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Václav Klaus: What Bothers an Ex-politician in the Era of Liberal Democracy?

Many thanks for bringing me back to Erice, to this unique, beautiful, unforgettable place. Many of us are already Erice fans, if not addicts. For me this is already the third visit.

My first speech here – with the title “The man-made contribution to the ongoing global warming is not a planetary emergency”[1]was delivered in the year 2012. I tried to express in it my fundamental disagreement with the almost religious belief in the validity of a simple relationship between the man-made CO2 emissions and the ongoing increase in the average global temperature. Six years have passed, I don´t have to re-write it. The latest estimates of the climate´s carbon dioxide sensitivity suggest that any warming over the next century will be just half of previous estimates, on which the whole climate alarmism was based. To my great regret the politicians stubbornly refuse to see the extremely powerful vested interests behind this catastrophic, not scientific doctrine. They have, unfortunately, their own vested interests in this field.

I returned to this topic in a book published in 2017. Its title asks “Shall we be damaged by climate or by our fight with climate?”[2]. There is no need to repeat its basic arguments and conclusions here now. However, as this is the 51st Seminar on Planetary Emergencies, I would like to repeat my conviction that I don´t see the issue of the mild global warming we experience a planetary emergency. I know that I am in disagreement with part of this highly respected audience. But I see much more relevant planetary emergencies elsewhere.

Last year I came here with a speech entitled “Science in the Age of Post-Democracy: A Few Tentative Remarks”[3]. I argued that “scientific theories are loaded with contexts – historic, locational, situational, political – much more than is generally assumed and admitted”. It leads to “an intellectual conformism, to an intellectual monoculture and to a mono-ideological world”. This can, in my view,  become a serious planetary emergency.

Let me continue in a similar spirit. When I looked into this year´s Program of Events of our conference I found there as the first item: “Science and Culture Needed in the Third Millennium”. Needed? Needed why? Needed by whom? I have a problem with this concept and especially with the way of thinking behind it. Does it suggest that something must be done with science and culture? Or, eventually, that there is a shortage of science and culture in our today´s world? Or, perhaps, that this state of affairs endangers the 21st century or the whole third millennium?

I don´t see it that way. Science does not only exist these days, it flourishes, at least nominally. It gets significant (very often not optimally allocated and not efficiently used) support from governments all over the world and there seems to be no danger this flow of money will be stopped. The same is true as regards culture, meaning the arts. The arts are everywhere. They are over-financed, over-promoted, over-staffed – regardless the quality. In both these fields the law of diminishing marginal returns rules. More of science and more of arts would be less and less productive and, therefore, less meaningful. Prof. Vedder similarly speaks about “diminishing returns to research” in his well-documented recent article in the CATO Journal.[4]

Both the supply of arts and of sciences exceeds the authentic demand and this scope of supply can exist only with the help of an indirect demand, by means of government subsidies based on tax-payer´s money. Due to it, what we witness is the overproduction of scientists and artists (and of all kinds of their fellow travellers) which doesn’t help us. It doesn´t block the rising tide of irrationalism, of wishful thinking, of fake news, of manipulation, of nervousness and of ignorance in our societies. Nevertheless, science and culture will survive and I don´t think we have to specifically take care of them. The populist preaching of science and culture doesn’t have any sense.

Science and culture should evolve spontaneously. They shouldn´t be (and in fact can´t be) centrally planned or centrally administered. I know something about it – I started my professional carrier in the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences more than half a century ago. We have plenty of negative experience with the government intrusion into science from our life in the communist era.[5]

It is, to my great regret, not much better now. By saying that I don´t intend to attack serious scientists and artists. My criticism aims at the scientific and cultural establishments, at the scientific and cultural nomenclatura, at the political activists among scientists and artists, at their success in persuading the politicians that both science and culture should be overproportionally financially and materially supported.

Nevertheless, science and culture are here and are here to stay – on condition the rapidly changing political, social and economic systems will not make it impossible. This is what bothers me. The tendencies we experience these days are not very promising. We – in our societies – have been forgetting (or disregarding) what made Western civilization free and prosperous. To prevent letting the political, social and economic systems to continue going significantly down I see as the challenge for the 21st century. What we have to preserve is a free and democratic society. Both science and culture are its products. The current undermining of the basic pillars of Western society threatens to become a serious planetary emergency.

We should be on the guard. We live in the era of an evident decline – fortunately still only relative decline - of the West, and together with it a decline of freedom and democracy. This decline is absolute, not relative.This time it hasn´t been brought about by explicit totalitarian ideologies as it was the case during the 20th century. Nowadays, the downturn has been caused by a wide-ranging mixture of attacks on the very foundation of the Western society, on its basic pillars, on its values, habits, traditions, ways of life. The most dangerous attack is directed at the three cornerstones of the Western society:

- at the nation state – by favouring both regions to states and supranational and global organizations to states as well as by attacking a nation state as the breeding ground for nationalism (and, therefore, for wars and ethnic cleansings);

- at the family – by promoting genderism and feminism, by proposing all kinds of registered partnerships and same-sex marriages, by questioning the natural sexual orientation of men and women;

- at the man itself – by trying by means of indoctrination and brainwashing to bring into existence a new European man, “homo bruxellarum”, by artificially mixing citizens of European countries and – because it was not proved to be sufficient – by promoting and organizing the mass migration of individuals without European roots into Europe.[6]

This relatively new development has its origin in the 1960s. It is connected with the 1968 barricades in Paris and Berlin, with the Western version of “cultural” revolution (with a baby-pill, with The Beatles, with the musical Hair and its song Let it Sunshine,  with the adoration of the Flower children’s way of life, etc.), with the slow, but decisive rise of neomarxism (with Marcuse, Fromm and Habermas), with the unceasing attacks on reason, common sense, authority, order, traditions, with the advent of environmentalism and its attempts to undo the Industrial Revolution (and the whole of the 19th and 20th centuries), with the irresponsible expansion of human-rightism (of the ideology of human rights), with the – natural basis of society undermining – ideology of multiculturalism, with aggressive attacks on Christianity and the values it used to stand for, with the radical increase of redistribution (connected with the birth of an expansive welfare state), with – as a generalization of all that – the apotheosis of a liberal order without conservative foundations.

It led to the victorious crusade of a very authoritative political and social arrangement called liberal democracy, of a system which is neither liberal, nor democratic. Its current victory was not a historic necessity. This system didn´t emerge spontaneously, it was not created by an “invisible hand”, it didn´t fall from heaven. It needed its armies of promoters, cheerleaders and protagonists. To achieve such a deep shift in the whole Western society, to fundamentally transform it, to establish a system based on radical, non-traditional, post-modern values and attitudes has not been in the genuine interest of the common people. They have never wanted it (and do not want it now).

It came from the top.[7] It was promoted by a self-proclaimed avant-garde of the anointed, of arrogant public intellectuals, of irresponsible scribes of all colours, of highbrow political elites. Christopher Lasch argued already in 1994 that the liberal democracy is the manifestation of “The Revolt of the Elites” inevitably leading to “the Betrayal of Democracy” (which is the title of his well-known book).[8]

As was recently aptly commented, these elites “belong nowhere” but can be at home “anywhere” (the famous phrase of David Goodhardt[9]). Christopher Lasch formulated the dangers of this empty cosmopolitanism quite persuasively already more than 20 years ago: “The new elites are at home only in transit, en route to a high-level conference, to the grand opening of a new franchise, to an international film festival, or to an undiscovered resort. Theirs is essentially a tourist´s view of the world – not a perspective likely to encourage a passionate devotion to democracy.”[10]

A few weeks ago my institute issued a manifest called “The Defence of Democracy against Liberal Democracy”[11] in which we seek to elaborate on this issue. We are convinced that there is a need to defend the Western society from its internal intellectual enemies. Let me mention at least a few points we consider crucial:

- the system of “liberal democracy” is something else than a liberal society (it is in many respects its opposite);

- the notion “liberal democracy” itself is not a time-tested and well-established term in political and social sciences. It is a new term (or perhaps an older term with a new content);

- this ideology adores minorities. The majority is despised (and considered mostly wrong and dangerous);

- whereas the democracy is a system in which the government is formed, put together and driven by an elected majority, the liberal democracy promotes the rule of minorities (which disrespect the whole);

- the cornerstones of democracy - people (demos), the will of majority and a nation state – are for the liberal democracy fatal enemies;

- old style democratic procedures are in the era of liberal democracy more and more just mere formalities;

the most visible triumph of this effort is the European Union. The European elites try to unite Europe “at all costs” and are ready to use to it even the mass migration. They consider the migrants “agents of positive change”, of course in the direction of liberal democracy.

Let me return to the beginning, to science and culture. There has always been in the modern, liberal West (liberal in the American sense) a strong interest in abolishing politics and in replacing it with science and culture. We – who experienced communism – have considered it an extremely dangerous idea. Society should be ruled (and organized) by a democratic policy, not by science and culture. Only democracy is a guarantee that popular sovereignty remains a central political value.

Is there any hope that we will succeed in avoiding going the wrong way in the 21st century? I am not sure about it. The current, dangerously growing democratic deficit – due to a continental and global governance – is not a minor defect that can be easily overcome but an inherent fundamental characteristic of our era.

We needn´t be, however, unnecessarily overpessimistic. It is useful to take a long-term perspective because conclusions based on short-run events and phenomena are risky and inevitably pessimistic. More of historical perspective is required. This should be the ground for our very cautious optimism.

World Federation of Scientists, the 51st Seminar on Planetary Emergencies, Erice, Italy, August 20, 2018.

[1] In Klaus, V., The Never-Ending Struggle for Free Society, Václav Klaus Institute, Publication No. 14/2014, Prague, 2014.

[2] Klaus V., Zničí nás klima, nebo boj s klimatem?, Grada Publishing, Prague, 2017 (in Czech only).

[3] The Science and Politics of Global Warming, Newsletter Plus, IVK, Prague, October, 2017.

[4] Vedder, R., K., Reflections on the Current State of Political Economy, The CATO Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1, Winter 2016.

[5] I lost my job there as a consequence of what happened exactly 50 years ago, in August 1968 – the invasion of Warsaw Pact armies into Czechoslovakia. I didn’t have politically correct views (in today’s terminology) then.

[6] Klaus, V., Weigl, J.: Europe All Inclusive, The Václav Klaus Institute, Prague, 2017. The Italian edition under the title “Comprendere L´Immigrazione – Prontuario per affrontare la crisi migratoria in Europa”, Giubilei Regnani, Cesena, is forthcoming. This short book has already been published in eight languages.

[7] As a casual remark, the Roman Empire rotted from the top as well.

[8] Lasch, Ch., The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

[9] Goodhardt, D., The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, Hurst and Company, 2017.

[10] Daryl McCann formulated it very similarly: “a preference for the exotic over the familiar, eccentricity over conventionality, self-expression over propriety”, Quadrant, January-February 2016.

[11] Václav Klaus Institute, Newsletter Plus, Prague, June, 2018, in Czech.

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