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Threats to Freedom in the 21st Century: Perth Speech

English Pages, 31. 7. 2011

Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to be here today. In Perth and Western Australia I am for the first time but this is already my third stay in your country.

My first visit took place in 1991, a short time after the fall of communism. The speeches I gave here at that time were devoted both to our very depressing experience with life under the old regime and to our endeavors – that were already under way – to make a better future. One point I tried to explain then is perhaps worth mentioning. We lost a lot during the communist era but at least some of us learnt something as well. Due to the long decades of communism, freedom is not for us something we take for granted, something we expect to get as a free gift when we are born, something self-evident. We understood that freedom has to be fought for. This experience of ours is probably the reason why I was asked to talk about ”Threats to Freedom in the 21st Century“ here today.

My second visit to your country, after ten years, was in 2001. At that time, I was able to proudly announce that not only communism but also the process of radical transition from communism to a free society and market economy was already completed. We had become a normal European country which was knocking at the doors of the European Union. In our communist past, we considered the EU a symbol of democracy and our membership in it the only possible way to go. As some of you may know, we became a member-country in 2004. It is time to say that we were, to my great regret, underestimating the supranational bureaucratic tendencies that had been present in the EU already at that time.

My third visit, again after ten years, takes place in a challenging era:

- there is an undeniable crisis of the whole concept of European integration (whose most visible “tip of the iceberg” is the Eurozone debt crisis);

- especially in Europe, we experience years of a very unimpressive recovery that follows after an unexpectedly deep financial and economic crisis. This crisis was caused by a series of well-understood government failures. It was not a market failure as it is fashionable to argue these days in leftist circles;

- we witness an evident, extremely rapid economic rise of the so called BRIC countries (and their neighbors), and their more and more active participation and influence in world events;

- we are confronted with a world-wide mass hysteria connected with the totally irrational global warming propaganda;

- we are not successful when it comes to blocking attempts to get rid of traditional democracy (which is connected with the institution of a state) and to replace it with global governance organized by experts and public intellectuals chosen without any democratic accountability;

- our criticism of all that is silenced by the aggressive imposition of the tyrany of political correctness, which is nothing else than a misnomer for officially sanctioned hypocrisy.

In comparison with my life in communism, I live in an infinitely better world now, but in a world which is more disappointing than I had expected it to be in the moment of the fall of communism. My hope was to live in a more free and liberal (in the European, not American sense of the word) society than I see around me now.

The movement towards a less free and more controlled and administered society is not the outcome of our endeavors to solve threatening real problems – like the really dangerous global warming or the actual exhaustion of mineral resources or of oil, or because of the strengths of our external enemies – like Taliban, al Qaeda or Islamic fundamentalism. The problem as I see it lies in ideas, in policies (based on these ideas) and in human behaviour influenced, motivated and justified by both these ideas and policies. The well-known political philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that “horrors in the 20th century were not caused by the ordinary negative human sentiments, they have been caused by ideas”. I agree.

I am afraid of ideas and policies that suggest that freedom and democracy should be restrained in favour of “higher goods and values”, that following private interest is wrong, that public interest should be dominant, that the politicians act altruistically in public interest and know what it is, that the ordinary people are not rational and moral and must be, therefore, controlled, guided and made better by those who know what is good for them. The result is a growing disbelief in the power of free markets and of parliamentary democracy and a growing belief in the omnipotence of state dirigism and in public intellectuals. We should not accept that.

I see problems in many fields:

- we all care about human rights but I am afraid of humanrightism;
- we are enriched by other cultures but not by multiculturalism;
- we may respect homosexuality, but not homosexualism;
- we have to guarantee equal rights for women, but have many reasons to criticize feminism;
- we are all members of various voluntary associations, now fashionably called NGOs, but I consider NGOism to be another threat to our liberty.

I will limit this luncheon address to the discussion of two threats I consider the most relevant now – to environmentalism and to a tendency towards denationalization of countries and towards world-wide supranationalism and global governance.

Talking about environmentalism, I do not have in mind the practical and rational debate about preventing environmental degradation which is – no doubt – our obligation. I have in mind environmentalism as an ideology. Its adherents only pretend to be interested in environmental protection, in reality they try to radically reorganize and change the world, human society, all of us and our behaviour, as well as our values. I consider especially its current version – global warming alarmism – to be the most dangerous vehicle for the suppression of freedom and for the advocacy of large scale government masterminding of our lives.

I tried to comprehensively discuss this issue in a book I wrote several years ago. It has been published already in 17 languages and the title of its English version is “Blue Planet in Green Shackles”. The problem as I see it is expressed in the subtitle of the book which asks: “What is Endangered – Climate or Freedom?” My answer is resolute and straightforward: climate is O.K., freedom is endangered.

Australia is a very special case in this respect. The number of serious opponents to the idea of dangerous, man-made global warming – professors Carter, Plimer, Evans, Archibald, Sternhell, Kininmonth and several others – and the strengths and depth of their arguments is unique, measured per capita.[1] At the same time, the Australian government seems to be the most radical global warming believer in the whole world, surpassing even countries in Europe (perhaps not the European Union – which is after the Lisbon Treaty – a special entity existing autonomously next to the individual European countries). I am, of course, on the side of the critics of the global warming doctrine.

We have to keep repeating to the exponents of this doctrine the elementary questions of the global warming debate and to insist on receiving serious answers from them:

1. Do we live in an era of a statistically significant, non-random, non-cyclical global warming?

2. If there is such a global warming, is it beyond natural temperature fluctuations and is it dominantly man-made?

3. Is it the result of CO2 emissions?

4. Is the warming so big that we will feel it and suffer from it?

5. Should it bother us more than many other pressing problems we face? Should it receive extraordinary attention at the expense of other competing problems? Is the mitigation of global warming the best allocation of our scarce resources?

6. If we want to control the climate, can it be done at all?

My answer to all of these questions is NO. A very careful reading of the global warming debate tells me that there is no scientific consensus – propagandistically proclaimed by the exponents of GWD – that the answer YES is appropriate. To pretend that there is such a consensus is morally and intellectually deceptive.

As an economist, I feel obliged to extend the ongoing debate

- by stressing the positive role which has been and will be played by technical progress, especially in the long run – on condition we do not stop it;

- by asking for correct dealing with the concept of externalities;

- by insisting on rational risk-aversion instead of reliance on the precautionary principle;

- by proper discounting of the future;

- by respecting the ongoing demand shifts based on the well-documented positive long-term interaction between growth of income and wealth and environmental issues. One thing is clear: the consequences of climate changes – if there are or will be any – will be solved like any past changes and challenges by the market and human ingenuity, not by government masterminding.

The second issue which bothers me most is the accelerating move towards global (in our case even more dramatically towards European) governance which means towards the weakening of the traditional pillar of democracy – of the nation states. It is very fashionable to argue now that due to globalization, which means internationalization of human activities, we need global governance. I do not agree. The fact that similar problems occur in many countries does not mean that they are global and that they should be solved and avoided by using less of markets and more of governments. The unstoppable and basically positive internationalization of human activities doesn’t ask for centralistic solutions. We have many reasons to be afraid of governance, both domestic and global.

The solution of the pressing problems of our era doesn’t lie in creating new governmental and supranational agencies. It is also not about the technicalities of these solutions. It is about democracy and democracy needs demos, democracy needs citizens and citizenship – without them democracy cannot be constituted. We can’t have democracy at the level of the European Union, with 27 different nation states. Similarly, there can’t be democracy at the level of the world. It is possible to have an efficient intergovernmentalism but not a democratic world-wide supranationalism. Recent attempts to start organizing global governance on the basis of organizations like G20 are unacceptable.

A special case is Europe. In the 1950s, the leading idea behind European integration was to liberalize, to open-up, to remove barriers at the borders of individual European countries, to enable free movement of not only goods and services but of people and ideas around the European continent. It was a positive concept. The situation changed during the 1980s and the decisive breakthrough came with the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991. Integration had turned into unification, liberalization into centralization of decision making, into harmonization of rules and legislation, into the strengthening of European institutions at the expense of institutions in member states, into the growth of democratic deficit, into post-democracy.

It was shifted further in the same direction by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. The EU has been gradually changing from community of cooperating nations to the union of non-sovereign entities. We see that the move towards an “ever-closer Europe” – without an authentic European identity and an European demos – leads to the accelerated formation of supranational bureaucratic structures. It tends to restrain freedom, democracy and democratic accountability, not to speak about economic efficiency, entrepreneurship and competitiveness.

The recent problems with the euro demonstrate it quite convincingly. When I had been criticizing the concept of the artificially created European common currency for the last two decades, no one wanted to listen. It does not give me any pleasure to see now that I was right. It would have been better for me – as for someone who lives in Europe – if I were wrong.

Let me conclude by saying that fighting for freedom remains the issue of the day even in the 21st century. We should not become victims of new progressive “isms” dreaming about changing the world and perfecting the men defended and promoted by political correctness. We should stand up for our good old conservative beliefs and convictions. Both in Europe and in Australia.                                            

Václav Klaus, Institute of Public Affairs, Duxton Hotel, Perth, Australia, July 22, 2011. Slightly revised version was presented at the Alfred Deakin Lecture at the University of Melbourne, Melbourne, July 28, 2011.

Shortened version of this lecture was also published in The Australian, July 25, 2011, p. 14.

[1] I used the same argument in my review of R. M. Carter‘s book “Climate: The Counter Consensus”, London, Stacey International, 2010. The review was published under the title “The Opposition to the Global Warming Dogma Is Finally on the Rise” in The Spectator Australia, 25 October 2010. Available also on www.klaus.cz/clanky/2699.


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