Few actions by an American Chief Executive ever produced a more whole-souled response than President Truman's call in January 1949…
The outbreak of war in Korea, and the general heightening of tension and conflict in the Far East and other socially backward areas, have given even greater importance to the Point Four program, which hopes to raise submerged populations through technological aid. J. K. Galbraith, an enthusiastic advocate of the Point Four approach, here offers some specific recommendations aimed at making a good idea better.
Few actions by an American Chief Executive ever produced a more whole-souled response than President Truman’s call in January 1949 for a “Bold New Program” to help the undeveloped areas of the world. Even the professional opponents of idealism were silenced by the warmth with which the proposal was greeted. To be sure, there were warnings against playing Santa Claus to the world—it is quite wonderful how this amiable saint has become in recent times the symbol of all that is foolish—but almost no one came forward to argue that we should tend to our own affairs and leave the Hottentots in peace and poverty.
One can only speculate on the reasons for this widespread approval. I have no doubt that in the main it can be attributed to good nature and generosity. However, it is also probable that some Americans saw a better justification for their own comparative wellbeing when it was accompanied by efforts to help those who are less fortunate. There were also a good many sententious pronouncements, which some people no doubt took seriously, that if we did not raise the world to our own level of living we would be dragged down to the level of the world. It can be assumed that fear of Communism, that great buttress to the golden rule in our time, had something to do with the endorsement.
Regretfully, it is also my conclusion that the popularity of the Point Four idea was associated with a sad misunderstanding of the problem of rendering assistance to less favored peoples. During the war a new and damaging phrase, “American know-how,” entered our vocabulary. A rough synonym for organizing, engineering, and mechanical experience, it has gradually assumed the concreteness of a sack of wheat. It is something that can be picked up, exported, planted in far lands where, with proper care, it will flourish to the untold benefit of the inhabitants. Best of all it is almost free. For many the charm of Point Four was in the notion that we could deliver this know-how by the planeload to every corner of the world and at little cost to ourselves.
In the twenty-odd months that the Point Four Program has been under discussion, and while the less than bold appropriation for initial execution has been mousing its way through the Congress, the more roseate visions of easy wealth for the world have been somewhat dispelled. That is just as well. It would be a grave misfortune if faith in the idea itself had weakened, but it is no misfortune to see more clearly than before the problems of extending help—effective help—to undeveloped or backward countries. For, in truth, these problems are exceedingly difficult and pervasive. They cannot be evaded; they must be faced.
First in what will be a kind of catalogue of these problems is the extraordinarily awkward fact that in most of the world, progress—technical progress as we understand it—is abnormal and in some sense unwanted. Speculating on this subject in the last century, Walter Bagehot reached the conclusion that stagnation is normal for most communities. Only an exceptional combination of cultural attitudes and social organization nurtures change. Translated into terms of the Indian farmer or the Guatemalan Indian, this means a basic preference for things as they are. These people are not avid for change; the burden of vigorous demonstration of the benefits is on those who advocate it. This fact can all too easily be turned into a reactionary plea for leaving men alone—for leaving them to the dull, painful, hungry, and brief lives they now live. But the fact that such an argument rises so readily to the surface, once inertia is conceded, is no excuse for ignoring that inertia.
One of the great consequences of this inertia is that there is almost no market anywhere in the world for technical advice as an isolated quantity. It must be provided in a mixture either with capital equipment, or with patient, skilful education or persuasion, or with both. The nature of the mixture varies with the type improvement to be undertaken but in nearly all cases the component of technical advice is the secondary one.
In the case of large engineering projects—electric power and irrigation development, construction of transportation facilities, and the development of mineral and other resources—capital is the critical element in the mix. If that is available, the technical assistance comes more or less automatically. Given the ability to finance the job, Paraguay or Bolivia will not have the slightest trouble getting a firm of construction engineers to supervise the building of a hydroelectric dam. The General Electric technicians are bought in a package with the turbines. Technical advice on such construction, if there is no capital effectively available for the job, does not even have much academic interest.
When one turns to improvements in agriculture or in public health, the capital component becomes less important although it is still required. There are few parts of the world—the countries of Western Europe apart—where American agricultural technology or an appropriate adaptation of it would not greatly increase the productivity of the land and labor devoted to crop and livestock production. This will require some import of, and hence raise some problem in paying for, improved seeds and breeding stock, serums and medicines, spray materials and rigs, fertilizers or the plants for producing them.
However, none of these things will come into use in any agricultural community except after a long process of demonstration and education which, in practice, must also be combined with a good deal of adaptation to the climate, soil, and existing modes of crop or livestock culture of the country. In the United States we have, in the Agricultural Extension Service, an extraordinarily comprehensive and quite costly system for bringing the results of technical advance to the farmer. The Extension Service has always spent a good deal of its time trying to persuade the farmer—to sell him—on innovations that are to his advantage. If technical advance requires such extensive educational machinery in the case of American agriculture, where farmers are well educated, alert, and, on the whole, predisposed toward change, it is evident that there won’t be much progress elsewhere without an equal or greater emphasis on education.
All this contrasts with the vision of an American expert, loaded with “know-how” and USDA bulletins, disembarking on some distant airport to put his cargo at the service of an eager peasantry. If this traveler is to be useful he must have a corps of helpers for the huge task of training yet another corps of native extension workers. He must be willing to stay a long while, and persuade his local recruits to forego the fascinations of the capital (this is an especially serious problem in South America) for the dull rigors of the agricultural hinterland. It will be evident that even in agriculture, where the needed component of capital is relatively small, the operation here pictured is a costly one both for the aiding country and the aided one.
Because a wholehearted commitment, both moral and fiscal, is required of the country being aided, the attitude and competence of the government of the country is clearly a matter of first importance. It has been pretty well recognized that unstable governments and inefficient and incompetent administration is one of the problems of the Point Four program. Like illiteracy, it has been accepted as one of the given hazards. It may be doubted, however, if all aspects of government inadequacy and its hazards have yet been fully appreciated.
In most of the countries that are candidates for aid, government is a possession, not of the people at large, but of a minority ruling class. There is no government in the world today, that of Tibet possibly excepted, that can disavow an interest in progress and development. But there is a vast difference between an avowed and an actual interest—between the interest of Chiang Kai-shek and his erstwhile intimates in the welfare of China, and that of Nehru in India. Where the ruling class is corrupt or preoccupied with protection of vested wealth and prerogatives, the Point Four program faces an especially acute problem. Aid will be asked for but not really wanted. Actual misappropriation of assistance funds, as so obviously happened to relief and military aid to China, can undoubtedly be controlled. A far more serious problem is resistance to help at the points where it can be most useful or a simple disinterest which means there will be little or no local participation in the program.
The possibility of actual resistance must not be discounted. In the Caribbean republics and dependencies and to a considerable extent in South America, no aspect of technical backwardness bears more heavily on the masses of the people than the incredible costs and inefficiencies in the distribution of food and other staples. In all of these economies, and especially in the island communities, the strategic economic and (very often) political power is held by a small group of importers together with those who hold agencies and concessions from foreign firms. These traders exact a heavy toll on imported goods before passing them along to a myriad of petty wholesalers and retailers each of whom handles his small volume on a high margin. Those who man the toll gates in the ports and commercial centers have a strong interest in keeping the distributors small and inefficient. An effective chain store would soon by-pass the importers and buy direct from foreign sources. As the initial experiences of Sears, Roebuck in South America seem to have indicated, there is nothing that would be more welcomed than a modern system of distribution. Especially in the case of food, where it is most needed, nothing would be more disagreeable to those in positions of power.
As our sad experiences in Asia have indicated in recent years, there is special reason to expect that countries in the initial stages of independence will throw up a corrupt or corruptible ruling class. It is likely to be composed of men who too often have sought independence in order to have the power and the privileges of spoliation previously reserved to foreigners. There is no evidence from China, South Korea, or Indo-China that this group is likely to be much more popular than the foreigners with their own masses.
Under such circumstances, the spigot gains from technical aid will go unnoticed by peasants and laborers when set against the draughts at the bunghole by tax-gatherers, landlords, and usurers. The answer, if we are to aid such countries at all, is that we must aid them where the aid counts. Above and far beyond Point Four, we must put ourselves on the side of truly popular government with whatever pressure we can properly employ. This, in light of traditional attitudes toward intervention (carefully nurtured by ruling classes, to be sure), is a sobering commitment. As the counterpart of a promise to help people, rather than privileged minorities, the logic of it seems to be inescapable.
The problems of Point Four are not all to be found overseas. Enough has already been said to make it clear that this is not a formula for buying improved welfare at a bargain. There is much to be said for a modest start; to load the airlines with eager specialists uncertain of their mission (except as it involved the filling of a notebook with an exciting combination of fact and fiction for a subsequent report to the Kiwanis Club) was certainly something to avoid. Yet it must be doubted whether the $34,500,000 now fixed by the Senate committee as the appropriation for the program is an earnest of serious intention. At best it can only be considered sufficient to cover the first experimental steps on the basis of which larger sums will be spent in the future.
Also, we have yet to face the question of how the component of capital, so indispensably associated with technical progress, is to be supplied. In these years of the dollar shortage, funds for the purchase of capital equipment, like much of the equipment itself, must come from the United States. Except as a long, slow growth in what would have to be a stable and peaceful world, there is very little hope that American private investment will play much of a role. There is nothing more inspiring after a businessmen’s luncheon than to hear an account of the opportunities and responsibilities of American business in far lands and of the way in which business will surely rise to this challenge. The principal consequence of these speeches in the past, so far as can be determined, has been to develop in the average member of the audience a renewed interest in a branch plant in Texas.
The difficulty is that the United States has almost no tradition of private investment abroad of the sort required by the Point Four program. Foreign investments have been made where, as in the case of oil, copper, iron ore, rubber, and other raw materials, there was need to develop sources of supply for American industries. In 1948 about two-thirds of American foreign investment was for oil development alone; as this declined with the completion of Middle Eastern projects, including some overdevelopment, the total volume of overseas investment has declined. There has also been a smaller though substantial investment in branch plants and sales facilities as supplements to the main stem of the American market. All of this activity has, in effect, been subordinate to American operations. Except in Canada, Americans have done comparatively little investing in enterprises that were of, and for, the economy of a foreign country. This was the type of investment (especially in railroads) which dominated England’s operations as a capital exporter in the last century. It is the type of investment which the Point Four program requires.
Whatever the factors setting the American investment horizon, they are not likely to change very soon. It seems likely that the comparatively favorable rate of return that investment has generally commanded in the United States has been important—there is little doubt that British capital went abroad under the incentive of a high return in the New World and under the compulsion of a low return at home. In recent years in the United States return on domestic investment has been singularly favorable. It also seems likely that American businessmen are less inclined than their British precursors to contend with the bizarre habits and customs of foreigners or to attempt to predict the unpredictable behavior of any government except that in Washington. This has not prevented influential groups of businessmen, in one of those Micawber-like manifestations which make American business attitudes such a fascinating study, from opposing a government guarantee of convertibility of earnings which would somewhat lessen these risks.
In default of private lending, there remains only, and as usual, the government. If Point Four is to pass beyond the stage of dispatching missions to recommend dams that will never be built, roads that will never be constructed, or ports that will never be improved, then US government loans will have to be available. Fortunately there is nothing terribly new about such lending although the need for it will have to be more explicitly recognized than now if Point Four is to succeed.
There are two other problems which must have a place in this catalogue. One of them is the intransigent circularity that characterizes the causes of poverty. Low productivity—meager output per worker—is one side of a coin of which a low standard of living is the other. What a man does not produce he cannot consume. But from low living standards and bad diets come the bad health, physical weakness, and mental lethargy which, in their turn, are the cause of low productivity. The same low productivity leaves no surplus for health and medical care which might strengthen the bodies of this or the next generation; it means there is little surplus for schools which, by raising the levels of literacy, would provide access to the minds of the people. The circle is not only closed at any given time but there are forces that insure that it will remain closed.
The problem of Point Four is to determine at what point or points this circle can be broken. I confess that I have no very firm view. There is a wealth of evidence—the heroic example of modern Mexico comes to mind—that schools, paid for with resources from outside the local community, are the most forthright and durable approach. But one cannot but be impressed by the dramatic experiments of the World Health Organization in Haiti, where disease has been selected as the vulnerable link in the chain. With the aid of penicillin, a mass attack is being made on the twin scourges of yaws and syphilis. This, like similar efforts in the past to clean up malaria, is relatively inexpensive. Perhaps such efforts should have precedence even over the attack on illiteracy. But I am by no means certain that there aren’t communities where the first step shouldn’t be the more dramatic types of heavy construction leading to better supplies of irrigation water, cheap power, and access to natural resources. In our own day we have seen the catalyzing effects of such construction in the Tennessee Valley which, prior to 1938, was one of the nation’s, if not the world’s, backward areas. Perhaps the most one can say is that there must be a strategy for breaking the circle that is adapted to the needs and potentialities of the particular area and that there is no formula which provides a secure basis for generalization. One can say, with some certainty, that the strategy should not be decided by collective bargaining between interested government agencies in Washington and within the UN. That is dangerous.
The other problem, which has been much discussed in connection with Point Four, concerns population and the danger that population increases will quickly blot up the increases in productivity associated with technical advance. It has been pointed out, and I believe quite accurately, that most of the countries to be aided are in the first of the Malthusian stages. Birth rates and death rates are both high. An improvement in health and welfare will reduce the death rate before it affects the birth rate. The result will be a sharp bulge in total population.
This is a formidable prospect, but my own disposition is to urge that no one be too much alarmed. Were such a population increase to be the consequence of Point Four, it would mean that the program was being defeated by its own brilliant success. It is permissible to argue that we should first go ahead and have the success. Moreover, such massive consequences are hardly to be squared with the present modest proportions of the program. In any case it would be a cruel man who would consign great areas of the world to poverty and disease because there were new dangers in the attempted escape.
Political discussion in the United States commonly leaves to the enemies of an idea the task of discovering its difficulties. The friends of the idea confine themselves to stating its virtues. It should be evident that this article violates that convention. In my view, the problems that will be encountered in making a Point Four program effective, not merely as a salve to our consciences, but for the people it was designed to help, do not subtract anything from the substance of the idea itself. There can be nothing but good in an effort by one community to help another and less fortunate one. If, from now on, we are aware of the difficulties which the Point Four program presents, we shall be better prepared to resist the discouragement and disinterest and the tendency to be content with a far too modest accomplishment which will be its greatest hazards.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Making “Point 4” Work: Some Unsolved Problems in Aiding Backward Areas
Must-Reads from Magazine
RIP Paulina Płaksej.
It’s only Monday evening, which means Americans face another full week of political and cultural squalor. For an antidote, consider Paulina Płaksej, who died Sunday, aged 93. Our former COMMENTARY colleague Daniella Greenbaum broke news of Płaksej’s death on Twitter, which alerted me (and many others) to her inspiring life and that of her family, Polish Catholics who fed, hid, and rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
Zachariasz and Bronisława Płaksej, Paulina’s parents, moved from Lviv, Ukraine, to Kałusz before the outbreak of the war. There, Zachariasz worked as an accountant at a local mine and developed warm relations with the area’s Jews. Toward the end of 1941, when the Nazis forced the Jews of Kałusz into a newly created ghetto with an eye toward their extermination, Zachariasz and his family “acted as couriers, smuggling notes in and out of the ghetto,” according to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. Soon, assisting persecuted Jews became the family’s main business.
It helped that they resided on the outskirts of town. As Paulina later recounted, “we lived in seclusion and not in the center of the town, so it was very convenient for us. We were surrounded by gardens, orchards, the river was flowing nearby, and there was a slaughterhouse not far away. The Germans rarely visited this place, so our life was peaceful…” Even before the creation of the ghetto, Jewish children would stop by the Płaksej home for a bowl of hot soup and a brief respite from the cruelty of daily life under occupation.
Her father, Paulina recalled, “was a very religious person, and he believed that you should always help a man, your fellow creature, as our religion has it. The Jewish victim was not simply a Jew, but your fellow, a human being, wasn’t he?”
The Płaksejs took extraordinary risks to that end, creating an underground pipeline from the Kałusz ghetto to safety for Jews targeted for liquidation:
The first family to escape [the ghetto] was Sara, Solomon, and their son, Imek. They temporarily hid at Paulina’s house. When it became too dangerous for them to stay there, Zacharias found a safer place for them to hide. He brought Sara, Solomon, and Imek to a trusted friend who was already hiding Jews in a bunker beneath his barn. Later, another Jewish woman, Rozia, escaped from the ghetto and sought out the Plaksej family. They also brought her to the farmer’s bunker. Paulina regularly brought whatever food and supplies were needed. Sara, Solomon, Imek, and Rozia, along with thirteen other Jews, stayed in this bunker for over a year. To this day, the identity of the farmer is not known.
In 1944 Miriam, another inhabitant of the ghetto, learned that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto and deport or murder the inhabitants. Miriam asked Zacharias to save her two-year-old daughter, Maja. Zacharias contacted Miriam’s former maid and arranged for her to come rescue Maja. The maid brought a horse and cart, and the Jewish police helped smuggle the little girl out of the ghetto. The maid told her neighbors that this little girl was her daughter who had just returned from living with her grandparents.
Miriam was in one of the last groups of Jews to be deported to Auschwitz. As her group was marched to the train, Miriam quickly took off her armband and joined the crowds in the street. She went straight to the Plaksej house asking for help. They hid her in their wardrobe for a number of months. Zacharias obtained forged papers for her and took her to another village where she would not be recognized as a Jew. There she was picked up as a Pole and sent to a German farm as a forced laborer. After the war, she returned to the maid’s house, picked up her daughter, and reunited with her husband. Due to the efforts of Paulina and her family, all of the Jews they helped survived the war.
The State of Israel in 1987 recognized Paulina and her parents as Righteous Among the Nations. May we never forget these stories, and may we all strive to follow in their footsteps, even and especially amid our contemporary squalor.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Podcast: Kavanaugh and Rosenstein.
Can you take what we say about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh seriously considering we’re conservatives and he’s a conservative? Are we defending him because we are genuinely discomfited by how insubstantial the allegations against him are, or are we doing so because we agree with him ideologically? We explore this on today’s podcast. Give a listen.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
A Trump of their own.
There were many arguments for opposing Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, but the retort usually boiled down to a single glib sentence: “But he fights.”
Donald Trump could accuse John McCain of bringing dishonor upon the country and George W. Bush of being complicit in the September 11th attacks. He could make racist or misogynistic comments and even call Republican primary voters “stupid”; none of it mattered. “We right-thinking people have tried dignity,” read one typical example of this period’s pro-Trump apologia. “And the results were always the same.”
If you can get over the moral bankruptcy and selective memory inherent in this posture, it has its own compelling logic. Driving an eighteen-wheel truck through the standards of decorum that govern political discourse is certainly liberating. If there is no threshold at which the means discredit the ends, then everything is permitted. That kind of freedom has bipartisan appeal.
Democrats who once lamented the death of decency at Trump’s hands were apparently only troubled by their party’s disparity in this new rhetorical arms race. The opposition party seems perfectly happy to see standards torn down so long as their side is doing the demolition.
This week, with passions surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court reaching a crescendo, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono demonstrated that Democrats, too, are easily seduced by emotionally gratifying partisan outbursts. “They’ve extended a finger,” Hirono said of how Judiciary Committee Republicans have behaved toward Dr. Christine Blasey Ford since she was revealed as the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct as a minor. “That’s how I look at it.”
That’s an odd way to characterize the committee chairman’s offers to allow Dr. Blasey Ford the opportunity to have her story told before Congress in whatever setting she felt most comfortable. Those offers ranged from a public hearing to a private hearing to a staff interview, either publicly or behind closed doors, to even arranging for staffers to interview her at her home in California. Hirono was not similarly enraged by the fact that it was her fellow Democrats who violated Blasey Ford’s confidentiality and leaked her name to the press, forcing her to go public. But the appeal of pugnacity for its own sake isn’t rooted in consistency.
Hirono went on to demonstrate her churlish bona fides in the manner that most satisfies voters who find unthinking animus compelling: rank bigotry.
“Guess who’s perpetuating all these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono continued. “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing.” The antagonistic generalization of an entire demographic group designed to exacerbate a sense of grievance among members of another demographic group is condemnable when it’s Trump doing the generalizing and exacerbating. In Hirono’s case, it occasioned a glamorous profile piece in the Washington Post.
Hirono was feted for achieving “hero” status on the left and for channeling “the anger of the party’s base.” Her style was described as “blunt” amid an exploration of her political maturation and background as the U.S. Senate’s only immigrant. “I’ve been fighting these fights for a—I was going to say f-ing long time,” Hirono told the Post. The senator added that, despite a lack of evidence or testimony from the accuser, she believes Blasey Ford’s account of the assault over Kavanaugh’s denials and previewed her intention to “make more attention-grabbing comments” soon. Presumably, those remarks will be more “attention-grabbing” than even rank misandry.
This is a perfect encapsulation of the appeal of the fighter. It isn’t what the fight achieves but the reaction it inspires that has the most allure. But those who confuse being provocative with being effective risk falling into a trap. Trump’s defenders did not mourn the standards of decency through which Trump punched a massive hole, but the alt-right and their noxious fellow travelers also came out of that breach. The left, too, has its share of violent, aggressively mendacious, and anti-intellectual elements. They’ve already taken advantage of reduced barriers to entry into legitimate national politics. Lowering them further only benefits charlatans, hucksters, and the maladjusted.
What’s more, the “fire in the belly,” as Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary Brian Fallon euphemistically describes Hirono’s chauvinistic agitation, is frequently counterproductive. Her comments channel the liberal id, but they don’t make Republicans more willing to compromise. What Donald Trump’s supporters call “telling it like it is” is often just being a jerk. No other Republican but Trump would have callously called into question Blasey Ford’s accounting of events, for example. Indeed, even the most reckless of Republicans have avoided questioning Blasey Ford’s recollection, but not Trump. He just says what’s in his gut, but his gut has made the Republican mission of confirming Kavanaugh to the Court before the start of its new term on October 1 that much more difficult. The number of times that Trump’s loose talk prevented Republicans from advancing the ball should give pause to those who believe power is the only factor that matters.
It’s unlikely that these appeals will reach those for whom provocation for provocation’s sake is a virtue. “But he fights” is not an argument. It’s a sentiment. Hirono’s bluster might not advance Democratic prospects, but it makes Brian Fallon feel like Democrats share his anxieties. And, for some, that’s all that matters. That tells you a lot about where the Democratic Party is today, and where the country will be in 2020.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
A lesson from Finland.
High-ranking politicians are entitled to freedom of speech and conscience. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it often is, especially in European countries where the range of acceptable views is narrow–and narrowing. Just ask Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who spent the summer fighting off an investigation into his participation at an anti-abortion vigil in Canada. On Friday, Soini survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament over the issue.
“In general, I’m worried that Christianity is being squeezed,” he told me in a phone interview Friday, hours after his colleagues voted 100 to 60 to allow him to keep his post. “There is a tendency to squeeze Christianity out of the public square.”
Soini had long been associated with the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic Finns Party, though last year he defected and formed a new conservative group, known as Blue Reform. Before coming to power, Soini could sometimes be heard railing against “market liberals” and “NATO hawks.” But when I interviewed him in Helsinki in 2015, soon after he was appointed foreign minister, he told me his country wouldn’t hesitate to join NATO if Russian aggression continued to escalate. He’s also a vociferous supporter of Israel.
Through all the shifts of ideology and fortune, one point has remained fixed in his worldview: Soini is a devout Catholic, having converted from Lutheranism as a young man in the 1980s, and he firmly believes in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. “I have been in politics for many years,” he said. “Everyone knows my pro-life stance.” The trouble is that “many people want me to have my views only in private.”
Hence his ordeal of the past few months. It all began in May when Soini was in Ottawa for a meeting of the Arctic Council, of which Finland is a member. At the church he attended for Mass, he spotted a flyer for an anti-abortion vigil, to be held the following evening. He attended the vigil as a private citizen: “I wasn’t performing as a minister but in my personal capacity. This happened in my spare time.”
A colleague posted a photo of the event on his private Twitter page, however, which is how local media in Finland got wind of his presence at the rally. The complaints soon poured into the office of the chancellor of justice, who supervises the legal conduct of government ministers. A four-month investigation followed. Soini didn’t break any laws, the chancellor concluded, but he should have been more circumspect when abroad, even in his spare time.
Soini wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fact that he was treading on sensitive ground. A top diplomat can never quite operate like a private citizen, much as a private citizen can’t act like a diplomat (someone tell John Kerry). Still, does anyone imagine that Soini would land in such hot water if he had attended a vigil for action on climate change? Or one in favor of abortion rights?
“No, no, no. I wouldn’t say so … The Finnish official line is that I should be careful because abortion is legal in Finland and Canada.” So the outrage is issue-specific and, to be precise, worldview-specific. In Nordic countries, especially, the political culture is consensus-based to a fault, and the consensus is that the outcome of the 1960s sexual revolution will never be up for debate. Next door in Sweden, midwives are blacklisted from the profession for espousing anti-abortion views. Ditto for Norwegian doctors who refuse to dispense IUDs and abortifacients on conscience grounds.
The consensus expects ministers to bring their views into line or keep their mouths shut. “This is of course clearly politics,” Soini told me. “I think I have freedom of conscience. I haven’t done anything wrong. This is me practicing my religion.” And the free exercise of religion means having the right to espouse the moral teachings of one’s faith—or it means nothing.