Via a comment by Smoking Lamp, this report:
One of the most notable legal changes in the Czech Republic this year has been a ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants that entered force before the summer. However a new opinion poll suggests that almost three-fifths of Czechs believe the prohibition is too strict.
The first thing that struck me about this was that there was some sort of public debate about the new smoking ban taking place in the Czech Republic, with public opinion being polled. How wonderful! There is no public debate in the UK about the smoking ban that was introduced in the UK on 1 July 2007. And there was no public debate about it back in 2007 either.
All of which means that the Czech Republic is a much more democratic country (i.e. one in which public opinion is consulted) with a much richer public discourse than the UK.
The second thing that struck me was that Czech smoking prevalence was almost certainly much higher than in the UK or France or Germany, because until around 1990 it had been part of the socialist Eastern Bloc in which Western antismoking zealotry had never taken root.
And the third thing that struck me was that most Czechs could probably see in state-legislated smoking bans an echo or repetition of the top-down, state-controlled Eastern Bloc from which they had only recently escaped. And they do not like what they see.
And the fourth thing that struck me was that while the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union had only recently been freed from top-down socialist state control, the Western world has everywhere been becoming more and more top-down, state-controlled, and centralised. The two sides – capitalists and communists – have been, in effect, swapping places. It was Mikhail Gorbachev who remarked that the European Union was reconstructing the structures of Soviet state control within Europe, just as they were being dismantled in Russia.
“The most puzzling development in politics during the last decade is the apparent determination of Western European leaders to re-create the Soviet Union in Western Europe.”
Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising. At any one time, the critics of any society will be pointing out its present, most glaringly obvious defects. And so in the capitalist West social critics were usually criticizing capitalism, and in the communist East social critics (e.g. Solzhenitsyn) were usually criticizing communism. In a swinging pendulum, the most powerful counterforce to its motion is found at each extreme of its swing, and pushing in the opposite direction.
People are always responding to their own personal experience. If they find fault anywhere, it must be in their own societies rather than anybody else’s. Martin Luther found fault in European Catholic Christianity because that was where he lived. And if his namesake Martin Luther King found fault with the absence of civil rights in the USA, it was because he lived in the USA. Both wrote and spoke from out of their own experience.
In the UK there has long been a powerful reaction against unfettered capitalism, ever since the industrial revolution that began circa 1750. The “dark satanic mills” of Manchester or Huddersfield provided a powerful impulse in opposition to them. But the most powerful impulse towards socialism must happen during wartime, when the state calls up young men to fight in its army, and industry is set to work making armaments. The wartime state is always a top-down-controlled socialist state in which the goals of the state (self-preservation) gain priority over all personal or individual aspirations.
And so if at the end of WW2 Britain became a socialist state under the 1945 Labour government of Clement Attlee, it was because it had already just experienced some six years of socialism from 1939 to 1945, and returning servicemen dreamed of harnessing the newly-created socialist state in the service of peace rather than war, with the state-controlled factories producing houses and cars and radios rather than guns and bombs and ships.
And perhaps exactly the same explanation applied in Russia in 1917? For in 1914, at the outset of WW1, Russia also became a top-down-controlled socialist state, as millions of Russians were called up to fight, and Russian factories and farms were requisitioned to provide munitions and supplies for the Russian armies facing those of Germany and Austria. And it was these returning soldiers and sailors who rallied around Lenin when he arrived in St Peterburg with his socialist doctrine. All they had to do was to continue what Tsar Nicholas II had inadvertently started.
So also with Germany? Hitler was a decorated soldier in WW1, and so were many members of the Nazi party. He too had experienced socialist state control during WW1, and resolved to build a new national socialist German state, and gained just as much support in Germany as Lenin had in Russia.
The lesson would seem to be that, if you want to build a centralised, top-down-controlled, socialist state, you should fight a war. And if you want a socialist revolution that overthrows the existing order, you should not only fight a war, but you should also lose that war. For the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia came in the wake of defeat by Germany. And the communist Chinese revolution came in the wake of defeat by Japan. For the experience of defeat in war must always be more powerful and compelling than the experience of victory. If Britain had been defeated in either WW1 or WW2, there would probably have been a communist revolution. It didn’t, and so it instead enjoyed a peacefully-elected socialist government and a “mixed” (half privately-owned, half state-owned) economy.
But the principal victor after WW1 and WW2 was the USA. And because it was a victor, it did not experience a revolution, nor even a socialist government. But one of the prices of victory was that the USA then became a global policeman in place of the British Empire which it superseded. The USA maintained (and still maintains) a fleet that is at least as large as the British navy ever was. And, after WW2, it found itself being drawn into wars in Korea, and then Vietnam, and in many other places, including most recently Iraq and Afghanistan.
And so the USA has been more or less constantly fighting wars for the past 70 years. And it has very arguably lost all those wars. Was the Korean war a victory? No, North Korea remained a communist state. Was Vietnam a victory? No. Were Iraq or Afghanistan victories? No.
And because it has been fighting all these wars, the USA has arguably gradually been itself becoming yet another top-down-controlled socialist state, much like the Soviet Union. Power has become ever more centralised in the US presidency, much as it was in the General Secretaries of the USSR (e.g. Joseph Stalin). And the US federal government also greatly expanded in power, as should be expected in wartime. And the USA has a whole set of intelligence agencies in the CIA and FBI and NSA, just like the old Soviet KGB and NKVD. It even has a prison gulag system to rival that of the Soviet Union, with over 2 million prisoners. And if KGB chairman Yuri Andropov became the General Secretary of the USSR, then CIA Director George H.W. Bush became President of the United States. And might not antismoking and global warming zealotry be a form of American Lysenkoism?
The two rival powers gradually came to resemble each other more and more. They became mirror images of each other. One might even go on to suggest that Donald Trump is a latter-day Mikhail Gorbachev, who is setting out to fundamentally reform the US government, and “drain the swamp” in Washington in much the same way that Gorbachev attempted in Moscow.
One difference between the Russian and American experiences over the past century or so has been that state socialism appeared almost overnight in Russia in 1917, and became gradually less oppressive over the next 70 years. But in the USA (and Europe), state socialism has been gradually increasing its grip on society. And more or less all US and EU politicians are socialists or “progressives” in some degree or other. And government and universities and mainstream media are filled with socialists. US mainstream media organisations like CNN, MSNBC, etc, may not be state-owned, but they are very often privately owned by socialists, which amounts to the same thing.
But now that there is a pretty thoroughly top-down-controlled socialist European Union, and an almost-equally socialist USA (or parts of the USA, like California), a reaction has begun to set in. People are getting sick of top-down control. Brexit is one result. The election of Donald Trump another. And we can expect to see the same pattern being reproduced all over Europe in the coming years, particularly in former Eastern Bloc countries like the Czech Republic, which have no wish to repeat inside the EU the experience of Eastern Bloc socialism from which they have only recently emerged, and which remains fresh in their memory. It is in these former Eastern Bloc countries that the new political leadership of Europe (e.g. Vaclav Klaus, Viktor Orban) is likely to emerge. And it will be these former Eastern Bloc countries which will likely start leaving the socialist EU as its strictures become more and more intolerable (examples 1, 2, 3)
And there is of course no better example of excessive top-down state control than the smoking bans which have been sweeping Europe for the past decade or more, as well of the wave of migrants that have been sweeping over Europe at the same time. These are the present experiences of Europeans, and it will be to these that they will begin (and already have begun) responding.