Another Czech President’s Speech

Instapundit notes a Brussels’ Journal article on Vaclav Klaus. who it contends made “‘[t]he most impressive speech during the recent Regional Meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society. He begins “View from a Post-Communist Country in a Predominantly Post-Democratic Europe” with Hayek’s description of the intellectuals’ role in shaping society.

They, therefore, look for ideas with specific characteristics. They look for ideas, which enhance the role of the state because the state is usually their main employer, sponsor or donator. That is not all. According to Hayek “the power of ideas grows in proportion to their generality, abstractness, and even vagueness”. Hence it is not surprising that the intellectuals are mostly interested in abstract, not directly implementable ideas. This is also the way of thinking, in which they have comparative advantage. They are not good at details. They do not have ambitions to solve a problem. They are not interested in dealing with the everyday’s affairs of common citizens. Hayek put it clearly: “the intellectual, by his whole disposition, is uninterested in technical details or practical difficulties.” He is interested in visions and utopias and because “socialist thought owes its appeal largely to its visionary character” (and I would add lack of realism and utopian nature), the intellectual tends to become a socialist.

Czech intellectualism is often countered by Czech pragmatism. And here is Klaus’s optimistic belief that the EU setback may be a chance to to “open the door” to reflections on “what makes our society free, democratic and prosperous.” He concludes with succinct descriptions of political, economic and social systems that are indeed free. These values should also govern relations with other countries. And, underlying all should be “a system of ideas, which will be based on freedom, personal responsibility, individualism, natural caring for others and genuine moral conduct of life.”

Another selection:

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 (T. Sowell) 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.

4 thoughts on “Another Czech President’s Speech”

  1. Ginny,
    From Seabright’s The Company of Strangers. I was in discussion with a senior Russian official whose job it was to direct the production of bread in St. Petersburg. “Please understand that we are keen to move towards a market system,” he told me. “But we need to understand the fundamental details of how such a system works. Tell me, for example, who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London? There is nothing naive about his question, because the answer, nobody is in charge, is astonishingly hard to believe. Only in the industrialized West, have we forgotten just how strange it is.

  2. “who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London”…interestingly, even in the US many people don’t understand how a system can work with no one in charge. When the Internet first came into public consciousness, circa 1994, many article expressed amazement that there was no single entity in charge of the whole thing!

    Of course, the Internet wasn’t really all that unique: the US railroad system has always had the same kind of structure and, since deregulation, so has the telephone system.

  3. This was one of the most compelling, reasoned, and visionary speeches in the last ten years. It was astonishing to hear someone of his caliber be so blunt about socialism and the new feudalism.

    Would that it were read to our Congress.

  4. Great comment, Fritz. It reminds me of Milton Friedman’s introduction to The Road to Serfdom:

    “The argument for collectivism is simple if false, it is an immediate emotional argument. The argument for individualism is subtle and sophisticated; it is an indirect rational argument. And the emotional faculties are more highly developed in most men than the rational, paradoxically or especially even in those who regard themselves as intellectuals.”

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