Snimila: A. Dybowska | Ryszard Legutko
When I hear the rhetoric of today’s anti-Christian crusaders in my own country, which is claimed to be the most Catholic country in the world, I am shattered. Such aggressive foul language against religion I have never heard in my entire life, not even under the communist regime.

The occasions in which the interlocutors of Glas Koncila’s central interviews were politicians, can be considered more than exceptional. But in the case of Ryszard Legutko, Polish politician from the European Parliament, it was worth to repeat this exception. Except his political engagement, he is a distinguished university teacher from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and an expert in philosophy of antiquity and in political theory. His views on European union, and the spirit and the culture of modern West, which Legutko accepted to share with the readership of Glas Koncila, are in demand not just by Polish newspapers and televisions, but also by some of the world’s most respected media, such as »Le Figaro« and »Wall Street Journal«. Although the main spices of his public appearances are civility and argumentation, many members of political and media arena tried to silence Legutko. Therefore, it is not the first time in the long history of Glas Koncila that our newspapers welcomed an interlocutor who was declared a heretic by a loud self-proclaimed minority of truth-interpreters.

Dear professor Legutko, thank you for accepting our proposal for the interview in Glas Koncila. Let us begin from the actualities. Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, what has left of the European union? It seems that the European narrative about solidarity, free and fair trade, traveling without restrictions, exchange of knowledge, common European values and joint decision making has changed almost overnight. Now the EU seems like a union of selfish and distrustful neighbors, locked behind their own doors…

Not exactly. The European narrative about solidarity, etc., is still there. This does not preclude the conflicts between member states and the power struggle. I would say that the former narrative clearly predominates. Since the EU has managed to create a sort of Eurospeak, a form of Orwellian Newspeak, it is obvious that this is the way the official statements or debates are expressed. Even when the Brits were leaving, and the big guys were imposing their policies on the less strong countries, it was always articulated in the discourse of European solidarity and European values. There are, I think, two possible, non-divergent explanations. The first is that the degree of hypocrisy in the EU has reached a new record. Hypocrisy in politics abounds, but in the EU, it simply overflows. The other explanation is that the Eurospeak and the monopoly of one ideology we have been observing for the last decades have created a new European man, or rather a new Western man, whose language – not unlike his Soviet counterpart in the past – is very limited and can express mostly the ideological clichés and prejudices. It is extremely difficult to talk about concrete things or concrete problems because we have too many ready-made formulas and linguistic rituals. Listening to the debates in the European Parliament – or so-called debates, I should say – may be quite painful for everyone who has respect for language and its communicative as well as aesthetic function.

In one of your addresses in European Parliament you have warned that the EU has been highjacked by the left. What is the genesis of the domination of the left in European mainstream politics? Why did the conservative parties renounce their ideals and became similar to the center-left parties? Were the conservatives deceived if the thought they could coexist with the left, be silent for some time and wait for the right moment to act?

Historically speaking, a tremendous shift to the Left in the entire Western world happened after the 1968 sexual revolution.

»Communism came out of the heart of Western culture and was never an alien body. True, the Soviets, the Chinese, etc., provided it each with their own garnish, but the idea was essentially Western. And this is the reason why communism has never been seen as a really bad guy«

What from the Eastern European perspective looked like a gigantic festival of spoilt brats was in fact a cultural earthquake that changed the institutions and restructured the political scene. This revolution turned the private into the political – since that time, marriage, family, even sex have become the object of aggressive ideological pressure and used as a vehicle to recycle social fabric and morality. All this provided the left-wing groups with powerful fuel for change and put the conservative side on the defensive. Since the conservatives were the losing party, they quickly decided to adapt to the new mental situation by abandoning their traditional principles, which, among others, aimed at protecting the private against the political, that is, protecting marriage, family, social morality, against radical experiments. Today conservative parties practically ceased to exist in Western Europe. Suffice it to say that the same-sex laws were introduced in France by the Socialists, in Britain by the Conservatives, in Germany by the grand coalition led by the Christian Democrats. The most visible example of the degradation of West European political conservatism is the European People’s Party, EPP, led in the European Parliament by Manfred Weber from Bavarian CSU and in Europe by Donald Tusk, former President of European Council and Poland’s Prime Minister, the man known for his complete disdain for any principles. The EPP has surrendered to the Left and unconditionally accepted its agenda. I cannot remember a single instance that they opposed the Left in the matters that are essential for conservative identity, such as abortion, subsidiarity, family, nation-state. I find today’s EPP pathetic. Those conservative parties in Europe, such as Vox in Spain and Fratelli d’Italia in Italy, are objects of massive attacks, abusive comments, vilification and lies, and the political mainstream, including those that are supposed to be – nominally, at least – conservative. If I were to describe in one word the main problem with the West European so-called conservatives from the mainstream, this word would be – capitulation.

In the book »Demon in Democracy« you explain many disturbing similarities between liberal democracy and communism, such as ideological zeal, social engineering, the politization of private life, the unshakable belief in progress… But, liberal democracy, similar to communism, is also very irritated by the traditional family and Christian religion. Why?

We should remember that both liberal democracy and communism, whatever the difference, belong to the same tradition of modernity or, to be more precise, of modernisation. In both cases, the tendency is to do away with the old and to replace it with the new. In this modernist tradition, certain things were particularly irritating because they stood in the way of progress, were considered obsolete, but – and this was particularly annoying – refused to disappear. These were – nation, family, and religion. Without them, the communist society and the liberal society would have been more successful. They are believed to be the carriers of the old, that is, of prejudices, outworn beliefs, irrational sentiments, hierarchic structures. Liberalism was, in theory, slightly less uncompromising than communism because it wanted to dilute family, nation, and religion, not to do away with them. Recently, however, as a result of the emergence of neo-Marxist ideologies such as feminism and genderism, to which liberalism acquiesced and with which it allied itself, hostility towards religion and family became particularly violent. When I hear the rhetoric of today’s anti-Christian crusaders in my own country, which is claimed to be the most Catholic country in the world, I am shattered. Such aggressive foul language against religion I have never heard in my entire life, not even under the communist regime.

You also address the problem of the transformation of ex-communist elites into »decent European citizens« right after the fall of the Berlin wall. The Western liberal democrats were very prone to give them advices and help them get into governing positions and eliminate the potential influence of dissidents from the communist era. What is the logic behind this strange alliance of communist apparatchiks and liberal democracy?

Again, the answer is fairly simple. Communism came out of the heart of Western culture and was never an alien body.

»Now I know whenever there is a body or an organization that includes in its name such words as pluralism, openness, diversity, etc., we immediately have to run for life because this body or organisation imposes censorship, tracks down all possible dissenters, and kills free thought«

True, the Soviets, the Chinese, etc., provided it each with their own garnish, but the idea was essentially Western. And this is the reason why communism has never been seen as a really bad guy. Perhaps it was a bad guy in the States for some time, but it did not last long. But Europe was predominantly sympathetic to communism because it represented, first, egalitarian sensibility so close to the heart of modernity and, second, rational organization of society. Those two ideas are still crucial for the Left which has dominated the Western world for some time. They are even close to liberal democrats, who also are egalitarians and aim to restructure society, not in the way the original communism intended, but certain ideas remained. I already mentioned their hostility to family and religion. It was obvious that once the communist system collapsed, the Western establishment will not turn to the East European conservatives but to the former communists, especially that those communists from the very beginning declared themselves reformed, modern and modernizing, progressive, European. The illusion some of us had was that today’s liberal democrats are pluralistic and that therefore they would welcome diversified societies and would engage with the conservatives in a mutually eye-opening debate. Nothing can be further from the truth. They are closed, dogmatic, single-minded, and they do not tolerate any dissent.

How do you comment on the strong rise of Big Tech’s influence? The censorship and excommunication of Donald Trump from social media, while he was still the American president (and by this, one of the most powerful people in the world), seems like a disturbing precedent

It relates to what I said before. In the offensive against Trump, all possible moral, social, and legal rules were violated. There was not a lie, or an insult that was not or at least could not be said with the approval of the entire establishment – media, corporations, universities, NGOs, etc. And millions of people plus the most powerful institutions did not mind it. In fact, they encouraged it and were doing it themselves. This anti-Trump crusade provides a terrifying picture of an overwhelming political and ideological power that can do whatever they like because there is not anyone strong enough to defy them with success. The same has been happening in Europe and in the European Union, where anything can be said or done about those outside the establishment. The furious attacks on Poland and Hungary are just a case in point. The freedom of speech, in fact, any kind of freedom, is conspicuously larger in my country than anywhere in Western Europe. So what? It is not freedom that matters. We have less and less freedom in the Western world, which makes the mainstream rather happy. What matters for them is adherence to ruling orthodoxy. The only way out of it is to create alternative institutions, structures, and organizations, which is extremely difficult. But counting on the other side’s goodwill, decency, rules of civility, etc., is suicidal. Nothing short of unconditional capitulation will satisfy them.

Two years ago you had a very unpleasant experience at Middlebury Colledge in Vermont, when the college administration canceled your lecture, pressured by radical group of »progressive« students. How do such events explain the state of academic community in the Western universities?

I had read a lot about the de-platforming of various guests at American and European campuses, but I never thought I would become one of the victims. On the one hand, what struck me was a shockingly high degree of cowardice among the academic staff and administration. Their kowtowing to the radicals who more often than not behave like hooligans is simply pathetic. I have a feeling that this ideological hooliganism has become accepted as an integral part of the modern university. On the other, I noticed an equally shocking degree of intellectual closeness of the students and many academics. A civil conversation, an exchange of views is practically impossible since the first thing to be done is purging the space from all potential enemies. What is bizarre about it is that the people and organizations that do it do it in the name of openness. This proves how mendacious a liberal democratic world has become. Now I know whenever there is a body or an organization that includes in its name such words as pluralism, openness, diversity, etc., we immediately have to run for life because this body or organisation imposes censorship, tracks down all possible dissenters, and kills free thought. The elimination of civil discourse from campuses, from the humanities and from public space at large I see as a symptom of the emergence of new despotism. We have been sliding into a version of the brave new world, or a system that Tocqueville described in the last chapters of his Democracy in America.

How to overcome contemporary crises and fears and live a wiser life?
One of the most pernicious superstitions of the modern mind is a belief in historical and civilisational inevitability. You cannot go back, there is no alternative, the world has changed, you have to accept it whether you want it or not; these are popular expressions that illustrate this attitude. But this is rubbish. You have to tell yourself that a lot in your life depends on you: what to think, how to think, how to organize your life. Do not become a slave of today’s cliches and fashions. Do not let the global corporations regulate your mind and imagination. I am afraid there is not much more I can say on this point.


Speaking about academic community, we cannot bypass the question of education in general? We often hear that lifelong learning is something that is needed today, it is not so hard to become a college educated person, STEM education praised, but on the other hand we witness a striking decrease in general knowledge, especially in history, art and literature… What would you suggest to modern day parents? How to ensure the right education and intellectual formation of their children in today’s world?

Two things have been happening with education: first, the students know less and less, and second, they are more and more indoctrinated. The amount of ignorance among young people is abysmal. What has been happening is an obvious consequence of the reforms that have been made in education over the last century or even at least since the eighteenth century. The basic idea of these reforms was that a child who will know less would know how to learn more. This, in turn, led to a conviction that education has to be as practical as possible and as relevant as possible. Things that are not practical and not relevant should go. This almost killed the humanities and social science. You mentioned STEM. Here’s a quotation: »STEM Education attempts to transform the typical teacher-centred classroom by encouraging a curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and requires students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution.« Well, this is simply poppycock, another chapter in a long story about how the modern world killed education. Of course, those young people who are strongly motivated and have high intelligence will manage, but generally, our education is a disaster. The strategy that I suggested would be the opposite: good education has always been based on the classical curricula, that is, on the disciplines that train the mind, such as mathematics and physics, and that broaden one’s perspective – classical languages, history, literature. The only way to arouse curiosity among young people is to teach them to look at the modern world from the outside perspective. Today’s approach advocates a different approach and therefore produces thoughtlessness. We look at the ancient world, old literature, middle ages, Renaissance poetry, etc., from today’s point of view, that is, from the perspective of feminism, gender, class, race, etc. Why not look at our today’s pieties from the point of view of Thomas Aquinas or Dante, assuming that they have something to teach us? Unless we learn to learn from the richness of Western culture, education is doomed.

BIOGRAPHY: Ryszard Antnoni Legutko was born in Krakow on December 24th 1949. He is a member of European Conservatives ad Reformists Group in the European Parliament, and comes originally from Polish party Law and Justice. Legutko is also a longtime professor at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and the author of several books, many of which were translated into many languages. The book »Demon in Democracy«, in which Legutko analyses some frightening similarities between communism and liberal democracy, is translated into Croatian by publishing house Verbum in 2019. About the real nature of communist regime Legutko learned from his childhood, growing up in communist Poland, and later, as an editor of a dissident samizdat »Arka«.