Alejandro Chafuen, Acton’s Managing Director, International, wrote recently in Forbes to give his thoughts on a recent survey that examined young Europeans’ attitudes toward various strains of totalitarianism. Attitudes in different countries vary, of course, and – unsurprisingly – communism is viewed more favorably in countries that were never behind the Iron Curtain than in many eastern ones where the historical memory of it lives on.
I have been reading most of the fundraising appeals sent out by think tanks and other organizations that promote a free economy. Almost all of these requests present the frightening scenario of a more “socialist” United States, seeking to convince donors that their organization has the best strategy to oppose the socialist road to serfdom.
The growing acceptance of socialism by young voters is indeed a problem that sooner or later will have a negative effect on the business climate of the United States and our future as a free society.
The United States, however, is not the only country where the younger generation sees socialism and other totalitarian doctrines in a more favorable light. Last month I was in Oxford at a meeting of the Vanenburg Society (the major conference of the Center for European Renewal, a group of leading conservative intellectuals). One of the subjects of discussion was a multi-country research project entitled “Totalitarianism in the Postmodern Age: A Summary of the Report on Young People’s Attitudes to Totalitarianism.” The project’s leading scholar was Rev. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, head of the Department of Political Theory and Thought at the Institute of Political Science, part of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw.
The project analyzed seven European countries: Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. The results showed some commonalities but also broad differences among the youth of those countries. The postmodern age, in which very few people are “convinced about the existence and recognizability of objective truth,” create the conditions that might lead to different types of totalitarianism, according to Mazurkiewicz and his co-writers. The authors of the study speak of a new totalitarianism characterized as a “bipolar affective disorder: antipathy toward ‘the other,’ especially to those who are deemed to be guardians of the old order (even symbolically) and thus representing a threat to the process of emancipation; and also enthusiastic engagement in the activities of one’s own group who regard themselves as ‘enlightened.’”
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(Homepage photo: former border fence in the Czech Republic. Pudelek, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.)