Building the “Parallel Polis”

Charter 77, the human rights group in the former Czechoslovakia dedicated to recognizing and protesting the lawlessness and abuses of the communist regime, turned 40 last month, and the milestone was marked by a panel discussion in Washington sponsored by the Czech Embassy and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

“The Enduring Significance of Charter 77” featured leading scholars and also Martin Palouš, one of the original 241 signatories of the Charter, who became his country’s ambassador to the United States a decade after the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Palouš called the Charter movement “a candle in the middle of the night”—the night having fallen over Czechoslovakia with the thunderous Soviet invasion of 1968. The movement emerged quietly during the dark days of what the communists called “normalization”—the restoration of “really existing socialism” after the 1968 invasion quashed the experiment in liberalization known as the Prague Spring.

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“Competition Is for Losers”

Miniature soldiers are fighting on the desk

It was supposed to make consumers happy. Last month, Target launched a line of clothes designed by Lilly Pulitzer. Within hours, however, things turned ugly. Customers flooded the stores and cleared the shelves. The story online was the same, a torrent of early sales caused Target’s website to crash and supplies to vanish. Shoppers who came up empty-handed fumed when Target announced that it would not restock the clothing line. The anger only increased when items from the limited-edition collection began popping up on eBay for several times the prices they were offered at Target.

Who would have guessed, the media wondered that the designer of preppy resort wear could cause so much trouble?

René Girard, for one.

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American Constitutionalism for a Country Without Americans

USA flag

Joseph de Maistre never met men in the abstract. Frenchmen, Italians, yes—but not “Man.” There were no universal principles of government, applicable to all men at all times, only governments suited to the different kinds of people in different countries.

Maistre was right, and to that extent, American conservatives are wrong if they think that their constitution is the perfection of human reason, a light unto the Gentiles. They’re especially wrong since the Constitution isn’t looking too good these days. One can love liberty and one can love America’s Constitution, but one can’t love both together without a thick set of blinders.

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Redeeming Liberty: Tocqueville on the Omnipresent Threat of Democratic Pantheism

“I have only one passion, the love of liberty and human dignity.”

~Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America had a great ambition: to offer the blueprint for a new science of politics in the service of freedom. The famous claim made in the introduction to the book speaks for itself: “A new political science is needed for a world entirely new” (DA, I, 16).[1] To this effect, Tocqueville brought about a new way of analyzing social and political phenomena that opposed rigid deterministic theories of political and social development. Many political events, he believed, could not be accounted for by theories pretending to explain or foresee the development of societies. In the footsteps of Montesquieu, Tocqueville recognized that all societies are diverse and pluralistic in composition, molded by a complex mix of constantly evolving factors including history, physical environment, culture, and laws. No general theory of politics could adequately capture this complex amalgam and predict the development of society: “Antecedent facts, the nature of institutions, the cast of minds and the state of morals are the materials of which are composed those impromptus which astonish and alarm us.”[2]

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