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The Politics of Greed


There is an unfortunate economic tailpiece, though, to Havel's avowed political European preoccupation, for "living the truth". In effect the Czech antipathy toward its past communist regime among the thereby so-called "disappointed generation" (disappointed in communism) was matched, according to American political scientist, Andrew Schwartz (6), in his Politics of Greed, by their fervency for capitalism. This disappointed generation – joined by the youngest Czech adults – justified capitalism as a programme of change, a plan of action that would return the nation to the West (our "North-west"). To these Czechs, capitalism was not some utopian ideology, like socialism, that had existed mostly in the minds and manuscripts of 19th-century philosophers. Capitalism was a pragmatic economic development strategy that had proved successful in the startling economic growth of Western Europe since the Second World War, combined with the obvious prosperity of the U.S. Havel's successor, Vaclav Klaus, the unofficial chieftain of the disappointed generation, stated as much: “We are not interested in new experiments; we've just ended 40 years of one failed economic experiment and now we want to stick with what has been proved."

The Czech passion for capitalism, then, was matched by a shared innocence of "really existing capitalism". Many young Czech economists learned contemporary economics from classical economic texts such as those of arch neo-liberal Milton Friedman or Harvard's Paul Samuelson. Few Czechs were well versed in (or took seriously) the modern discourses of institutional economics or in the growth of Asian economies. The disappointed generation supported a capitalist agenda with strikingly little regard for the opinions of those with market expertise, though they themselves came to political life with minimal market experience.


This disappointed generation, for Schwartz then, found common cause in the ranks of macroeconomists and mathematically oriented economists who had existed in obscurity. Among them were, most especially, Vaclav Klaus. He had worked in the communist state bureaucracy and had been consigned to a life of mediocrity with no hope of career advancement. But he, and other kindred spirits among Czech economists, had an extra qualification for the adoration of the disappointed generation. They could plausibly claim a technical, scientific and indeed Western measure of understanding that stood in sharp contrast to the Marxist babble of their superiors. Like religious priests, the economists claimed special dispensation form the trinity of Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher and Friedrich Hayek. Klaus in fact published in the dissident newspaper Lidove noviny under the pseudonym F.M. – Friedman, Milton. Together with others of his ilk, he rose to prominence when the communist regime was toppled in November 1989.

Czech dissidents like Vaclav Havel as we have seen, unlike the disappointed generation, were outsiders. These true heroes openly battled the hated communists for years. In addition the dissidents communicated in a discourse, as we have seen in this chapter, unintelligible to the pro-capitalist disappointed generation. The dissidents were intellectuals – men and women trained in philosophy, mathematics, physics, literature and the law. The dissidents spoke of morality, human dignity, and of ethics – ethereal matters presumably linked to man's existential crisis. The rule of law, not the rule of men, was at the heart of the dissidents' message. The dissidents were the public defenders of the Czech souls.

The problem for the dissidents, though, was that the disappointed generation was more furious about earthly concerns – money, career, travel – than moral ones. The dissidents were regarded as "out of the real world" and therefore unable to relate to the concrete, pragmatic concerns of the common people. The disappointed generation sought to better their lives and only secondarily to cleanse their souls. Thus it was the neoliberals, through their control over the economic agenda, especially through privatization policy, rather than the dissidents who loomed as the communist heir apparent on the eve of the upheaval in 1989.

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