Saturday, January 2, 2010

Václav Klaus Explains "Intellectuals" and Socialism

Czech Republic President Václav Klaus

Canada Free Press has a pretty good article focusing on the political environment during the recent Copenhagen, COP15 Summit, entitled "Obama Led The Total Failure of World Leadership in Copenhagen."
It reads:
Henry Kissinger said 90% of politicians give the other 10% a bad reputation. He was wrong. With climate change it’s 99% because Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic alone saw through the deception. In “Blue Planet in Green Shackles” he wrote, “As a witness of the current worldwide debate, I want to say that I am no longer concerned - but angry - which is the impetus for the following text.” Anger was justified because there never was a debate.
I am amazed that there was only one leader amongst all the nations leaders that questioned the science and motive behind the conference. Even with the "Climategate" scandal unfolding at the time, only one President had the courage to say no. Even if it was only to a "non-binding agreement" Obama wasn't even sure if he had to sign or not.

We should all be concerned that we have to rely on China's unwillingness to adopt certain emission standards to keep us, supposedly "free people" from having to bow to international mandates.

One thing for sure is that the world's "intellectuals" had also gathered in attendance at the feckless summit in Denmark. The "top scientists," (excluding all those who disagree) the "top journalists," the "top activists," and I didn't check but I'm sure some of Barack's friends flew in from Hollywood to sit side-by-side with the globe's leadership. All in the name on "Climate Change" or as I call it, redistribution and restriction.

The same man that took exception to the Copenhagen Summit had given a speech in Iceland back in August of 2005 about those same combined groups of "intellectuals" and governmental bodies. Their roles, their over-reaching, unspecific, Utopian worldviews and their effects on a nation. The speech was entitled "The Intellectuals and Socialism: As Seen from a Post-Communist Country Situated in Predominantly Post-Democratic Europe." He starts out by referring back another article entitled “The Intellectuals and Socialism” by F. von Hayek and he says that article was "published in the very confused and very pro-socialist post-second world war era." He goes on:
I suppose that many of us still remember Hayek’s definition of intellectuals (we would probably say public intellectuals nowadays) as “the professional second-hand dealers in ideas”, who are proud of not “possessing special knowledge of anything in particular”, who do not take “direct responsibility for practical affairs” and who need not “even be particularly intelligent” to perform their “mission”. Hayek argued that they are satisfied with being “intermediary in the spreading of ideas” of original thinkers to the common people, whom they consider not being their equals.

Hayek was – more than half a century ago, which means before the current prevalence of electronic media – aware of the enormous power of intellectuals to shape public opinion and warned us that “it is merely a question of time until the views held by the intellectuals become the governing force of politics”. This is as valid today as it was when he wrote it.

The question is what kind of ideas is favoured by the intellectuals. The question is whether the intellectuals are neutral in their choice of ideas with which they are ready to deal with. Hayek argued that they are not. They do not hold or try to spread all kinds of ideas. They have very clear and, in some respect, very understandable preferences for some of them. They prefer ideas, which give them jobs and income and which enhance their power and prestige.

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.
In a similar way, Raymond Aron, in his famous essay “The Opium of Intellectuals”, analyzed not only the well-known difference between the revolutionary and reformist way of thinking but also – and this is more relevant in this context – the difference between “prosaic” and “poetry”. Whereas “the prosaic model of thinking lacks the grandeur of utopia” (Roger Kimball), the socialist approach is – in the words of Aron – based “on the poetry of the unknown, of the future, of the absolute”. As I understand it, this is exactly the realm of intellectuals. Some of us want to immediately add that “the poetry of the absolute is an inhuman poetry”.

As I said, the intellectuals want to increase their own prestige and power. When we, in the communist countries, came across the ideas of Hayek and Aron, we had no problems to understand their importance. They gave us the much needed explanation of the somewhat peculiar prominence of intellectuals in our own society of that time. Our intellectuals, of course, did not like to hear it and did not want to recognize it because their peculiar prominence coexisted with the very debilitating absence of intellectual freedom, which the intellectuals value very highly. That was, however, not the only argument. The communist politicians needed their intellectual fellow-travelers. They needed their “dealings in ideas”, their “shaping of public opinion”, their apology of the inhuman, irrational and inefficient regime. They needed their ability to supply them with general, abstract and utopian ideas. They especially needed their willingness to deal with the hypothetical future instead of criticising the very much less rosy reality.
When I first read those words I couldn't help but think back to Barack Obama's campaign in 2008. My first criticism of Obama's platform was always that he never said anything specific. He most certainly had his fellow "intellectuals" in the media doing the work of “shaping of public opinion” for him. Now that Barack sits in the White House, the "hypothetical future" is no longer a hypothetical and the public opinion is shifting away from him and his utopian ideas, no matter what his friends in the press try to sell. The reality of the situation is indeed, "less rosy."

Klaus Continues:
The intellectuals at that time, and I do not have in mind the life in the years of Stalin’s terror, were not happy. They were deeply disappointed with their own economic well-being. They were frustrated by many constraints they had to face and follow. Their position in the communist society was, nevertheless, relatively high and, paradoxically, very prestigious (I have, of course, in mind their relative position). The communist rulers, in their arbitrary and voluntaristic way of dealing with people, used and misused the intellectuals and were able to make them up for it. This brought the intellectuals in a very tricky position. They were not “valued” (or evaluated) by the invisible hand of the market but by the very visible hand of the rulers of that society. To my great regret many intellectuals were not able (or did not want) to understand the dangerous implications of such an arrangement.

As a result of this, and, again, it was no great surprise to me, after the fall of communism, in our suddenly free society, where many (if not all) previous constraints were removed practically over night, the first frustrated and openly protesting group were the intellectuals – “journalists, teachers, publicists, radio commentators, writers of fiction, and artists” (to quote Hayek). They were protesting against the unpleasant constraints created by the market. They found out very rapidly that the free society (and free markets) may not need so much of their service as they were used to in the past. They especially understood that their valuation by the impersonal forces of supply and demand may be not only less favorable than their own self-valuation (and Robert Nozick is right when he says that “intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people”) but even less favorable than that of politicians and bureaucrats of the old regime. They became, therefore, the first visible and noisy critics of our new free society we had been dreaming of having for decades.

In their elitist criticism of the market, of the insufficiently “human” laws of supply and demand and of the prices, which were the outcome of nobody’s explicit decision and deliberation, they were – I have to admit – relatively successful. It should be made known that – especially at the beginning, but I am afraid it has not changed much – they have been more critical of the market economy (and of the lack of redistribution in their favour) than the rest of our society because – to their great surprise – the standard of life of ordinary people has been raised, at least relatively, more than theirs. Schumpeter was right when he, in 1942, in his “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”, made his well-known point that “the capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens, but in bringing them within the reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort.” That simple truth is something many intellectuals have not been ready or willing to accept.
Klaus touches on something huge there. Within a free market system, not only is there greater liberty for businesses to explore, expand, and rise or fall according to the laws of supply in demand, but there is also greater opportunity for free members of a society who may start at the bottom. A friend of mine and myself have a stupid joke we've been telling each other for years when appropriate. It goes, "Gotta love America... even our poor people are fat." While I see it as a sign of laziness, I also see it as a sign of a prosperous nation. The poorer folks in this country enjoy greater comforts than the poor of any other nation. The elites won't even talk about it.

More Klaus:
We, who are here today, know that the free market system does not reward most neither “the best nor the brightest” (John K. Williams), but those who – in whatever way and form – satisfy the tastes and preferences of others. We agree with Hayek that “nobody can ascertain, save through the market, the size of an individual’s contribution to the overall product”. And we know that the free market system does not typically reward those who are – in their own eyes – the most meritorious. Because the intellectuals value themselves very highly, they disdain the marketplace. Markets value them differently than their own eyes and, in addition to it, markets function nicely without their supervision. As a result, the intellectuals are suspicious of free markets and prefer being publicly funded. That is another reason, why they are in favour of socialism....

There is a well-known saying that we should not fight the old, already non-existent battles. I find this point worth stressing even if I do not want to say that socialism is definitely over. There are, I believe, at least two arguments, which justify looking at other ideologies as well. The first is the difference between the hard and soft version of socialism and the second is the emergence of new “isms” based on similar illiberal or antiliberal views.

As regards the first problem we can probably confidently say that its “hard version” – communism – is over. It is a great victory for us, but this victory should not demotivate us because the fall of communism does not automatically lead to a system we would like to have and live in. It is not a victory of ideas of classical (or European) liberalism. 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.

As we see both in Europe and in America, the intellectuals love such a system. It gives them money and an easy life. It gives them an opportunity to be influential and to be heard. The Western world is still affluent enough to be able to support and finance many of their unpractical and directly unpurposeful activities. It can afford the luxury of employing herds of intellectuals to use “poetry” for praising the existing system, for selling the concept of positive rights, for advocating constructivist human designs (instead of spontaneous human action), for promoting other values than freedom and liberty.
Somebody get that man a Gadsden flag...
Yes it seems that elite are the direct benefactors of this social engineering exercise. The big lie that socialist leaning "progressives" as the call themselves in America, have been telling us about their support for the 'little guy' is just more kabuki theater. They could care less about the little guy so long as they can dictate to said, 'little guy.' The left have been telling that lie since the "workers" joined forces with Karl Marx.

The speech concludes:
It is an economic system, which must not be damaged by excessive government regulation, by fiscal deficits, by heavy bureaucratic control, by attempts to perfect markets by means of constructing the “optimal” market structures, by huge subsidies to privileged or protected industries and firms, by labor market rigidities, etc.

It is a social system, which must not be wrecked by all imaginable kinds of disincentives, by more than generous welfare payments, by large scale redistribution, by many forms of government paternalism.

It is a system of ideas, which will be based on freedom, personal responsibility, individualism, natural caring for others and genuine moral conduct of life.

It is a system of relations and relationships of individual countries, which must not be based on false internationalism, on supranational organizations and on misunderstanding of globalization and of externalities but which will be based on good neighborliness of free, sovereign countries and on international pacts and agreements.
Amen to that.. You can read the full speech here.

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