The Last Page

The Last Page

Running as a social democrat for the Senate in the Czech Republic is not for the timid. In my district, four voters out of five stoutly affirm social democratic values and virulently reject social democratic candidates. After forty years of waking up to radios blaring Kupredu levá!—roughly, “Lead with the left!”—only the right is respectable, and they want to be right.

Who or what, though, is right? In the popular eye, party delineations seem clear. The communists want a short shrift for the capitalists. The social democrats want the social state and prosperity, a neat trick. The People’s Party wants to be on the winning side, whatever that may be, to protect church interests from godless communism. But what does the right want? Again, in the popular eye, the right stands for freedom and prosperity. We shall all be rich and respectable—at least those who deserve it—and no one will tell us what to do. Years of Radio Free Europe had their effect.

To a critical eye, the picture is more complex. Though few Europeans would so speak of it, the basic reality here is still the great democratic revolution (a.k.a. the Great French ditto, though that evokes the guillotine). At its core is the audacious project of the Enlightenment, the hope of ordering human affairs by the light of Reason, in freedom and justice. Europe knows the Enlightenment project tangibly as the social state and the tolerant society. The social state is called to serve rather than rule—to provide the presuppositions of cultured coexistence, from health care and schools to trains and pensions. The tolerant society is pluralist, accepting dissent as a valid form of participation. That is what the European Union is about.

The traditional European right talked loudly about Order and Tradition, but it made its peace with the social state. After all, social security was Bismarck’s idea. Margaret Thatcher undertook not so much a revolt of the right against the left as a coup within the right, revoking its consent to the social state. Actually, this revolutionary right is split within. One faction, which the public correctly or incorrectly associates with the current president, Václav Klaus, and his party, is the Rapacious Right. It is made up of the 20 percent who became instant millionaires after 1992, when Klaus turned off the lights and encouraged would-be entrepreneurs to “privatize” whatever was not nailed down. Viktor Kozený, today still alive, well, and living in the Bahamas, was one of them. Many more wish they were.

The other faction is the Righteous Right, single-mindedly devoted to eradicating evil communism from the face of the earth. Most prominent among them is our former president Václav Havel, who launched a “Do not speak to Communists” boycott, eagerly signed the notorious Letter of Eight, urging George W. Bush to attack Iraq, and most recently spearheaded an attack on the European Union for being soft on Cas...