Richter Scale

Vaclav Klaus, Philosopher-King

How does one best comprehend Vaclav Klaus, the Czech President?

Saddening, not maddening


  • Klaus ominously warns the world: "We should resist being seduced by philosopher-king ambitions." Rightly so. But there is one obvious problem.
  • Vaclav Klaus, at the rather advanced age of 67, still suffers from what must be an arrested opposite-day syndrome.
  • Taking independent, out-of-the-box viewpoints is constructive — and can be accomplished while serving as a country's president. That was proven in the Czech Republic itself.
  • In the gospel according to Klaus, markets are not to blame for the current financial crisis. It's government, stupid.

I remember the days when my son, around the age of ten, first cut his teeth in the real world — essentially by taking the opposite viewpoint on every topic, viewpoint and decision brought up, or made, by his parents.

Parents all over the world try to make light of those grinding moments by calling them "opposite days." You know you are alright if you apply one magical trick — just assume your boy or girl actually meant the opposite of what he or she just said.

Fortunately, those trying days are well behind us. The Czech Republic, however, is not so lucky. It has to contend with a president, Vaclav Klaus, who — at the rather advanced age of 67 — is still keen on displaying to his fellow citizens and the entire world that he suffers from what must be an arrested opposite day syndrome.

Now that his country has taken over the EU presidency, Mr. Klaus — as evidenced by his latest missive in the Financial Times — is seizing the moment by sounding off in global media.

Covering what for him is familiar terrain and for his readers a familiar litany, he ticks through his list of pet-peeve issues. Is global warming a serious matter? Hog wash. Some alarmists are just trying to put wool over our collective eyes and ears.

Are the markets to blame for the current financial crisis? Nothing could be further from the truth. In case you didn't guess, it's government, stupid.

Why, didn't you realize that it made all those bad decisions that are now resulting in a global near-calamity? The joke is on you if you think it was the responsibility of private-sector hucksters and boosters — aided by an all-too-compliant posse of supportive characters in the public sector — playing loose with the rules.

On the matter of Europe, Vaclav Klaus wants you to beware of those crypto-communist tendencies evidenced in the continuing efforts to build a better, more effective European Union helping its citizens cope with a multitude of global challenges!

Do you still not realize that the real agenda of all those Brussels types is to resurrect the equivalent of a Soviet-style, oppressive nomenklatura oppressing any and all people in its wide reach?

Well, if you are not smart enough to comprehend all of those hidden agendas of the policy elites, it's high time that you become a follower of the Vaclav Klaus school of global insights.

Give it a go, really. What could be wrong with some contrarian thinking? Per se, not much. It's a useful exercise, especially for college professors stimulating the minds of their young charges.

And wouldn't you know it, Mr. Klaus is indeed a professor, having taught at the Czech Academy of Sciences in late 1980s. He still teaches occasionally at the Prague School of Economics. In 1989, he made a move to become the Czech Republic's finance minister, and subsequently served as Czech prime minister from 1993 to 1997.

Trouble is, what might be great in a professor might not be so ideal in a president. It is one thing to have a bout of the opposite-day syndrome in childhood. It is quite another to suffer from a full-blown case of what psychologists label as "oppositional defiance disorder" near the end of one's career.

Just taking the opposite end of what pretty much everybody else thinks, for the sheer heck of it, isn't smart strategy — it's a regrettable case of extreme personal vanity and pompousness.

Mind you, taking independent, out-of-the-box viewpoints is constructive — and can indeed be accomplished while serving as a country's president. That was proven, in fact, in no other country than the Czech Republic itself.

Klaus's widely respected predecessor, the former playwright Vaclav Havel, who served as a two-term Czech President from 1993 to 2003, was determined from the get-go to preserve his integrity moving into politics. He just started to think with what ended up being a three-track mind.

Besides acting as a politician, he was very much an artist-in-office as well as a private citizen with real-world grounding. He even captured his very own form of playing three-dimensional chess in his fascinating autobiography on his time in office, called "To the Castle and Back."

In the book, he intersperses stenographic notes from meetings as they happened with personal reflections in a great tapestry of thought that leaves the reader enlightened.

Not so with Mr. Klaus, a man who — given his superior intellect, experience and, well, overall being — is apparently eaten up by the sobering reality that he has not been called upon to serve in much more important global posts.

Even people who may share some of his viewpoints are irritated by the utter inconsequence of it all. In his recent Financial Times opinion article, Mr. Klaus makes a very revealing remark that the paper's opinion editors must have left in with a sense of relish.

Klaus ominously warns the world: "We should resist being seduced by philosopher-king ambitions." Rightly so. But there is one obvious problem.

Given the wide swath of issues on which he weighs in and the strong opinions he holds on those sundry matters, did it not occur to this self-ascribed master logician that, by making that statement, he wounded himself mortally?

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About Stephan Richter

Director of the Global Ideas Center, a global network of authors and analysts, and Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist.

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