Atilla Sulker | United States
Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jozef Martiniak at the 2018 Mises University. Dr. Martiniak came to Auburn all the way from Slovakia and had many great stories to tell about his experience growing up in a Cold War era Czechoslovakia. My conversations with Dr. Martiniak not only revealed an interesting story from the perspective of someone who experienced socialism firsthand but also sparked my interest in the politics of Slovakia. He mentioned that there was a libertarian-oriented party in Slovakia. So, I endeavored to examine the movement in Slovakia, analyzing its scope, significance, and authenticity.
The SaS Party and Richard Sulík
The main vessel of Slovak libertarianism nowadays is the political party “Freedom and Solidarity” (SaS). Economist Richard Sulík, the man behind the Slovakian flat tax, founded the party in 2009. In February of that year, the party collected the 10,000 required signatures for its establishment. Sulík became the first chairman.
According to their website, the party claims to run on a platform free of the typical populist propaganda loaded with catchy slogans. They also claim that experts in various fields, rather than ideologues, run the party.
This idea of “experts” or “elitists” running the party is reminiscent of the system which the founders of the United States government hoped to maintain. It was a system in which the people would only directly elect a small percentage of state officials. This gradual shift from elitism to a system more centered around direct election helped lead to the growth of the state. This phenomenon has led to the rise of “mass scale pork barrel politics” such as the socialization of healthcare.
The party is also centered around offering specific solutions on how to allocate the budget. On the contrary, they oppose putting out “unrealistic promises”. It also asserts that the armed forces must have clear objectives. This sort of reform effort, though, puts too much trust in the state. Governments are inherently very tough to reform.
Though SaS never explicitly claims to be anchored in the chief tenets of libertarianism, it puts heavy emphasis on free will and individualism. The party draws a connection between individual freedom and happiness. From this, the party asserts that it opposes economic intervention. The party emphasizes a more consequentialist argument regarding the effects of freedom on the collective population.
One interesting thing I learned through my conversations with Dr. Martiniak was that the “passion” present in many libertarians in America was not present in Slovakia. Rather, SaS libertarianism is more “contra the state” instead of a truly moral, Rothbardian form.
SaS lists the promotion of “basic solidarity” as one of its key tenets in Article II of its charter. This sort of concept is manifested in the “euro-realist” stance of the party. The party sees the European Union as an idea with great potential, but also one that demands significant reform. The party also asserts, however, that it seeks to curb the EU’s bureaucracy and regulations.
Its perception of the EU, though, is flawed. SaS believes that the EU should exist for its promotion of free trade and free movement. However, in regards to this, a classic Bob Murphy argument comes into play.
In his article, “But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?”, Murphy comes to the conclusion that if a small-government society can sustain itself peacefully, these same people should be able to live together peacefully without a government. In the same way, if member countries of the EU really want free trade and movement, why would there be the need for a political union such as the EU? Even if countries were to reform the EU, it would gradually centralize power over time. The Iron Law of Oligarchy strongly suggests this.
In an article by The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead describes the sentiment of Richard Sulík. Sulík often receives criticism for being a nationalist, but Armitstead articulates that he is rather “the hero of all discontented Europeans”. This certainly demonstrates the growing resentment in Europe for the government. It underscores the borderless nature of freedom, its universal application. It is not something that remains within a single country, but rather, it spreads. Of course, it has nothing to do with nationalism.
An Imperfect Match
In my humble opinion, the efforts of SaS do not effectively line up with libertarianism. Sure, the party is pro-market, anti-centralization, and pro-civil liberties. At the same time, however, due to the fact that it is not grounded in property rights and the NAP, its attempts blur.
This is why it is so important that any attempt at libertarianism be grounded in these axioms. Otherwise, the message strays from being genuine. SaS embodies the more “pragmatic libertarianism” present in those such as Gary Johnson, rather than genuine Misesian or Rothbardian aesthetic.
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