The Eastern European Connection

Balint Vazsonyi

Balint Vazsonyi

I truly wish that Americans would learn to stop caring about whether foreigners like them. What has happened to this once-proud people? Of all the reasons to dislike George Bush, one of the worst was that he was hated in Europe. The Americans who said this didn’t notice, or acknowledge, that Bush was most hated precisely when he stood up for American sovereignty and national security, or appeared to. The same thing was true for Bush Sr., and Reagan before him. Being disliked by the French was, more often than not, a sign that you were on the right track.

Nevertheless, we can feel happy when someone we like and respect, likes and respects us back. I feel this way about people from Eastern Europe who are pro-American – a couple of whom are part of my family by marriage. One of my favorite such figures is the late Balint Vazsonyi, whose book America’s 30 Years War: Who Is Winning? (1) is a good introduction to an American conservative perspective to people who may be leaning in that direction. Not having read the book in some time, I will not review it here. His basic contention, that America, founded on “English” ideals of liberty, rule of law, and so forth, is being destroyed by “Franco-German” notions of the supremacy of human reason – embodied in ideologies like Communism, Nazism, and so forth, is pretty standard conservative stuff (but is at least genuinely conservative, not neo-conservative). From the perspective of this blog, as my regular readers know, this view is inadequate in its failure to engage the racial and immigration-related aspects of our crisis. But I am interested here in the spirit of what Vazsonyi says.

When I learned about Balint Vazsonyi, he had only recently passed away of cancer (in 2003). It saddens me to think I will never be able to meet him or see him speak, because he conveys a real warmth and humanity – and love for America –  in his writing. A concert pianist, Vazsonyi arrived in the United States in 1959 as a refugee from Hungary after the failed revolt against Soviet occupation, and became a U.S. citizen in 1964. I do not know much about his career as a pianist, but at some point he decided to devote himself to the American conservative cause and became one of its most devoted advocates.

Older people from formerly Communist states like Hungary and the Czech Republic, having experienced Communism very recently, are one group of Europeans who are relatively free of anti-Americanism. And among those who have immigrated here, many seem to be reliably conservative, often more so than “conservative” Americans. Of course, the obvious explanation for this, given by Vazsonyi himself, is that they have experienced Communism first-hand and therefore are not fooled by socialism and other collectivist causes as they appear in America.

Yet this cannot be the whole story. It is not anti-Communism per se, since Eastern Europeans are quite willing to say that some things under Communism worked fairly well for them. And in some other ways, the affinity of people like Vazsonyi to American culture is puzzling, or at least intriguing. The strong Catholicism, the sense of social class, the strong provincial identities, the particularity about food and clothing, and other cultural factors do not seem to add up to a strong affinity to American Anglo-Protestant culture. And yet something is there, some kind of earthiness and work ethic, that seems to work well between us in many cases.

The deeper issue, it seems to me, is that unlike the people of Western Europe, the majority (?) of the people of Eastern Europe seem not to have succumbed to the mind-destroying powers of modern liberalism. (I am sure that it has taken root to some extent among the younger generations.) I cannot prove this myself but it is asserted by the writer Takuan Seiyo, who despite his Japanese pen (brush?) name is a Polish cosmopolitan with a strong attachment to America. Why have the Eastern Europeans not been taken over by the “pods”? Why do they remain comfortable and secure in their identity as white Christians when Western Europe and the English-speaking nations have descended into full collective madness? (I am not sure it is a deep religiosity – the Czechs, at least, seem very secularized.) One could, no doubt, cite their history, religion, and other concrete factors in explanation. But in nations there is also something intangible called character, and that is what I would like to know more about.

I believe we could do worse than to listen to the voices of East Europeans. Czech president Václav Klaus is another public figure from whom Americans and other Westerners have much to learn. When I watched this interview on YouTube I actually felt ashamed for my country, that we should be sternly lectured by this foreign leader on our own founding principles. And, mind you, it is not as if someone like Havel has any sort of inferiority complex with regards to America or any other country. He simply understands the virtue of America’s founding principles, in a sober way, free of the hubris and utopianism that continues to pervade American conservative discourse – to say nothing of the liberal craziness.

What can we learn from the people of these smaller European nations, rarely in the center stage in the history we learn, more distant from us culturally and linguistically than the countries of Western Europe? I remain intrigued by the thought that they have got something right that we, here, just don’t get. If my readers have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

References

Balint Vazsonyi, America’s 30 Years War: Who is Winning?, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1998.

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8 Responses to The Eastern European Connection

  1. It is ironic indeed that Eastern Europe, of all places, seems to become the last bastion of Western liberty.

    As one who has never personally had to shrug off the dead yoke of communism, I might vainly spin some just-so story to attempt to expose the spirit of contemporary Eastern Europe, but my story would be little more than a plausible fabrication. I find the question almost as interesting as you do.

    If it is true that the Czechs have thoroughly secularized then one is not hopeful for their long-term prospects, but they certainly do seem to do well at the moment.

    How does Mrs. Hopewell answer your question?

    Do you not find it interesting that the wretched summer of 1968, which still holds us in thrall, broke out all over the Western world in exactly the same year—23 years after V-E, if you please? There must be something in this timing. Only slightly less interesting is that unrest broke out in Czechoslovakia in the same year.

    Howard

  2. stephenhopewell says:

    Howard –

    Thank you for commenting. Mrs. Hopewell agrees with the factors I mention, but the mystery remains. I recently saw a performance of Polish and Slovak folk dance. It strikes one as quite unlike anything that would come from Western Europe. An almost Mediterranean sensuality, with a bit of Gypsy or Turkish foreignness, and German precision.

    I am sure there are profound differences in the history of Christianity, from the Reformation period onward (and parts of Eastern Europe were Protestant for a short period), as well as their experience of modernity. And Seiyo of course talks about how they have not forgotten their history with the Muslims.

    Yes, amazing indeed what happened in 1968, Czechoslovakia included.

  3. stephenhopewell says:

    On religion in the Czech Republic, this atheist thinks it is one of THE least religious countries in Europe. I suspect it’s not this simple, but the figures are truly surprising.

    http://atheism.about.com/b/2006/02/15/czech-republic-most-atheist-country-in-europe.htm

    and:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czech_Republic#Religion

    Hungary is also fairly secular:

    http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/articles/article/Hungary/Religion-in-Hungary/387

    Slovakia is substantially different from Czech Republic:

    http://www.slovensko.com/about/religion

    Poland – still strongly Catholic:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Poland

  4. Hannon says:

    Stephen,

    Thanks for this thought-provoking article. I had not heard before the idea of English liberty and rule of law vs. the continental supreme faith in reason. This explains a lot– except the power of modern liberalism to transcend the ideas of both camps.

    You write
    “But in nations there is also something intangible called character, and that is what I would like to know more about.”

    Me, too. I’m afraid Leftist thought processes (equality, non-discrimination ad nauseam) have devastated much of this spirit of curiosity. For me this inquisitiveness, though not universal in the population, is a positive harbinger of true internationalism and even multiculturalism as opposed to what we have now: a transcultural and transnational outlook. I feel strongly about this idea of “knowing” a country by its character, that it brings us understanding we can never have by political perspective alone. It can’t be done without meeting people from those countries and especially traveling to those lands.

    I recently met a younger chap from Czech Republic and we talked for a while about various things. At one point I asked him point blank what he thought of nationalism. I don’t recall his answer in detail but it was quite reasonable– he gave it thought and told me his views. He did not retreat into reactive ideology or show any exaggerated emotion, quite unlike what I would expect if I asked an American what he thought of socialism. And yes, I was fishing for something that would help explain or link to the paranoia about nationalism in Germany and other parts. Instead I got a much more intelligent reply.

  5. I’m an admirer of Vaszonyi; reading his book back in the 90s was one of my steps toward rejecting the liberalism into which I had slipped earlier in my life, in my younger years.

    As for Eastern Europeans, I don’t know if a sweeping statement can be made about them; the Hungarians seem to be a special case, looking only at their history — such as the rebellion that led to many Hungarians, including Vazsonyi, immigrating to America.

    I’ve had considerable contact with Russian immigrants and I am not sure whether they have cast off their affinity for authoritarian government; after all, their history shows that they have lived mostly under strong rulers of some sort, and have had little experience of our style of free, or ‘democratic’ government. What was the old saying about Russia — that it was a ‘mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma’? I think we might keep that in mind.

    The Czech Republic — what do we make of their apparently approving the Lisbon Treaty? It looks as though their government is another of the globalist variety. They may have cast off their communist rulers just to be subject to another kind of tyranny.
    -VA

  6. stephenhopewell says:

    Hannon –

    Thank you. I think the idea is that modern liberalism is a development of that supreme faith in reason, although it has now morphed into something else. I found that distinction quite enlightening – the kind of thing that seems very obvious once you’ve heard it.

    VA – I was not thinking of Russians in this article; I agree with you about their authoritarian strain based on what little I know. I think you’re right that what I’m describing does not necessarily apply to the whole sweep of “Western” Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic (is there a single word for that country? I hate calling it the “Republic” all the time) seems quite secular/liberal and I understand it is developing its own Muslim problem, yet they certainly seem to have more common sense than Western Europeans (from *our* point of view).

    One thing about all these countries is that they’re small enough to have to maintain strong national identities to survive, and they’re acutely aware of differences between themselves, and less PC about how they discuss the minority groups living there (Gypsies, Jews).

  7. Old Atlantic says:

    Could Russian acceptance of authoritarianism be from Asiatic genes or influences? Or from the South?

    • stephenhopewell says:

      OA, I have no idea! How different are Russians, genetically, from Western Europeans? Anyway, I’m not sure what the link is between Asian genes and authoritarianism. Asian societies certainly seem to be more conformist than Western ones; on the other hand, the Japanese, for instance, have a scrupulous sense of fairness and come down quite hard on corruption at times. Some aspects of their society seem to me more democratic than ours are….

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