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Intellectuals: Latin, Liberal, and Aristocratic

Intellectuals: Latin, Liberal, And Aristocratic

Note: Francis Graham Wilson (1901-1976) was an eminent political scientist, and a central figure in the postwar American conservative intellectual movement.  Wilson was also a correspondent of Eric Voegelin’s for the majority of his life.  Since Wilson’s death in 1976, four new or revised volumes of his scholarship have appeared as part of Transaction/Rutgers’ and Routledge’s ongoing series devoted to introducing Wilson to a new generation of scholars.  These volumes include an edition of his The Case for Conservatism (Transaction/Rutgers, 1990); Political Philosophy and Cultural Renewal (Transaction/Rutgers, 2001; reprinted, Routledge, 2018), a collection of Wilson’s published and unpublished scholarly articles; Order and Legitimacy: Political Thought in National Spain (Transaction/Rutgers, 2004; reprinted, Routledge, 2017), a revised and extended version of his earlier work on Spanish political thought; and, a new edition of A Theory of Public Opinion (Transaction/Rutgers, 2013; reprinted, Routledge, ), Wilson’s seminal refutation of the behavioral ascendency in the study of politics.  The essay presented here was discovered by Dr. H. Lee Cheek, Jr., among Wilson’s unpublished papers, and is included in Order and Legitimacy (pp. 133-157).


It is the nineteenth and twentieth-century Latin intellectuals who command our interest today.  One thing is highly characteristic of them:  They have served as an integrating force between what is happening in the rest of the world and in their own tradition.  One can read them for cogent interpretations of northern Europeans, especially the Germans and the English.  Northern European intellectual life, integrated in a sense with all of Europe, has been studied by the Latins since the age of Renaissance learning.  English eighteenth-century ideas spread throughout Europe, especially economic thought and utilitarian theory propounded by Jeremy Bentham.  George Borrow recounts in his The Bible in Spain how a Galician official insisted to him that Bentham was the greatest thinker of all time; he thought that Englishmen would no longer read Borrow’s New Testament when they might read utilitarian thought.  In the Renaissance, Erasmus had a profound influence throughout Europe, including the Catholic countries of the Mediterranean.  The interaction between Germans and southerners has a history of centuries.  The German emphasis on life against reason, romanticism, Lutheranism, and the Hegelian conception of the philosophy of history, have been of perennial interest to the Latins.  The Latins have hardly shared in the twentieth century the Anglo-American hostility toward the Germans, except during the periods when war allegiances superseded other systems of judgment.  The most lucid interpretations of the turgidities of German philosophy are to be found among Latin intellectuals.  For generations, it was most important for the Latins to learn German, though in a utilitarian sense English has practically taken its place in recent years.

In philosophy, the struggle in the anti-clerical mind of the Latin has been between reason and life.  In Ortega’s work reason was symbolized in Socrates, and life was symbolized in Goethe and Nietzsche.  One may say that there is a balance in Latin thought between reason and life, which is expressed in the refusal of the intellectuals of the mezzogiorno to become romantics.  For the Latin intellectual, politics and the state were, on the one hand, subject to law, and to a kind of realism and determinism which limited the creativeness of the political leader; and, on the other, the state and politics are works of art, which is, according to Carl Schmitt, the essence of the romantic political position.  One may say, perhaps, that we have a kind of dynamic equilibrium which moves like a pendulum toward the Germanic and then backward toward the Greeks and Socrates.[1]


Every ideological struggle, every struggle in applying political theory in government, is in significant measure a struggle between intellectuals.  Naturally, in the West, it is the struggle of the European intellectuals.  But here the Latin intellectuals have been brilliant in their expression, for their impact has been through literary creation rather than through any form of political or scientific leadership.  Their brilliance has been spread through the twentieth century, although some like Mosca, began their work in the last generation of the nineteenth century.  Still, among those who have had the greatest impact on the theory of politics we must mention Benedetto Croce for his criticism of the politicians of post-Risorgimento times, and Vilfredo Pareto for a mathematical realism in the study of economic and political behavior.  Pareto was called by the Communists in the 1930s the Karl Marx of the bourgeoisie.  Mosca’s contribution was in the field of method and in the study of the history of politics, much as with Guido de Ruggiero.  Robert Michels, the Italian-Swiss student of the leftwing and of the oligarchical trend in political parties, has had a profound impact on contemporary behavioral political science in America.  His book Political Parties is one of the modern classics, and to combine this book with Georges Sorel’s Reflexions sur la violence is to provide oneself with a clue to the age.  Guglielmo Ferrero moved from the study of classical history into meditation on legitimacy and power in the period after World War I.  And Giovanni Sartori’s Democratic Theory may very likely be the best of the books that have been produced in our generation on this subject.  There is also the trilogy of great Spanish critics of politics:  Miguel de Unamuno, George Santayana (the only man it was once said who ever resigned a professorship at Harvard), and José Ortega y Gasset, who is almost a universal man.  These Spanish or Latin liberals are read by almost all of the literate throughout the West.

One should ponder what these thinkers really stand for?  It is easier to answer for politics than for some other things.  In a sense they are all lapsed Catholics, though the Catholic air seems to run through their writings.  Generally, they are neither monarchists nor democrats.  They have been unimpressed by the rhetoric of the democratic crusade, which has covered so many virtues and so many vices of political misunderstanding.  In a sense they are all psychological naturalists—even though history does not always follow a pattern (Ortega said one can always predict the historical future)–still men are not different from age to age.  The patterns of history are the patterns of human behavior.  They are the patterns of political and class conflict.  As intellectuals, they share the unending historical antipathy of the philosopher for the businessman.  They are, even one-time proletarians like Michels, aristocratic liberals, while the American-Northern European intellectuals have been protesting their democratic commitment.  The Latin hardly bothers.  He is concerned with a “political formula,” perhaps even Machiavellian in nature, which will succeed in governing or establishing a system of public order in accordance with the nature of men. They want a governing order, whatever may be its structures, which will take account of the differences between men, but which will not be wrecked on equality.  Psychological naturalism is, like Nietzsche’s view, a kind of eternal recurrence of the relativistic in politics.

In their conflict with other intellectuals they assert that they are on top of reality, that is, of behavior, and in this sense they are a kind of precursor of contemporary behavioral science.  In their theory of politics they are probably closer to Burke and the British tradition than to others, and here the words conservative and liberal tend to lose significance.  They invented, especially Ortega, the idea of the mass man.  Ever since the new barbarian fascists and Communists have made their appearance, the Latin liberals have been busy delineating and analyzing the new political monstrosities of our days.  Here they are not impressed with either fascism or the parliamentarism it overthrew, for neither regime had much to commend it for the future.  Neither could maintain the principles of legitimacy which were so lucid in the analysis of Ferrero.  The work that comes closest to saying what the aristocratic and Latin liberal would like to have in politics is Santayana’s Dominations and Powers, published in 1951.  It has something of the flavor of Croce’s aspersions on the parliamentary politicians of the years before World War I.  Santayana believed in his mature years of retirement that the majority actually seldom rules; and when it succeeds in doing so there is national disaster.  Indeed, he would favor the principle of co-option in the choice of new members of the ruling class.  Promotion to power should come to the able as it does in the great structures generally, that is, in armies, banks, industries, publications and publishing houses, universities, and in churches.

But there are a number of principles or postulates that run through such thought.  First of all, it is possible for the intellectuals and the able to be disinterested in their loyalty to their tasks, while the majority of mass-men, as the Greeks urged us to consider, seek only to rob the state for their own benefit.  To stay in power, the politician must help the masses in their robberies.  Power does not corrupt those who are born or fitted to exercise it.  Santayana believed that the leaders who wish to maintain their institutions can select the able and the disinterested to succeed them in their positions.

In the contemporary discussion among scientists about scientific intellectuals there is either clearly or implicitly the claim that their public service can be disinterested, objective, and for the public welfare.  At the same time there seems to be an assumption that humanistic, philosophical, or religious intellectuals are not equipped to be objective servants of the common good, simply because they are not scientists.  For in this argument, only science—and not religion—can affect a liberalizing movement of the inner and social life of man.  Outside of the practical or servile arts and outside of science, men are simply not rational.  Most of the human race has thus been irrational in its beliefs.  Here we have one of the bitter arguments of our time.  C. P. Snow has called it the “two cultures” in which there is little communication between the humanistic and the scientific intellectuals.  The traditional culture has paid little attention to the scientific and technological revolution.  Our scientific revolution is the application of science to industry, and the use of science in the solution of the great problems we face, that is, atomic or nuclear war, the population explosion, and the gap in wealth between the rich and advanced countries and those who though poor have sensed the possibilities of the freedom of an improving standard of living.  For example, both Toynbee and Snow believe the scientific revolution is possible everywhere in the world—if the rich will let the scientists provide the capital that is necessary.  “Intellectuals,” said Snow, “particularly literary intellectuals, are natural Luddites.”  And he cited Ruskin, Emerson, William Morris, and Henry David Thoreau.[2]

There is a further stage in the argument between the Latin—aristocratic liberal on the one hand, and the ritualistic liberal of the democratic crusade on the other.  For both the classical thinker and the Christian philosopher, the social order was primarily voluntary and not determined.  Always, however, any situation was mixed with deterministic elements.  One might say, indeed, that both the classical thinker and the Christian accepted in measure a corrupt society, because the reform of the individual and the Church was not a function of the state.[3]  On the other hand, the modern Latin liberal will say that the genetic principle will enable us to select men for their differences and not for their equality.  However, the theorists of classical libertas would also insist that superior people can serve disinterestedly, and that the humanistic intellectual is truly the one who is equipped to understand objective service to a culture.  With the Greeks, for example, and Plato particularly, one must perform his function in the light of knowledge that is both religious and philosophical.  A ruler who is trained like a philosopher, perhaps a young and malleable tyrant, might be able to reform the state so that intelligence and justice will prevail, in Syracuse or in Athens.[4]  In contemporary democracy one thing that intellectuals refuse to discuss is the human genetic equipment.  Children are underprivileged or culturally deprived, but they are never just lacking in intelligence.  In 1965, for example, when the U.S. government began assuring the right of Southern illiterates to vote.  It is clear that those in power at the moment believed they might direct the voting of those who are illiterate.  To the Latin liberals all this is political and social suicide.  It is the death of culture, and as Spengler might argue, the onset of the civilization of mere technology.

Finally, the aristocratic liberal would argue that the great civilizations of the past have not discovered their social purposes by counting votes.  Social order and its values have come to those who are informed about society and who have the skills to find out what is happening in the world.  Santayana argued that the rulers simply know better than the masses what is good for them—even when the government imposes its will on the people.  The judgment of public policy must arise from science and man’s nature, and not from something that is called public opinion.  The democrat might say that they are making up their own minds without the assistance of the civil servant.[5]  Were Santayana alive today he might look with amusement on the rise of the new generations of strong men almost everywhere in the world.  The democratic illusion of a universalization of parliamentary bodies based on free elections and free electoral propaganda has receded before either strongmen, colonels, and generals, or before the alienation and boredom of a repetitious and meaningless political life.  The democratic intellectual will often express fear of the mass man, though this must surely be one of the aspects of his contemporary propaganda.  For the democrat seems busy seeking out the mass-man and asking for his support.

The collapse of the ideology and institutions of the nineteenth century does not mean in itself an end to the golden age of progress. There is the further question of what will come from the age of the wars of races and of nations.  There seems to be a slow collapse of institutions and ideas.  It was Latins after World War I who eagerly embraced such “new-fashioned but ancient” ideas.  They became romantic fascists.  There was a considerable class of young intellectuals of the time who turned to some form of revolution, either of the Right or of the Left.  Such an age of political romanticism seems to be past.[6]  An American will try to find his ideology in scientism and technology, and since we do not like the difficult business of metaphysics we say we have no philosophy.  If we are amazed at the loss of the American dream in so many young who do not want to fight for their country, we may turn to a remote statement of the Anglo-American tradition, like the glorification of Magna Carta.  Or, we may say that ecumenism is possible, which means another version of the idea of each man loving his neighbor.  All this is a little like the surface of the existential struggle to be something, to surmount an age of anxiety, and to escape the problem of facing nothingness or death, as López Ibor once remarked.  What the Anglo-American mind does is to conflate things altogether, rather than to separate the elements as does the Latin.

The great event of our time has been the defeat of the “ideologies,” their loss of the power of myth, and a turning toward efficiency and technology in society and politics.  There has been a failure of both dictatorship or of Napoleonic regimes on the one hand, and the failure of parties and parliaments on the other.  The growth of executive power in alliance with efficiency and technology has been the story of our time.  Such events do not mean a failure of the Latin mind.  The Latin mind is not necessarily liberal or conservative, and it may be either Catholic or anticlerical, Christian or pagan.  For one thing, the defeat of ideologies means the possibility of recovering Latin realism in the treatment of politics and its separation from cultural and literary achievements.  Such a recovery would mean a condemnation of the return to romanticism, the romanticism of the fascists or the more current romanticism of the liberals or conservatives in the world of parliaments and congresses.[7]  The failure of the romanticisms of the twentieth century reaffirms that the greatest of Western secular continuities is Latin and classical intellectualism.  It may be clear that the mandates of technology, the age of technicism as Spengler once said, have superseded the aspirations of ideology, but it is also clear that the mandates of technology cannot be the mandates of the Latin, classical, and humanistic mind.

A Latin, like Ortega in The Revolt of the Masses, insisted that the Communists and the fascists are the new barbarians who will accept no authority outside of themselves.  The barbarians are like the Asiatics and the Slavs who are again in migratory movement.  The Latin would be inclined to see technology as the symbol of the new barbarism which solves no issues.  He would linger with Demeter perhaps, of the “golden sword and glorious fruits,” or the lyre of Apollo, rather than march with the mass-man who may believe there is a technical solution for any and all of the miseries of the human soul.  Technology is nothing for Demeter, for where technology is nothing can grow.  Latin realism might suggest as well that the romanticism of exporting democracy to areas where it has not been well-received is bound to fail.  For Americans have often seen their aid to “democracies” turned to the benefit of the insurgent Communist movement. The Latin mind with its long memory may regard the late Roman civil wars as similar to the wars of Europe of the twentieth century.  What we have called simply “international war” has been to the classical tradition the outbreak of another internal war.


An intellectual is not easy to define.  One common definition is that he is a person who has ideas and who talks about them.  Others would say an intellectual is one who can think in terms of the various liberal arts, but this is, naturally, also the definition of an educated individual.  On the other hand, in our times some of the classical liberal arts like theology and philosophy have been downgraded, while the scientist is placed at the top of the intellectual hierarchy.  We live in the age of electronics and the computer in which government officials calculate the scientific manpower of the nation, and the creative thought of the intellectual is defined as one who does what the machine cannot yet accomplish.  Such a definition is grim, indeed, and it bears little relation to the reverence in authority for the philosopher, who was often regarded as an instrument of a higher guidance, and as Goethe said “a vessel found worthy of receiving a divine influence.”[8]

Scholarly opinions have differed as to just when the modern intellectuals became self-conscious and sought, therefore, to become a political force.  One view is that this occurred at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, through the defense of the captain by the intellectuals–writers, professors, and artists in particular.  The entrance of intellectuals into politics was greeted with sharp criticism, as in Julien Benda’s The Treason of the Intellectuals.  Benda’s view was broader than a particular incident in politics.  He was concerned with the general alliance of the clercs with political movements like nationalism.  This alliance he considered a betrayal of the quality, mission, and character of the clercs or intellectuals.  But it would seem clear that since the political uproar of the nineteenth-century the intellectuals have never ceased to be a “force” in politics, though at the same time most of them have been allied with the left, including the Communists in many cases after World War I.  Plato would have refused to call them “philosophers” for they would be sophists like Thrasymachus or Gorgias.  In this manner the controversy over the intellectual in politics is a contribution of classical times; it involves the efforts of Plato to create philosophical ruling classes in Syracuse and in the Troad (See his Epistles).  The Greek philosophers were not unwilling to enter politics, but they were concerned with the kind of teaching they offered the future rulers of cities.  Or, one might cite the Scipionic Circle, as a powerful intellectual group in Rome in the time of Polybius and at the height of the Roman Republic.  Roman philosophers were deeply divided between those who wished to restore republican ideals and institutions, like Cicero for example, and philosophers like Seneca who hopefully accepted the empire and saw in it a new and “perfect democracy.”  Thus, the intellectual in politics, as he has been bequeathed to us from Latin culture, has always been an issue in the teaching he has offered, and not whether he was simply involved in political advocacy.

In the United States in the period after World War I and the Great Depression, the liberal intellectuals came to dominate most of the important institutions of society.  They came to control the universities, the foundations (and the money available there), the bureaucracy, and through this the national executive, and perhaps more startling than this they came to control the federal judicial system.  How did all this come about in a short period of a generation?  There is no clear answer, but one explanation is that the preparation for the contemporary domination began in the nineteenth century.  Young American intellectuals went to Europe to get advanced degrees, and the Germans gave the Ph.D.  In England, one studied in economics the classical laws derived from Adam Smith, the laws of capitalism and of supply and demand; but in Germany the historical school and the principle that a nation might make its own economic and social order was accepted.  One of the paradoxes then is that along with the German Ph.D. came a certain amount of reformism, which was transferred to America through the new teachers in American universities.  Apparently this reformism was combined with an ethical system, partly Christian and partly plain humanitarianism, and it was actually a powerful social force in America during the last generation of the nineteenth century.  But by about 1900 the intellectuals began to call themselves “liberals.”  The meaning of liberal was changed gradually in the United States.  It no longer meant the classical economic doctrines of the free market system, but it meant on the contrary a system in which the state edged into the direction of the economic order, just it had done for centuries and in those countries where English economic doctrine did not penetrate.  It meant in addition that those who were on the free market-capitalist side of politics had to call themselves something other than liberals, and thus the label of “conservatism” came into use for what had been in a recent past liberal economic doctrines.

The domination of American institutional life by the socialistic “liberals” was, no doubt, greatly facilitated by the events of our time.  Reformism was in the air before World War I, but it suddenly became a dominant interest with the economic disorder of the late 1920s.  With the New Deal, the triumph of the leftwing liberals was assured.  It was an approach to socialism without using the word itself.  But it was parochial, and the permanence of “liberal” as a doctrine of the free market remained among the intellectuals on the continent, though the English liberals shifted to collectivism in measure during the latter years of the nineteenth century.

The movement toward collectivism was moderate in economics and strenuous in philosophy among the Latin intellectuals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  For many, the Latin liberal was simply a secularized philosopher, one who was anti-clerical and anti-Christian.  Early in the nineteenth century the liberals of the Latin countries rejected the so-called extreme individualism of the English.  Instead, they advocated programs of reform which might bring about the economic conditions they admired so much in wealthy and free England.  Much of the Latin-liberal reformism of the time resulted in little tangible improvement for the peasants, the city artisans, or the new class of industrial workers.  At times even the philosophy the liberals adopted was British, for among many the ideas of John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, and the utilitarians were regarded as the truth of society and government.  In general, however, Latin liberalism drew its philosophy from within, that is, from French, Italian, and Spanish sources.

As always there are inevitable contrary positions.  Latin intellectuals recognized that politics must be studied at the social focus of a time.  Politics is the focus, but it does not control it, for the problem in society (as against the state or government) is to control or direct politics.  For politics to be meaningful, or powerful, it must be in the midst of the focus.  It is a little like the sun glass:  Society may be burned, destroyed, or vivified by it.  Politics is in the life of society.  The Latin intellectuals were constantly drawn to the proposition that the central problem is life rather than reason.  We must reform, that is, we must live rather than strive to create a regime of perfection or a mystic conception of the future.  On this basis, Jaime Balmes could see that slavery was so deeply embedded in ancient society that its abolition would itself destroy society.  In another sense, one might take as an ideal the ethics of the Peripatetics or the Stoics, as Cicero did, but in practical detail one might also accept much of the moral caution and reluctance that has stemmed from the Latin mind of Niccolò Machiavelli.  One must not forget, however, that the Latin mind forwarded through history strong aversions to politics, for one might seek to escape from politics though not from the City.  The ideals, unrealized but beautiful, might remain in the idea of beneficial reform, the revolution and utopia, or the ultimate and perfect realization of human equality.  But, as Santayana noted, when one turns to God his reign discards all political instrumentalities.  In the “mysteries” or sacraments through the Greeks to the modern world, religion has been fostered more than through any single social program.  Philosophy in Pythagoras or Plato led to the hope of founding a true brotherhood of right-thinking philosopher-kings.  In this manner philosophy led to the Platonic disgust for politics and the democratic City.  However, Plato, as symbolic of the whole class of men (for example, Isocrates), proposed himself as a lawgiver in his late work The Laws.  Instead of a utopian city, perhaps laid up in heaven, he is analyzing the social structure of the new city in Crete which the three travelers are discussing.  Such is the philosopher’s return to politics, but others would never return.  The anarchist would destroy the City by the creation of a new social order.  May not one say that the consequence of revolutionary energy is the destruction of politics?

The Latin mind has had a keen sense of crisis.  The revolution arises, as Tocqueville urged for both the ancient world and his own, in a contradiction between an ideal of liberty and the ultimate claim to social equality.  The problem is to what extent one may achieve liberty within politics.  Here is the crisis of moeurs seen always in the institutions of imperfect society, and notably in the law.  “Roman law,” said Alexis de Tocqueville, “which has perfected civil society everywhere, has everywhere tended to degrade political society because it was principally the work of a people which was very civilized and very servile.  Kings have adopted it with passion, and they have established it wherever they have been masters.  The interpreters of this law became in all of Europe the kings’ ministers and their agents…. At the side of a prince who was violating the laws, it was very rare that a legist or civil lawyer did not appear to assure the king that nothing was more legitimate.  He proved learnedly and profoundly that the king’s violence was just and that it was the oppressed who were at fault.”[9]

May we not say that since the French Revolution the problem for the Latin intellectual has been to apply the new version of Latinity to modern politics?  Indeed, the Latin tradition has not agreed with the nineteenth-century sociology of rebellion, the destruction of property, and the bourgeoisie.  For the intellectual, some kind of individualistic conception of life drawn from ancient sources stands against the revolutionary fury of our time.  To stress the “single principle” and “organic idea,” as implicit at least in much of this type of analysis, is something like the “ideal-type” critique of Max Weber.  It is based on a kind of essentialism that may be subject to criticism, but which leads to some understanding of the problem, for we may assume that ideas are vital in the functioning of the body politic.


It was the peculiar fortune of Guglielmo Ferrero that he became a widely-sought intellectual by being first a historian of Rome.  From studying history he became a social philosopher and a theorist.  By being invited to both North and South America to lecture, he became concerned with the historical relation between the Old World and the New.  In February 1908 he was invited by the incredibly wide-ranging Theodore Roosevelt to visit him at the White House.  It was one of those rare moments in our history when a President invited a leading intellectual to come to talk with him.[10]  A second great stage in Ferrero’s thinking was the discovery in World War I of the menace of the Germans to Latin civilization, and this led him to produce Le génie Latin et le monde moderne, in which he affirmed that civilization itself is the product of the Latin spirit.  But he did not anticipate the catastrophic consequences of the war.  Apparently, it took nearly all intellectuals some time to realize that Communism was a world-shaking philosophy with a horrifying future.  On the contrary, the rise of fascism in Italy seemed to be a continuation of the stupidities of Italian politics.

One of the most difficult issues of communication between Anglo-Americans and Latins is about forms of government.  The continental thinkers in general do not rate any form of government as high as Americans have placed “democracy.”  We have mentioned the Latin aversion to politics, and this has involved a negative attitude toward all forms of government.  For all except socialists, it involves a disinclination to believe that the solution of difficult issues is to be found in politics.  In Anglo-American circles fighting fascism meant the necessarily logical glorification of democracy, whatever that much abused word might mean in any specific usage.  A man like Ferrero placed civilization at the top of his hierarchy of social benefits, and much politics of the nineteenth century had hardly been a benefit to intelligent life in the world. Mussolini’s showy regime was a continuation of the quasi-legitimacy of the Italian dictatorial prime ministers of the past century.  Ferrero wrote his powerful book on Four Years of Fascism before the rise of Hitler; whether he would have shared the Anglo-American hostility toward this regime is not at all clear.  In general, many Latin intellectuals (some of whom now call themselves “liberals”) considered a regime that repudiated parliamentary government as the form of government that was inevitable in the future.  Even some American leaders seemed to feel this way in the months just before Franklin D. Roosevelt became President.  And, of course, many of his enemies regarded President Roosevelt as a kind of American dictator, with the Weberian charismatic qualities of leadership.  Or, it may be said that continental intellectuals have remained unconvinced that the United States has either democracy or liberty.  The American economic order has been the summation of evil.  In these later years it would seem that Lenin’s Imperialism has become the world textbook in condemnation of America’s effort to defend what it has called “democracy.”

My point, I suppose, is that the misunderstanding and hostility toward the United States is one of the more complicated and deep-rooted of contemporary issues.  Men like Ferrero tried desperately to appreciate America, but in his Between the Old World and the New in 1914, it is clear that there is no overcoming of his hostility toward America, though his hostility is clearly less toward Latin America than toward Anglo-America.  In the end, the judgment of Latin intellectuals is that their culture is the universal basis of civilization.  The preservation of civilization depends on the preservation of the classical heritage, upon the safeguarding of the Latin spirit.  Civilization, regardless of forms of government, is possible only under these conditions.  As Ferrero said in the opening of Le génie latin, nearly all of the civilization of Europe and America–both North and South in its essentials–was created on the shores of the Mediterranean by the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews, all together in ancient, medieval, and in modern times.  Such an impulse to creativeness extends to all of Europe in common, and it includes the inspiration to science which distinguished the modern world from the ancient.  Indeed, much of the slowness in scientific development in the modern world came from the scientific poverty of the Roman Empire, which in turn was in significant measure caused by the failure to transmit clearly and rapidly the Greek and Alexandrian scientific legacy.  In other words, this transmission, to the mind of many Latin students aside from Ferrero, was aborted.  From this, European growth in civilization became uneven.

The military predominance of the modern Latin in Europe ended with Trafalgar and Waterloo, after a period of about 300 years.  But the economic failure of the south was evident long before.  The political triviality of the Latin countries, especially Italy and Spain, encouraged a belief in the north that all virtue had gone out of the Latins.  As a result, the Latin intellectual thought he could live with Britain and Germany.  British economic success, its wealth, and its empire had long shaken the confidence of the mezzogiorno, but so had its politics, which contrasted strangely in the nineteenth century with the division of Italy, the instability of Spain, the weakness of France vis-à-vis the Germans in 1870, and British diplomacy after the fall of Napoleon.  The outbreak of war in 1914 was a profound trauma, for it showed the Germans were bent on the conquest of Latin Europe.  The tragic surprise of the war meant, said Ferrero in Lyon in 1916, the destruction of our hopes and illusions.  It was not merely war; the Germans were overturning the foundations of Europe.  Germany had meant order and power, against the Latin ideal of perfection, but now she had become a great destructive force in European civilization.  The Germans in their egotism, as George Santayana argued, had overstepped the limits that no society should overpass.  The sense of order in history, Ferrero insisted, is represented by the Latin spirit, which like the Greek spirit, accepts limits to the capacity of man, and being limited it is also ordered.  Further, if the Latin genius had dominated the modern world as it had dominated the ancient, no catastrophe such as the world wars of the twentieth century would have been possible.  The Germans had become Vulcan and the Latins remained Apollo.

Behind all this, however, there remained the terrible fact of heavy industry in the north of Europe.  German civilization was one of science and iron, and how, after it had tried to vulgarize the markets of the world with low grade goods and cheapness, it was attempting through military adventure to take over or to destroy civilization itself.  But the Latin ideal, the contrasting ideal of perfection, still stands in its intellectual power.  If the Latin spirit means order, perfection, and one must add the peaceful development of modern society, only the Latin spirit can limit the criminality of peoples.  The war of 1914 seemed to Ferrero the beginning of a long crisis in modern history, but he did not anticipate the Russian Revolution, the disorder in Europe that was to follow the defeat of Germany (perhaps the defeat of Germany was as great a surprise to him as the outbreak of war itself), and the disintegration of the nineteenth-century system of political legitimacy.  Against the contemporary tragedy at the summit, the revival of civilization has depended on the revival of the intellectual classes who live in the Latin tradition.  Or again, he saw the cause of tragedy in the terrible nineteenth century, which pretended to know all things and believed itself capable of discovering all things.

Since World War II the psychological impact of totalitarianism seems to be fading.  Naturally, the Hitlerian regime is only a memory, and the once regnant fascism in other countries is hardly a model for any political leader or writer.  Indeed, the permanence and eternality of parliamentarism had been taken for granted, and thus at the onset of Communism and fascism it was impossible to take them seriously or to believe they would last.  The crisis of regimes was a momentary aberration which would be overcome in the near future.  But not so to Ferrero, as he argued: “The spiritual debris of the dying nineteenth century—Nietzscheism, imperialism, amoralism, idealism, anti-Christianism—fermenting in the heat of the times,” was the background of the weak regimes of dictators.  Still, regimes must be placed in the patterns of politics, which is one of the central themes of the Latin intellectuals when they approach the discussions of political science.  The “laws of politics,” it would seem, apply both to the defeated Germans and the Allied victors, for the victors in the peace treaties had been reviving the German doctrines of power.  Domination on both sides had become a doctrine, and “violence and exaggeration” had become incurable habits of the will and the mind.  Thus, one might ask: How could parliamentarism survive in such an overheated political climate?  Those, however, who had hoped for a restored and orderly Europe had revived the word and the principle of legitimacy at the end of 1918, which was a word that had been buried for half a century in the dictionary, “the common grave of dead words.”[11]

Initially, Ferrero saw in Italian fascism a continuity with the quasi-legitimacy of the nineteenth century.  The patterns of politics continued in operation; Mussolini could not break out.  Even under dictatorship, the will of the people remained the only source of legitimacy, a kind of “plebiscitary democracy.”[12]

With the excess of power and money to be found in the modern state, the dictator could not escape.  He postures in the modern bureaucratic state, responsible for everything but at the same time impotent.  Indeed, all personal governments are weak, and they are weaker in proportion as their legitimacy is more doubtful and open to challenge.  In another sense, the dictator is himself the leader of the blind, for the powerful elements in the state had no sense of political law or direction.  As Ferrero suggests:

The large landowners, the great industrialists, the bankers, the subversive conservatives, the heretical Liberals, the malcontents among the bureaucracy and the cultured middle classes, have lost their way.  Imagining that they were achieving a great revolution, they have merely brought Italy, after a wide circuit, back to the pre-war type of government.  They have turned back just when a resolute step forward should have been made towards the regime of the future.[13]

Before everyone, even today, is the great task of trying to learn something, a little something, about the art of self-government.  Many an intellectual, of whatever tradition, has been forced to start over, but all of the standard solutions, ideology and institutions have yet to achieve the greatness of the future.

The Latin liberal has bequeathed to all who are active in politics the classical notion of personality and its libertas.  The attainment of liberty is to him the primary objective of man.  R. G. Collingwood’s preface to de Ruggiero states that liberalism “begins with the recognition that men, do what we will, are free; that a man’s acts are his own, spring from his own personality, and cannot be coerced.  But this freedom is not possessed at birth; it is acquired by degrees as a man enters into the self-conscious possession of his personality through a life of discipline and moral progress; renouncing the two opposite errors of forcing upon him a development for which he is inwardly unprepared, and leaving him alone, depriving him of that aid to progress which a political system, wisely designed and wisely administered, can give.”[14]  Later, in his history, de Ruggiero argued that government has a synthetic character which obliges it to be careful and charitable toward the motives of its late political enemies.  “Care for the interests of the minority is the most strictly liberal of its tasks.”[15]

But libertas must be defined in terms of some ordering of experience, some veritas that has emerged in the judgment of the political leader.  He may state it in a hundred ways, from the harsh, unambiguous violence of Lenin or Sorel, or he may be evasive as is customary in the democratic politics of our days.  Now the Latin liberal would say, indeed, that the defense of liberty is a high and noble purpose, but it is not necessarily democratic, nor the rule of the majority.  Liberty is related to humanitas, to the spirit of literacy in living, rather than to any achievement simply of technical or servile effectiveness.  It is not authoritarianism, or the irresponsible and hypocritical rule of those who manipulate power.  Latin liberty may stand between these, and it is no mere compromise of pragmatic solution, for there is design, order, and principle, and these stand first.

We thus approach one of the profound themes of modern European politics–all the way from the baroque to the anguish of the intellectuals in the period after World War I and the Communist revolutions.  It was in the deepest and grimmest of periods in modern times, the 1920s to the 1940s, when it seemed to all clear heads that either Communism or some form of fascism had to be victor in the political future of Europe.  It was the question of what kind of a ruling class there was to be in the future; and if it were totalitarian there would be few intermediate groups between the masses of men and the rulers.  For even as de Tocqueville said, the breakdown of the corps intermédiarire signalized the onrush of the revolution.  In other words, the northern people would speak of the rule of the sovereignty of the masses, the populus, but the Latin always kept his eye on the reality of the ruling classes.  The French, as in the mind of the historian Taine, might think of good citizenship.  Gaetano Mosca, who formulated his theories of the ruling order in the 1880s, separated out the “noble” from the sheer existence of a ruling class and its behavior.

As Arthur Livingston has said:

“Mosca instead was an Italian, to whom the analytical method of thinking came naturally.  He leaped upon Taine’s method as a tool for straight thinking and sought to be, and, to a surprising extent in one still so young, succeeded in being ‘objective.’  I find that very Italian.  Italians do easily and as a matter of course what other human beings do rarely, if at all, and then only with great effort and after hard and sustained discipline: They think by processes of distinction.  While the rest of the world is hunting for ways to show that the true is good and the good is true, and that both are beautiful, the Italians are busy keeping virtue, truth and beauty separate and in the heart as well as in the mind.  Perhaps that is the great Italian ‘contribution to civilization,’ which Italian nationalists are always trying to discover.[16]

But Mosca had second thoughts in his later years.  He saw that the Latin liberals had succeeded in weaning the common man away from religion.  Instead of following the rationalism of the secular-minded philosophers, the common men had turned to socialism and to the demagogues who, pretending to be democrats, were undercutting the structure of the society the liberals had done much to create.  The brutal separation of religion from politics was having curious results; the nineteenth-century parliamentary democracy was sadly weakened before it faced the crisis of the twentieth century.  Limitations on the suffrage which might have saved the representative system were destroyed in the onrush of the revolt of the masses, as Ortega was to say later.[17]  As the masses had turned to socialism, the groundwork was being laid for the triumphs of Bolshevism, and, indeed, the barbarities of fascism in the twentieth century.  The “political formula” for legitimacy which the Latin liberals had proposed was thrust aside.  Elections and parliaments, as well as political parties, were weakened with no sure political alternative, now that monarchy had lost its baroque glory.  With these consequences, said Mosca, the liberal faced the choice of a plutocratic dictatorship, a bureaucratico-military dictatorship, or a demagogic dictatorship.[18]  Without the preservation of the aristocratic or more philosophically-oriented element in the democratic surge itself, there is an eventual devolution to some authoritarian or totalitarian form of political order.[19]

For Mosca, the decisive element in liberty is not the participation of the masses in politics, but the juridical protection of the individual, a heritage from the classical Roman legal system.  In practically all of the Latin liberals, unless they seem to be writing for Anglo-American audiences like Giovanni Sartori in his Democratic Theory, the form of government or the system of politics is not of primary interest.  They would like to have pluralism in religion but not a society in which the admonitions of the clergy enter into public policy.  But they move with a kind of amiable tolerance with new political regimes and systems, provided the freedom of the intellectual is not to be governed by priests, colonels, or businessmen.  Like intellectuals from old times, they like neither the religionist nor the man of the marketplace.  They accept more easily the bureaucrat or the military man.


Ortega looks well standing on the Acropolis, for he was not only a philosopher but inevitably a philosopher of history.  The view from the Acropolis and the Forum is toward the future, toward the present, and toward us.  On the other hand, the view from the present is backward to the Forum and to the Acropolis, or perhaps even to the legend of Europa.  From the present backward history seems linear, or even unilinear.  Today is a kind of absurd culmination toward which evolution, or even all history, has labored to bring forth our latest statesman.  But granting that we stand at the height of the times, what has made history move in one direction and not in another?  We are driven to a philosophy of history.  Though event and sequence was clearly visible to the ancient historian, it was the rise of the non-Latin that has made necessary the “philosophy of history.”  It is the explanation of the glorious or inglorious present of impending tragedy.  It helps us to forget quickly the wickedness of yesterday, the wars of last week.  Evolution has declared it: The future will be better, and this is the philosophy of history of those who have no understanding of the Latin and classical heritage.  For the Latin, there was only minimal determinism and the causes of history were largely within man himself.  It is for this reason that Ortega once roundly declared that any one of us can predict the future (though Ortega failed in his judgment of the Second Spanish Republic; he quickly became an exile from Spain, from the system he had helped to create).

Spanish intellectuals seem never to exhaust the meaning of Ortega and Unamuno, but for our purposes let us assume that Santayana had one of the politically creative of Latin minds in modern times.  Santayana was a Spaniard in the world, and though he wrote in English he always thought of himself as a Spaniard.  He was renewing his Spanish passport in Rome when the fall occurred which brought on his final illness.  Unamuno stands as a hero to the liberal student of literature, much more of a hero in literature than in politics.  Ortega was a critic of his time and a philosopher of history, as so much of his work will show.  But Santayana made profound and lasting statements of the Latin tradition in politics.  All three of these immortal thinkers seem to be Catholic in their souls and psychological naturalists in their minds.  Some said that Unamuno was a Lutheran at heart, but he wrote about religion for Catholics, and The Tragic Sentiment of Life is one of the classics of modern days.  Though the Latin intellectual generally is a “naturalist,” Santayana more than others realized that the spiritual (see his The Idea of Christ in the Gospels) leads to the natural, which indeed includes both materialism and idealism.[20]

It is from realism that one can understand history, and it is from within realism that one looks at culture and politics.  One has the feeling that Ortega was never interested in politics or really at home in the struggles of politicians.  He opposed the monarchy and favored the republic, but as a member of the Spanish Chamber of Deputies he said all too quickly of the Second Republic: “This is not my Republic.”  It was perhaps opposition to Alfonso XIII more than love of a republic that animated him in the final hours of the monarchy when he and a few other intellectuals decided that the monarchy must fall.  Those in Spain during the late days of the Republic and during the war showed an intense resentment against the former liberals and intellectuals who, from across the Spanish border, submerged either the Republic or the National government in Vitriol.  Still, one must remember that the Latin intellectual, like Ortega and Unamuno, is hostile at heart to politics, because all politics is unintelligent and ultimately uncreative.  In the world of historical and psychological naturalism, moral claims (or claims under natural law theory) are very different in different cities and in different epochs.  Moral judgment—even of the politics of Spain under the Republic—comes out of a disintegrating culture (as Ortega argued).  Morality is valid in terms of a tradition, but the tradition itself may be corrupted or uncivilized, as Gregorio Marañón, another founder of the Second Republic, affirmed when in French exile he said that the Second Republic had become a Soviet system.  The common elements of tradition to the Latin intellectual are not moral systems but systems of behavior.  This is the mark of order.  It is the order which reason can discover and interpret, but one does not come to the ideal state.  One does not come to the Republic proposed by Plato which existed in an order of ideal or idea formulations beyond palpable grasp.  The standard of judgment, from which philosophy arises, is a standard the Latin intellectual believes can be drawn from psychological naturalism.[21]

Though there is indifference to “politics,” there is no indifference to the political process.  For here one derives laws, aspects, and generalizations, which may be projected easily and naturally into the future.  Life is easier, indeed, when one eliminates the principled achievement of a utopia, but the Latin intellectual and his heirs, conservatives and liberals, would say also that life is more true.  In politics, the Latin mind is continually weighing the classical proposition, the proposition that comes from the Greek philosophers, that unrestrained democracy, for example, “the revolt of the masses,” brings with it some form of tyranny, barbarism, or a society that is purely “sophistical” in its judgment of human rights.  The alternative is a moral judgment that is as ancient as the literary consciousness of politics: Aristocracy is the creative, civilized type of government.  Whatever system of Greek “moderation at white heat” may be generated comes from the government of the best, the civilized, the orderly, the intelligent, and the men of specialized competence.  The German philosopher, Karl Jaspers, recognized this.  In speaking of his appreciation of his family, one thing he remembers was “their inclination to achieve democracy by way of aristocracy.”[22]

Latin intellectuals may well insist that if one can accept the postulate it is no more difficult to organize such a system of aristocracy, or function by competence, than it is to make what we call democracy work—in most of the world.  Indeed, the reason democracy works in Anglo-American countries and in much of Western Europe is precisely because democracy has not been doctrinaire and because in fact it is a veiled system of aristocracy.  And as contemporary societies become more populous and technological, the law of oligarchy prevails and fewer and fewer people become the governors or aristocrats of sovereignty.


Jorge Ruiz de Santayana (6.XII. 1863—26.IX. 1952, as his Roman grave stone says) was one of the most systematic of the modern Latin intellectuals.  He exemplifies a complicated materialism and psychologism, in which spiritual qualities from the Greeks and Christians are included; he was one of the most effective and savage of the Latin critics of the Germans; and, no doubt, he was one of the most systematic of the modern Latin political thinkers.  His Dominations and Powers is surely one of the modern classics in the field of politics.  Like Ortega and unlike Ferrero, he was not concerned with historical proofs of a position.  While he was one of the most rational of men, he was a critic of reason as were both Ortega and Henri Bergson.  He was an imaginative exponent of “Platonic love,” that great theme in the literature of Western culture; he was a Catholic free thinker, who argued that a Catholic in a Protestant country like the United States was in an impossible situation.  It was said that he never married because he could not bear to have his children reared as Catholics and he could not tolerate them being anything other than Catholics.  His ideal of love was, no doubt, a mixing of Catholicism and Platonism.  And by pushing his taxonomy, Ramón J. Sender has included Santayana in the “Generation of 1898,” that group of Spaniards who examined the reason for the modern failure of Spain, symbolized in its defeat by the United States.  He is seldom so classified by scholars.  Someone said he is the only man who ever resigned a professorship at Harvard, but perhaps as he reacted against the trivialization of American life he could see some of the same misfortune at Harvard.  Santayana’s realism and naturalism was, as intimated, of the Latin kind.  On the other hand, there was both the power of love and reason in human life, though both would be terrestrial; but, on the other, his realism taught him that, “reason imposed on the universe is madness, because existence is necessarily irrational.”[23]  He saw the spiritual values of classical religion; he compares with sympathy Homer and the Gospels, and Christ risen is compared with the shade of Achilles.  Christ risen seems, “sadder, more vacant, more helpless than when he was living.”[24]  Though he did not say it, he would probably agree with Dean Inge that the fusion of the Egyptian mysteries of Isis and Osiris with Hellenic religion produced a religion startlingly like Christianity.[25]

Historically, the Latin intellectual seems to have experienced both attraction toward and repulsion from the German mind.  But it was the wars of the twentieth century which finally sealed the Latin intellectual position.  Ferrero attacked the Germans economically, and politically, or one might say sociologically.  Santayana has a sustained philosophical onslaught, in his Egotism in German Philosophy, which was published in 1916 and then again in 1940.  The theme of this book (a notable philosophical achievement) is that egotism, or subjectivity, in thought and willfulness in morals is the soul of German philosophy.  Idealism, he said, is the autobiography of your own illusions.  Still, many a Latin has used German idealism.  Ramiro de Maeztu used Kant as a basis for Christian ethics, and intellectuals in Mussolini’s  movement turned to German thought as an element in the new politics.  German philosophy and Protestantism, thought Santayana, represent a primitive faith which cannot be called knowledge.  Protestantism is favorable to learning, but it is incompatible with clearness and fundamental freedoms of attitude.

He admits that Goethe was a universal man and not strictly in the German line; he was classical and romantic and he obviously had understanding and sympathy with the Latin mind.  But, on the contrary, Santayana launches a savage attack on Fichte, Hegel, and Nietzsche.  Fitche provided the Junkers and bankers with their philosophy, just as Plato supplied the dull Spartans with theirs.  Fichte also had a boundless contempt for the Latin races.  Hegel was a solemn sophist, and he provided a stage on which the ego struts alone.  For Nietzsche, Santayana noted how he inherited Schopenhauer’s pessimism and metaphysical anarchy; it is remarkable how little Nietzsche learned from the Greeks.

All of these strictures, which he elaborated in detail, were pointed to the fact that the Germans have been willfully engaged in war twice in the twentieth century.[26]  But somehow Goethe’s universalism seems to soften the Latin judgment.  Goethe seems to be the great German who appeals to all men.  His thought seems to be immersed in Latin sources, and it is based on an understanding of the Greeks.  It is naturalistic, for good and evil were equally digestible.  Im Anfang war die That; thus, to begin with was a natural fact, the word, the sense, the force, the deed.[27]  Goethe does not commit tragic error of the Germans; he does not make vulgar passion, self-assertion and ambition, the creative spirit of the universe.  There is a balance of grandeur between reason and nature, between fact and faith.  And it would seem that these judgments of principle may be drawn from Faust.  Here, at the beginning there is an operation of the great economy of Heaven, Hell, and earth, with the will of humankind, however misguided, commanding forces that will destroy him.  “Ach Gott!  Die Kunst ist lang, und kurz ist unser Leben,” said Wagner (11.558-559).[28]  But nature is also long, even if it extends to Heaven, and reason is short.  Some would say, as against Santayana, that Faust presents the German ideal of a full life.  Romanticism seeks the rejection of limits, but Santayana would reply that the limits come relentlessly down upon the German.[29]

H. G. Haile’s study of Goethe’s political thinking leads him to argue that Goethe opposed the, “periwigged Franco-German Enlightenment,” with its excessive value placed on the rational faculties, and its failure to comprehend, “the infinite depth of human experience.” In Goethe’s picture of Egmont against Alba, the Latin Catholic, Alba becomes the rationalist who forgets there are evils that a ruler cannot correct.  Against this, Egmont demands that the people be allowed to retain their traditional character.  Haile argues that as Goethe grew older he became more conservative and more critical of the overconfidence of the age in human reason.  He turned toward a traditional and organic view of the people.  It is the traditionalism of the Dutch which makes them superior to Alba and the Spanish rulers.  To preserve order, Alba would use force, but Egmont would rely on the love of the people for their governors.  The meliorist and rationalist will sacrifice the people in order to attain their betterment, but the traditionalist will sacrifice himself for his values.[30]

One is led swiftly to a modification of what some have called psychological naturalism.  Santayana is not like the American liberal, James Harvey Robinson, who praised Pavlov and applied integrally the conditioned reflex to man’s condition.  As a creator of American liberal philosophy, Robinson turned against Christianity and nationalism, arguing that we are not super animals and not degraded angels.  So let “history” be used in what the Latin would call a crusade, a utopian crusade for the perfection of man.[31]  Against German romanticism and against liberal positivism or scientism in a social order, Santayana seems to draw from Goethe, among other sources, the notion of a vital integrity.  It is an emphasis on life, but one that is not remote from experience.  Vitalism, for Santayana, “may be sweetened by charity and understanding, and the surer a man is of his soul, the more courteous he can afford to be of the souls of others.” [32]  This then is Santayana’s humane naturalism, a naturalism which seems to be based on the rationalism of the Greeks—and on the Latin intellectual’s attention to detail, distinction, difference, and sequence in experience—and the wisdom of all high souls in the past.[33]

All of this stands for our purposes as a background to the question: How shall we be governed?  It is not Classic democracy, for as many an earlier student of politics has said (for example, Jean Bodin and John Cotton) if all of us govern then there can be no governors.  One must redefine democracy, as we have, for almost anything goes.  The European who, following Aristotle, dislikes democracy but likes the traditional or constitutional system in the United Sates, is not like the American who has redefined his system to be democracy.  Thus, it is democracy to have a measured representative system (see Madison’s Federalist  #10), but it is also democracy to have a judicial order which at the middle of the twentieth century has been making the important and sovereign social decisions—many of which, however, seemed to contradict the consensus of the American people.  We may say that the Latin intellectual is a friend of justice (as Aristotle defined it) but that he is seldom a passionate friend of nineteenth-century parliamentarism, that is, government by elections, many political parties, much talk, and an occasional fight with ink-bottles or swords between the heroes of the people.

If Santayana accepts Aristotelian justice, he can hardly be called a “totalitarian.”  Of course, any supporter of “authority” in government or in society (as distinguished from government) is some kind or degree of authoritarian, for unless we are anarchists, we can hardly be otherwise.  And when anarchists have organized their communes (as in Spain just before the Civil War broke out), they were more than merely authoritarian, for they were total in the organization they imposed.  A total critique of society, such as that of the revolutionary (the anarchist, revolutionary socialist, or Communist, for example) may readily eventuate in a regime from which all individual freedom has been drained.

However, the Latin, aristocratic liberal, such as George Santayana, is different.  The enemy of individual freedom, order, and civilization is not the professional revolutionary, but the politicians who take over a government in the name of political parties.  They are the bosses, the caciques, who make nominations and control elections, and whose figureheads make fine speeches in parliament.  In the abstract, the enemy of liberty and civilization is the irresponsible and impersonal political process.  But the judgment of a regime is not easy, for there is an infinity of variation in the shadings from a regime in which nearly all officials are selected in ordinary elections to regimes in which there are practically no elections.  Since Ortega, Unamuno, Mosca, Croce, Santayana, and others were critics of fascism, they may, perhaps, be listed as skeptical about systems of elections in which social or functional groups are used for the purpose of selecting delegates to a legislative body.  On the other hand, to the extent that political cronyism and parties are curbed, even by functional choices, they must be listed among those who might be favorable to radical reform in the electoral systems of the modern state.

Santayana’s concern in Dominations and Powers was to make coherent, erudite statements of his political naturalism and his alternatives to nineteenth-century systems of parliamentary government.  It all centers, ultimately, on how to get superior men into the right public function.  It is one of the oldest of intellectual inquiries.  In what Karl Jaspers has called the “axial period” of human development, some 800 to 500 B.C., it was a central theme in government.  Confucius sought, for example, to establish the government of the sage.  It is said that Heraclitus, who wrote about 500 B. C., felt “electrifying” contempt for the masses of his fellow-citizens.  They were incapable of salvation because they did not possess man’s fundamental virtue: The capacity to recognize superiority.[34]  Ernest Renan, along with others, including Friedrich Nietzsche, believed that truth and justice were not to be gained through democratic government, but through a rational aristocracy, like Plato’s bureaucracy which was political power grounded in the trained intelligence.  And might not one say that the modern civil service or bureaucracy is an exemplification of Plato’s ruling order in its special training, its secrecy, and independence of the people?

In every serious discussion of the right to rule, there is latent or explicit the ancient conflict between the sovereignty of those who know and the sovereignty of an existing majority.  Here the modern state is like the ideal or rational state in Plato.  In the nineteenth century, during the time of the formulation of the claims to sovereignty of electoral masses, there was also the development specialized cadres in the state.  Along with the cadres one found usually the monarchy which provided unity for the state.  The civil servant injected an ideal of service, which the bureaucracy accepted as part of its special interest.  There was a broad social class of national and local civil servants–the organized clergy, corporations of teachers, officers in the military, and executives in business–who served the state in specific and limited ways in the formation and the enforcement of policy. Gradually, one became a citizen through the education of children and not through property or the lack of it, and not through the traditional class system.  The oligarchies, thus, were in central positions which enabled them to restrict (though not abolish) the influence of the people.  There was both persuasion and the derailment of the representatives of the people in the systems of parliamentary government.  But, as in Plato, there must be in addition to the training of ruling orders, the training of the masses of the citizens to the highest point of their ability.  Freedom of opportunity according to talents was, indeed, like the Napoleonic principle of la carrière ouvert aux talents.[35]

In religious thought the conflict has been sharpened between freedom of conscience and the right of those in the position of religious teachers and prelates to care for the welfare of the masses.  Liberty must, then, be restricted or removed in order to lighten the responsibility of the masses and to direct them through a rational and moral will toward their own self-realization.  Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor on the Nature of Man,” taken from The Brothers Karamazov, was written by a man who knew actually little or nothing about the Inquisition, either in Spain or elsewhere.  But it offers a moving statement of the ancient problem.  Christ gave liberty, duty, and responsibility to man, but it is a heavy burden, probably because in Orwellian terms, “men love 1984.”  It is too heavy, according to the Inquisitor, and thus man’s liberty has been lifted from him in the interest of the inculcation of the morality of which he is capable.  The Inquisitor is “Every bureaucrat” who would deny to the free conscience the decision of moral and political questions.  The Christian in the world has always presented to the magisterium and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church the issue of the blurred line between one form of decision or another, that is, the imposition of duty or the affirmation of freedom.  Doctrine has often been determined by the practice and belief of the faithful; the priest has often been forced to accept the teachings and practices of the masses.  The same is measurably true in politics.  The priest who goes into politics has been defeated many times by the Christian masses.  Eventually, the rebel priest is heard of no more.  Or, the kind of rebellion he wanted to effect is thrown into the literary notes on once vivid utopias.  Both doctrine and politics may be governed by the emergence of popular tradition, though any tradition may die from lack of teaching.[36]

In the pursuit of meaning in the Latin mind one thing is clear: In politics we must escape from sentimentalism.  Sentimentalism, our Latins would say, leads to political futility.  We close our eyes to the realities of society and of government because we may say that love conquers all, or that science will provide us with the information to resolve all issues for the happiness of man.  The loss of a sense of Mediterranean realism makes sentimentalists out of us.  In the middle of the twentieth century, religious leaders have been getting busily into politics by urging reforms that might lead toward equality.  Religious politics has been rapidly becoming sentimental politics; it has become unglued from the human conditions in which a reform must succeed or fail.  Christian radicalism has assumed that one can force evil men to behave like saints.  After all, the Christian radical forgets that when Christ was tempted by the Devil he refused to turn stones into bread.  If the clergyman believes his New Testament, must he not also believe that if Christ had wanted to he could have turned all the stones of this earth into bread so that man would never be hungry again?  Revolutionary clergy, Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish, are insisting on reforms that will not be adopted, or if adopted they will hardly bring the consequences that the reformers have been seeking.  Latin realism seeks, indeed, to base politics on scientific knowledge, but reform must not then be analyzed and proposed by sentimentalists.

Philosophers and politicians, said Santayana, tell us they have a priori knowledge of what human needs and capacities are, and that these are identical in everybody.  Conflict among men arises from the absence of education or from the perversity of education.  Conflict arises because men are ignorant of what is good.  In reply, Santayana declared that such people have really only a knowledge of themselves; they are born dogmatists and congenitally militant, for example, authoritarian, though seldom totalitarian.  They are blind to the radical diversity among men, but if they admitted such diversity, they would confess themselves to be tyrants.  In contrast, thought Santayana, the rational government would imitate the modesty of the physician.

“In other words,” said Santayana:

“a rational government is one that speaks to its people in the name of the nature of things, and acts by that authority.  Its criterion and method must be a scientific criterion and method.  Therefore the members of a rational government would not be prophets, reformers, agitators, politicians, or demagogues, never persons elected by majority votes, but educated and trained in the science and the art of government: persons able to discern the possibility or impossibility of human ambitions.  Such persons might have to be, like the Roman ruling class, all soldiers; but besides the requisite military capacity they should be experts in economics.  Yet in modern times, rather perhaps than soldiers, they should be anthropologists, medical men, and scientific psychologists; for it is the psyche that is the agent in politics.”[37]

Such a government, obviously, would never follow blindly party or sect; indeed, it might do all in its power to transcend the party system which has evolved out of the disasters of the century.



[1] See Schmitt, Politsche Romantik (Zweite Auflage, 1925), pp. 172-173:  “Das ist also der Kern aller politichen Romantik:  der Staat ist ein Kunstwerk, der Staat der historisch-politischen Wirklichkeit ist occasio zu der das Kunstwerk produzierenden schöpferischen Leistund des romantischen Subjekts, Anlass zur Poesie und zum Roman, oder auch zu einer blossen romantischen Stimmung.” (Editors’ Translation: “That is the core of all political romanticism. The state is a work of art; the state of historical-political reality is merely an occasion for the creative achievement resulting in this artistic production by the romantic subject, an opportunity for poetry and novels and for a mere romantic disposition.)

[2] C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959, 1964).

[3] See Gerhart Burian Ladner, The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action in the Age of the Fathers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959).

[4] Glenn R. Morrow, trans. and ed., Plato’s Epistles (1962), pp. 49, 54-55, and 123 (Laws, IV, 709E).  In the Greek text Plato did not use king; he used “tyrant” instead.

[5] Editors’ Note: In this regard, see Wilson, A Theory of Public Opinion (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1964; repr. Greenwood Press, 1964).

[6] Frederick D. Wilhelmsen has argued that fascism functioned historically as a resolution of the tension between the proletariat and capitalism within the open society.  Which is to say, it is one of the consequences of liberalism.  Fascism is a purely provincial event created by and within the world of liberalism.  It solved no problems, it drew to itself no first-ranking intelligences, and it ended before reaching maturity.  Its followers hated the machines—which itself produced hate—and its most important characteristic was to hate the rich man with half your heart, and the man at the bottom with all your heart.  See Wilhelmsen, El problema de occidente y los cristianos (Sevilla, 1965), pp. 126-127.

[7] See Paul Sérant, Le romantisme Fasciste (1959), passim, for a study of the young French and fascist intellectuals of the period before and during World War II.

[8]Cf. J. A. A. Van Leent, “Scientific Creativity,” in Higher Education and Research in the Netherlands, VIII (1964), p. 14.

[9]L’ancient régime et la Revolution (8th ed., Paris, 1877), pp. 331-332.

[10] Is it not by contrast and symbolic of changing times that the Kennedy’s invited the Bosa Nova musicians to the White House (and other leftwing artists, it would seem)?  In October, 1967, Lyndon Johnson invited Eric Hoffer to come to the White House and talk with him.  Theodore Roosevelt, as a writer and thinker, was an intellectual in his own right.  Perhaps Johnson would be better off with Hoffer than Ferrero.

[11] Ferrero’s Four Years of Fascism, trans. E. W. Dickes (1924), is one of the best of the works of fascism, simply because it emerges from such a rich historical background, both in ancient history and modern Italian political experience.

[12] Ibid., p. 96.

[13] Ibid., p. 135.

[14] Guido de Ruggiero, The History of European Liberalism, trans. by R. G. Collingwood (1927), p. vii.

[15] Ibid., p. 362.

[16] Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (Elementi di scienza politica), trans. Hannah D. Kahn and ed. Arthur Livingston (1939), p. xii.

 [17] Ibid., pp. 492, 481, and 310.

[18] Ibid., p. 391.

[19] Editors’ Note:  For recent complementary assessments, see Claes G. Ryn, The New Jacobinism: Can Democracy Survive? (Washington, D.C.: National Humanities Institute, 1991), pp. 31-43; and H. Lee Cheek, Jr., “A Note on the Platonic and Aristotelian Critique of Democratic Man.”  International Social Science Review, Volume 66, Number 2 (Spring 1991).

[20] See J. M. Alonso Gamo, Un español en el mundo, Santayana: poesia y poética (1966), p. 86.

[21] See Ortega y Gasset, The Origin of Philosophy, trans. Toby Talbot (1967), pp. 44 and 50.  One implication of any good philosophizing is, of course, the necessity of making distinctions, which is often the heart of the Latin mental process.  As Plato argued in the Gorgias, trans. W. R. M. Lamb (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library [Harvard University Press, 1925], p. 321; 9465D), things must not be jumbled together.

 [22] Jaspers, Philosophy and the Modern World: Selected Essays, trans. by E. B. Ashton (Chicago: Regnery, 1963), p. 299.

[23] The Idea of Christ in the Gospels, p. 101.

[24] Ibid., p. 159.

[25] W. R. Inge, “Religion,” in The Legacy of Greece, edit. R. W. Livingstone (1921), pp. 50, passim.  Inge continues saying that Greek religion passed into Christian theology and culture without any real break.  The early Church spoke in Greek and thought in Greek.  “The Christian Church was the last great creative achievement of the classical culture” (p. 30).

[26] Cf. David L. Hoggan, The Myth of the New History (1965), for more sympathetic comment on the Germans, but not on the German community in the United States before World War I.

[27] Editors’ translation: “In the beginning was the deed.”

[28] Editors’ Translation: “Oh God, art is long, and life is short.”

[29] Cf. Peter Viereck, Metapolitics (1941), p. 36.

[30] H. G. Haile, “Herr, er will uns fressen: The Spirit of Götz,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, LXIV (October, 1965), pp. 610-634; “Goethe’s Political Thinking and Egmont,” The Germanic Review, XLII (March, 1967), pp. 96-107.

[31] David L. Hoggan, The Myth of the New History (1965), pp. 223-224.

[32] Egotism in German Philosophy, pp. 191-192.  In one of his Soliloquies entitled “On My Friendly Critics,” Santayana said: “But the other philosophers, and those whose religion is of the anxious and intolerant sort, are not at all pleased.  They think my morality very loose: I am a friend of publicans and sinners, not (as they are) in zeal to reform them, but because I like them as they are; and indeed I am a pagan and a moral skeptic in my naturalism (p. 257).  The propagandists for virtuous character have filled the world with hatred, darkness, and blood…they are the eternal obstacle…to simple happiness (p. 258).  See Santayana,  Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, intro. Ralph Ross (University of Michigan Press, 1967), pp. 257-258.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ortega y Gasset, The Origin of Philosophy (1967), pp. 84-85.  Cf. Robert von Pöhlmann, Geschicte der Sozialen Fraga und des Sozialismus in der Antiken Welt (1912), Vol. II, pp. 138 ff. and 176.

[35] Cf. Pöhlmann, op. cit., II, pp. 58-159, 108-144.

[36] Dostoevsky continued his ideas in The Possessed, especially in the ideas of Shigalov, where liberty for most of mankind would be destroyed.  See also “nihilism” in Turgenev’s Fathers and Children.  It is difficult to trace the source of Russian hostility toward their society, their nihilism, revolutionism, and various forms of socialism.  But it would seem clear that the revolutionary principle was borrowed from the West, as a weapon against Russian tradition.  Perhaps the invention of a word like “nihilism” is a kind of towering accident.  The Russian revolutionary has his ancestors in the Greek intellectuals and masses from about the sixth century B.C., who would destroy the ruling classes in the interest of an equal society.  Or, one may cite various utopian schemes and projects from the ancient world as precursors, for the destruction of the existing society has to precede the establishment of the utopia.

[37] See Dominations and Powers  (1951, pp. 434 and 462).  Chapter 34 of this work is recommended as a political classic of our times.

Francis Graham WilsonFrancis Graham Wilson

Francis Graham Wilson

Francis Graham Wilson (1901–76) was a professor of political science at the University of Illinois (1939–67). He was author of several books, including Political Philosophy and Cultural Renewal (Transaction, 2001).

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