Joan Miro. Rope and People I. 1935. Výřez.

The Stupidification of Democracy Has Spilled into the Czech Lands

In both liberal and conservative Western societies, a certain panic is slowly settling in. The traditional wailing of Czech citizens about a world gone mad is now a global craze, exemplified by sayings such as “the elites are distancing themselves from the citizens and their concerns” or that we are entering into  a “world of posturing” in an age of “post-truth”. Some would say that we are living in the “Age of Bullshit.” 

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been constant talk of a “crisis of ideology”. Yet facts have not disappeared, nor have the objective methods used to interpret them. So what’s happening?

It seems that   after one hundred and fifty years, traditional political schools have lost their spot with  the “common man”. Instead of listening to experts, people today increasingly hark to populists, to clowns and to plebeians with no program or tradition. But this isn’t new.  It’s not too long ago that perverse populists and madmen like Mussolini, Hitler, or Gottwald, were elected by the masses in free elections.

The democratic West has yet to learn the lessons provided by totalitarian regimes, where hundreds of millions of people truly loved their executioners. The greatest murderer of modern time - Stalin - is still admired  by sixty percent of Russians.

You might say so what, if the “people” in today’s democracies are sometimes r wrong or even if they occasionally  lose their minds? After all, the classic form of democracy and its political parties still continues to survive on its own after two centuries. 

Not quite.

Four pillars

Since ancient Greece, the idea of idea of democracy has been built on the communication of ideas among the citizens of the community, symbolized by a shared ideology. Today, successful democracies typically espouse positive examples of success or cultural exclusivity. But there exist democracies with  negative ideologies, with a victim complex, such as those of n Central Europe, as well as some in Latin American and Arab countries.

The four pillars of democracy – political ideology, communication, citizenship and a shared ideology all supported the construction of the community.  In ancient times this was reinforced by  belief in common gods and by the  accepted duty of every citizen (at the time only men) to be part of and to defend the community. Logically,  all the pillars had to be in balance, otherwise the structure would be in danger of collapse. What then, has led to a change in their current relationship?

Freedom does not equal democracy

By the end of the nineteenth century, ideologies began to reflect those of individual groups, classes, and economic interests. They also served to become a major focus for the new emergent middle class. Gradually – and very often undemocratically – democratic politics began to be squeezed into the framework of  nation- states and their competition, including colonial expansionism. The emergent confrontational and negative model of the nation- state led to two world wars, both sanctioned by  democratic principles as well as a public that entered them with enthusiasm on all sides.  Further development of political ideas via modern democracy was hindered by the wars and by totalitarian regimes.

In 1989, the seeming permanence of the Cold War collapsed.  However, democracy had little to offer newcomers, besides the l copying of age-old institutions and the rituals of national states that in the best case, at least engaged in dialogue with each other. Even successful attempts to innovate political democracy, such as the promotion of individual human rights via international treaties such as the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe of 1975, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Convention Against Torture,  the reform of the Security Council UN and the idea of an International Criminal Tribunal, were quickly forgotten and abandoned after 1989.

The cracks of parliamentary democracy were evident. Dictators were winning  free elections one after another in post-communist countries, while a new post-communist mafia dominated key areas of law and justice. Established Western democracies failed as vanguards against China, Russia, and Latin America in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

Despite lofty words of victory over totalitarian ideologies, time has shown that the automatic transition of societies and market economies from dictatorship to democracy simply does not exist. As a result, today’s political ideology is essentially a useless article for home consumption.  Its place has been (re)taken by nineteenth century ideology focused on national identity and on foreign “evils.”

Mass communication and the decline of the citizen

Instead of the creation of a responsible citizen in a self-reflective society, we are witness to the emergence of the an unconscious mass consumer in an  industrialized world entirely devoid of the influence of political ideology. The middle class, which was originally the main guarantor of the rule of law and a stable democracy, has become a consumer society without any true ideals. Formerly respected, the values and the ideas represented by the elites regarding education, nobility, church, and political influence are no longer of any interest. . Instead, they have been replaced by sports, entertainment and by tabloid gossip in terms of both interest and influence.

The development of mass communication, and technology, along with the transformation of political communication into  forwarding  information in  real time, , has completely transformed all social communication. The content of media language has been completely devalued, with the dialogue of political candidates following suit., Those with ideas and solutions retreated before the those espousing confrontation at all costs through brutal jabs and short soundbites. The long-term interests and benefits of the municipality ceased to be important, because they t became too difficult to communicate. A citizen, living through his permanent responsibility within the village, was no longer of any significance. . The emphasis on winning at all costs has degraded respect for any knowledge in the social sphere. Today, opinion based  on emotions, is more important  than the facts -  precisely the essence of totalitarianism. Today, this is the mortal danger to democracy.

In what is known as the Dunning - Kruger's Effect, "  American psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger demonstrated that the less we know , the more we are convinced about the correctness of our opinions and of our own value. The authors summarize their research into a single sentence: "Not only do these people make mistakes and make unhappy choices, but their incompetence provides them with the inability to even admit it." [1]

Information overflow

In creating a state of total congestion by information, the development of information technology has revealed the fundamental weakness of democracy.  The role of the information disseminator has changed, especially as regards the politician and journalist. The journalist profession, once respected and bound by fixed ethical codes that reflected its social status as the monitor of power has lost its meaning in the chaos of information overproduction and infotainment. Today, a "journalist" is anyone with their finger on a mobile phone. There are no professional and moral limitations. The same effect is seen in finance. It’s called hyperinflation, and has devastating consequences for both the economy and company policy.  Hyperinflation of information is the same: the conscious lie creates a valid fact.

In 2015, in an extensive poll in the US, registered voters of Republican and Democratic parties were asked, among other things, if they would support an air strike and bombing of Agrabah. 43% of  Republicans and 55% of Democrats had a clear and firmly defined opinion on the subject.  However, Agrabah simply does not exist, except as a term in 25-year old cartoon movies [2]. Today, having a strong opinion is more important than knowing the facts.

The Czech tradition of faking the truth

Even today's Czech political democracy operates in an environment without generally accepted political ideas - and even without the participation of citizens. But the Czech situation is influenced by the absence of a co-adopted and experienced narrative or, if you wish, a myth even more so than are Western democracies. It is a Czech specialty that the rejection of facts and reality has been an almost mandatory part of its national culture since the nineteenth century. In this respect, the Czech society has a considerable advantage over Western companies, which have come to a similar situation in response to later changes in information technology. The spirit of the "fanciful" (prof. Třeštík) or the "unconceivable" Czech nation (Kundera) has broken apart into hardly interconnected "tribes" that have lived in different myths about the past and the future from the nineteenth century. The facts and the true picture of reality in the Czech national context rarely represented the indisputable basis of a common story. The twentieth century strengthened this weakness. Few European societies carry so many unsupported stories and so many unpunished crimes as the Czech one. It is rarely possible that lies, half-truths and misinterpretations of tens of years old events have been abused in contemporary politics, as is the case in Czech politics. "Not only do these people make mistakes and make unhappy choices, but their incompetence prepares them for the ability to admit it." Czech histories created and consciously maintained "bullshit" and is a perfect reflection of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Munich crisis, the breakdown of the second republic, the post-war destruction of the representatives of the domestic and western resistance, organized "expulsion" of the German minority (the term of President Eduard Benes), postwar anti-Semitism, political processes of the 1940s and 1950s, "normalization" with other political processes, murders at the border, the criminality of the Communist regime, whose superiors agreed and signed the plans of the Warsaw Pact for an aggressive war against the West using atomic weapons, at the cost of predicted seventy per cent losses on the lives of Czechoslovak citizens ... But also the propaganda of the November “revolution”, the great economic reform of the 1990s , advent of coupon privatization, immorality and corrupting of the current "traditional political parties" - evidence of the slipperiness of Czech politics, in which the purposeful misconduct was elevated to the public communications hall, is all too much.

People do not change. We are the same as our ancestors. Only with knowledge of their heroism, successes, past mistakes or crimes do we have the chance to go further than they did. There is nothing like a "post-truth" or "post-facto world". It also insists that only the respect for the truth and the facts can build a peaceful and unconfident future of incomplete communities. In the grey and murky waters of inflation, information and facts are more important than ever. Hope for the future in the new world could therefore become a modern Czech story deprived of lies about the past. The relative smallness of the Czech environment could only be an advantage when trying to find a common value threshold. The political ideas of democracy, equality, justice and human rights have not taken. Nor did they obey the obligations of educated elites. In the new information world, democracy must learn to speak with the emancipated "people," the "ridiculousness" of the world such as entertainment as quickly as possible. Nearly 40-year-old prophecies by Neil Postman about free consumer companies that voluntarily die have to be taken seriously. What is more important and promising is to constantly renew the conversation about the community and the obligations of the citizen. That is the purpose of a “thoughtful nation”.

[1] Tom Nichols, How America Lost Faith in Expertise And Why That's a Giant Problem, Foreign Affairs, březen/duben 2017 -

[2] Tom Nichols, ibid.

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