April 8th 2017


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Euthanasia: shutting up by shouting down

EUTHANASIA British actress tells it like it is

CANBERRA OBSERVED Move on 18C a return to a classic Liberal position

EDITORIAL Kowtowing to China is a serious mistake

ENERGY Hazelwood is vital to Australia's power supply

FOREIGN AFFAIRS UK sets out on the bumpy road to Brexit

QUEENSLAND Women have a victory over the abortion industry

BEHIND THE NEWS Ataturk and modern Turkey out of the shadow

WEST AUSTRALIAN ELECTION Unions and Emily's Listers reap WA Labor's harvest

LITERATURE The Napoleon of Notting Hill: Chesterton for today

HUMOUR Excerpts from the revised and updated edition of Forget's Dictionary of Inaccurate Facts, Furphys and Falsehoods

MUSIC Program notes: Jazz's two-tiered appeal

CINEMA The Boss Baby: Tots that mean business

BOOK REVIEW End to history nowhere in sight

BOOK REVIEW That sinking feeling

LETTERS

POETRY

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BOOK REVIEW
End to history nowhere in sight




News Weekly, April 8, 2017

THE DEMON IN DEMOCRACY: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies

by Ryszard Legutko

Encounter Books, NY
Hardcover: 200 pages
Price: AUD $34.99

Reviewed by Brian Coman

 

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published his famous essay entitled The End of History. Here he argued that, with the break-up of the Soviet Empire (then just beginning), the political system of liberal democracy would ultimately triumph over all others.

Even those who disagreed with his thesis – and there were many – rarely disagreed with the notion that such an outcome would be highly desirable. Yet, a little over a decade earlier, one lone voice did sound a warning against liberal-democratic triumphalism. That lone voice was Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and he announced his misgivings in his famous Harvard Address:

Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.

Is it not remarkable that a man who had spent years in Soviet labour camps should speak out thus against the generous freedoms of Western democracies? And yet subsequent events in the West over the ensuing 40 years or so have proved him right.

This important new book by Ryszard Legutko is in the tradition of Solzhenitsyn and, not surprisingly, Legutko is himself a dissident who managed to get out from the oppressive PPR regime in Poland in the 1970s. Like Solzhenitsyn, what Legutko has to say will be highly unpalatable to those who see modern liberal democracies as the desired endpoint for all human society. For what he says, in effect, is that communists and liberal democrats share a number of common and undesirable features. These features he discusses under five headings – history, utopia, politics, ideology and religion.

The communist view of history is well known. Marx had written of a glorious future where the state would “wither away” and citizens would enjoy unparalleled peace, prosperity and leisure. This, he supposed, would all come about by some inexorable law of history. The liberal-democratic version of history is not so clear-cut in invoking universal laws, but it does indeed have a vision and that vision is most clearly seen in Fukuyama’s thesis mentioned above.

Legutko discusses this historical determinism in some detail and brings out the remarkable similarities between the communist historical vision and that of the liberal democrats. Leading naturally from some form of historical determinism comes the concept of a future utopia, clearly evident in the extravagant claims of the Marxists, but less well defined in the liberal-democratic end-state. The means by which this glorious end-state will be reached involves political action and, here again, Legutko brings out remarkable similarities between the two seemingly opposed systems.

Ideology, as seen by the Marxists, is a sort of background or environment that governs human opinion. They portray the liberal democratic system as having inculcated certain views within its citizens, which they suppose to be their own, but are actually those which underpin capitalism. The system creates the ideology. The communists had for their ideology “the class struggle”, but we have an array of ideologies including, most especially in latter years, gender and sex. But, perhaps our overarching ideology – shared with the Marxists – is that of “progress”: the idea that we are improving “every day in every way”.

Finally, Legutko discusses the role and the fate of religion in the two opposing systems. The persecution of religious believers in the former Soviet Union is well known; as, indeed, are the reasons for this persecution. The god of dialectical materialism is a jealous god indeed.

But religious persecution under a liberal-democratic system seems almost a contradiction in terms. Here again, Legutko brings out some similarities between the two systems and the more subtle ways in which religion in the West has been banished to the private sphere. Legutko can speak with some authority for he himself was taken to court some years ago after commenting negatively on the petition of a group of students seeking to remove crucifixes from public schools.

Critics of Legutko will, no doubt, accuse him of ingratitude. After all, in post-communist Poland he has enjoyed positions of power and influence. He is a professor of philosophy at Jagellonian University in Krakow. He has served as Minister of Education, Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the late President Lech Kaczynski, and Deputy Speaker of the Senate. He is currently a Member of the European Parliament and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Why bite the hand that feeds you?

But Legutko is not an opponent of liberal democracy. What he attempts to do in this book is to show that no system of human political organisation will convey us to some utopian future or deliver us from those familiar vicissitudes of human nature that have been our lot over the course of human history.

Today’s liberalism, like communism, promotes the old Enlightenment dream that Man is in total control of his own destiny and can engineer that destiny wholly through his own resources. That dream, of its very nature, is antireligious, and the increasing involvement of the state in matters previously held to be in the province of a religiously inspired moral order can only lead to the extirpation of religion in the public square.

Moreover, it is increasingly obvious that the various secular systems of morality established during and after the Enlightenment are not up to the job. Utilitarians argue with Kantians and both argue with rights-based moral crusaders. Who do we follow?

All this, of course, is done in the name of “freedom” and “equality”, but the freedom and equality is restricted only to those who hold to the secular, liberal democratic line and confine their religious beliefs to themselves. There can be no freedom to deviate from the party line. For the party says “we will force you to be free like us”.


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