Texts in English
Václav Klaus: Is it Possible and Meaningful to Aim at Re-Humanizing the World?
Notes for the Estoril Conference

Many thanks for inviting me to this exceptionally beautiful part of the world and to this important conference. This is not my first visit to Portugal. I have been here before, four or five times, always for a very short time. On state visits (as Prime Minister and as President of the Czech Republic) or when attending international gatherings. In total, not more than 10-12 days. Never as a tourist. This visit is, therefore, quite special for me.

I feel obliged to mention my official state visit in 2004 and the NATO summit in 2010. It asks for one comment, because one tends to forget even important events. I took into my hands my speech at that summit and was surprised to find out I had reported here that Presidents Obama and Medvedev had signed an important disarmament treaty in my presence in Prague a few weeks earlier. It was only 13 years ago, but the times couldn’t be more different. The NATO-Russia meeting that took place here during the summit is unimaginable today. We – especially we in Central Europe, which is close to the Ukraine – are living in a totally different, much more disturbing time. The disagreements and distrusts are now much stronger and sharper, which bothers me - and I am sure all of us - immensely.

Inviting me to Estoril now is a special gift for me. I come from a land-locked country which makes – we dare say – the true heart of the European continent. I haven´t been to the seaside for several years. At least since the outbreak of Covid. Once again, many thanks for bringing me here.

I must admit, openly and sadly, that I have been repeatedly having problems with conference titles. I guess I take them too seriously. As someone who – before becoming a politician, which in my case means before the fall of communism, before the so called Velvet Revolution in my country in November 1989 – was an academic economist working in the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, I subconsciously start looking at issues by means of economic or social science paradigms and automatically try to specify relevant economic and social agents who are active players in it and try to identify their motivations and their behaviour. And that’s why I have a problem with the ambitions to rehumanize the world.

I am sensitive, if not oversensitive, to certain words, phrases and slogans. “To humanize” something is one of them. Maybe it has something to do with my experiences from the communist era. The changes introduced in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s (and, of course, crashed in August 1968 after a “brotherly” help from the Warsaw Pact countries led by the Soviet Union) were done under the slogan “socialism with a human face”. This slogan is still considered in my country to be misguided idea, a nonviable wishful thinking, an unrealisable goal. Hence, my scepticism towards the use of such words.

The slogan “re-humanize the world” in the title of the conference does not indicate who should do it and – especially – what it means. Isn´t it an empty, if not misleading formulation? Could it be anybody’s goal? Goal of his or her behaviour? I don’t think so. I have to repeat the question: who should make the change? The politicians? The philosophers? The scientists? The people? The men? Or the women? The old generations or the young ones? Etc. Raising these questions magnifies my doubts about the meaning of such an endeavour.

I believe in the organic evolution of the world, in its gradual changes, in the impossibility of masterminding such development through political activism. Any change must be part of a democratic process. Otherwise it would lead to an absolutist or autocratic system. I know something about such a system. I spent more than half of my life in communist Czechoslovakia which supressed our lives in the name of ambitious, abstract and unfeasible ideas. Let´s not make the same mistake again. I know that Portugal has its own experience with such a system. During my first visit here, almost 30 years ago, I discussed it with the then Prime Minister Cavaco Silva and got the feeling that we understood each other quite well in this respect.

What can be eventually meant by the re-humanization of the world? This effort must be based on the idea that the world used to be in order sometime in the past, has recently been de-humanized and is unhuman now. Is this true? Is this the right description of both the past and the contemporary world? And if the world of today has been de-humanized, should we run away from it forwards (into the future) or humbly return to the well-established and by history-proven institutions and behavioural patterns of the past?

As a conservative person and as an older man I fear the “brave new world” of the future. I fear the ongoing attempts to destroy traditions, habits, common sense, moderation and decency by today’s policies and ideologies. I fear progressivists´ slogans, blueprints, projects as well as attacks on the past, traditions and culture. I am more afraid of all of this than I am of the world we live in these days. When extrapolating existing trends and tendencies, I prefer to stay in the contemporary world. With all my frustration with the self-destruction of the West which is under way, I see more dangers in the years ahead. 

To meaningfully re-humanize, which means to improve the world, implies for me the necessity to return to a man-centred (and, of course, a woman-centred) world, to make man the centre-piece of society again and freedom its axial principle.

What does it require?

1. I am convinced that we need to return to the ideas that have been proven by centuries and millennia, to something we inherited from our parents and grandparents. That means forgetting slogans such as “cancel culture”, “get rid of the past”, etc.  

2. We must stop the destructive interventions connected with the tenets of genderism, stop denying the biological nature of men and women, and stop indoctrinating our children and our grandchildren with the dogmas of this ideology.

3. We must continue to defend the traditional family of a man and a woman (and its exclusive reproductive function) as the irreplaceable basis for a healthy and meaningful human society.

4. We must defend the main political entity of Western civilization, the nation state, which is the only suitable territory (or terrain) for democracy. We shouldn’t forget that democracy requires citizens, not just inhabitants. Democracy can´t be, therefore, guaranteed in bigger entities – in empires or on the territory of continents. Democracy can’t exist in continental-like entities such as the European Union. Nor can it exist at the planetary level. We need the nation state because people exist within national cultures, histories, traditions and languages.

5. We must return to politics instead of politicking, to parliamentary politics, to ideologically well-defined political parties. Without them, the democratic society cannot exist. The NGOs cannot replace them.

6. Ideologically, need to return to the traditions of European humanism, to the age of reason, to the Enlightenment, which was characterised by respect for individual freedoms, to free markets with well-defined property rights, to the free exchange of views and ideas and to the respect for different opinions. In the last decades, reason has in retreat. It has been replaced by political correctness, which shuts down debate and public discourse and restricts the ability of society to tackle the problems it faces.

This is how I see the ways to start re-humanizing the world. I am not a political activist. I am not a dreamer of empty dreams. Let’s stay down-to-earth. Let´s not try to shape the future for our children and grandchildren. The best thing we can leave the future generations is a free and democratic society. Realism and practical policymaking is about moving incrementally in the right direction.

Václav Klaus, Estoril Conference, Cascais, Portugal, September 1, 2023

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