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PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Here in the world’s most beautiful city, splendidly restored to its neat, pre-Communist beauty, 420 members of the Mont Pelerin Society are debating a single, harsh question. Why are we who love freedom not winning the argument against the totalitarians?
Two decades ago, the Communists whose tanks had been parked on Prague’s lawns since 1968 slunk away unloved into the garbage can of history. Yet now totalitarianism is on the march again. The unelected, anti-democratic European tyranny-by-Kommissar makes five laws in six for nations from the Czech Republic and Poland in the East to Britain and Ireland in the West. Neither the voters nor the politicians they elect have any say in making or unmaking these hated laws.
The Arab Spring has not brought democracy to the sands of North Africa. In that Dark Continent, dictatorial maniacs like Mad Bob Mugabe cling to power by their rifle-straps. In South America, crazies rule Argentina and Venezuela, to name but two.
Putin’s Russia is reverting to the dictatorship of the one-man personality cult. China cloaks the world’s most brutal species of Marxism in the rhetoric of the free market, while silently building up the world’s largest-ever military force backed by a giant naval fleet, and still more silently buying up the debts of Western governments, gathering their power, their wealth, their sovereignty and their future into its ruthless hands.
Even in the White House, of all places, there is a blinkered, committed totalitarian, spending your nation into galloping bankruptcy. Yet it is economic freedom that guarantees political freedom.
Your government and ours have not only denied the people economic freedom by savage over-taxation; they have now denied even to themselves the vital economic freedom of maneuver without which no nation is truly sovereign. For they are selling your national birthright and ours to China.
The one statesman who understands the gravity of the coming existential crisis for the West is President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic. He knows what it was like to exist under the permanent national bankruptcy that totalitarianism unfailingly brings. As a formidable professor of free-market economics, he is the best-qualified political leader in the West.
He has been continuously in government here ever since the hated Communist regime was ejected. But he will retire from the Hradcany Palace in six months’ time, dedicating himself to spreading the message of economic and political freedom full-time, via his own think tank, the Klaus Foundation.
He intends to start early by giving the keynote closing speech at the end of the week-long annual conference of the world’s foremost free-market economists.
During the opening session, which the president chaired, he casually told us another Statistic of the Month, and a revealing one. In a recent opinion poll in the Czech Republic, only 6 percent of those questioned now wanted to adopt the euro. Some 16 percent are willing to think about adopting it one day. Almost four voters in five don’t want anything to do with it at all.
The president’s own personality, as much as the collapse of the failed single-currency project, has educated his people to understand the threat to freedom the EU represents.
By a similarly large majority, the population of the Czech Republic does not believe in the “global warming” scare either. Again, the president has educated his people.
His message to us here at the Mont Pelerin Society will also be an education – but a sobering one. Its title: “We Are Not Winning.”
By coincidence, the theme of the Ayn Rand Society’s fringe meeting at 7 a.m. one morning (among us free-marketeers, sleep is for wimps) was the same. Free-marketeers are not winning the argument.
The totalitarians are again in the ascendant, though this time theirs is not an open tyranny of jackboots but a shuffling tyranny of sneakers. Yet they shall not prevail.
Ayn Rand’s aim was to write the ideal novel about the Ideal Man (well, I was only 5 at the time, so the obvious role-model was not yet available). Her enormous political novel about freedom, “Atlas Shrugged,” sold around 80,000 copies when it first came out in 1957. Yet in the three gruesome years of Mr. Manchu’s occupation of the White House, “Atlas Shrugged” has sold a million copies. There is hope.
In the beautiful Old Town Square in Prague, on the wall of the Town Hall, there is an ingenious and elaborate astronomical clock 602 years old and still working, with all its original parts.
The figure of Death strikes the hour; two doors slide noiselessly open and each of the Twelve Apostles appears and takes a modest bow; and finally, high above the clock, a gilded cockerel flaps its wings and crows for freedom.
Have no fear, then: The darkest hour is always before the dawn.
Ten days ago, over dinner, I set President Klaus a mathematical puzzle. He liked it so much that he wrote it on the blackboard for pupils at an elementary school he visited this week to mark the beginning of the school year. The president had solved it in four minutes. Can you do better? Here it is: rearrange the four digits 2, 3, 4, 5, together with a single “+” sign and a single “=” sign, to make a valid equation. Answer next week.