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Lessons from Liechtenstein

R&L: In the United States, monarchs are usually seen as either mere figureheads or as malevolent dictators. What is the role of a monarch in a free society?

Liechtenstein: In our time, monarchies are an important factor in the stability of a country. The monarchy stands for continuity and moral responsibility for the next generation. The monarchs don’t hold their positions for a few years, and then, after an election, find themselves out of office. Rather, they automatically have to think about the next generation, because the next monarch will most likely be their child or other family member. This naturally instills in one a more long-term perspective, one of the greatest advantages of the monarchy.

Monarchies also help to strengthen the institution of the family, because the family is part of the monarchical system. This is a real need today. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes made in our Western countries in the last two or three generations has been the insufficient attention paid to the institution of the family. Not only have families been ignored, in some cases they have been weakened by many laws. While monarchies don’t necessarily change laws, they can give a clear example and stand for the family.

R&L: Do you think some members of the aristocracy have themselves felt the negative impact on the family? Do you think they themselves have encountered the kind of de-stabilizing impact of society in general?

Liechtenstein: Yes, certainly one has to see that the aristocracy is also part of the society, and therefore all the problems and temptations of modern society don’t, of course, pass unnoticed by the aristocracy. But, from my own experience, Christian values are given a high priority, and generally speaking, play a big role in an aristocracy.

R&L: What future do you see for the extension or the reinstatement of the monarchy in places such as Russia and the former Eastern Bloc nations?

Liechtenstein There is a very strong tendency toward monarchy in these countries, precisely because one of the things they need is continuity and a sense of stability. Perhaps what the communist system destroyed more than anything else, even more than the economy, is the morale of the people. Here the monarch can play a big role in presenting the idea of a society, and bolster morale. From the information I have been given, I think this kind of leadership is probably needed more than anything else in these countries.

R&L: Do you think the formation of a federalist Europe is a good idea?

Liechtenstein: I think it depends on what one means by federalist. Within Europe there are many diversities and differences, but a strong integration of Europe is good and necessary in our time as new regions are emerging and playing bigger roles. Care has to be taken that the history of the continent, which is one of diversity in terms of languages, culture, and so on, is not lost. One has to go slowly, step by step, in the right direction. To just make a federal state out of Europe, by fiat, would be the wrong way to proceed.

R&L: Your work with the Red Cross in Geneva has enabled you to have a perspective on aid to impoverished countries. What is the best way, do you think, to help Third World countries achieve economic prosperity?

Liechtenstein: The biggest help one can give to any developing country is free trade–allowing them to export their products. This is especially true when one thinks of Africa, for instance, where there is very rich agricultural land. The people of the African nations would be much better off if they could compete on the international market. The main reasons they can’t do this is because we in the more economically advanced nations subsidize all our agricultural products and construct import barriers of all sorts.

Obviously I’m very much in favor of private initiative and private help. And while I don’t absolutely exclude state aid, I think, like with all state administration, it’s always very ponderous. There is the danger of mismanagement and directing the aid in the wrong way– much more than on the private level, where mistakes can normally be remedied more quickly. Generally speaking, I think that history will show that state aid, as it was given in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, has basically had a more negative than positive influence.

R&L: So what would you say is the comparable effectiveness of private sector organizations to public agencies relative to meeting human needs?

Liechtenstein Private agencies are much more effective, especially on the global level. Of course there can always be some exceptions, and there is certainly some assistance which only the state can give, but I think it has to be seen in a very, very limited way.

R&L: Although it is not a large nation, Liechtenstein is quite wealthy, with a per capita income of over $16,000. To what, primarily, does Liechtenstein owe its great wealth? How do you account for the remarkable economic growth of your country from the 1940s to the present?

Liechtenstein: The biggest sector of the economy is industry. Nearly 60 percent of the people work in industry, with an annual export of two billion Swiss francs throughout the entire world. Nearly half of that, of course, goes to the European Community. For thirty thousand inhabitants, this represents a significant industrial output.

Part of our economic growth is attributable to our political stability. My father believed in a very liberal economy, and he cooperated with many people in Liechtenstein who had a clear idea of how to develop a country. Under his leadership they worked to bring capital into the country and develop its industry. The rise, in the 1980s, of what were called “Thatcherism” and “Reaganism” were nothing new for Liechtenstein. We’ve always had a very liberal approach to economics and have done without any state aid. This, of course, permits a good deal of freedom for enterprise to develop. When compared with the state interference many other countries in the European community have had to work around, Liechtenstein was an attractive economic opportunity for those who wanted to really do something.

R&L: Do you think that the newly emerging states of Central Europe can take Liechtenstein as their model for political and economic development?

Liechtenstein: I would say that they can learn different things from many places. But certainly such a small country as Liechtenstein has one advantage: because of its size it is very easy to understand how it works. Therefore, I certainly think that we can help in a modest way. Liechtenstein was a very poor country some forty years ago, and so it is certainly a country whose experience others would do well to study.

The greatest strength and know-how these countries will discover, however, will be found within. They can learn a lot from western countries in general, but at the same time, there are some things I think it would be better if the West kept from them!

R&L: It is often claimed that economic prosperity goes hand in hand with a decline in morals and religion. To what extent is this true in Liechtenstein, for example, or in the other comparatively wealthy communities of Western Europe? What is the role of faith in the development of a free society?

Liechtenstein: There is no doubt that the more one concentrates on material wealth, the more one is tempted to forget the morals one has learned. I think that’s a factor which can’t be underestimated in all industrialized, developed countries, Liechtenstein included. However, we are first a very small country, and sociologically still very agrarian. These two factors help to keep a certain sense of responsibility for the community as the society develops. I think it also makes it easier to retain Christian values, which are by far the most important values in Liechtenstein.

R&L: How would people in more industrialized countries then maintain their religious values? Would it necessitate their going back to an agrarian situation?

Liechtenstein: No. I think in the end what’s needed is to go back to religion. Christian values don’t just stand by themselves. The important thing is having a faith; values are a corollary to faith. This makes evangelization of such tremendous importance in our time, because one has to tell people how much God loves them, and then a proper sense of values achieves its appropriate place in our lives automatically.

R&L: How do you see the role of faith in the development of a free society? There’s so often a tension between faith and freedom.

Liechtenstein: I think I would rather speak of my personal experience. When my faith grows, there is a way in which my inner liberty becomes greater. My Christian faith teaches that I am loved by God, and I have free will. This, in turn, gives me an enormous security without limiting my freedom in any way. Of course, this means that I have to live, like everybody, with the consequences of wrong decisions, but I am free.

R&L: Tell us, then, something about your own spiritual development.

Liechtenstein: Like many of my generation, when I was at school and the university I struggled quite a lot with my faith—with many doubts. I think that is very typical for our generation. Once I was working, I had the chance to find back my way to God.

R&L: Has this impacted the way you approach your work, for example, with your activity in the development of the human rights convention in Strasbourg?

Liechtenstein: Yes, I think when one has the priority to love God, and to love one’s neighbor, automatically one gets interested in everything which helps to promote human society. Whenever I can help in things like development of human rights, for instance, I do it with joy and energy, because it corresponds so much to what I think is the important thing in life–it corresponds to the priorities I set for my faith.