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Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Icelandic Conservative politics. January 9, 2012
Thom Hartmann: Welcome back, Thom Hartmann broadcasting live from Reykjavik, Iceland. And with me in the studio right now is Gulli Ólafsson, who is the Chairman of the Conservative Society in Iceland? Do I have that right?
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: That is correct.
Thom Hartmann: And thank you very much for joining us today. What is the Conservative Party? How do you define yourself? Where did the Conservative Party come from?
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Well…
Thom Hartmann: What does conservative mean for example in Iceland?
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Well, in Iceland there is only one large right wing party and it’s called the Independence Party and it was formed in 1929 as a union between what we’d call liberals and, or almost libertarians, and conservatives, and that is still functioning today. But we have two organizations that do not work directly within the party but are more policy party, or policy groups. We have the Conservative Association and the Libertarian Association. I am a member of the Independence Party and I have been working with the Independence Party for years. And I’m on several committees and so on. Now the Conservative Association is more about what we’d call the Burkean approach, or traditionalism. Both about values and economics and also about just a general form of society.
Thom Hartmann: Well, in fact I saw Sir Edmund Burke on your website. Or on a site that you had written something about or were associated with. Burke believed, very much, in fact he famously said, “It does me no harm if a man is allowed to engage in a profession as servile as that of tallow-maker - candle maker - or hair dresser, but it does society considerable violence if such a man is allowed to participate in the political discourse,” in other words, to vote. Are you of the opinion that only the wealthy or only landowners, like Burke thought, should be allowed to vote or run for political office, and the people who are not of wealth or born to a certain lineage should not participate in politics?
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Well you have to remember, even at the founding of the United States, not everybody had the right to vote. Universal suffrage was not a part of the U.S. form of government.
Thom Hartmann: It actually was. In the northern states you had blacks voting, you had women voting. It was up to the individual states. But at a federal level there was universal suffrage. It had to be imposed on the states with the Civil War, but…
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Well, that’s what I mean. But Burke viewed the society as basically organic. That you can’t form society, that it develops. Of course, Burke is not a, his writings are not a bible or some holy truth that you have to abide by constantly. But he has some guidelines on how a society forms and how we find the right solutions and how we find, get a society that has stability. Both economically and politically. Our connection to Burke is based on the fact that we view it differently than libertarians, and say that, well, we should have everything free in society and then everything becomes perfect, or as the leftists say, well, the government should control everything and then everything is perfect.
Thom Hartmann: Do the leftists really say government should control everything?
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Well to a certain extent. I’m exaggerating.
Thom Hartmann: Yes.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: But what I’m saying is that you reject the utopia.
Thom Hartmann: Thomas Paine and Sir Edmund Burke famous, you know, had a famous dialogue. Paine stayed for two weeks at Burke’s home on his way to France, and then ended up getting arrested in France, which is a whole other wild story. James Madison bailing him out. But Paine was so infuriated by that two weeks he spent in Burke’s home that he wrote the "Rights of Man" as a rebuttal to Burke and then later he wrote "Agrarian Justice", in part to shove it in Burke’s face, if you’re familiar with those books.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Yes.
Thom Hartmann: And in "Agrarian Justice" he laid out, what in the United States, we refer to as a social security program, old age retirement program, national healthcare, he proposed. He proposed minimum wage. He proposed that workers should have a say in the workplace, basically unionization, enforced by government, not forced but not being, allowed shall we say.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Yeah, correct.
Thom Hartmann: Basically the modern, what in the United States we refer to as a liberal society. In Europe it would be referred to as a socialist society, I suppose. And Burke of course was horrified by this. And in the modern day I would say many of the people who consider themselves heirs to Paine’s perspective, FDR for example, he said a necessitous man is not a free man. You can’t be free, if you don’t have a job. You can’t be free if you have no home. You can’t be free if you have no access to healthcare if you’re sick. You can’t consider yourself free if you’re indigent and there is no way out. There has to be a role for government in this. And yet the conservatives in the United States, and libertarians generally, don’t find that notion palatable shall we say.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Yes. And what I would say is that as a conservative that views society as something organic that constantly develops, we have to look at it this way. The liberal revolutions of the 18th and 19th century, both in the U.S. and in Europe, what I mean by that is the inalienable rights that were given to all citizens, won in the fight against the establishment. Being a conservative today means that you’re trying to conserve values that are good. There’s a difference between being reactionary and being conservative. Being conservative means that you want to protect those values that provide common good, and change those that don’t.
Thom Hartmann: So, to get to specifics.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Yes.
Thom Hartmann: The battle between conservatives and liberals in the United States, and liberals meaning left wing. I realize liberals here means right wing. But so let’s maybe use words like left and right. You represent the right here, I represent the left in the United States.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Okay.
Thom Hartmann: So, in the United States the left says we should have, or in the United States, the Right, let’s just talk about the right and the right. Our right and your right. In the United States the right wing says we should have no private, or no social security system or if we have one it should be entirely privatized. The banks should run it. We should have no medical system, no national medical system, that should be entirely up to banking organizations that call themselves health insurance companies. I think we’re the only OECD country that even allows for-profit health insurance. And the right is not big fans of infrastructure in the United States. What’s the position of the right on those issues here in Iceland?
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Well, it’s completely different. Here, nobody, except for the libertarians, which is a minority group, is saying that we should not have a government healthcare. We should not have a government subsidies of the unemployed. Or social security, or subsidizing cultural institutions or the universities.
Thom Hartmann: So you realize as an Icelandic right winger, you’re sounding an awful lot like an American left winger.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Left winger, yes, I know. But that’s one of the things about also just the word conservative, is to conserve. Trying to conserve something.
Thom Hartmann: So you want to hold those values, like a national healthcare system.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Yes. You want to hold those values that are, yes, that have been proven to be a common good for the people. Now in the U.S., culturally, it’s completely different. So conservatives in that sense is culturally relative. It’s different in every country, depending on what values are there. But I find it almost impossible to make a connection between right wing in many Nordic countries and right wing in the U.S., because right wing in the Nordic countries, means something completely different in the sense that you want to conserve those institutions that have been established, such as public hospitals, public schools, and so on and so forth.
Thom Hartmann: Right. Whereas in America they want to privatize the schools, even.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Yes. But that’s a valid point, I mean that’s their point of view.
Thom Hartmann: Right. But it’s not yours?
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: No, but, so, for me, I don’t have universal views for the whole world. I have views for Iceland.
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: If a conservative in the United States wants to say something, well that’s the business of the U.S. orders. It’s none of my business.
Thom Hartmann: We have about a half a minute left, I’m sorry this is. So what makes you conservative? What makes you right, as in right wing?
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Well one of the things is that I want a clearer picture. We need to divide the private sector from the public sector. It’s the alliance between politicians and big money that has led to this crisis, globally.
Thom Hartmann: Yes.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: and we need to divide that. We cannot socialize debts and privatize profits.
Thom Hartmann: We agree. Yes.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: We need to stop that. We need to privatize the debts as well.
Thom Hartmann: Okay. Gulli, we have a point of absolute agreement. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe I’m an Icelandic conservative. Thank you so much for joining us today. It’s very nice to meet you.
Gunnlaugur Snær Ólafsson: Thank you for having me.
Thom Hartmann: We’ll be right back from Iceland. Thom Hartmann here with you.
Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.