Roger Scruton on what happens to liberty without substance
For the most part, the people I met were quiet, studious, often deeply religious, attempting to build shrines in the catacombs, around which small circles of marginalised people could gather to venerate the memory of their national culture.
In 1985 the secret police moved against me and I was arrested in Brno; visits to Czechoslovakia came to an end and I was followed in Poland and Hungary. But our team kept going until 1989 when, to our surprise, the catacombs were opened and our friends came pale, staggering and bewildered into the sunlight, to be hailed by the people as the natural trustees of their restituted country. This was a wonderful moment and, for a while, I believed that the public spirit that had reigned in the catacombs would now govern the State.
It was not to be. Having been excluded for decades from the rewards of worldly advancement, our friends had failed to cultivate those arts — hypocrisy, treachery and realpolitik — without which it is impossible to stay in government.
They sat in their offices for a while, pityingly observed by their staff of former secret policemen, while affable and much travelled rivals, of the kind with whom German Social Democrats and French Gaullists could both “do business”, carefully groomed themselves for the next elections.
Not since 1945 had so many records of party membership disappeared, or so many dissident biographies been invented. Within two years the real dissidents had returned to their studies, while the world outside was racing on, led by a new political class that had learnt to add a record of outspoken dissidence to all its other dissimulations. We were witnessing what Dubcek had promised, socialism with a human face.
...But those countries today bear no resemblance to the liberated nations that were dreamt of in the catacombs. For when the stones were lifted, and the air of freedom blew across the underground altars, the flame that had been kept alive on them was instantly blown out.
Roger Scruton, The flame that was snuffed out by freedom
(via Peter Hitchens)