Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

Crisis of conscience

Democracy and freedom of speech are under serious threat in Eastern Europe

In 1989, the year Soviet communism collapsed, John O’Sullivan, Margaret Thatcher’s former speechwriter, gave the world O’Sullivan’s First Law of Politics. ‘All organisations that are not actually right wing,’ he pronounced, ‘will over time become left wing.’ No one who watched Amnesty International’s descent from austere principle to cultural relativism can deny he spoke with a little truth. Yet if you listened carefully, you also caught notes of self-satisfaction and self-regard.

Subversives corrupt impartial organisations, O’Sullivan continued. They rig the system and impose their prejudices against ‘private profit, business, making money, the current organisation of society and, by extension, the Western world’. Who fought them? Who reinvigorated the West and brought down the dictatorships of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe? Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the men and women of principle who followed them. Leftists appeased the Soviet Union because they saw elements of their own beliefs in communism. The right stood tall and won an epoch-defining victory for freedom.

From the vantage point of 30 years, it is clear that the difficulty many on the right had with godless communist dictatorships was not that they were dictatorships but that they were godless. Give them dictatorial movements that revere Christian Europe, and hate not just communism but every variety of liberalism, and their principles vanish like breath on a windowpane.

Take O’Sullivan as a prime example. In last week’s Spectator he wrote one of the slyest apologias for authoritarianism I have seen in the serious press. Those who whine about attacks on the checks and balances of a free society in Hungary under Viktor Orbán and Poland under Law and Justice are indulging in the ‘fanaticism of the centre’, he said. Press freedom? Perfectly safe. Just look at the ‘lively coverage of government scandals’ from Hungary’s opposition press.

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