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Slave to Prejudice

A scholar or a journalist endeavors to sway the reader through a variety of approaches. Politically, the most sophisticated tackle is to castigate through praising. Under the guise of applauding his subject, the writer, in fact, censures it. Arguably the most prevalent style is fake impartiality, where the writer feigns objectivity. While suavely manipulating the fact and prose, he converts the reader to his point of view. All the time the writer pretends that he professes no opinion whatsoever. Perhaps the most exceptional phenomenon is honest subjectivism. According to this tradition, the author does not hide his preferences but states them openly from the beginning. He fairly weighs both the positive and the negative aspects of his subject.

Paul Hockenos’s Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe is a clear-cut example of Manichean subjectivism. The author represents the forces of good on the crusade against the forces of evil: fascists, neo-Nazis, and skinheads. Although their ranks are minuscule, the people of Eastern Europe tolerate them and that necessitates an offensive of “tolerance” and liberalism.

Now, to sell a work crafted according to this convention, the ideology of the author must be congruous with the prevailing intellectual climate. Rest assured: Hockenos is politically correct. He also suffers from extreme apriorism.

The author claims that there are “two general concepts of the nation: the civic or democratic, and the ethnic.” The civic designation comes from “the French Revolution.” Within this tradition, “a nation” means a nebulous and eclectic body of individuals constituting a state. “The civic nation-state is thus synonymous with constitutional democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.”

The ethnic state is a society based on common “descent, language, customs, and history.” According to Hockenos, the ethnic state is a threat to the united Europe and democracy because “its ideology…sanctions autocracy, racism, ethnic hatred, expansionism, and revanchism.” Hockenos considers those to be “conservative” phenomena. Something in this picture is askew.

Didn’t the American nation arise out of a people of common “descent, language, customs, and history”? True, the nation grew absorbing disparate cultures and ethnic groups. But these simply embraced common “language, customs, and history.” This process is called assimilation to the dominant group of Americans by descent. It has nothing to do with “autocracy, racism,” and all other demons Hockenos imputes to a people who celebrate sharing common roots. And the demons share nothing in common with conservatism.

The choice is not between a “civic” and an “ethnic” nation but between theory and practice. The “civic nation” with its abstract “rights” is nothing but a fuzzy concoction that cannot hold up to the organic entity based on the contract between the past, present, and future generations. This is the nation that the conservatives believe in, a spiritual one.

According to the author, “the roots of conservatism” in Eastern Europe are, first, “Communist parties”, and, second, “nationalism”. Never mind that the former are revolutionary organizations and the latter is a radical creed. The author argues ingeniously that soon after seizing power the Communists discarded Marxism-Leninism only to embrace nationalism. And that for Hockenos is the principal evil of the Communist system. So countless victims of Communism are, in fact, victims of wicked nationalism? The evil was perpetrated by, of course, “conservatives” — another misnomer. Therefore the “liberal” fraction of the Communist party was an agent of “good”. The “progressive dissidents” served that role as well. But not the independentist freedom fighters. No, those were “nationalists” and thus evil.

Hockenos confused the means with the ends. The Communists of Eastern Europe no more abandoned their creed for nationalism than did Stalin when he employed “Russian patriotism” to rally the nation to defend the Bolshevik party during the Second World War. The division between “liberal” and hard-line Communists was a charade for gullible Western scholars and journalists. Both fractions wanted to retain power at all costs. True, they differed in personal histories and in tactics. However, in emergency, as when the socialist monopoly on power was threatened, neither fraction recoiled from the vilest of measures. As for the “progressive dissidents”, more often than not, they were ex-Stalinist functionaries, children of the Communist party elite, and Marxist revisionists: Trotskyites, Luxemburgists, and Maoists. Like the “liberals” within Communist parties, the “progressive dissidents” wanted to reform socialism and not dismantle it. From that point of view, they only opposed various Communist regimes, but not Communism itself. That is why Hockenos casts an evil eye upon the independentist, anti-Communist dissidents who spiritedly fought for freedom and democracy.

These days, according to the author, the post-Communist and the “nationalist” “conservatives” preach populism in unison. It manifests itself by criticizing the united Europe and free market reforms. But the pain of the market reforms caused the population to support post-Communists and nationalists. Here Hockenos tries to have his socialist cake and eat it too. Not unexpectedly, he sides with the foes of the free market. The author considers it a mistake that “the democrats”, or the adherents of the ideology of the “civic society”, support capitalism. To stop “the conservatives,” Hockenos pleads with the democrats to return to their leftist beliefs of the eighties: to the anarchical idea of the social community built from underneath; to the critique of capitalism; and to the broad front of all progressive orientations.

Trans-border regionalism should counter nationalism. Regions could be made to comply more easily with policies of international bureaucracies than nation-states. That would weaken national boundaries and facilitate the incorporation of Eastern Europe, presumably, piecemeal. Even prior, the united Europe should render economic assistance to the countries of the east. That would serve as leverage for both supporting centrifugal tendencies in individual countries and for enforcing “civil rights” there, rejoices Hockenos. Can you imagine anyone advocating removal of the borders of the USA and proposing that a supranational body would use its influence to control the internal affairs of America? Hockenos and his ilk can.

What the author cannot imagine is why so many Eastern Europeans are so anti-Communist.  Referring to Hungary and the Czech Republic, he bemoans “the abuse” because the people “have insisted that if ‘hate speech laws apply to fascist groups, then they also must apply to communist ones; if the swastika is illegal, then the hammer-and-sickle must be as well.” And so it must.

While complaining about the alleged inconsistency of the Eastern Europeans, Hockenos himself is inconsistent. For instance, he takes the side of the post-Communists and left-liberals in Hungary — and elsewhere, of course — against “the anti-Communist witch hunts”. Acting out of ill-founded “tolerance”, he adamantly opposes the removal of Communist apparatchiks from the positions of power. But then he whines bitterly that most bureaucrats still working at the Ministry of the Internal Affairs in Budapest had served there under the old regime as well. Similarly, the author advises the governments of Eastern Europe “to take legal action against militant neo-fascist groups.” But why does not Hockenos advocate applying similar measures to equally violent anarchists and equally noxious Trotskyites and others? Such unevenhandness is jarring.

It is amidst such ideological musings and logical inconsistencies that the author spins his tales of Eastern European Right. And he would have the reader believe that the Right is synonymous with skinheads, or at least related to them. How else could one explain that Hockenos mentions in the same breath the neo-pagan PWN-PSN (Polish National Community-Polish National Party) skinheads and conservative Catholic Opus Dei in Poland?

Despite the often hysterical narrative, Hockenos himself admits that the neo-Nazis and skinheads constitute a fringe that is only several thousand strong in Eastern Europe. The author’s account of eastern Germany is by far the most superior. His Hungarian story is a bit more knowledgeable than the pitifully superficial reports on the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Rumania. The chapter on Poland is simply primitive.

Now, if the author concentrated exclusively on the repugnant skinhead violence and other related and repulsive phenomena in Eastern Europe, that would be a valuable contribution to understanding the region. Instead, Hockenos used the disease afflicting the fringe of the society as an excuse to advocate the cure of globalistic liberalism as a remedy for the whole people. Moreover, he tries to force the reader to swallow this bitter pill in a propagandistic coating of the author’s leftist design. No, thanks. Who needs New York City in Wyoming or in Cracow for that matter? Perhaps the same Hockenos who calls Francis Fukuyama, you guessed it, “a conservative”.

Paul Hockenos, Free to Hate: The Rise of The Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe (New York and London: Routledge, 1994), pp. 300.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Chicago, 11 October 1996