The Pope rebukes the Czech Republic

Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, gave an unapologetic defense of capitalism at the Cato Institute last week.  The recent economic crisis did not result from too much economic liberty, he argued, nor would it be solved by greater government control over businessmen and investors.  He spoke eloquently of the Czech Republic’s determined post-Communist recreation of a market system.  (This Cato essay from 2007 gives a good round-up of Klaus’s thinking; he identifies the three most serious threats to Western freedom at present as complacency that the central planning instinct is a thing of the past; the attack on state sovereignty:

Freedom and democracy — those two precious values — cannot be secured without parliamentary democracy within a clearly defined state territory. Yet that is exactly what the current European political elites and their fellow travelers are attempting to eliminate.

I was surprised, therefore, to read of the Pope’s rebuke of the Czech Republic for its secularism (nearly half of respondents in a recent poll said that they did not believe in God):

Your country, like other nations, is experiencing cultural conditions that often present a radical challenge to faith and therefore also to hope.

No one can gainsay the essential and courageous role of Catholics in helping bring down Communism in Czechoslovakia.  Yet it would seem that this small country has done pretty well in creating social stability and free economic exchange–which depends on trust—without a pervasive religiosity.

We are a calm nation that drinks beer and eats dumplings, and we have strong antibodies to any kind of religious persuasion because of our history,

the Rev. Ales Opatrny, a lecturer at the Catholic Theological Faculty of Charles University in Prague, told the New York Times. “I believe that after the pope’s visit most Czechs will act like nothing happened.”

Is that such a bad thing?  The Pope warned in Brno that

history had demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions.

History has also demonstrated that including God in one’s horizons can lead to such absurdities as torture for scientific inquiry, burnings and stonings of heretics, religious wars, and terrorism.  Can we call it a wash?  Had Communism’s proponents professed a belief in God (and many devout Christians support radical socialism), it still would have failed on the world stage because of its refusal to acknowledge the complexity of markets.  Arguably its most fatal weakness was its utter misunderstanding of economics and civil society, not its atheism.

The Pope admonished the Czechs that without faith, there can be no hope.  Here are some other possible bases for hope:  Confidence in the entrepreneurial creativity of one’s fellow citizens.  Awe at ever-accelerating information technology, which is unleashing an explosion of discovery, expression, and the exchange of ideas.  Gratitude for medical science, chemistry, and physics, which produce a constant improvement in human existence.  Delight in the ongoing recording of Antonio Vivaldi’s operas.

Religion’s proponents will of course argue that Western society is nevertheless running out of steam as faith loses its dominance.  They might be making that argument for a long time.  Meanwhile, it’s certainly interesting that during the Bush years, theocons regularly argued that Europe’s distaste for the Iraq war was the result of its atheism-induced moral degeneracy.  Now we learn, however, that ally Czech Republic easily matches Europe’s secularism.

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7 Responses to The Pope rebukes the Czech Republic

  1. John says:

    If Vaclav Klaus wants to run for President, he’d have my support. We’d have to find a way around that “natural born citizen” rule.

  2. Aaron says:

    This is simultaneously cloying, banal, and outrageous:

    reedom and democracy — those two precious values — cannot be secured without parliamentary democracy within a clearly defined state territory.

    Where to begin? Well, not by sitting through a 50-minute speech by some Eastern European politician, that’s for sure. So I admit up front that I don’t have the context of his claim, since Heather Mac Donald didn’t provide it in her post either. So let’s look at that one sentence.

    “Freedom” and “democracy” are notorious polemical weasel words that mean anything the rhetorician wants them to mean. If his idea of freedom is Western Europe, then obviously that’s not the kind of freedom supported by Secular Right or its (mostly libertarian?) readership. The more common words on the right for this kind of “freedom” are “managerial state”, “technocracy”, “mass democracy”, “big government”, “welfare state”, “quantitative total state”, etc. And note that Western Europe has been in that boat long before the ascendancy of the EU.

    Or is his claim true for what libertarians and “classical liberals” call freedom, regardless of whether the speaker meant actually that? Obviously not. The paradigm of traditional liberalism in our world is Hong Kong, and that has never been a sovereign state. In fact the last century shows that sovereign states are very often used by political parties (Nazi, Communist, nationalist) for repression on a scale never seen in the era of empires and colonialism. Like it or not, empires (perhaps including the EU) are often forces for freedom and against repression.

    Also, as conservatives frequently remind us, “tyrants” throughout history have often been way less intrusive in their subjects’ daily lives than are our contemporary “free” “democracies”. Americans had more freedom as colonial subjects of George 3rd than they have today in their sovereign territorial state.

    Now democracy. Once again, appeals to democracy will not, or at least should not, have much effect on a mostly conservative and libertarian readership. Most libertarians and many conservatives still agree with the Founding Fathers who looked upon democracy with horror, as a threat to liberty as they understood it. History has proven their fear to have been well-grounded, of course.

    What about those who do like democracy? Anyone who’s read a bit about politics is familiar with the critiques of “liberal democracy” from both the right and the left, which show (some of them persuasively) that parliamentarism and substantive democracy are in contradiction with each other. “Parliamentary democracy” is democracy in form only, not in substance. (For a critique from the conservative right see for instance Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.) Appeals to “parliamentary democracy” are empty rhetorical tricks in defense of the Western managerial state.

    Freedom in this politician’s rhetoric means the freedom of state elites, as opposed to EU elites, to micromanage their citizens lives. Democracy means the manipulation of public opinion by state elites rather than by the EU. Long live freedom! Long live democracy!

  3. Aaron says:

    Heather Mac Donald writes:

    The Pope admonished the Czechs that without faith, there can be no hope. Here are some other possible bases for hope…

    Well, the NYT didn’t give any context for the Pope’s statement, but let’s start with an attempt to understand what the speaker is trying to say. When the Vicar of Christ on earth refers to hope depending on faith, he’s probably not talking about hope for a more powerful computer or even for a new recording of a Vivaldi opera (an interesting example: I would hope for the composing of new operas on the level of Vivaldi, Mozart et al., but that’s obviously too much to hope for, because…).

    From the Pope’s viewpoint, it’s clear that secularism offers no hope for the most important reward of all: eternal life. If you want to spread the tragic message that such hope is unfounded, OK, I can understand that. But it doesn’t help much to say, “No, we can’t give you eternal life, but we can give you a new computer.”

  4. Aaron says:

    Oh yeah, this too:

    Religion’s proponents will of course argue that Western society is nevertheless running out of steam as faith loses its dominance. They might be making that argument for a long time.

    I don’t think the “running out of steam” metaphor is very accurate, but it seems pretty obvious that the specifically Christian morality is being replaced in Europe. From the inside: abortion is legal pretty much everywhere, and euthanasia is almost at the same point. From the outside: Islam is becoming more and more widespread in Europe.

    As figures of speech go, I prefer to describe secularized bourgeois Christian morality – the kind that Heather Mac Donald is rooting for – as being undermined, not as running out of steam. A moral code isn’t an engine. For one thing, it’s under constant attack by other moralities, especially in modern times. Will Europeans continue to choose Heather Mac Donald’s secularized Christian morality when a moderate Islam, practiced by some of their friends, neighbors, and co-workers, is also seen as a viable choice? In some Muslim societies in the past, a dhimmi’s conversion to Islam was celebrated by dressing him in fine clothes (forbidden to dhimmis) and leading him around on horseback (also forbidden to dhimmis). Will secularized Europeans resist similar temptations to make their lives easier, when they can “nominally” convert to Islam and join the wave of the future?

  5. Clay Sills says:

    Well, heck. The only thing in the pope’s toolbox is a big gay hammer. Of course the Czech Republic looks like a big gay nail. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  6. kurt9 says:

    I don’t know the context of all of this. I suspect that Klaus and the Pope are talking past each other and that Heather, here, is taking the Pope’s comment out of context. The Pope is the guardian of the church. Its his job to promote the faith. I don’t see how he could have said anything different and still be doing his job.

    I don’t think he was criticizing the Czechs for thier successful transformation to a free market economy. He was just saying that more of them should be actively practicing Catholics.

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