistance of the law in dispossessing any numbers of peasants and farmers. It is hard to imagine how any individual could injure the political organism more than by thus mobilizing the soil into dust, in the phrase of the great Freiherr von Stein.
But — this followed inevitably from the idea of the independence of economics and law from political authority. There is nothing higher, no State; it is only individuals against one another. It is but natural that the economically more astute individuals accumulate most of the mobile wealth into their hands. They do not however, if they are true Liberals, want authority with this wealth, for authority has two aspects: power, and responsibility. Individualism, psychologically speaking, is egoism. “Happiness” = selfishness. Rousseau, the grandfather of Liberalism, was a true individualist, and sent his five children to the foundling hospital.
Law, as a field of human thought and endeavor, has as much independence, and as much dependence as every other field. Within the organic framework, it is free to think and organize its material. But like other forms of thought, it can be enrolled in the service of outside ideas. Thus law, originally the means of codifying and maintaining the inner peace of the organism by keeping order and preventing private disputes from growing, was transmuted by Liberal thought into a means of keeping inner disorder, and allowing economically strong individuals to liquidate the weaker ones. This was called the “rule of law,” the “law-State,” “independence of the judiciary.” The idea of bringing in the law to make a given state of affairs sacrosanct was not original with Liberalism. Back in Hobbes’s day, other groups were trying it, but the incorruptible mind of Hobbes said with the most precise clarity that the rule of law rule means the rule of those who determine and administer the law, that the rule of a “higher order” is an empty phrase, and is only given content by the concrete rule of given men and groups over a lower order.
This was political thinking, which is directed to the distribution and movement of power. It is also politics to expose the hypocrisy, immorality and cynicism of the usurer who demands the rule of law, which means riches to him and poverty to millions of others, and all in the name of something higher, something with supra-human validity. When Authority resurges once more against the forces of Rationalism and Economics, it proceeds at once to show that the complex of transcendental ideals with which Liberalism equipped itself is as valid as the Legitimism of the era of Absolute Monarchy, and no more. The Monarchs were the strongest protagonists of Legitimism, the financiers of Liberalism. But the monarch was tied to the organism with his whole existence, he was responsible organically even where he was not responsible in fact. Thus Louis XVI and Charles I. Countless other monarchs and absolute rulers have had to flee because of their symbolic responsibility. But the financier has only power, no responsibility, not even symbolic, for, as often as not, his name is not generally known. History, Destiny, organic continuity, Fame, all exert their powerful influence on an absolute political ruler, and in addition his position places him entirely outside the sphere of base corruptibility. The financier, however, is private, anonymous, purely economic, irresponsible. In nothing can he be altruistic; his very existence is the apotheosis of egoism. He does not think of History, of Fame, of the furtherance of the life of the organism, of Destiny, and furthermore he is eminently corruptible by base means, as his ruling desire is for money and ever more money.
In his contest against Authority the finance-Liberal evolved a theory that power corrupts men. It is, however, vast anonymous wealth which corrupts, since there are no superpersonal restraints on it, such as bring the true statesman completely into of the service of the political organism, and place him above corruption.
It was precisely in the fields of economics and law that the Liberal doctrine had the most destructive effects on the health of the Western Civilization. It did not matter much that aesthetics became independent, for the only art-form in the West which still had a future, Western Music, paid no attention to theories and continued on its grand creative course to its end in Wagner and his epigones. Baudelaire is the great symbol l’art pour l’art: sickness as beauty. Baudelaire is thus Liberalism in literature, disease as a principle of Life, crisis as health, morbidity as soul-life, disintegration as purpose. Man as individualist, an atom without connections, the Liberal ideal of personality. It was in fields of action rather than of thought that the injury was the greatest.
Allowing the initiative in economic and technical matters to rest with individuals, subject to little political control, resulted in the creation of a group of individuals whose personal wills were more important than the collective destiny of the organism and the millions of the population. The law which served this state of affairs was completely divorced from morality and honor. To disintegrate the organism from the spiritual side, what morality was recognized was divorced from metaphysics and religion and related only to “society.” The criminal law reflected finance-Liberalism by punishing crimes of violence and passion, but not classifying such things as destroying national resources, throwing millions into want, or usury on a national scale.
The independence of the economic sphere was a tenet of faith with Liberalism. This was not subject to discussion. There was even evolved an abstraction named “economic man,” whose actions could be predicted as though economics were a vacuum. Economic gain was his sole motive, greed alone spurred him on. The technic of success was to concentrate on one’s own gain and ignore everything else. This “economic man” was however man in general to the Liberals. He was the unit of their world-picture. “Humanity” was the sum total of these economic grains of sand.
The type of mind which believes in the essential “goodness” of human nature attained to Liberalism. But there is another political anthropology, one which recognizes that man is disharmonious, problematical, dual, dangerous. This is the general wisdom of mankind, and is reflected by the number of guards, fences, safes, locks, jails, and policemen. Every catastrophe, fire, earthquake, volcanic eruption, flood, evokes looting. Even a police strike in an American city was the signal for looting of the shops by the respectable and good human beings.
Thus this type of thought starts from facts. This is political thinking in general, as opposed to mere thinking about politics, rationalizing. Even the wave of Rationalism did not submerge this kind of thinking. Political thinkers differ greatly in creativeness and depth, but they agree that facts are normative. The very word theory has been brought into disrepute by intellectuals and Liberals who use it to describe their pet view of how they would like things to be. Originally theory was explanation of facts. To an intellectual who is adrift in politics, a theory is an aim; to a true politician his theory is a boundary.
A political theory seeks to find from history the limits of the politically possible. These limits cannot be found in the domain of Reason. The Age of Reason was born in bloodshed, and will pass out of vogue in more bloodshed. With its doctrine against war, politics, and violence, it presided over the greatest wars and revolutions in 5,000 years, and it ushered in the Age of Absolute Politics. With its gospel of the Brotherhood of Man, it carried on the largest-scale starvation, humiliation, torture, and extermination in history against populations within the Western Civilization after the first two World Wars. By outlawing political thinking, and turning war into a moral-struggle instead of a power-struggle it flung the chivalry and honor of a millennium into the dust. The conclusion is compelling that Reason also became political when it entered politics, even though it used its own vocabulary. When Reason stripped territory from a conquered foe after a war, it called it “disannexation.” The document consolidating the new position was called a “Treaty,” even though it was dictated in the middle of a starvation-blockade. The defeated political enemy had to admit in the “Treaty” that he was “guilty” of the war, that he is morally unfit to have colonies, that his soldiers alone committed “war-crimes.” But no matter how heavy the moral disguise, how consistent the ideological vocabulary, it is only politics, and the Age of Absolute Politics reverts once again to the type of political thinking which starts from facts, recognizes power and the will-to-power of men and higher organisms as facts, and finds any attempt to describe politics in terms of morals as grotesque as it would be to describe chemistry in terms of theology.
There is a whole tradition of political thinking in the Western Culture, of which some of the leading representatives are Machiavelli, Hobbes, Leibnitz, Bossuet, Fichte, de Maistre, Donoso Cortes, Hippolyte Taine, Hegel, Carlyle. While Herbert Spencer was describing history as the “progress” from military-feudal to commercial-industrial organization, Carlyle was showing to England the Prussian spirit of Ethical Socialism, whose inner superiority would exert on the whole Western Civilization in the coming Political Age an equally fundamental transformation as had Capitalism in the Economic Age. This was creative political thinking, but was unfortunately not understood, and the resulting ignorance allowed distorting influences to fling England into two senseless World Wars from which it emerged with almost everything lost.
Hegel posited a three-stage development of mankind from the natural community through the bourgeois community to the State. His State-theory is thoroughly organic, and his definition of the bourgeois is quite appropriate for the 20th century. To him the bourgeois is the man who does not wish to leave the sphere of internal political security, who sets himself up, with his sanctified private property, as an individual against the whole, who finds a substitute for his political nullity in the fruits of peace and possessions and perfect security in his enjoyment of them, who therefore wishes to dispense with courage and remain secure from the possibility of violent death. He described the true Liberal with these words.
The political thinkers mentioned do not enjoy popularity with the great masses of human beings. As long as things are going well, most people do not wish to hear talk of power-struggles, violence, wars, or theories relating to them. Thus in the 18th and 19th centuries was developed the attitude that political thinkers — and Machiavelli was the prime victim — were wicked men, atavistic, bloodthirsty. The simple statement that wars would always continue was sufficient to put the speaker down as a person who wanted wars to continue. To draw attention to the vast, impersonal rhythm of war and peace showed a sick mind with moral deficiency and emotional taint. To describe facts was held to be wishing them and creating them. As late as the 20th century, anyone pointing out the political nullity of the “leagues of nations” was a prophet of despair. Rationalism is anti-historical; political thinking is applied history. In peace it is unpopular to mention war, in war it is unpopular to mention peace. The theory which becomes most quickly popular is one which praises existing things and the tendency they supposedly illustrate as obviously the best order and as preordained by all foregoing history. Thus Hegel was anathema to the intellectuals because of his State-orientation, which made him a “reactionary,” and also because he refused to join the revolutionary crowd.
Since most people wish to hear only soporific talk about politics, and not demanding calls to action, and since in democratic conditions it matters to political technics what most people wish to hear, democratic politicians evolved in the 19th century a whole dialectic of party-politics. The idea was to examine the field of action from a “disinterested” standpoint, moral, or economic, and to find that the opponent was immoral, unscientific, uneconomic — in fact — he was political. This was devilishness that must be combated. One’s own standpoint was entirely “non-political.” Politics was a word of reproach in the Economic Age. Curiously however, in certain situations, usually those involving foreign relations, “unpolitical” could also be a term of abuse, meaning the man so described lacked skill in negotiating. The party politician also had to feign unwillingness to accept office. Finally a demonstration of carefully arranged “popular will” broke down his reluctance, and he consented to “serve.” This was described as Machiavellism, but obviously Machiavelli was a political thinker, and not a camouflager. A book by a party-politician does not read like The Prince, but praises the entire human race, except certain perverse people, the author’s opponents.
Actually Machiavelli’s book is defensive in tone, justifying politically the conduct of certain statesmen by giving examples drawn from foreign invasions of Italy. During Machiavelli’s century, Italy was invaded at different times by Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, and Turks. When the French Revolutionary Armies occupied Prussia, and coupled humanitarian sentiments of the Rights of Man with brutality and large-scale looting, Hegel and Fichte restored Machiavelli once again to respect as a thinker. He represented a means of defense against a foe armed with a humanitarian ideology. Machiavelli showed the actual role played by verbal sentiments in politics.
One can say that there are three possible attitudes toward human conduct, from the point of evaluating its motives: the sentimental, the realistic, and the cynical. The sentimental imputes a good motive to everybody, the cynical a bad motive, and the realistic simply seeks the facts. When a sentimentalist, e.g., a Liberal, enters politics, he becomes perforce a hypocrite. The ultimate exposure of this hypocrisy creates cynicism. Part of the spiritual sickness following the First World War was a wave of cynicism which arose from the transparent, revolting, and incredible hypocrisy of the little men who were presiding over affairs at that time. Machiavelli had however an incorruptible intellect and did not write in a cynical spirit. He sought to portray the anatomy of politics with its peculiar problems and tensions, inner and outer. To the fantastic mental illness of Rationalism, hard facts are regrettable things, and to talk about them is to create them. A tiny politician of the Liberal type even sought to prevent talk about the Third World War, after the Second. Liberalism is, in one word, weakness. It wants every day to be a birthday, Life to be a long party. The inexorable movement of Time, Destiny, History, the cruelty of accomplishment, sternness, heroism, sacrifice, superpersonal ideas — these are the enemy.
Liberalism is an escape from hardness into softness, from masculinity into femininity, from History into herd-grazing, from reality into herbivorous dreams, from Destiny into Happiness. Nietzsche, in his last and greatest work, designated the 18th century as the century of feminism, and immediately mentioned Rousseau, the leader of the mass-escape from Reality. Feminism itself — what is it but a means of feminizing man? If it makes women man-like, it does so only by transforming man first into a creature whose only concern is with his personal economics and his relation to “society,” i.e., a woman. “Society” is the element of woman, it is static and formal, its contests are purely personal, and are free from the possibility of heroism and violence. Conversation, not action; formality, not deeds. How different is the idea of rank used in connection with a social affair, from when it is applied on a battlefield! In the field, it is fate-laden; in the salon it is vain and pompous. A war is fought for control; social contests are inspired by feminine vanity and jealousy to show that one is “better” than someone else.
And yet what does Liberalism do ultimately to woman: it puts a uniform on her and calls her a “soldier.”‘ This ridiculous performance but illustrates the eternal fact that History is masculine, that its stern demands cannot be evaded, that the fundamental realities cannot be renounced, even, by the most elaborate make-believe. Liberalistic tampering with sexual polarity only wreaks havoc on the souls of individuals, confusing and distorting them, but the man-woman and the woman-man it creates are both subject to the higher Destiny of History.
Francis Parker Yockey, Imperium (1948; Costa Mesa, CA: Noontide Press, 1962), 208–23.