Texts in English
More Democracy is a Precondition for Having a Meaningful Future
Václav Klaus at the 20th Vienna Congress

Many thanks for inviting me to address this distinguished audience. I always highly value this opportunity.

Coming to Vienna and participating in the Monday morning session of the Vienna Congress has been for some of us already for years the best way how to spend the last January Monday morning. Instead of skiing in the mountains or doing something similarly productive. I have been privileged to be part of this group. There are always many daunting topics waiting to be addressed. I, therefore, look forward to our today’s talks. And to having a chance to meet many good old friends. It is great to speak to an audience again, after two years of speaking to TV cameras only.

As a president of the advisory board of the congress, more honorary than acting, I had a chance to discuss with David Ungar-Klein the topics planned for this year’s congress. Some of them will be addressed at today’s sessions. I have to confess that there were differences between us. While David wanted to “shape the future”, I – more modestly – was in favour of “preparing ourselves for the future” and for doing our best not to burden the future with the heritage we will pass on to them. The title of this session, Future through More Democracy, is a compromise between our positions.

My way of looking at it is heavily influenced by my experience. I spent more than half of my life in a system that was trying to construct, which – in current terminology would mean to shape – the future. I know that it doesn’t work. I am, therefore, more sceptical than David.

The title of this session was meant to send an important message: that democracy, not sophisticated, intellectually ambitious plans and blueprints, is the precondition for forming a better future. This may look like a trivial and obvious suggestion, but in the current state of post-democracy and when looking at the projects and ambitions of some of our contemporaries, stressing democracy now becomes a revolutionary idea which would ask for a fundamental shift in our thinking.

Democracy, its quality, its preconditions and attributes are not discussed. They are wrongly taken for granted. And for undisputable. We are instead asked to rely on science and innovations, on “Netzwerk Logistics”, on information technology, on digitalization, on discovering the innovative talents already in kindergarten, on artificial intelligence, on consulting, to use the words repeatedly mentioned in the program of this year’s Vienna Congress. This is not the right way.

There are, around us, many competing ideas and programs how to mastermind and organize our current world. We are confronted with an aggressive propaganda and promotion of militant ideologies such as environmentalism, genderism, multiculturalism, human-rightism, expertocracy, etc., which try to destroy the current world, the world still to some respect based on freedom, democracy, decency, respect to the past values and traditions, rule of law, market economy and parliamentary democracy.

Science, networking, information technologies or artificial intelligence will not help us with the main problems of the current world. We, on the contrary, have to safeguard freedom of individuals from the negative effects of digitalization and artificial intelligence. We should give priority to the aims, wishes and preferences of free individuals, and we should especially safeguard a system, which makes free thinking and free political behaviour possible.

I know that some of you would prefer talking about more pragmatic and more technical issues, but in that case, we shouldn’t proclaim to have ambitions to shape the future.

I am, therefore, convinced that it becomes necessary to concentrate our efforts on saving freedom and democracy, because they are heavily endangered in the West now. This threat shouldn’t be underestimated. I recently reread Stefan Zweig’s “Die Welt von Gestern” and wondered about his words, in which he described the feelings he had moments before the coming of the Nazi regime. Stefan Zweig summed them up ex post in the following sentence: “We still didn’t see the danger”. This is a memento. We should be well aware of this experience.

I brought with me my small, just published book, collection of essays and speeches from the recent months. Its title “The Brave New West” paraphrases the title of the iconic book written by Aldous Huxley already almost a century ago. When it was published, it was a radical dystopia, a political science fiction. To my great regret, it seems to be almost a documentary now. Let’s not underestimate what is going on around us. Let’s not deceive ourselves.

That we are coming close to the brave new West is the substance of my interpretation of what is going on in Europe and North America these days.

To get rid of it would ask for a radical change of our thinking and political behaviour. We have to return to freedom, to free markets, to democracy, to the ideas of classical liberalism, to Mises, Hayek and Friedman, to the way of thinking which prevailed in the newly free countries of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. It asks for the rejection of both red and green socialisms, for the rebuilding of a new balance between a free individual and the omnipresent and ever-expanding state, for the termination of the extensive state administration of the economy, for the return to standard politics and to explicit ideological disputes instead of participating in empty and superficial TV talk-shows. Democracy and depth are just played there.

If we don’t want to make decisions “on the streets”, and I stress that I am not asking for that, we have to change the political process, to come back to ideological politics, to rebuild political parties, to motivate people to engage in politics, to return from TV talk-shows to a political discourse, from NGOs to classical political parties, from empty and democratic basis lacking international organizations to demos-based national institutions.

It may sound radical to the ears of some of you. But let’s not make the same mistake as Stefan Zweig’s generation. We should accept that we are in a blind alley and that we have to start returning to the last junction, to a place where we took a wrong turn. We shouldn’t close our eyes when confronted with unpleasant realities. Otherwise there will be no positive future for us, for our children and grandchildren.

Václav Klaus, Wiener Kongress com.Sult, Vienna Chamber of Commerce, Vienna, Austria, January 30, 2023.

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