Saturday, June 6, 2009

Vienna’s intellectual climate: primitive and provincial

I am currently in Vienna, assisting the publication of F. A. Hayek’s Collected Works (the volumes on money and business cycles). Vienna today differs radically from the old Vienna in its golden age, the days of Bauer, Carnap, Mach, Mises, Freud, Schlesinger, Gödel, etc., where you could find a variety of intellectual circles inspired by the atmosphere of a falling empire, all concentrated in its monumental capital city. Back then, in the midst of the nationalist-driven breakdown of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, this city sheltered the greatest intellects worldwide. Today, the opposite is true. I spend some time in different countries but in no one was the intellectual climate as primitive, provincial, and redneck as it is here, and nowhere in the Western hemisphere appears the quality of the political class as poor as it is here. At least I cannot imagine a lower standard. God bless, I am surrounded by people of a different quality (good economists seem less prone to outright stupidity, independent of their norms and values). The political atmosphere is extremely right-wing and extremely left-wing (I come to understand the term Nationalsozialist). The centrist positions are not those of the golden mean, but are rather characterized by the avoidance of any principled and reasoned argument. This is of course true for many countries, but here I am only able to detect exemptions to the rule. Even worse, in discussing these topics with natives, they assure that my impression is on average correct. All the average Austrian seems to care for is to shut borders, to outlaw ‘speculation’, to break up ‘big business’ of any kind, to ban immigrants, to isolate their ‘culture’, etc. Austrians seem to dislike Germans, the United States, Jews, Muslims, Israel, blacks, and not to forget all those Eastern folks who endanger the purity of the Austrian heritage. The then broadly welcomed Anschluss to the Reich is not so much the past as it is in Germany. Everywhere you go, you’ll find political slogans like ‘Echte Volksvertreter statt EU-Verräter’ or ‘Abendland in Christenhand’ by right-wing parties that are however completely established and who seem to speak out what many Austrians actually do think. As a non-partisan spectator, I am shocked by so much outright barbarism. Here in Vienna you can almost feel how thin the veil of civilization can be. Even here, far from Kärnten, you get a good dose of Haiderism. Just two days ago, after a terrifying campaign by Stache’s FPÖ, Vienna witnessed a Nazi-mob hunting migrants, who were stoned by beer-bottles. But the public is either used to it, or does not care, or both. At least the girls are pretty.

UPDATE - Election of European Parliament Election 2009: FPÖ 12,9% (+6,6%), BZÖ 4,8% (+4,8%)