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Notes for Budapest: The Anglosphere and Europe (or perhaps "Anglospherism and Europeism"?)

English Pages, 5. 4. 2024

Many thanks for giving me a chance to participate in this very unique gathering, unique as always when it is organized by the Danube Institute, by John and Melissa. When I received the invitation at a conference with the title “The Anglosphere and Europe”, I was not sure I was the right person to be asked to say something relevant on such a topic.

I have many times visited, but never lived on the territory of the Anglosphere – with one exception: in the spring of 1969 I spent a semester at Cornell University. At that time Students for a Democratic Society tried to start a Marxist revolution there and I remember feeling that I – who came from a communist country – was to the right of everyone I met there. Communism pushes you to the right.

The second reason why I hesitated to accept the invitation was that I didn’t feel like a true European (at least in the current European sense defined by Madame von der Leyen). I, of course, live in Europe and have lived in Europe all my life, but I feel a much stronger identity as a Czech, as a Central European and as a Slav.[1] This combination gives me a special perspective, which had been “enriched” by my four decades of life in the communist Czechoslovakia.

As an economist who believes in methodological individualism, I don’t like continental thinking. After discussing the topic of the conference with my friends and colleagues in Prague, I accepted that the debate doesn’t have to be about geography or continents, but about the way of thinking of people who live there, which means about their worldviews, about ideology.

Let me start by redefining the title slightly. My suggestion is not to discuss it under the heading “Anglosphere and Europe”, but under the heading “Anglospherism” and “Europeism”. The first term is probably new. The second one has been used by many of us for a long time. The artificial, not authentically evolving European unification process has been connected with the birth of an ideology, which has been sometimes and by some of us called Europeism. In 2006, I published a small book on this topic with the title “What Is Europeism?”.[2]

It is worth stressing here today that I mentioned in it several names that inspired me the most and one of them was – not surprisingly – John O’Sullivan and his article “The EU’s usual crisis” (published in Quadrant in December 2005).

I characterized Europeism as “a conglomerate of ideas, as a highly heterogeneous structure” (p. 8). I pointed out that this doctrine is “insufficiently specified and unsystematically formulated”, that there is almost no one who advocates it explicitly, and that Europeism “brings together people with very different worldviews”. I used the term metaideology and stressed that “Europeism is essentially an illiberal view” (in its original European sense). I also spoke about the arrogant authoritativeness of this doctrine (p. 7) and argued that it expresses “a powerful supranational tendency standing against the intergovernmental principle” (p. 14). I considered it “a new, extremely naive and romantic utopism” (p. 17) which leads to “a revolutionary turn of the normal course of events”.

My “unfriendly” formulations suggest – at least I hope – that I am not an exponent of Europeism. It should be taken into consideration that I published this book as a President of an EU member country who had signed the EU membership treaty only two years before. This looks surprising now. There was still some freedom in Europe those days.

I don’t have a book about “Anglospherism“. This term has been undoubtedly used by someone, but I am not aware of it. The Anglosphere has not been explicitly politically unified (and I am not aware of any attempts to do it), nevertheless, this term exists, and has so many vocal advocates and supporters that we may talk about an ideology behind it. However, this doctrine does not have its explicit bible. Yet.

I am afraid that the exponents of anglospherism who are here with us today will start protesting against being labeled as such. Nevertheless, I dare argue that something like this exists. I feel something special, something different in the behavior, the thinking and the rhetoric of people I would call anglospherists. 

Let me return to my communist experience. It remains to be my main comparative advantage in today’s discussions.[3] It gives me a useful historic perspective. At that time, we used to differentiate the West and the East.

It spite of that, our heroes had always been Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, not Mitterrand and Kohl, the University of Chicago, not “die Frankfurter Schule”, explicit opposition to Soviet imperialism, not the Helsinki peace process. I remember how we – in the post-August 1968 Czechoslovakia – hated the idea of the Helsinki initiative. The West Europeans were not able or ready to understand us. Nevertheless, I don’t recall ever using the term Anglosphere then. This was for me the stage No. 1.

It changed in the early post-communist years. Let’s call it the second stage. Confronted with the – in our eyes – in many respects socialist Europe and with the collectivistic, centralistic and non-democratic model of European integration, we came to the conclusion that the Anglosphere is different and much more inspiring as a model for us. Not surprisingly, our transformation process was better understood by Prime Minister Thatcher than by any other of the world’s political leaders.

At home I founded very rapidly a conservative or classical liberal party (regretfully the term conservative was stolen at that moment in my country) based on the Anglo-Saxon political and economic way of thinking and won the first free parliamentary elections with it. The French and German politicians expected that we would copy their political and economic structures, but we explicitly criticized both “die soziale Marktwirtschaft”, as well as the European proportional election system and the demonization of political parties on the right. Our only friend among political parties was the British Conservative Party.

That was, however, not the end of the story. The third stage came at the beginning of this century. To our great regret, America (meaning the US and Canada) and Great Britain started to change more than Europe (which has more or less stayed the same or changed less radically). The aggressiveness of new ideologies of environmentalism, human-rightism, multiculturalism, genderism and wokeism hit the United States and Great Britain more than us in Europe. The reason could be that we are older, less dynamic, lazier, less flexible, less enthusiastic. We are also less naive – our personal experience with destructive nondemocratic ideologies helps us.

There is an interesting case of Great Britain. Brexit didn’t help this country. London itself – as we see it now – is able to regulate its society and economy even more than Brussels and to be extremely progressivistic even without the directives from the European Commission.

As a result, the dangerous virus of progressivism is spreading more rapidly and deeply in the Anglosphere.

Putin has shifted us to stage No. 4. He – with his Ukraine war – united the West, which was certainly not his aim. The war has become, however a strategic disaster for Europe. The military, political and economic weakness of Europe has become more visible. The European elites don’t want to see it and are using the war as another instrument for transforming the European Union into a superstate, into the United States of Europe instead. We, the citizens of smaller EU countries, are the victims of it.

The Anglosphere – because of the European weakness – once again dominates the West. To be frank, and it is not easy to say it here, I am not happy with this turn of history. I wouldn’t say that a quarter of a century ago.

 We always understood Anglospherism as a positive way of thinking, which used to look optimistically forward, but we feel loss of this historic optimism in the US today. Anglospherism used to be a much-needed advocacy of individualism, but with a recent switch to group and collectivist thinking it slowly disappears to be. It used to be the stress on self-responsibility and self-reliance, but this has been impaired by a century of the welfare state. It used to be the symbol of dynamism and workaholism, but we are witnessing a loss of the work ethics there as well. I could continue tentatively listing the positives of the normative anglospherism, but there should be a serious attempt of the descriptive side of it, of the positive anglospherism as well. [4]  (I still believe in the methodology of science advocated by Milton Friedman.)

I hope Europe is becoming aware of its passivity and irrelevance. Especially its “superpowers”, France and Germany, are now talking about it. Macron’s recent speeches about “the strategic autonomy of the EU” suggest that something is in the air, but I feel in it more rhetoric than substance. It may be a new version of 1968 Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber´s Le Défi Américain, it may be just a short-sided preelection initiative? I don’t believe it is serious.

Václav Klaus, The Danube Institute Conference, Lonyay Hatvany Theater, Budapest, April 5, 2024

[1] One psychologist argued some time ago that a man can’t have more than two identities at the same time.

[2] What Is Europeism; or What should not be the future for Europe, Center for Economics and Politics, Prague, 2006. Its full text can be found here: http://www.cepin.cz/docs/dokumenty/europeism.pdf

[3] Perhaps it might be worth specifying it as my communist era experience because I was never a member of the communist party.

[4] Important, but problematic parts of anglospherism are its messianism and the belief in its exceptionalism. But that would be another topic. We need a descriptive, non-apologetic book on Anglospherism. It would help us to better understand the world of today.


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