What are the similarities between liberals and communists

Totalitarian currents in liberal societies

“Western liberal democracy was seen as the end point of the ideological development of mankind,” write the liberal authors Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes in their book “The Light That went Out”, published in 2019. After the collapse of the communist reign of terror, it was of course assumed that Western-style liberal democracy is the only viable ideal that reformers around the world should strive for.

The fact that liberal democracy may not live up to its own claims, that the assumption that liberal democracy itself directly means freedom and emancipation, could be an illusion, does not occur to the two authors. Everything looks as if there are even noticeable similarities, as Ryszard Legutko emphatically reveals, between liberal democracy and communism.

The era of truth was short-lived

"With the entry of the countries liberated from communism into the global system of liberal democracy, people were convinced that objectivity and truth were the foundations of the West," recalls Ryszard Legutko. "There the free media and journalists provided the world with free and unadulterated information, there people enjoyed the blessings of democracy." Freedom fighters like Legutko still believed that "all these great things" would not be possible "without the long and institutionalized tradition, to respect the truth and without a deep aversion to ideologies ”.

“However, the high expectations were disappointed,” writes the Polish thinker. “The era of truth was short-lived in Eastern Europe. Very soon the world was again hidden behind a new ideological shell and people became victims of a new 'Newspeak' with the old ideological mystifications. "

With decades of experience with communist totalitarianism, people like Legutko saw with great clarity that the mandatory rituals of loyalty and condemnation were being revived, this time with new enemies and a new object of worship: liberal democracy.

An epochal treaty between communists and liberal democrats

Gradually he began to think that communism and liberal democracy must be linked by “common principles and ideals.” The impression was confirmed as early as 1989, when in Poland “anti-anti-communism immediately became an important part of the emerging new one political orthodoxy became ”.

Indeed, the former members of the Communist Party “easily submitted to liberal democracy”. "The alliance with them was celebrated as an epoch-making treaty, the meaning of which corresponded only to the establishment of the republic in the history of the United States," writes Legutko.

In the West, too, the post-communist leaders and functionaries were enthusiastically received, "in complete contrast to the anti-communists, who were treated far less friendly". Anti-communist governments - such as those of the Polish PiS or the Hungarian Fidesz - were attacked furiously from the start.

Forgetting on the way to new people

Soon, much like communism, liberal democracy also proved to be “a great unifier”, dictating to its followers how they think, what they do, how they evaluate something and which language they should use. The consequences of this tendency towards standardization can be observed throughout Western civilization. "You experience how language is destroyed and a 'Newspeak' 'arises, how a surreal world is created, mostly on an ideological basis, which hides the real world."

In liberal democracy, human nature is considered in the same way as in communism: it is nothing but a substrate that can be pressed into any shape. Both systems would relativize or mock the past, both would wage a fight against tradition and memory, since forgetting is an important prerequisite when it comes to "shaping the new person."

Ideology has gained space since the 1960s

“One would have to assume that liberal democracy is relatively free from ideological temptations,” Legutko writes in the “Ideology” chapter. Indeed, in the 1950s, a liberal-democratic world with much less ideology seemed on the horizon. As early as the 1960s, however, “ideologies were gaining ground on an unimaginable scale”: “A revolutionary rhetoric aroused astonishingly strong sympathy throughout the western world. It was even more astonishing that the ideas behind the rhetoric had a strong Marxist tinge, or were directly or indirectly inspired by Marxism. "

Once again, countless people were cast under their spell by the hypnotic power of "utopia"; again one dreamed of a better world, a world of love, peace, sexual freedom and spontaneity.

Capitalism and the state were the main opponents, but universities, schools, families, legislation and customs were also heavily attacked; and even if the “flower children” soon disappeared from the stage, their values ​​and ideals remained in the form of a new ideology - the “ideology of liberal democracy”. This new ideology "conquered large areas of public life and individual thought", Legutko notes. "A state that continues to this day."

Meanwhile, there was a gradual leftward shift in the mainstream in the liberal democratic societies of the West. “The powerful political revolution that broke out at the time brought the left into a dominant position.” The idea of ​​equality came first, according to Legutko, who refers in this context to the French historian François Furet: “Equality gave the West its own decisive moral impulse and determined the direction in which the fighters were guided by their imagination in the struggle for a better world. "

Of equality as the highest value

“The main reason for the overwhelming presence of ideology in both liberal-democratic and communist societies is the fact that both regimes attach the highest value to equality and have made it their guiding principle,” emphasizes the Polish philosopher. Equality is a "monster with an insatiable appetite". Even if people are equal before the law, that will not allay the staunch egalitarian's worries. "Other types of inequality persist and cannot be tolerated."

Soon the distrust turns against the human spirit and thinking, "because they are the place where the acceptance of inequalities arises". Afterwards, Legutko said, it would not be long before the egalitarian ideology began to be directed against education, where the mind is formed, against the family and communities, where thoughts get their social foundation, and finally against art , language and science.

This shift in values, inspired by left-wing thinking, was finally approved by intellectuals and politicians alike without much resistance and was defined as the direction of political progress. Since then, one can speak of a “mainstream” policy and “mainstream” parties. "The attribute," said Legutko, "today denotes a bipartisan consensus shared by almost all political forces."

Loss of republican character

Originally, liberalism started from the hypothetical situation that relatively independent individuals cooperated with one another through a system of contracts. The 1968 revolution, however, was led under the banner of the liberation of various oppressed groups. This has transformed democratic liberalism into a doctrine in which the acting units are no longer the individuals, but groups and institutions of the democratic state.

Suddenly people appeared who made certain demands within the framework of organized groups. "After a while, they also succeeded in influencing the legal decisions of the courts and thus securing the legal anchoring of their position and the privileges they had acquired."

Legutko adds that in a liberal democracy the state not only "lost its original republican character", but has also ceased to represent the common good. Eventually, the politicians discovered that there were advantages for them in complying with demands for ever new privileges and rights. "The continuation of the gender equality policy was the best method," Legutko emphasizes, "to secure votes and stay in power."

Anyone who today doubts the task of liberal democracy to work for the emancipation of ever new groups runs the immediate risk of being accused of "being the enemy of liberal democracy par excellence".

Thought crime

According to Ryszard Legutko, the ubiquitous phenomenon of “political correctness” in liberal democracy is a “practical consequence of the view that it is the task of all citizens of liberal democratic society to participate in the great collective endeavor”. In this context, family life, the content of a book or a joke are not irrelevant trivialities. What is a barely perceptible sign on the surface refers to "deeply seething currents of hatred, intolerance and racism".

Here it is now the task of the state “that these terrible tendencies do not come to the surface.” To this end, the state creates the legal framework, it reorganizes public space and education so that people follow the “rules of politically correct thinking “Internalized. What follows from this has little to do with the original liberalism, which described human activities as essentially apolitical and individuals as private persons. When meddling in people's lives knows no bounds these days, the ultimate goal is to dominate people's consciousness.

Ryszard Legutko
The demon of democracy - totalitarian currents in liberal democracies

192 pages, translated by Krisztina Koenen, Vienna 2017
The hardback book can be purchased from Amazon at a price of 23 euros.
(The English edition costs only 17.18 euros.)

The first act of disobedience to the sacred principles of Political Correctness is the mental crime: a mental sin that can be recognized in language. “Anyone looking for a remedy against intellectual crimes must begin with the political therapy of the human spirit,” Legutko describes the current practices of liberal democracy, which in this context bears a terrifying resemblance to communism. The result is an increasing co-ordination of thinking and behavior, against which there is hardly any protest because the majority of people have been convinced "that they are witnessing the emergence of a global civilization of freedom".

Legutko sees Christianity as the last hope

Ryszard Legutko concludes that the liberal-democratic ideology has long since ceased to be open and has now entered a phase of rigid dogmatics. "The liberal-democratic man determines the limits of human nature and denies everything that points beyond this narrow perspective."

“A reference to Christianity as an important part of European identity in the preamble to the EU Constitutional Treaty provoked such angry reactions that it had to be dropped because it was supposedly incompatible with 'European values'”, Legutko writes. Even the recognition of the historical role of the Christian heritage is now considered to be “such an extravagant idea” that it can no longer be tolerated.

Legutko, on the other hand, understands Christianity as a valuable corrective to the ubiquitous ideologization and politicization of people, a real alternative to the “desolation of liberal-democratic anthropology”. Finally, the resistance that ultimately led to the disintegration of the communist system came mainly from religious groups and religion itself.

In the end, the Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko finally places his well-founded hope that it is not possible “to put people to sleep in the long term with a single ideology, to organize their thoughts and feelings in the same way”.

Click here for the BZ report on Legutko's recent Budapest lecture.