Czech President Vaclav Klaus, that great post-communist − not anti-communist, mind you, but post-communist − has been dining out internationally for two decades on comparing whatever it is Anglo-American center-rightists despise (the European Union, the Euro, global warming alarmists, George Soros) to communism. It's a juvenile and arguably obscene comparison − and a kissing cousin to the rising trend of finding "fascism" behind every action and statement of whatever U.S. political grouping or politician you dislike − but what makes it all the more intriguing to those of us who have actually covered his long record in office is that the Thatcher-lovin', Hayek-namedroppin', would-be Milton Friedmanite has, since at least the first half of the 1990s, governed to the economic left of the Hungarian Socialist Party. While jealously protecting centralized power, resisting most efforts to come to public (let alone legal) terms with the Communist crimes of the past, and generally being a grade-A asshole.
Anyway, Klaus was at the National Press Club in D.C. yesterday, touting his new Competitive Enterprise Institute-published book Blue Planet in Green Shackles - What Is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?, and challenging Al Gore to a debate on climate change (now that I'd love to see!). Obligatory commies-under-your-bed quote:
Klaus, an economist, said he opposed the "climate alarmism" perpetuated by environmentalism trying to impose their ideals, comparing it to the decades of communist rule he experienced growing up in Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia.
"Like their (communist) predecessors, they will be certain that they have the right to sacrifice man and his freedom to make their idea reality," he said.
"In the past, it was in the name of the Marxists or of the proletariat - this time, in the name of the planet," he added.
Is there an authoritarian, or at least worryingly interventionist, strain in modern environmentalism? Did some notorious Reds quickly change their spots to Green? No doubt. Is now the time to stand athwart climate regulation yelling "Stop!" Probably! But it's striking to me that climate change skepticism − which almost always takes the high road of Science and Rationality − can so easily, in the hands of crude rhetoriticians like Klaus, rely on a little doomsday hyperbole of its own.
And though it wouldn't improve the comparison to a political system that will never be reintroduced in the west (thanks in no small part to heroes like Vaclav Klaus), I could swallow the Red card much easier were it to come from someone, like that other Vaclav, who actually confronted the Big Red Machine in real time.
An ambitious character named Vlastik Klein (whom some commentators speculate is modeled on Havel's political rival, current president Vaclav Klaus, although he differs from Klaus in important ways) embodies the materialistic, mobster-driven world of eastern Europe in the 1990s. Klein slyly ousts the Chancellor from his government villa, then buys it himself and converts it into a shopping mall complete with brothel.
At this point in their advancing lives, the decades' worth of rancor and score-settling between the two Vaclavs has begun, in my judgment, to cloud both of their judgments. Which is kind of poetic, since few if any other post-commie countries can boast of having two such visionary and effective leaders for so long.
From reason's rich archive: John Fund interviewed Klaus in June 1990. Thomas W. Hazlett cheered "The Czech Miracle" in early 1995, then soured on Klaus' record three years later. And in May 2003, I teased out the Dueling Vaclavs idea in a profile of the little mumbly one.