Civic Institute was founded in the Spring 1991, a year and half after the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia.
It was founded by a group of anti-Communist dissidents of conservative, christian-democrat and classical-liberal persuasion; the most prominent among them was Pavel Bratinka.
The roots of the Civic Institute had grown since the late 70ies/early 80ies of the 20th Century, when those dissidents had used to meet each other in their flats and houses and to discuss issues of politics, philosophy, economy, theology, culture and international relations. After the fall of Communism, they decided to found an institution, which would continue in those discussions.
The founders of the Civic Institute were convinced that a truly free society is a fragile entity, depending on certain moral and philosophic foundations – pillars, if you wish – which are not for granted. Only a tiny minority of all people in the history of mankind lived in free societies; most people in ages lived under tyranny of this or that variety. (So, statistically speaking, tyranny is the natural form of government for men). Free society, it is not easy to be achieved, but quite easy to be lost, as the history of Czechoslavakia in the 20the Century testified.
The founders of the Civic Institute intended to found an institution dedicated to advocacy and vindication of necessary moral conditions and philosophic foundations of a truly free society,understood as an ordered liberty of individuals and families, responsibility, rule of law, limited constitutional government, free economy, property rights, and civic cum moral virtues.
The main founder of the Civic Institute was Pavel Bratinka (born in 1946), a nuclear physicist by education and a Roman Catholic convert. Because of his anti-Communist activities, he was banned from his professional career in the 70ies and forced to work as a cleaner in metro and a worker in Prague central heating facilities. Those were jobs, whichp provided him with a lot of free time to read.
During the 70ies and the 80ies, he discovered for himself and introduced to Czech intellectuals, three thinkers: Friedrich Hayek, Eric Voegelin and Michael Novak. He translated The Road to Serfdom by Hayek into Czech, and held probably the first lecture on The New Science of Politics by Voegelin in a country to the East of the Iron Curtain.
After the fall of Communism in 1989, Bratinka was involved in Czech politics in 1990-98, and he been a businessman in consulting business since 1998.
However, he founded the Civic Institute in 1991, which may be his greatest accomplishment. The very first publication of the Civic Institute was Czech translation of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom; the second was The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism by Michael Novak.
The Civic Institute has evolved through several phases of its empahsis. The philosophy or political positions of the Civic Institute have not changed however there have been several different focuses on issues in its history. As the titles of first two publications by the Civic Institute testify, the first emphasis in the early years of the CI was on free market economics and classical liberalism. Other titles followed soon: The Anticapitalist Mentality by Ludwig von Mises and The Ethics of Redistribution by Bertrand de Jouvenel.
The political issue in the Czech Republic in the first half of the 90ies was the choice between the „democratic socialism“ of the Swedish Social Democracy and the „democratic capitalism“, or free market economy, of a more Anglo-American variety. The Civic Institute’s position and advocacy were emphatically on behalf of the latter.
By mid-90ies, the economic issue in the Czech Republic has been, more or less, settled in favour of a compromise position: the German „Rhineland“ model, based basically on free market economy, but with a substantial state sector and welfare guarantees.
The economic issue in the Czech Republic settled by mid-90ies, the focus of the Civic Institute has moved elsewhere. After having published two more theoretical books, Conservatism by Robert Nisbet and Liberalism by John Gray, the Civic Institute has moved to a more conservative position, stressing cultural issues more than economic ones. By mid-90ies, the CI was the first Czech think-tank, which raised the issue and stressed the importance of traditional family, family values and family policy in the Czech Republic.
By that time, the Czech Republic became a genuine Western (European) country, hence the Civic Institute felt a necessity to stress moral, religious and pre-political foundations of a free society: first of all, traditional family. Civic Institute became a leading pro-family (and pro-life) think-tank, cooperating and networking with many pro-family and pro-life institutions arround the World. It published a lot of policy studies and policy papers in that regard.
In addition to them, the CI published two other theoretical works: The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk, and Democracy and Leadership by Irving Babbitt.
After 9/11/2001, the Civic Institute has preserved its family program and pro-family orientation (even though in less explicitly religious terms), but added to its portfolio of issues another dimension: international relations, foreign affairs, security issues, terrorism by radical Islam, and civilisational cum existential threats to the West in general.
In this regard, the CI has organised dozens of conferences and seminars, as well as published studies, on the U.S. foreign policy and the role of America in the World, on the War against Islamic terorrism, of Missile Defense, on Islam in Europe, on demographic challenge to the West, etc.
Those having been issues covered by the Civic Institute, what are the modes or means and ways of its operation?
Firstly, the publishing programme. The CI publishes a monthly bulletin containing a lecture or an essay by domestic or foreign authors on issues of political phislosophy or public policy. In addition to that, it publishes public policy studies and papers on various political issues, ranging from restitutions of Church property stolen by Communists, through immigration, privatisation, crime, family values, feminism, foreign and security policy, political correctness, the EU integration, etc. And finally, it publishes books, conservative classics. The last one published by the CI was Witness by Whittaker Chambers, the next one will be Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver.
Secondly, seminars and conferences. CI’s primary targeted audience are university students (and 17-18 years old grammar schools pupils). Two thirds of all CI seminars and conferences are targeted at students, and dealing with issues of political philosophy and values. The rest, one third of all CI’s seminars and conferences, are targeted at MPs, Senators, government officials, public policy specialists, media editors, and Prague diplomatic corps members. Obviously, those are less focused on core ideas and philosophy and more on public policy.
Thirdly, the CI operates a reading room and a library containing conservative books, magazines and literature, which are available to students and to all interested in ideas.
Fourthly, the CI fellows lecture at Czech universities as part-time teachers.
Fifthly, the CI fellows are being invited by other Czech and Central European think-tanks and political associations as lecturers, debaters and polemicists.
Sixthly, the CI fellows serve as „pundits“ in Czech media, contributing op-eds to newspapers and magazines, or conservative opinions and comments on all political issues to Radio and TV stations.
Seventhly, the CI fellows serve as advisors to a couple of Czech statesmen. Director of the CI has been a member of the Academic Council of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was an advisor to former Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs. He has been recently appointed an advisor to Prime Minister for human rights and foreign policy. Director of Programs at the CI was a member of the Czech government’s Human Rights Commission and an advisor to Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs on issues dealing with the EU. He currently serves as Director of the Province Reconstruction Team in Logar, Afghanistan. And Director of the CI’s Family Values Programme was an advisor to last two Ministers of Labour and Social Affairs for family policy and now is a director of the EU department of the Office of Czech government.
Last but not least, the CI has always attracted tens and hundreds of right-leaning young students and scholars, who have attended CI’s events, volunteered as organisers and assistants, lecturers and advisors. Many of those alumni and alumnae of CI’s seminars, lectures and conference have their own careers now in the media as columnists or editors, in politics as young aspiring politicians or staffers to senior politicians, in academia as assistant professors or professors. For instatnce, among them are a Prior of a Dominican monastic order, a former Minister of Justice of the Czech government, a Vice-President of a private university, and many others.
The Civic Institute is perceived by the political mainstream and the mainstream media in the Czech Republic as the farest respectable and acceptable Right in a political spectrum of a liberal democracy – as the farest, but still democratic Right, which could be invited to and published in a decent and respected society.
Which is quite fine for the Civic Institute: the CI does really enjoy a position of a „happy warrior“ pushing the public and intellectual discourse – and the whole society, as well – as far to the Right as is prudentially possible. Having been born from the resistance to the Communist totalitarianism, having opposed socialism and moral relativism, it is quite happy to enjoy the fight against petty but ridiculous ideologies of multiculturalism, feminism, and political correctness, always fighting for the West, its tradition, values, and ordered liberty, in the first place.