A Demon-Haunted Europe: Democracy’s Totalitarian Impulse

A Demon-Haunted
Europe: Democracy’s Totalitarian Impulse

AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RYSZARD LEGUTKO: liberal democracies — specifically in Europe — have much in common with communism.

By Timothy D. Lusch
New Oxford Review
October 2017

Timothy D. Lusch is an attorney and writer. His writing has appeared in Saint Austin Review, The University Bookman, Chronicles, and at CrisisMagazine.com and CatholicExchange.com/ He blogs about books at PityItsPithy.com/

Ryszard Legutko is a professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. He is also a member of the European Parliament, a Polish politician, and an author. He has written one of the most consequential works on political philosophy to be published in recent years, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies. In this profound and vital book, Legutko argues that liberal democracies — specifically in Europe — have much in common with communism. He traces the twin developments of liberalism and democracy and shows how, at their precise intersection, the totalitarian impulse rises. With grave implications for freedom in the West, and for traditional institutions like the Catholic Church, Legutko sounds a warning: either recognize the danger and defeat it, or be destroyed by it.

NOR: Professor Legutko, you have written a significant book with particular appeal for the people and institutions of the West. Following your thesis, the seed of slavery seems to be sewn into the fabric of liberal democracy. What implications does this have with respect to our understanding of freedom? Is our understanding of freedom undergoing a paradigmatic shift such that we will demand greater freedoms (e.g., determining our gender identity) and end up with less (e.g., enforcement of “gender identity” rights and language limiting the speech of dissenters)?

Legutko: I am not sure we demand greater freedom today. On the contrary, I think freedom has ceased to be a highly valued commodity. What is happening is that some groups demand certain privileges, often called “rights,” and other groups seem favorable to these demands because they see in them a vehicle for constructing a new society compatible with their outrageous ideologies. When we see, for example, privileges granted to homosexuals, including the right to marry and adopt children — rather unusual privileges, to be sure — we mistake it for the growth of freedom in general. But this is an erroneous conclusion.

Take gender. It is a strange concept, and rather absurd, because not only does it undermine the obvious biological differences on which the existence of the human race has depended from time immemorial, but it makes this strange concept an instrument to reconstruct the entire human culture, including the humanities, art, law, philosophy, even natural sciences and mathematics. Its aim is to restructure society and the human mind — to make a mental, political, social, and cultural revolution — not to enlarge our freedom. One can compare it to Marxism and its theory of class struggle, which some people in the past believed serves the cause of freedom while in fact it is a tool for a revolution, not only in social relations but also in the humanities, art, law, philosophy, natural sciences, and mathematics. (For instance, multi-valued logic was said to be correlated to the growth of imperialism, and the general theory of relativity allegedly contradicted the dialectics of nature.)

In the case of both Marxism and gender, we have an attempt to make a deep restructuring of society. Revolutions hardly ever enlarge our freedom, though the revolutionaries often include “freedom” among their slogans. In the early stages of a revolution, people are lured by such slogans — and, indeed, some kind of freedom is given to them following the breakdown of the existing rules and the ensuing chaos. But soon the revolutionaries tighten their grip on society and impose the new rules that are stricter and more humiliating than before. The world before the gender revolution certainly had more freedom than it has now. Laws were less intrusive, the humanities more open and diversified, philosophy less dogmatic, human relations less legalistic. Likewise, as a result of granting privileges to homosexuals, we have experienced significant encroachments on the freedom of speech and many other liberties, and, consequently, on liberty in general.

NOR: For Catholics in the West, totalitarian temptations in free societies have particularly alarming manifestations and consequences. You write, however, that “it is the people themselves who have eventually come to accept, often on a pre-intellectual level, that eliminating the institutions incompatible with liberal-democratic principles constitutes a wise and necessary step.” How is this danger different from the communist regime under which you lived? And is there an internal danger to the Catholic Church from those people, including Catholics, who view the Church as an institution incompatible with liberal-democratic principles?

Legutko: The Catholic Church, at least in my country, despite occasional accommodating gestures toward the communist regime, usually of a tactical nature, believed itself to be and was perceived by the communists as being an alien body that was structurally and philosophically in opposition to communism. There were, of course, some individual priests who either became informers or were duped by communist ideology and claimed that Christianity and communism were allies. This thinking, by the way, was quite widespread among the leftist intelligentsia in non-communist Europe. Most of the great Protestant and Catholic theologians of the 20th century were, at certain moments in their lives, close to this belief, including Karl Barth, Emmanuel Mounier, Jacques Maritain, Paul Tillich, and many others. The Catholic Church, however, remained largely distant from and, for a long time, hostile to communism.

At a certain moment, the official attitude of the Church softened and became less outspoken. This is not to say that the Church wanted to sanctify communism. Far from it. John Paul II’s role in abolishing communism was paramount. What the Church did, however, was to try to make itself more in tune with the modern times, and being more in tune meant accepting some aspects of Marxist and related left-wing ideologies that, incidentally, had been teaching for many years that everything must join the current of history, or perish.

This conflict between progressives who want the Church to keep pace with the march of time (whatever this might mean) and conservatives who opt for continuity with or preservation of the unchangeable core of the doctrine has been going on for a long time. The progressives have usually been victorious because a lot of people believe that, whether we want it or not, we have to adapt ourselves to the modern world, and this directive applies to every person and every institution, including the Church. The opposite directive — that the modern world should adapt itself to what we think is right — has less support today, and it’s easy to see why.

Since the modern world means, for many people, liberal democracy, and since liberal democracy is deemed to be the supreme political arrangement (as communism and socialism were thought to be several decades ago), it is natural that those people want the Church to adapt itself to democratic and liberal standards and practices. Despite obvious differences between communism and liberal democracy, both pose a mortal danger to the Church. In the case of liberal democracy, the risk is even greater. It implies not only that the Church should kowtow to earthly power, but that earthly power is the teacher and the Church a learner. This presupposes an even greater concession than that which the Church previously made toward Marxism. Then it was said that socialism and Christianity may converge or may have a common objective or are somehow similar in their moral message. Today, the towering position of liberal democracy makes a lot of people — including quite a number of Catholics — accept a view that the Church should subordinate itself.

NOR: The European Parliament recently instituted a procedural rule change limiting, without defining, the speech of its members. Under the Rules of Procedure (Title VII, Ch. 4, Rule 165, Sections 5 & 6), the “President may decide to interrupt the live broadcasting…in the case of defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behaviour by a Member,” and he may “delete from the audiovisual record…those parts of a speech by a Member that contain defamatory, racist or xenophobic language.” As a member of the Parliament, are you alarmed by the totalitarian impulse manifested in this change?

Legutko: The European Parliament is certainly not the most important institution of the European Union, but it is typical of what the EU stands for and strives for. One of the most visible features of European institutions is majority rule — which might not seem unusual in democracy — except that it has been the same majority for many years and will continue to be more or less the same in the years to come. In a way, the power structure in the EU resembles one-party rule, though, of course, it is not a single party but a grand coalition of parties. This monopoly creates an unhealthy atmosphere. One of the consequences is that the imposition of rules, the interpretation of these rules, and the power to apply them are in the hands of the ruling majority. It is no wonder, then, that in the European Parliament, censorship is a well-established practice.

A group of Polish members of the European Parliament (MEPs) put up a photo exhibition commemorating the plane crash in Smolensk in 2010 in which almost 100 people had died, including the president of Poland. The Parliament agreed to the exhibition but demanded that the captions under the photographs be covered with black tape. Why so sensitive and fastidious? To give an example, one of the photographs showed a smiling Russian soldier destroying the wreck of the plane with an iron rod, the caption to which read, “A smiling Russian soldier destroying the wreck of the plane with an iron rod.” This the Parliament could not accept, probably because it would irritate the Russians.

Punishing the MEPs for statements they make during parliamentary sessions is a part of the same mindset. Such punishments have been a regular practice, always directed against deputies from outside the ruling majority. No one should be surprised. It is an almost natural practice in any political institution in which the same group has been ruling for too long and is convinced it can get away with anything. Monopoly in a democracy invariably generates pathologies, and the EU just proves this old truth. But these practices illustrate a larger problem — namely, the coercive character of modern liberalism and its major weapon, political correctness.

“Defamation,” “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia” — these are protean notions, easy to use at will, and widely used at will by those in power, mostly to silence those who dissent from the politically correct orthodoxy. It has become accepted in the Western world that people can be punished for words that the privileged groups deem offensive, while non-privileged groups can be insulted without limit. In the Parliament, Christian deputies protested against a picture, apparently a gift from some hyper-European artist, showing a naked Virgin Mary. The protests were ignored because “we in the European Parliament,” it was said, “cannot allow censorship.” Inconsistency? A double standard? Of course. The only rule that has been respected in this institution is the rule of double standards. Removing a naked Virgin Mary from the public space would have been censorship, but putting black tape on “a smiling Russian soldier with an iron rod” destroying the crucial material evidence of the crash was not.

NOR: You observe in your book that speech has become a vehicle for the power of ideology. You write, “The language discipline is the first test for loyalty to the orthodoxy just as neglect of this discipline is the beginning of all evil.” The “value-loaded” concepts of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other isms and phobias hurled about as undefined accusations do particular violence to the spirit of discourse in a free society. How can an individual counter ideologically infused language when corporations and governments increasingly institutionalize it?

Legutko: I remember from my time in communist Poland that the first thing one had to do to free oneself from the ubiquitous presence of communist ideology was to regain control of the language one was using. Just as language is the first territory to be occupied by the invaders, it is the first outpost to be recaptured by the victims of ideological invasion. He who controls the language controls minds; he who controls minds controls everything else. It is true that in today’s world the control of the language seems overwhelming, and one feels impotent vis-à-vis media, educational institutions, political parties, corporations, and courts — all of which speak with one voice, in one style, almost totally built on clichés and ideological ploys. In the communist society, the sense of helplessness was pretty much the same as some feel today, and no hope was in sight. And yet at a certain point in our history, there came a time when, almost simultaneously, a lot of people said “no” and started reclaiming the language and giving it a nobler form — alas, to be lost again when we became a liberal democracy.

But it is not as easy as that. What helped us was, first, classical literature, which was then still widely read and could be a remedy against communist gobbledygook, and, second, a conviction that there is a better world somewhere, a free world, where the basic functions of the language are not violated. Today, classical literature has lost its readers and thus its power, and there seems to be no other, better world free from the diseases that maim the language. Therefore, a lot of us living in the liberal-democratic world are not even aware that there is a nobler kind of language and that the bad language devastates our souls because it appears to be the only language that exists.

That said, I still believe that, being intimidated by the ominousness and seeming irresistibility of the powers that have taken control of the language, we underestimate the role of individual resistance. One can, indeed, make a newspeak-free zone around oneself, and this will, in time, produce a ripple effect. Perhaps Western societies still have to wait for the moment when this resistance will grow sufficiently in size to make a difference nationwide. But in the meantime, one should tell oneself as often as possible, “The cultural, artistic, philosophical space around me is under my control, and I will not yield an inch.”

NOR: The European Union is evidence that Europe has discarded its cultural heritage in favor of a monolithic structure of governance by an unelected elite. EU leadership, a largely unresponsive technocratic cabal set upon changing the character of Europe, seems indifferent to the consequences of mass Muslim immigration. How do you see the future of Europe squeezed, as it were, between the totalitarian impulse in EU governance and the external threat of totalitarian Islam?

Legutko: If we understand the word “culture” as denoting, primarily, a past heritage that continues to exert, directly or indirectly, its influence on human minds, then EU elites are clearly a de-cultured species. Not by education, social formation, or personal interests are they in any way attached to European culture; they have a rather vague idea about its content. They are almost entirely the products of recent decades, starting with the 1960s. When they define the EU as a community of values, they have trouble indicating what those values are.

The term “European values” means for them a mixture of leftist ideologies, the essential function of which is to change the meaning of basic concepts. Democracy as a “European value” means that only the mainstream parties can win the elections; if the elections are won by a party from outside the mainstream, then “democracy is in danger.” The same applies to other “European values” explicitly enumerated, such as “the rule of law,” “human rights,” and “equality.” All take a meaning different from their original one. These de-cultured elites — not knowing what Europe is while at the same time claiming to be genuinely European — are unprepared to confront the current challenges, among others, the immigration crisis.

The ideology of “European values” tells them that Islam might be a problem, but at the same time they fear “Islamophobia” more than they fear Islam. The same ideology tells them that Christianity is not quite a “European value” while “Christophobia” (a generally unfamiliar term) might very well be. There is a link between these two statements. Admitting that Islam poses a real threat to Europe and fighting against the growing Christophobia in Europe by Islam would put an end to the “European values” as the elite understand them today.

I therefore believe that the EU with its “European values” is unable to reform itself, at least in the foreseeable future, so probably no spark of change will come from there to save Europe as a cultural entity. Fortunately, the EU has not yet devoured the entire continent. Unfortunately, what remains outside the EU is not politically strong. Whether it will become stronger, I do not know. The destructive consequences of the EU can be reversed, but I am not sure whether it will be equally easy to reverse the demographic revolution that has resulted from Muslim immigration.

The future of Europe looks bleak. Our only hope is that the future might have some surprises in store for us, which may change the current political and social dynamics. But today we are not in a position to know what those surprises might be.

NOR: For some time now, mass migration has dominated governmental concerns in both the U.S. and Europe. Politicians like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former U.S. President Barack Obama see little danger in these developments. They argue that the West is a multicultural society and should welcome all people, regardless of whether they espouse beliefs that are hostile to Western democracy. In your book, you call multiculturalism an “effective hoax” that is a “program of politicization of certain groups that could radically change the fabric of society.” In practical terms, what does this mean for the average citizen in a Western democracy?

Legutko: Only recently has the average citizen become aware of the scope of possible changes resulting from mass immigration, but nobody knows exactly how it will all end. Certainly, life will not be as it was, and this well-known phrase has, this time, a far more dramatic meaning than usual. The French, Belgians, British, and others have to get used to increased security measures, more and more intrusive and more and more annoying, from armed soldiers patrolling the streets to being an object of terrorist attacks. And these are not temporary developments.

No one really knows what to do with the growing number of immigrants. The attraction of Islamism has been as great among the newcomers as among those who are third- and fourth-generation Europeans. The general feeling is that of uncertainty and powerlessness. There is a salient discrepancy between the rhetoric praising multiculturalism as a crowning achievement of Western democracy and the deepening concern of politicians and societies at large over mass immigration.

Western societies have been generally hospitable, at times excessively hospitable, to the newcomers, and for this they should be praised. Yet no one told them that they have been pushed into a gigantic social and political experiment. Those few who tried were immediately silenced. Mixing into a well-established and historically formed European nation that has a common cultural heritage a large community of non-European newcomers who have no connection to that tradition, who profess a non-Western religion, and who are generally indifferent or even hostile to their new country and its culture, both past and present, and organizing this explosive mixture within a system of institutions that have been developed in a different political and social environment, is an extremely risky experiment. Only a miracle could make it a success.

NOR: What role has multiculturalism played with respect to the crisis of Muslim migration in Europe?

Legutko: Multiculturalism is a problem, not a solution. It is a problem because it is more a conceptual construction, a project, than a description of reality. The statement that many past and present societies have been composed of different “cultures” is both true and not true. It is true in that all Western societies have never been ethnically and religiously homogeneous. One can, therefore, call them “multicultural” (although the term is semantically dubious because the word “culture” long ago lost any clear meaning). On the other hand, Western societies have always had some unifying identity or something that kept them together. It could be religion — Christianity in Catholic or Protestant versions — or the monarchy or the republic or the bureaucracy or a common political heritage or something else.

So, for example, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was clearly multicultural — that is, not homogeneous ethnically or religiously — but it was certainly not “multicultural” in the current sense of the term. Today, multiculturalism is a rather controversial theory because what it says is that society is a collection of “cultures” (whatever this means) that are equal, both self-contained and open to other cultures, and unified by an overarching system of common procedures and liberal-democratic values. Well, such an animal does not exist. Again, it is a project rather than a description of today’s societies, the composition of which is much more complicated. Even such an allegedly multicultural society as America has been resisting the multicultural pattern because “being American” has always been something weightier and more substantive than being “multicultural” or “procedural,” or “liberal-democratic.”

Liberal-democratic ideas and procedures will not support the weight of growing immigration because they are at the same time too weak and too strong. They are too weak because they seem not to set any serious preconditions that must be met by the immigrants. But they are too strong because they interfere with very important aspects of people’s identity — namely, family and religion. This combination of weakness and aggression is the worst possible instrument to solve the problem of immigration. The only hope liberal democrats have is that their ideology will dilute immigrants’ identity. So far, the reverse has happened.

A few years ago, Chancellor Merkel said that multiculturalism was dead, yet it played a significant role in both justifying immigration and generating a crisis. It justified immigration because from the perspective of the theory of multiculturalism, the number of immigrants does not matter. The more immigrants, the more spectacular the triumph of multiculturalism. Besides, since all “cultures” are equal, and all are assumed to respect procedures and “values,” it makes no difference whether the number of immigrants is small or large because the nature of this society does not depend on the size of cultures. So the supporters of immigration welcomed the newcomers because they saw in them the confirmation and implementation of what multiculturalism is meant to be.

The categories of disproportion and demographic imbalance are not listed in the multicultural glossary. But a lot of Islamic immigrants do not see it that way. They do not accept the equality of cultures or procedures or values or what the defenders of multiculturalism oppose — namely, European traditional culture, including Christianity, rationalism, etc. They do not want to be either self-contained or open to other cultures. So the experiment has failed miserably, and another brilliant version of social engineering turns out to have been an illustration of human folly.

NOR: What specific dangers does a totalitarian ideology like Islam bring to a spiritually and philosophically weakened Europe?

Legutko: I know too little about Islam to make a strong statement. What I can see is that Western countries have been on the defensive and do not seem to have either the will or the wisdom to act in such a way that would make their citizens hopeful. Western elites are trapped by their ideology, which makes them slow, indecisive, and unsure of themselves, but, at the same time, committed ideologically, irrespective of the social costs. Islamists are not trapped by anything. If Islam finally accommodates itself to Western societies and ceases to wage a war against them, it will happen because of Islam’s own internal evolution or internal conflicts or internal disintegration, and not because our societies or our governments have defeated it or imposed Western rules on it.

NOR: In a fascinating section of your book, you discuss the subtle shift of meaning that occurred with the revival of the concept of dignity in the UN’s 1948 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Essentially, you argue that dignity became detached from obligation. Once understood as noblesse oblige, “ennobling those who acquired it,” it is now viewed as an inalienable right with no spiritual or metaphysical foundation. If, as you argue, dignity is now “about claims and entitlements,” how does this impact the idea and future of individual responsibility in the West?

Legutko: This change in the meaning of the concept of dignity is significant, and, if I am not mistaken, almost no one has noticed it. Dignity, properly understood, was always about duties, not about claims. I say “properly understood” because we had many examples of dignity wrongly understood in the past — namely, in the history of hereditary aristocracy and gentry when some claimed that by the simple fact of being born into an aristocratic family one had dignity bequeathed on him. But those few enlightened aristocrats knew from studying classical writers that dignity was not given and had to be earned. I interpret modern concepts of inborn dignity as a basis of rights as a somewhat modified version of this bad aristocratic tradition translated into a democratic idiom. Unfortunately, this latter version took firm root in modern minds, and it will probably take a lot of time before we give it up. After all, being told that one can have dignity without earning it sounds too nice to protest.

It is true that Christians can say that man is created in the image of God and hence is endowed with dignity at birth. On the other hand, Christians know that man is born in a state of original sin. So, whatever his dignity, the danger of the Fall is always there. In other words, man has to struggle to confirm his dignity and resist sinful temptations. The concept of dignity attached to rights rather than to obligations is difficult to reconcile with such a picture of human life.

But — going back to your question — the mere concept of rights, whatever its philosophical basis, certainly undermines individual responsibility. It implies that one does not have to explain or justify one’s actions or words. If I have a right to free speech, I cannot be held responsible for what I say. One can easily surmise that when the concept of rights — primarily understood as liberties — was introduced, it was assumed that these rights would not be abused, or rather, a possible abuse of those rights was, for some time, not even contemplated. It seemed obvious that there were such factors as virtues, propriety, rules of human conduct, etc., that would somehow curb such abuses. But after those factors disappeared, the road was open to abusing rights without taking responsibility for those abuses. In time, having rights was like taking drugs: One felt almost like a god who could do anything and get away with it, without noticing the harm it did to one’s body and soul. Hence, individuals and groups demanded the multiplication of rights to feel dignified and free from constraints.

But this could not last. It was like being in a Hobbesian state of nature. Everyone has an infinite number of rights, but everyone’s rights must clash with everyone else’s rights because the world is not spacious enough to satisfy everybody. So new rights were invented to counterweigh old rights. We had the right to free speech, which could be interpreted as a right to insult people; but then a new right was added, a right not to be insulted, or to have one’s dignity “protected.”

How does this affect individual responsibility? I think the principle was preserved but in a somewhat different form. Previously, individual responsibility was moral, anthropological, and legal. Nowadays, it is only legal. Courts decide who is responsible for what and why, often in an arbitrary way, with no connection to either the substance of the conflict or its moral dimension. Morality and truth are no longer independent authorities but have been swallowed by law and various types of “ethics.” Once we win in court, even in the most dubious cases, we are morally absolved and bear no responsibility for what we have done. Once we lose in court, even when justice has been drastically miscarried, we are discredited not only legally but morally. Anyway, the courts have become more and more powerful institutions, and they derive their power from the irreconcilability of growing claims, entitlements, and privileges. An entire industry has been built that distributes favors to some and denies them to others. And these favors, just like those in the past given or denied by kings, take off the burden of responsibility from those who are gratified as well as from those who are not so fortunate.

NOR: You argue that “Christianity is the last great force that offers a viable alternative to the tediousness of liberal-democratic anthropology.” Can you elaborate?

Legutko: One of the main elements of my book is a reflection on the anthropological assumptions that underlie our political choices. Both democracy and liberalism have assumed a minimalist concept of human nature, devoid of any higher dimensions, metaphysical or moral. Christianity has an entirely different view of human nature, similar in many respects to what we find in antiquity. On the one hand, man is defined, like Aristotle’s political man, by his existence in a society in which he — as a person, not as an individual — can acquire moral virtues, and on the other hand, by his metaphysical status, having been created in the image of God. To put it differently, the liberal-democratic man is a flat character whose higher aspirations are considered either as personal idiosyncrasies or politically dangerous ambitions to overthrow equality. In Christianity, as in antiquity, human existence is represented vertically — it has its highs and lows and is strained between sainthood and sin. In Christianity, we hope to live up to that for which we were created, but we also fear failure. In the flat anthropology of liberal democracy, there is not much people hope for and not much they fear. Even God is reduced to a liberal-democratic dimension in that He resembles a nice, easygoing philanthropist more than the God we read about in the Bible.

In other words, the theorists of liberalism and democracy have tried to eliminate from the picture of human nature all the elements they believe to be irreconcilable with the idea of equality and which they think go beyond everything that is needed for a liberal-democratic system to function. What transcends this horizon is negligible, unnecessary, irrational, and often dangerous. This flatness of philosophy and imagination prevents those infected by it from perceiving and treating seriously those insights into human nature that were passed on to us by the ancients and Christian philosophy and theology. This drastically limited perspective translates itself into art, thereby reinforcing itself, and, consequently, into education, which, predictably, has been transformed in such a way that it almost completely cut itself off from our ancient and medieval heritage.

The point I was trying to make is that wherever Christianity survives and is strong, people are likely to broaden their perspective and go beyond what liberal democracy offers them philosophically — or at least they are given the tools to do so. As classical culture disappears from school curricula, Christianity remains, practically, the only way to go outside the closed and arid world of the liberal-democratic set of ideas.

NOR: Poland played a pivotal role in the fall of communism. What role do you see Poland playing in the EU and the rest of the world with respect to the growth of totalitarianism in the liberal-democratic ideology?

Legutko: Poland is, in many respects, like any country in the Western world. It has, among other things, extremely noisy, anti-clerical, and anti-religious groups, as well as fanatical pro-EU supporters. What makes Poland unique is that the Catholic Church is strong there, and a large part of society supports it. The vast majority of Poles consider themselves Catholics, and about 50 percent are active Catholics. In the difficult, turbulent history of Poland, the Church has always been with the people; so, historically, this remarkable position of Catholicism is understandable. This forms a basis for a certain type of conservatism that expresses itself, among other ways, in the rejection of abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and other outrageous ideas common in the European mainstream. Since 2015 Poland has been ruled by the Law and Justice Party, which is clearly conservative and opposed to the mainstream European politics. No wonder this current government has been an object of constant attacks from the EU. What irritates the progressive elites in Europe is that Poland seems to be one of the few European countries that have a large social basis for conservatism and a significant Christian presence. But their irritation is our hope. Poland is indeed in a position to make a difference in Europe. Whether in the long-term this will alter the European political landscape remains to be seen. But for the time being, we are a stronghold of Christianity in Europe.

The current Polish government has been attacked as authoritarian, but the fact is that in Poland the scope of freedom is definitely wider than elsewhere in Europe, and political correctness is comparatively weak. The progressive elites deplore this fact because they identify freedom with the acceptance of one ideology — their own. For some reason, when one calls oneself a liberal democrat, one believes that no matter how harshly one imposes one’s point of view on others and how brutally one transforms the social fabric, one remains a staunch supporter of freedom and pluralism. Fortunately, unlike many European countries, including the most important ones, such as Germany, Poland is not a country of one ideology, probably because it is the conservatives, not the liberals, who defend pluralism. The political spectrum of the media is one of the largest, if not the largest, in Europe. In Poland, academic freedom, though diminishing through the initiative of academics themselves, is still considerable; the courts have been pushing toward political correctness but not as fanatically as elsewhere. I hope Poland will continue to steer this course despite an immense opposition from within and from without.

Ryszard Legutko’s book The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies was published by Encounter Books in 2016.

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One comment on “A Demon-Haunted Europe: Democracy’s Totalitarian Impulse

  1. NOR: What specific dangers does a totalitarian ideology like Islam bring to a spiritually and philosophically weakened Europe?

    Legutko: I know too little about Islam to make a strong statement.

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