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The Ugly Face of Solidarity

WARSAW: In Poland and other East European countries, political power is shifting into the hands of right or center/right governments. After a period of rule by supposed ex-communists, this swing is not surprising. The return or debut of a civilized right in the region may even be viewed as hopeful. But in reality, the right-wing ideologies that are emerging with these "new right" governments are potentially dangerous.

There are two ideologies of the "new" postcommunist right. Best known is a combination of nationalism, xenophobia, and religious zeal, which in Poland can be found, say, in the popular anti-Semitic homilies and radio broadcasts of Fathers Rydzyk and Jankowski. But these rants are really just a nostalgic form of the 19th’s century mix of nationalism and populism. So long as a free market economy exists and modernization proceeds, such an ideological muddle appeals to those who have lost out or think that they have lost out during the transition. This group is, however, a minority that, as the benefits of growth spread, will become smaller and smaller.

The second ideology of the new right is more interesting and more dangerous. It is a heady mix of radical conservative ideas and criticism of rationalist thinking. Of course, most conservative thought contains some anti-rationalist tendencies. From Edmund Burke to Michael Oakeshott the flaws of rationalism were quite obvious. Their critiques of the French Revolution, of the Enlightenment’s excesses, were aimed at the belief that reason is the true source of all social and political change.

Today’s new right intellectuals of Mitteleuropa carry on in that vein, believing that reason is responsible for all the miseries and stupidities committed in the 20th century. Reason is especially responsible for the excesses of something they call "postmodernism," a label undoubtedly negative, though never quite defined or made comprehensible.