Written by Vladimir Moss



     The middle decades of the nineteenth century (approximately 1830-1870) constitute the highwater mark of liberalism in its most naïve, attractive form (as opposed to the far more alarming and extreme varieties that have appeared in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries).

     On the one hand, the struggle between the French revolution and the monarchist counter-revolution appeared to have ended in a draw, in the compromise known as constitutional monarchy, which preserved the forms of monarchism and Christianity while recognizing that ultimate sovereignty rested with the people. This uneasy compromise was not destined to last – no compromise with the revolution can ever last for long – but at least relative peace was attained and the extremes of barbarism excluded. On the other hand, the more extreme offshoots of humanism – what Yuval Noah Harari calls “socialist humanism” (Communism) and “evolutionary humanism” (Fascism) – were still in the stage of theoretical development and had not yet displayed their full, bloody potential. All that would change with the Paris Commune of 1870 and the rise of the New Germany in 1871. But for the time being, Europeans could deceive themselves into thinking that they could be both liberal and Christian, both progressive and civilized.

     As the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote: “Freedom is the new religion, the religion of our time. If Christ is not the god of this new religion, he is nevertheless a high priest of it, and his name gleams beatifically into the hearts of the apostles. But the French are the chosen people of the new religion, their language records the first gospels and dogmas. Paris is the New Jerusalem, the Rhine is the Jordan that separates the consecrated land of freedom from the land of the Philistines.

         What all the liberals failed to see was that that the revolution was not a rational human desire for limited, reasonable reform that could be satisfied once those limited reforms had been granted, but an irrational, elemental, satanic force whose ultimate aim was simply total destruction. The liberals thought that this demon could be tamed by constitutional reform and limited monarchy. As Adolphe Thiers put it, a king who would reign but not rule.

     But the vanity of this liberal hope of “constitutional monarchy” and “limited revolution” was demonstrated by Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose): “In the Christian order, politics... was founded upon absolute truth... The principal providential form government took in union with Christian Truth was the Orthodox Christian Empire, wherein sovereignty was vested in a Monarch, and authority proceeded from him downwards through a hierarchical social structure... On the other hand... a politics that rejects Christian Truth must acknowledge 'the people' as sovereign and understand authority as proceeding from below upwards, in a formally 'egalitarian' society. It is clear that one is the perfect inversion of the other; for they are opposed in their conceptions both of the source and of the end of government. Orthodox Christian Monarchy is government divinely established, and directed, ultimately, to the other world, government with the teaching of Christian Truth and the salvation of souls as its profoundest purpose; Nihilist rule - whose most fitting name... is Anarchy - is government established by men, and directed solely to this world, government which has no higher aim than earthly happiness. 

     "The Liberal view of government, as one might suspect, is an attempt at compromise between these two irreconcilable ideas. In the 19th century this compromise took the form of 'constitutional monarchies', an attempt - again - to wed an old form to a new content; today the chief representatives of the Liberal idea are the 'republics' and 'democracies' of Western Europe and America, most of which preserve a rather precarious balance between the forces of authority and Revolution, while professing to believe in both.

     "It is of course impossible to believe in both with equal sincerity and fervor, and in fact no one has ever done so. Constitutional monarchs like Louis Philippe thought to do so by professing to rule 'by the Grace of God and the will of the people' - a formula whose two terms annul each other, a fact as evident to the Anarchist [Bakunin] as to the Monarchist.

     "Now a government is secure insofar as it has God for its foundation and His Will for its guide; but this, surely, is not a description of Liberal government. It is, in the Liberal view, the people who rule, and not God; God Himself is a 'constitutional monarch' Whose authority has been totally delegated to the people, and Whose function is entirely ceremonial. The Liberal believes in God with the same rhetorical fervor with which he believes in Heaven. The government erected upon such a faith is very little different, in principle, from a government erected upon total disbelief; and whatever its present residue of stability, it is clearly pointed in the direction of Anarchy.

     "A government must rule by the Grace of God or by the will of the people, it must believe in authority or in the Revolution; on these issues compromise is possible only in semblance, and only for a time. The Revolution, like the disbelief which has always accompanied it, cannot be stopped halfway; it is a force that, once awakened, will not rest until it ends in a totalitarian Kingdom of this world. The history of the last two centuries has proved nothing if not this. To appease the Revolution and offer it concessions, as Liberals have always done, thereby showing that they have no truth with which to oppose it, is perhaps to postpone, but not to prevent, the attainment of its end. And to oppose the radical Revolution with a Revolution of one's own, whether it be 'conservative', 'non-violent', or 'spiritual', is not merely to reveal ignorance of the full scope and nature of the Revolution of our time, but to concede as well the first principle of the Revolution: that the old truth is no longer true, and a new truth must take its place.”[1]


     Liberalism as a political theory is a compromise, a compromise between the barbarism of the revolutionaries, the crude and violent men known as the sans-culottes (literally, those “without trousers”), and the decency of the liberals themselves, the gentlemen who wore both trousers and top hats, who paid their taxes and their respects to the ideals of Christian civilization. It took the slogan of the revolution, “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” and sought to give it a Christian gloss. In essence, however, this slogan encapsulates, not merely a political doctrine, but a new religion, the religion of liberty.

     For, as James Stephens said, “this phrase… is indeed something more than a motto. It is the creed of a religion, less definite than any one of the forms of Christianity, which are in part its rivals, in part its antagonists, and in part its associates, but not on that account the less powerful. It is, on the contrary, one of the most penetrating influences of the day. It shows itself now and then in definite forms, of which Positivism is the one best known to our generation, but its special manifestations give no adequate measure of its depth or width. It penetrates other creeds. It has often transformed Christianity into a system of optimism, which has in some cases retained and in others rejected Christian phraseology. It deeply influences politics and legislation. It has its solemn festivals, its sober adherents, its enthusiasts, its Anabaptists and Antinomians. The Religion of Humanity is perhaps as good a name as could be found for it, if the expression is used in a wider sense than the narrow and technical one associated with it by Comte. It is one of the commonest beliefs of the day that the human race collectively has before it splendid destinies of various kinds, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct, in the recognition of a substantial equality between all human creatures, and in fraternity or general love. These doctrines are in very many cases held as a religious faith. They are regarded not merely as truths, but as truths for which those who believe in them are ready to do battle, and for the establishment of which they are prepared to sacrifice all merely personal ends. Such, stated of course in the most general terms, is the religion of which I take ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ to be the creed.”

     But is Stephens right to suppose that the liberals were as passionate about their religion of liberalism as the revolutionaries about their religion of revolution? Yes, because in essence they are the same religion. The French Revolution gave birth both to liberalism with its slogan of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and its Declaration of Human Rights and to Jacobinism with its bloody guillotine and regicide. If the earlier phase seems more reasonable and civilized to contemporary westerners than the later, it nevertheless gave birth to the later and cannot be separated from it logically or historically. If “true” liberals stop short in horror at cutting off the heads of kings and aristocrats, this is not because their teaching forbids it. Christianity forbids it – but Christianity is something quite different. If the path to liberty and equality lies through a pool of blood, then so be it. The French liberal Prime Minister Guizot hoped that the July Days could be more like the English revolution of 1649 than the French revolution of 1789. But the English revolution, too, culminated in regicide, and even its less violent and supposedly “glorious” reprise in 1689 involved an armed invasion and a pitched battle. Where is the axiom in liberal theory that will prevent it taking the road to war and barbarism? In truth, it does not exist. Immediately it is accepted that the first step towards liberty and equality involves rebellion against the powers that be, at that moment the potential for violence and barbarism is present. For while the English might deceive themselves that their own revolution was “glorious” and “bloodless”, in truth there is no such thing as a glorious and bloodless revolution whose aims are those of liberalism. The degree of violence will vary depending on the situation, the degree of resistance and the temperament of the liberators; but violence there will undoubtedly be…

     The same applies to the concept of the “liberal empire” which the British boasted in having. In India, for example, the British Raj, while more liberal in some respects than its Mughal predecessor, and having some justifications for its rule that were not trivial, was nevertheless not liberal. How could it be if it ruled over a vastly more numerous population who did not want to be ruled by foreigners? Only if one nation asks to be ruled by another – as, for example, the Russians asked to be ruled by Rurik in 862, or the Georgians asked to be ruled by the Tsar in 1801 – can we entertain the possibility, albeit highly unlikely, of a liberal imperium. In India, the fiction of liberal empire was exposed during the Indian Mutiny in 1859 and again during the Amritsar massacre of 1919.

     Contrary to popular belief, no ruler in history was more liberal in intent than Tsar Nicholas II. Russia in the last decades before the revolution was one of the freest countries in the world. Thus Duma deputy Baron A.D. Meyendorff admitted: “The Russian Empire was the most democratic monarchy in the world.”[2] This view was echoed by foreign observers, such as Sir Maurice Baring: “There is no country in the world, where the individual enjoys so great a measure of personal liberty, where the ‘liberté de moeurs’ is so great, as in Russia; where the individual man can do as he pleases with so little interference or criticism on the part of his neighbours, where there is so little moral censorship, where liberty of abstract thought or aesthetic production is so great.”[3]

     And yet in the face of revolutionary mobs baying for still more freedom, the Tsar was placed before a stark choice: agree to still more freedom, or abandon all pretence at rule. Liberty or imperium – but not both together. In 1917, the Tsar chose to abandon his rule, to abdicate. This was the choice the liberals wanted him to make. And it led to the greatest bloodbath in history…

     The truth which all liberals refuse to face is the fallenness of human nature, which cannot be coaxed or bribed into disappearing, but can only be extirpated by true faith, prayer and fasting. Freedom beyond a certain limit is not good for fallen man; it spoils him and leads him further away from God and the truth. The Lord did not say, “Ye shall be free, and that will lead you into truth”, but the opposite: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8.32). The liberals do not know the truth, which is why they are incapable of truly freeing a single human being.


April 4/17, 2019.


[1] Rose, Nihilism, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood Press, 1994, pp. 28-30.

[2] Meyendorff, in Archpriest Lev Lebedev, Velikorossia (Great Russia), St. Petersburg, 1999, p. 405.

[3] Baring, in Eugene Lyons, Our Secret Allies, 1953.

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