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“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”
— Thucydides

“A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
— Jean-François Revel

Václav Klaus: View from a Post-Communist Country Situated in Predominantly Post-Democratic Europe

Thursday, September 1, 2005

One more news item before I launch into my series:

Courtesy of Instapundit: Czech Republic President Václav Klaus delivered a remarkable address at a meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society in Reykjavik last week. As a U.S. citizen of partly Czech ancestry who holds liberty dear, I can't help but feel a special affinity for the spirit of his stirring words.

Beginning with an exploration of the appeal that socialist thinking holds for intellectuals, and tracing his theme through to the development of socialism's contemporary derivative ideologies in Western Europe, Klaus ends up painting a clearer picture of the broad differences in thinking between Western European nations and their post-communist Eastern brethren than I think I have yet seen expressed.

There's an audio (.mp3) recording in the “Attachments” section following the Brussels Journal article, and a full transcript of Klaus' speech (which he abbreviated significantly in some places as he went). This is, without a doubt, one of those “read the whole thing” gems — so much so that choosing a brief passage to quote is difficult.

Fifteen years after the collapse of communism I am afraid, more than at the beginning of its softer (or weaker) version, of social-democratism, which has become — under different names, e.g. the welfare state or the soziale Marktwirtschaft — the dominant model of the economic and social system of current Western civilization. It is based on big and patronizing government, on extensive regulating of human behavior, and on large-scale income redistribution.


Illiberal ideas are becoming to be formulated, spread and preached under the name of ideologies or “isms”, which have — at least formally and nominally — nothing in common with the old-styled, explicit socialism. These ideas are, however, in many respects similar to it. There is always a limiting (or constraining) of human freedom, there is always ambitious social engineering, there is always an immodest “enforcement of a good” by those who are anointed on others against their will, there is always the crowding out of standard democratic methods by alternative political procedures, and there is always the feeling of superiority of intellectuals and of their ambitions.

I have in mind environmentalism (with its Earth First, not Freedom First principle), radical humanrightism (based — as de Jasay precisely argues — on not distinguishing rights and rightism), ideology of “civic society” (or communitarism), which is nothing less than one version of post-Marxist collectivism which wants privileges for organized groups, and in consequence, a refeudalization of society. I also have in mind multiculturalism, feminism, apolitical technocratism (based on the resentment against politics and politicians), internationalism (and especially its European variant called Europeanism) and a rapidly growing phenomenon I call NGOism.

All of them represent substitute ideologies for socialism. All of them give intellectuals new possibilities, new space for their activities, new niches in the market of ideas.

(Klaus' inclusion of “feminism” in this last passage is a bit surprising to me. — Is the dominant form of feminism in Europe an illiberal one?)

Interestingly, Virginia Postrel asserts that Klaus has finally come around to seeing it her way, years after repudiating her assertion that socialism in its traditional form is no longer cause for significant concern.