Daniela Cunkova: I will start with direct experience from the Czech Republic. When you ask someone if they would devote a day to purely social affairs, they often get scared or ask in disgust, do I really want them to take a holiday? Is this how all revolutions end with applause? Or without applause?
Petr Hampl: I’m not sure the comparison to a revolution is apt. The current situation in the Czech Republic could be characterised more as the end of the Cold Civil War. The new aristocracy represented by the Soros groups and their allies have achieved a decisive victory and are now acting like absolute winners. They know they can afford absolutely anything, and they are right. If anyone expected any generosity from them, they were wrong. If anyone expected them to act rationally and for a new national consensus to emerge, they were wrong. The era of plunder has arrived and there are no laws for the victors. Nor moral considerations, nor even common human decency.
Neither mass demonstrations nor the fraudsters who set up new parties and promise the people a swift fall of the government can change that. After all, if the ruling class considered them dangerous, they could deal with them in a few hours. They would have blocked their social media accounts, stopped reporting on them in the media, and the streets leading to the demonstration would have been temporarily closed. All of this has been done before.
In this situation, it’s perfectly understandable that people are retreating into private. If the overall situation changes and if a real opposition is formed, the attitude of many towards politics will change.
D.C.: From the outside, it seems that some people have “lost their memories” or, in layman’s terms, have started to speak differently than they did a year and a half or three years ago? Is this a profound mistake? Are we witnessing a “leap change,” as the Egyptologist Miroslav Barta refers to it in his “Seven Laws,” or just cowardice and the consequences of having to adapt for one’s own survival?
P.H.: You probably mean that the ruling Soros coalition is doing exactly the opposite of what it promised before the elections, and that its die-hard supporters enthusiastically agree with this fraud on the electorate.
Let us not be surprised. Moral heroes from children’s books don’t usually win wars. Not even cold civil wars. Election promises are made not to be kept, but to help win. They have served their purpose and expect nothing more from them.
The next time we want to know whether this or that election promise is serious, let us ask the question: Will it be in their interests to behave in this way after the elections? Will it be in the interests of their main sponsors and supporters? If it is not in their interest, the promises will not be kept.
D.C.: And what about the abrupt change?
P.H.: We’ve talked about one side winning the cold civil war. Just two years ago, people like former president Miloš Zeman or billionaire Andrej Babiš were in top political positions, but they were not part of the new aristocracy. On the contrary, their relations with the new aristocracy were lukewarm to hostile. That has disappeared, and today one oligarchic group controls all the important political and economic posts, which gives them the opportunity to push through the most radical liberal agenda imaginable. In that sense, we can speak of a step change.
However, this rapid change in the Czech Republic is taking place, coincidentally, at a time when the new aristocracy is losing its strength worldwide. The American hegemony is collapsing, whole vast regions are paying obedience to their American ‘protectors’, and the liberal economic model is unable to ensure sufficient production of anything – except for stupid regulations and crazy ideas.
You’ve alluded many times to the theme of controlling society through fear, it’s been there since the beginning and still works perfectly well everywhere. You yourself write basically that one quickly gets used to better treatment and then doesn’t appreciate it: “The pleasure of luxury is short-lived.” You put forward your own realistic vision in, among other things, an article in one of your books called National Idyll 2.0. Why shouldn’t your vision just end up with people not really wanting to be better off anymore? They just prefer to wage a “holy war.”
P.H.: People definitely want to be better off. And if they can’t get better, they at least want to maintain their current standard of living. And if they can’t even maintain their current standard of living, they at least want to feel like they’re one of the better people. Supporting a senseless war is their ticket to being better people. The elite despise peace. The elite do not recognize the Geneva Conventions. The elite want to see blood, pain and death. If one wants to be part of the elite, or at least to be like the elite, then one must take such positions. Then he can feel like a highly moral person and can despise most of society.
We cannot say how many people would support a vision of restoring the nation-state, and we cannot say how many people would be willing to sacrifice anything for such a vision. Because no one has offered it to them. Part of the current opposition uses it as a slogan, but so far there has been no one who has been able to make a credible concrete proposal on how to restore the nation state. But based on other historical situations, we can infer that there would be many more of these people than meets the eye.
D.C.: By the way, most people still have enough money to survive, the economy is not collapsing, we are reading about bright inflationary tomorrows, the Czech government will save us with a consolidation package, and after all, we are doing quite well in terms of debt in the OECD. So why should anyone waste time looking for a “way out of serfdom?” You can’t explain that.
P.H. : Your question implies that revolutions happen when people are doing very badly. It’s a common misconception, but it’s a misconception nonetheless. Take Ireland in the mid-19th century. The people were so badly off that most of the population suffered from severe malnutrition and one in five Irish people died of starvation. And was there a revolution? People were concerned with how to survive to the next day, not a revolution.
Or the Bohemian lands after we were militarily defeated by the Habsburgs in 1621. I’m not referring now to the disputes between Catholics and Protestants, but to the consolidation of serfdom and the dramatic deterioration of conditions for the peasantry. Some starved to death. Others were dying of disease because their health was undermined by hard work and malnutrition. Many saw their children die. And was there a revolution?
Even the hopeless peasant storms did not happen until the 18th century, when people felt a little better.
Poverty does not breed change. A collapsing economy does not breed change.
P.H.: So when are bad governments overthrown?
D.C.: Things change when a counter-elite is formed, and when that counter-elite gains sufficient strength. Yes, it can take advantage of popular discontent, but popular discontent is just the backdrop behind which the essential work is done.
The deterioration of economic conditions can actually accelerate the formation of the counter-elite. There will be fewer for officials, fewer new jobs, fewer subsidies, fewer opportunities for rip-offs. The current new aristocracy faces a contradiction stemming from having to give the impression “there are enough jobs in our nonprofits for most college graduates,” except that applicant numbers are growing faster than budgets. Even as more money is squeezed out of people, it’s not enough. After all, the media-discussed case of the nonprofit “European Values”, which had to lay off most of its staff, is just one of many examples. Some of the disappointed, frustrated applicants turn against their own layer. This is one of the things that threatens the system much more than popular discontent.
D.C.: Even in saying that it is important to “break out of the world of supranational bureaucratic apparatuses and start actively managing your own destiny,” you are betting on the human capacity for personal attitude change, as are many other philosophers, thinkers, or modern mystics. You reckon that we may reach a stage of “a highly militarized society in a permanent state of war,” but one that will actually care for its people. How can I care for someone in a state of war if I’m supposed to be focused on not getting killed? Are we only able to truly care for someone when death is imminent?
P.H.: Examples of how this can work include Israel and Switzerland. Highly militarized societies that can provide ample freedom to their members and whose economies are highly efficient.
In general, war economies can take care of their poor much better than market economies.
And it is also generally true that when people are collectively threatened by external dangers, much more solidarity emerges. After all, this has always been typical of the Czech nation. We faced German pressure together and class conflicts never took such a terrible form in our country as in the Anglo-Saxon world. We have never had a terrible caste model like in Great Britain.
D.C.: You assume that the brutality of the global new aristocracy will increase, but so will its fragility. You believe more in the success of smaller communities. Yet, even within a small community, obvious shenanigans can be pushed through if you divide people technologically. You don’t have to worry that you’ll just meet the person in question and they’ll read the mischief in your face, you just wipe them off the grid and the opponent dies. What about this argument?
P.H: I don’t believe in a world divided into local communities. The point is that most of the contacts and most of the economic activity will be local, and that key decisions will be made at the national level. That is the model that most of the world is moving towards. Here in the Czech Republic we may become a kind of globalist open-air museum that will not actually serve the global powers, because those powers will only rule here and in a few other countries. Just as Cuba remained loyal to the Soviet Union even after its collapse, so Czech Prime Minister Fiala, President Pavel and their supporters apparently want to remain loyal to global structures even after their collapse. Being such a neoconservative Cuba.
However, most of the world will go to independent states with a higher degree of local activity, regardless of us.
So I mean real local activities where people physically meet and produce material products. Not “communities” connected by smartphones. Those aren’t going to work anytime soon. I give you a definite yes on that.
D.C.: At the end of Notes on Elites, War and Peace, you posted a letter from a Czech sociologist to the Americans, where in the very first paragraph you write: “Don’t be surprised that the whole world hates you.” You assured us that you belong to the “minority” who see the bright side of America. But our alliances with the US are the cornerstone of European integration. What if everyone hates you?
P.H.: It doesn’t really matter what we think of it or what anyone else thinks of us. Whether they like us or hate us. It is a fact that American hegemony is collapsing and that America is seen in most of the world as a dangerous tyrannical state that threatens freedom and peace. What our mainstream media says about Russia is exactly how the US is perceived in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Hampl may have an opinion on this, but he won’t change it.
I confess, however, that I am saddened by this development. American culture and the American approach to life has some absolutely wonderful and admirable aspects. America, it’s not just a nasty New York banker or a slimy activist for the rights of so-called minorities. It is also the Southern redneck who has his rifle, his idea of life and doesn’t take orders from anyone.
D.C.: You’ve been labeled an extremist, barred from major media outlets, and barred from universities. You started your own university. How do you prevent yourself from creating some kind of “evening school of Marxism-Leninism” like existed under the communist regime?
P.H.: Among the great things that Western civilization has given the world is empirical science. That is, a set of guidelines on how to look at the world, how to investigate various phenomena, how to distinguish science from ideology, how to evaluate theories, how to review scientific texts, etc.
We consistently apply all these guidelines. There is nothing special about it. A generation ago this was the case in most universities, before science was overwhelmed by political correctness.
We stick to the old recipes and are neither tolerant nor open to the methodological innovations of the last decade.
I would point out, however, that this is not a classical university, but a system of courses where ordinary working people can get a better education than in the various faculties of the humanities. We hold that the nation needs educated people – including educated workers, educated craftsmen, humanities-educated engineers, educated saleswomen, etc.
D.C.: And what else should people do?
P.H.: My guess is that the time for change will come in three to five years. Assuming that the opposition can prepare well in the meantime. Will there be a well-organised and focused opposition with enough educated people and enough analysts or will there be a mob torn by the emotions of the moment and conspiracy narratives? That is what is at stake today. I know many readers would like to see positive change in a matter of weeks, but if I told them that was possible, I would be lying to them.
Original Czech version published on 14 July 2014