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Leszek Kolakowski

How to be
a Conservative-Liberal Socialist
A Credo

M OTTO: "Please step forward to the rear!" This is an approximate translation of a request I once
heard in a tram-car in Warsaw. I propose it as a slogan for the mighty International that will
never exist.

A Conservative Believes:
1. That in human life there never have been and never will be improvements which are not
paid for with deteriorations and evils; thus, in considering each project of reform and amelioration, its
price has to assessed. Put another way, innumerable evils are compatible (i.e., we can suffer them
comprehensively and simultaneously); but many goods limit or cancel each other, and therefore we will
never enjoy them fully at the same time. A society in which there is no equality and no liberty of any
kind is perfectly possible, yet a social order combining total equality and freedom is not. The same
applies to the compatibility of planning and the principle of autonomy, to security and technical
progress. Put yet another way: there is no happy ending in human history.

2. That we do not know the extent to which various traditional forms of social life-—family
rituals, nation, religious communities-—are indispensable if life in a society is to be tolerable or even
possible. There are no grounds for believing that when we destroy these forms, or brand them as
irrational, we increase the chance of happiness, peace, security or freedom. We have no certain know-
ledge of what might occur if, for example, the monogamous family was abrogated, or if the time-
honoured custom of burying the dead were to give way to the rational recycling of corpses for industrial
purposes. But we would do well to expect the worst.

3. That the idee fixe of the Enlightenment—that envy, vanity, greed, and aggression are all
caused by the deficiencies of social institutions, and that they will be swept away once these institutions
are reformed—is not only utterly incredible and contrary to all experience, but is highly dangerous. How
on earth did all these institutions arise if they were so contrary to the true nature of man? To hope that
we can institutionalise brotherhood, love, altruism is already to have a reliable blueprint for despotism.

A Liberal Believes:
1. That the ancient idea that the purpose of the State is security still remains valid. It remains
valid even if the notion of "security" is expanded to include not only the protection of persons and
property by means of the law, but also various provisions of insurance: that man should not starve if he
is jobless; that the poor should not be condemned to die through lack of medical help; that children
should have free access to education—all these are also part of security. Yet security should never be
confused with liberty. The State does not guarantee freedom by action and by regulating various areas of
life, but by doing nothing. In fact security can be expanded only at the expense of liberty. In any event,
to make people happy is not the function of the State.
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How to be a Conservative-Liberal Socialist 47
2. That human communities are threatened not only by stagnation but also by degradation
when they are so organised that there is no longer room for individual initiative and inventiveness. The
collective suicide of mankind is conceivable, but a permanent human ant-heap is not, for the simple
reason that we are not ants.

3. That it is highly improbable that a society in which all forms of competitiveness have been
done away with would continue to have the necessary stimuli for creativity and progress. More equality
is not an end in itself, but only a means. In other words, there is no point to the struggle for more
equality if it results only in the levelling down of those who are better off, and not in the raising-up of the
underprivileged. Perfect equality is a self-defeating ideal.

A Socialist Believes:
1. That societies in which the pursuit of profit is the sole regulator of the productive system are
threatened with as grievous—perhaps more grievous—catastrophes as are societies in which the profit
motive has been entirely eliminated from the production-regulating forces. There are good reasons why
freedom of economic activity should be limited for the sake of security, and why money should not
automatically produce more money. But the limitation of freedom should be called precisely that, and
should not be called a higher form of freedom.

2. That it is absurd and hypocritical to conclude that, simply because a perfect, conflictless
society is impossible, every existing form of inequality is inevitable and all ways of profit-making
justified. The kind of conservative anthropological pessimism which led to the astonishing belief that a
progressive income tax was an inhuman abomination is just as suspect as the kind of historical opti-
mism on which the Gulag Archipelago was based.

3. That the tendency to subject the economy to important social controls should be encour-
aged, even though the price to be paid is an increase in bureaucracy. Such controls, however, must be
exercised within representative democracy. Thus it is essential to plan institutions that counteract the
menace to freedom which is produced by the growth of these very controls.

S o FAR AS I CAN SEE, this set of regulative ideas is not self-contradictory. And therefore it is possible
to be a conservative-liberal socialist. This is equivalent to saying that those three particular desig-
nations are no longer mutually exclusive options.
As for the great and powerful International which I mentioned at the outset—it will never
exist, because it cannot promise people that they will be happy.

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G'unter Grass

The Flounder
Pages from a New Novel

What I write about


About food, and its aftertaste.
Then about guests who came
uninvited or just a century late.
About the mackerel's longing for lemon juice.
Among fishes I write mostly about the flounder.
I write about superabundance.
About fasting and why gluttons invented it.
About crusts from the tables of the rich and their food value.
About fat and excrement and salt and penury.
In the midst of a mound of millet
I will relate instructively
how the spirit became bitter as gall
and the belly went insane.
I write about breasts.
About Ilsebill's pregnancy (her craving for sour pickles).
I will write as long as it lasts.
About the last bite shared,
the hour spent with a friend
over bread, cheese, nuts, and wine.
(Munching we talked about this, that, and the other
and about gluttony, which is only a form of fear.)

I write about hunger, how it is described


and disseminated by the written word.
About spices (when Vasco da Gama and I
made pepper cheaper)
I will write on my way to Calcutta.

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