Top 25 Philosophical and Ideological Conservative Books
No. 16 - Thomas Molnar: The Counter-Revolution
by Dr. Enrico Peppe
27 April 2004
to Kirk, Voegelin, Strauss, and Meyer, Molnar offers only one "a priori"
dictum: that the substance of the counter-revolutionary affirmation remain
rooted in the immutable nature of God and his creation, man.
recent past the scissions affecting the conservative and libertarian movements
have become widened and labyrinthic. The problems Frank Meyer wrote about
back awhile (See IC review #24)
seem more directly dialectic (traditionalism versus libertarianism) than
today's apparently obfuscated fissures (neoconservatism versus paleoconservatism,
paleolibertariansim versus catolibertarianism, and so on).
felt by a healthy handful (like the American Conservative Union) that the
moribund fusion imperative must invigorate or cede victory to the liberal/radical
(medium/message) force so prevalent in our Republic.
An excellent book, The Counter-Revolution by Thomas Molnar, speaks to just this point. This masterful piece, by the gifted Molnar, never received the kudos it deserved.
My attempt, by placing such on the IC "Top 25" list should, in its modest way, proffer the hearing it deserves.
Molnar, himself, deserves attention and praise.
Born in Hungary in 1921, this exceptionally trained historian and political
theorist saw first-hand the horror of the totalitarian state -- first as
a prisoner in Dachau -- and then as an observer of Soviet flagrancy in Budapest.
He soon emigrated to the United States where he spent a great portion of
his teaching career at Brooklyn College.
His articles are myriad and varied, covering topics on French history to
cultural demography. His numerous books center on political culture (his
debt, he says, is to Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind.) His best, in my mind, are The Decline of the Intellectual (1962), Utopia, The Perennial Heresy (1967), and the book under review, The Counter-Revolution. (1969)
(Frank Meyer's notion of fusionism was to gather up those ideologies where
notions of freedom were dominant so as to fight off the Left. Molnar's was
practical: he would rather gather up philosophers who detested the Left,
regardless of whether or not freedom was the dominant reason for the scathing.
Meyer might well be called the "American Fusionist." Molnar's predilection
The "revolution" Molnar talks about is that of the secular, made manifest
by the French in 1789. It did not just arrive as a meteor might. There had
been adequate preparation by trendy ideologues.
The brilliant Stephen Tonsor explains:
views the 'republique des lettres' essentially as a conspiracy of the intellectuals;
a kind of Grand Orient of the intellect, capable of deposing kings and emptying
churches...the French Revolution (is) a consequence of this great conspiracy...(this)
loose yet solid framework of writers and 'philosophes' became the 'invisible
power' which commands everywhere, including the king's palace.
Tonsor concludes with direct reference to Molnar:
Molnar believes that ' a replica of the intellectuals' republic exists' at
the present time in the United States composed of the 'manipulators of ideas
and images, writers, professors, artists, journalists' with sufficient power
to make revolutionary attitudes 'respectable to the point of gradually being
looked upon as legitimate, and more...as the only legitimate thesis...
central point (often overlooked by conservative analysts) is that revolutionists
seek "organic disruption." In the World of the West, this has amounted to
an assault on the twin pillars of freedom/peace (as represented by capitalism
at home/free trade abroad) and higher-power worship (as represented by Judeo-Christianity).
Molnar took the late, great McLuhan to heart since he made it clear that
the "content of the revolution (is) inseparable from the method of its communication."
(I won't dwell on what the revolution stands for. The IC reader is well aware
of the incursions, the assault on the classical liberal and conservative
mindset, successfully launched by the "philosophes" of the ages. Today, the
medium for the revolutionist is cable. Talk radio and the Web offer alternative
platforms for the counter-revolutionist, but these interactive technologies
have yet to be fully utilized. The IC reader has a head-start. In addition
he/she might do well to begin a daily regimen (in small doses, at first)
of lewrockwell.com and Mises.org. These sister sites seem to meld the free
market and eternal verities quite successfully).
Molnar defines the counter-revolution in terms of attitude translated into doctrine. Thus,
main intention of counter-revolutionary political doctrine was to prove that
the organic nature of societies rejected the revolution as a brutal disruption
of national life, that is, the harmony that links community and citizen,
government and nation, past and present, history and the future. The gravitational
center...is the belief that the genuine rhythm of societies was contrary
to the revolutionary fever; that the government was the guarantor of this
rhythm; and that progress presupposes social peace, careful and minimal lawmaking,
and protection against upheavals.
the task of the counter-revolutionist is to defend the equilibrium of society.
It is at this point that the book takes on a subtle veneer.
In contrast to Kirk, Voegelin, Strauss, and Meyer
(see my IC reviews
on the last three), who see a victory against Secular Statists looming, yet
offer only parochial solutions or none at all, Molnar offers only one "a
priori" dictum, that the substance of the counter-revolutionary affirmation
"remain rooted in the immutable nature of God and his creation, man."
The substance, for Molnar,
a rather straight line from the earliest counter-revolutionaries, such as
de Maistre and Burke, to those of the 1930's and our own days...like their
opponents...they too adapted themselves to changing circumstances and incorporated
into their thinking the ideas of new theoreticians of the political phenomenon.
like the late Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and the late Murray Rothbard, is
open to ideas from all quarters. These thinkers (there are a few others,
Kendall comes to mind) have the marvelous ability to place thoughts correctly
within historical frameworks. It is almost instinctive for them.
Molnar authority Craig Schiller in his The Guilty Conscience of a Conservative, grasps the need for conservative unity regardless of seemingly outward differences:
builds upon...the metaphysical conservatism of a Donoso Cortes, the legitimist-restorationist
conservatism of a Joseph de-Maistre, the Tory conservatism of an Edmund Burke,
the theocratic-obscurantist conservatism of a Konstantin Pobiedonostev, the
empirical conservatism of a Charles Maurras, the nationalist conservatism
of a Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the democracy-admiring conservatism of
Alexis de Toqueville, and the republican-pluralist conservatism of a Willmoore
Kendall." (See my IC review on Kendall's The Conservative Affirmation).
there are excesses abundant in the ideas of Cortes, Maurras, and others.
Nonetheless, Molnar sees theological (and hence, counter-revolutionist) unity.
The enemy are the ubiquitous "philosophes," the characters described by Walpole
as "impossible people, superficial, arrogant and fanatical," the committed
Leftists, the Socialists, the Statists, the Utopians, those who would breed
doubt and confusion, those who would disturb the marvelous equilibrium as
having emanated from Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. The counter-revolutionists,
certainly, though not always on task, have the duty to seize advantages that
obstruct revolutionist urges (more on this later).
The importance of Molnar's thought rests with his ability to mingle the practical and the eternal. Schiller explains,
Molnar]...conservative principles should not be confused with the passing
forms which rightism garbs itself in different contexts and times...prudence
or realism should be (the) guide when changing forms and seeking to maintain...basic
conservative beliefs...tangible gains for conservatism can only be achieved
by employing, in each sphere of human activity, methods that work.
Molnar's summary is splendid (and fusionist):
relentless and organized revolutionary assault has finally reached the United
States as the embodiment of the pre-1789 political order, and the Church,
as the embodiment of the transcendental order.
Our civilization will no doubt come to an end the day the Catholic Church and the United States join the revolution.
The task of the counter-revolutionaries is...a never-ending task, a daily burden. And, so it must be performed, every day.
In my IC review of Ludwig von Mises' Method, Money, and the Market Process, I concluded, in part, that:
Libertarian movement, represented by the Mises Institute, now under the leadership
of Lew Rockwell, must dissociate itself from the divisive nuisances of: Justin
Raimondo's Leftist Anti-war.com, Sam Francis and his Paleoconservative exclusivism,
the monarchy-loving fantasies of Hans-Hermann Hoppe (derived as it is from
the Old Right's Seward Collins), the libertine, Taki, of the American Conservative, Joe Sobran and his obsession with Zionism, Charley Reese and his ambivalence toward conservatism, the editorial leadership of Reason
magazine, and sundry other publications, personalities, and movements (the
purely Leftist anti-global, anti-deodorant, demonstrants come to mind), not
sharing the vision and subtlety of a Mises. There is no room in this great
movement for rude, self-styled "libertarians" like Bill Maher and Howard
the above-stated remarks. After serious rumination and rethought (particularly
over the book under review), I realize that my verbiage was excessively vituperative,
more befitting a rabid ideologue, and not that of a retired academician with
over 50 years of conservative/libertarian study behind him. The concerns
I had are greatly mitigated, as I suspect Molnar's rightly were with his
"counter-revolutionaries" (the degree of my mollification is lessened somewhat
as it pertains to Reason magazine, Maher, and Stern). I extend my
apologies to the objects of my vehemence and to IC readers in general and
to Rachel and Andrew Alexander of IC and Mr. Lew Rockwell of LRC and the
Mises Institute, in particular.
There is a New Fusionism in the wind, of which Meyer and Molnar are only a part (or rather, only a start).
Edward Feser's What Libertarian Isn't represents, for me, a brilliant approach to Fusionism anew. The piece, published in 2001, should be read in its entirety.
Dr. Feser doesn't see a true Libertarian/Conservative split once philosophical
conceptions are properly understood. An essential feature for the conservative,
that of the preservation of traditional morality, should pose no problem
for the libertarian, irrespective of his particular vision of libertarian
thought (i.e., hues which emphasize free market primacy, inviolate natural
rights, cultural supremacy, social contractarianism, or freedom maximization
as dominant justifications).
A brilliant summary of a renewed and invigorated New Fusionism is offered by Feser:
I had to sum up the common moral vision of libertarians and conservatives,
I would say it is a commitment to the idea of the dignity of man. On this
vision, a human being in not a mere animal, but a rational being with the
power of free moral choice, a person -- a creature made...in the image of
God. And because he is this, he (a) cannot legitimately be used as a resource
for others, a source of labor and property which may be appropriated by the
state for its purposes without his consent and (b) is subject to the demands
of a moral law which require him to live in a way which accords with his
...Libertarians stress (a) and conservatives (b)...
Like Meyer and Molnar, Feser is perfectly aware that the enemy is the Left,
in its various factions tends to portray human beings in dehumanizing terms,
as little more than clever animals, or as cogs in a vast social machine...
you have it. In my mind, Feser joins Meyer and Molnar as philosophers who
write brilliantly and analytically about the Fusion Movement of the Right.
So, who's in the movement? What particular strains? It is my hope that fruitful
discussion will ensue. For my part, the talk will be taken up again as I
continue writing about the rest of the "Top 25."
My own thoughts (and correlative study) will lead toward attempting an answer to the following questions:
(1) Wherin a traditionalist (let's say the late Russell Kirk or the late
L. Brent Bozell, Jr) writes hesitatingly as to free market virtues, what
(2) What of the obverse on the part of the libertarian (on abortion, for instance)?
(3) Must the Fusion Analyst find suspect two-valued disputation? "The free
market is bad." or "Freedom of abortion choice is good."
(4) Is there a compromise for # (3)?
(5) Is there an area within political-philosophical discourse where reasoned compromise becomes Leftism all over again?
(6) What of the neo-conservative movement today? What of the movement's early
conservative stance on cultural matters? Does that count today now that the
second generation is affixed to nation building?
Intellectualconservative.com will keep its vigil and hopefully, Professor
Feser will write more pieces in an attempt to make clear a thorny conundrum.
The Counter-Revolution is available on Amazon.com.
IC's Top 25 Philosophical and Ideological Conservative Books.
Dr. Enrico Peppe is a retired educator who runs the website The Third Way.
A widower with too much time on his hands, he spends most of his time reading
and thinking about the conservative movement, studying Catholic theology,
working on his "Third Way" website, listening to Sinatra and Miles Davis,
and admiring Ann Coulter.
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