Andrew Sullivan Vs. Viktor Orban
Hey, let’s talk about a country other than Afghanistan. Let’s talk about Hungary.
The rush of news from Afghanistan makes Andrew Sullivan’s jeremiad against Hungary seem like it was a million years ago, but several of you have asked me if I plan to respond, and I guess I will, if I can find something new to say to these critics. Before I start, let me say something about Afghanistan and Hungary. Back in 2001 and 2002, Pat Buchanan was warning against the Iraq War, and against nation-building in Afghanistan. He was marginalized as a heretic by the official gatekeepers of the Right. Because Pat Buchanan has objectionable opinions about some things — he was “far right,” in their estimation — he was not to be taken seriously in anything.
But Pat Buchanan was right. He was right about Iraq, and he was right about Afghanistan. The same people who denounced him as a heretic then are leading the chorus of denunciation against Viktor Orban and Hungary. And you know, maybe they’re right. I don’t think they are, but you can make up your own mind about that. I would just strongly urge you to keep an open mind about Hungary, because the anti-Buchananites are the same ones now fashioning themselves as anti-Orbanites. Are you sure you should trust their judgment? Are you sure you should trust their construal of what Hungary is like? Keep that in mind.
On to Andrew’s piece. He writes:
I keep thinking about this when contemplating the American right’s new flirtation with the illiberal, corrupt, authoritarian government in Hungary. When I think of the soul of Anglo-American conservatism, I think of limited government, incremental change, a concern for social cohesion, and a defense of old-school liberalism — a free press, free speech, free association, free markets, freedom of religion.
I think of a government eager to ensure that capitalism can work without excessive government intervention, but also a dedication to enforcing the integrity of the market — busting monopolies, regulating stock markets, prosecuting corruption. I think of a conservatism that enforces borders, but has no issue with vibrant, moderate immigration.
And yet many on the right now seem happy to chuck all this into the dustbin of history — in order to make a pilgrimage to a nasty little regime that for some rather ugly reason gives them hope.
Gosh. “Nasty little regime”? This is the elected government of a democratic state, a government that has won three free elections in a row. Andrew’s problem isn’t with the Hungarian government. It’s with Hungarian democracy, and the people who voted for the Orban government. And it’s a “government,” not a “regime”. There is an election next spring, in which the Orban government has a pretty good chance of being thrown out. It knows it, too. I spoke to a number of people in the Fidesz party, and they are concerned. Regimes don’t worry about re-election; governments do. By Andrew’s standards, a social conservative like me could look at the socially liberal, democratically elected governments of the Netherlands or Sweden, and denounce them as “regimes” because they pursue policies I dislike.
More importantly, Andrew is describing a conservatism that is no longer as viable as it once was. I share most of the views that he lays out above, with the exception of his views on immigration. There is a problem with this kind of conservatism in America, and a problem with it in Hungary.
In America, this kind of conservatism has done nothing to protect the economic stability of a large number of people. It has done nothing to prevent the monopolization undertaken by companies like Amazon.com. It has done nothing to stop the wildfire-spread of a radically illiberal ideology (wokeness) throughout American institutions, including Woke Capitalist ones. “Incremental change”? Really? We are now living under the “successor ideology,” as Wes Yang calls it, to liberalism, one in which longstanding old-school liberal values are being tossed into the dustbin of history by radicals who have captured the institutions, and who are propagandizing the young with frankly insane ideologies of race and gender. And what does this Anglo-American conservatism Andrew espouses do about it? Little or nothing. Write op-eds. Tweet. That’s about it.
Viktor Orban, it seems to me, understands what’s happening better than our own conservative politicians do. He understands that illiberal leftism is taking over under the guise of liberalism — and that when it does, when it forms the elites in its own image, it’s over for conservatives. You should know that Orban was not part of the liberal Budapest elite. He comes from the sticks. In Hungary, the nasty way the Budapest elites treated him when he was a junior politician was not lost on that man. He knows who they are, and he knows how they are. Whatever his sins and failings, Viktor Orban did not go native when he came to power.
Orban also takes the long view. He governs a country that is overwhelmingly secular (alas). But he understands in ways that our own conservative politicians do not that the social and cultural order we all take for granted is built on Christianity. If Christianity goes, we lose our civilization. Christianity is on its last legs in most of Europe, but Orban is not willing to surrender yet. I find that admirable. He is clear-eyed about the reality of the situation, having said once in an interview that as a politician, he cannot give people meaning in life. That can only come from religion, or a religious-like commitment to transcendent values. But as a politician, he can use his power to create the conditions under which such commitments can be cultivated. That’s the best any of us can hope from a politician.
How many Republican politicians have you heard making strong vocal cases for defending religious liberty, or talking about how the Christian religion has benefited America — this, as opposed to just name-checking religion, then going on to vote as if religious liberty were not under siege here? Right, I thought so. Politico reported yesterday that the GOP has given up on its opposition to gay rights. I actually agree that it is pointless to fight gay marriage — it was settled by SCOTUS, and it has been widely accepted in US society. But the trans issue is much bigger and more destabilizing, and besides, religious liberty is in the balance when it comes to things like the Equality Act. The GOP has held the line against the Equality Act in the Senate, but I have seen no energy for making the case for why it is a bad law.
Anyway, more from Sully:
In almost every respect, it is vitally important to note, the Hungarian government is profoundly anti-conservative. It is deeply corrupt, treating the free market as a joke, with one man directing vast amounts of state funds to his friends and cronies in return for their support. Its free press is under siege, with “nearly 80 percent of the market for political and public affairs news … financed by sources decided by the ruling party.” State advertising is a huge part of media budgets, and Viktor Orbàn ensures it goes to his outlets. Its government monitors the Internet for violations of the moral order, forcing one university to leave the country entirely, while setting up a heavily subsidized complex of pro-Orbàn right-wing institutions to rival the left’s.
Stop right there. Andrew holds a Ph.D in government from Harvard, and wrote his dissertation on Michael Oakeshott. He knows well that continental European conservatism differs significantly from Anglo-American conservatism. I’m not going to delve into those differences here, but I must make clear that the US and the UK are not the final arbiters of what conservatism is. European conservatives, for example, do not regard the state with the same hostility and suspicion as Anglo-American conservatives do. For better or for worse, this is their long tradition. We may think they are wrong, but it is absurd to call them “profoundly anti-conservative.”
On the media front, from what I’ve been able to tell, Orban’s media maneuvering is dodgy. But in talking to Hungarians about it, including a couple of longtime journalists, if Orban had not done this, there would be no conservative voices in the media, even though half the country is conservative. Does that justify what Orban did? Maybe not. But conservatives living in the US and Western Europe know all too well how overwhelmingly liberal the news media are. As one well-informed Hungarian friend explained to me, knowing that I don’t speak Hungarian, by far the most read and influential media outlets in Hungary are the liberal ones. When critics say that Orban supporters control 90 percent of the Hungarian media, this is kind of like what you would get if conservatives somehow controlled all of the local small-town papers in the New York City area, plus the New York Post, and you claimed that the poor New York Times was besieged by 90 percent of the New York papers being in the hands of conservatives. Context is everything.
In what sense does Orban “treat the free market as a joke”? It is true that his government has been much more interventionist in the free market than American conservatives would generally support. But this has a lot to do with Hungary’s particular historical situation. After Communism fell, Western capitalists bought up decrepit state-owned industries. Like most of the former Communist countries of Europe, Hungary had a very difficult transition to liberal democracy (the book to read about this is The Light That Failed, by the liberal scholars Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes). When he came to power in 2010, riding a wave of disgust with the governing Left, over corruption and economic incompetence, Orban set out to repatriate a lot of those industries. As a Hungarian friend put it to me, Orban knew that as long as the main industries were held by owners outside the country, Hungary would be vulnerable to foreign control. My friend admitted that there is a lot of cronyism in those companies, but said that this is something that Hungarians can solve themselves at the ballot box. The important thing is that these companies are under Hungarian control now.
This is something that I did not understand until I went to Hungary, and that few if any of the American critics of Orban understand. Hungary was ruled by Ottoman occupiers for a couple of centuries. It was ruled by the Habsburgs from Vienna after that. Many Hungarians hold as heroes the leaders of their failed 1848 nationalist revolution, all executed by the Habsburgs. After their loss in World War I, they saw their country dismantled by the Treaty of Trianon imposed on them by the victorious Western allies. Two-thirds of historic Hungarian territory was taken away. To this day, foreigners are amazed by how much Trianon is talked about among Hungarians. I rarely heard any of them talk about Communism; I often heard them talking about Trianon. (I am neither defending or opposing the Trianon treaty; I am simply explaining to you why the idea of national sovereignty is such a big deal among the Hungarians.) After World War II, of course, Hungary was controlled by the Soviet Union, only gaining its freedom in 1989.
My point is this: Hungarians feel very, very strongly about deciding how they will be ruled, and not having external powers — not sultans, not non-Magyar monarchs, not Russian politburos, not Brussels Eurocrats, and not Western capitalists — tell them how to run their business. This dedication to sovereignty is a big reason conservatives should admire Orban. I won’t defend crony capitalism; none of us do. I can tell you from talking to ordinary Hungarians throughout the summer — even those who intend to vote for Orban’s party at the next election — that Fidesz’s toleration of corruption is hurting it with the people. But you should understand that corruption of this sort is very common in the post-Communist countries, where it is far more tolerated in political culture than in the West.
Moreover, Orban intervened in a popular way when, in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, banks began lining up to throw Hungarians out of their houses for non-payment of their mortgages. I don’t know the specifics of that move, so I can’t say whether it was good or bad. But I can say that I favor state intervention in markets in extreme situations, to protect the common good. If that’s not conservative, okay, it’s not conservative. But I believe it is conservative.
And you should also understand that no American conservative is holding Orban up as a political saint to be emulated in every respect. This is what those who criticize people like me refuse to understand, because it is in their rhetorical interest not to understand it. You could no more lift the Orban government up from Budapest and transplant it in Washington any more than you could transplant the Biden government to Budapest. Hungarians and Americans are very different peoples, with different histories and different values. If a delegation of Hungarian lawmakers came to America to observe our system, looking for practices they could take back home and put to work within their system, in a Hungarian context, wouldn’t that be, you know, normal? Nobody would accuse them of trying to make Hungary like America. Likewise, it is perfectly normal that Americans might go abroad looking for practices of other governments that might be interpreted in an American context, for the common good.
The Orban government’s response to Covid was much stricter than most American conservatives would support. But American conservatives would be fools to say that there is nothing to learn from Orban’s example, because he is wrong (in their view) on Covid. Tucker Carlson could not possibly be more opposed to the Hungarian Covid response. But you know what? Tucker Carlson is a grown-up, and realizes that strongly opposing one government policy doesn’t invalidate the entire government and its philosophy. Then again, I guess people who sidelined Pat Buchanan back in the day on Iraq and Afghanistan because they hate his views on Israel, or homosexuality, or whatever, cannot be expected to take this nuanced view.
You would think, though, that in light of America’s spectacular failure to impose liberal democracy on Afghanistan, our pundits would stop for a second and realize that not everybody is a Western liberal democrat — and that that is okay. More on this in a bit.
Orbàn also has no intention of losing power — even if he were to lose the next election. He is constructing a private deep state in Hungary that controls almost the entire higher education system, transferring massive amounts of public funds to his loyalists who will dictate curricula in eleven universities. “Basically a parallel state is being composed, a state within a state, where the next government has very little room to implement its election program. Because until then, the state is simply outsourced,” said Bernadett Szel, an independent lawmaker, told the AP.
This is mostly true — not all the Hungarian universities are going into the system — and I support it. I would not have as recently as a few years ago. Any American with eyes to see, the illiberal left has conquered most of academia, and is making it impossible for dissenters to thrive there. We are sitting back and watching state legislatures, often controlled by Republicans, allowing taxpayer-supported universities to fall to these woke Jacobins, and doing nothing about it. Orban takes a different view. It is certainly possible that these Fidesz-friendly regents will interfere wrongly in the lives of the universities. But given the overwhelming move to the illiberal left of academic culture in the West, what is the alternative?
In 2015, when we had coffee in Boston, Andrew told me that he is unwelcome on many college campuses, because the illiberal gay campus left won’t tolerate him. I was incredulous. “But you are one of a handful of people most responsible for getting gay marriage in this country!” I said. Yes, he agreed, but this doesn’t matter to these Leninists. It has only gotten worse since then, as we all know. Personally, I would prefer universities as they were when Andrew and I were undergraduates. That option is not on offer now. The kind of conservatism Andrew said above that he favors works when most people in a society are committed to classically liberal principles. Again, illiberal leftism has conquered the institutions, and nothing attempted by conservatives has stopped it. Maybe Viktor Orban’s strategy is wrong — but I prefer the radical measures Orban is taking to defend the sanity of universities to the de facto surrendering the US Republicans are doing to the left’s Taliban march through the institutions of higher learning.
When I was in Budapest this summer, a left-wing atheist American academic messaged me to say he had been offered a fellowship at Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest, a more or less conservative college. Should he take it? He had heard all these awful things about Hungary. Sure, he despises wokeness, and has seen how it has destroyed freedom on his campus, but he did not want to trade leftist wokeness for rightist wokeness. I assured him that in all my interactions with MCC people, I found professors and administrators who were generally conservative, but definitely open to hearing all sides. “You will be able to have the kinds of discussions at MCC that you can’t have on your own campus,” I said. He took the fellowship. I will be eager to hear from him what he discovers from his time there.
We could not do in the US what Orban has done in setting up a parallel deep state, even if we wanted to. Still, as a besieged American conservative, I appreciate that Orban is not being defensive, but going on offense before his enemies — who are the enemies of free speech and free thought — take control of the universities. It is my impression that Hungarian universities, though dominated by the Left, aren’t nearly as far gone as US universities are in race and gender ideology. But Europeans well know that what starts in America eventually will come to them. This is why Orban took away funding and accreditation for gender studies programs. This is a vector for the kind of social destruction that is tearing America apart. Orban is defending his country from the disease that is consuming the United States. Good. I honestly do not understand why we conservatives are expected to stand by and watch our institutions captured and our civilization threatened with destruction by these ideologues, because to take firm action to defeat them is a violation of a set of principles that are sound within a broadly liberal polity, but which manifestly cannot hold back the advance of soft totalitarianism.
American conservative politician cannot do what Orban is doing, for various reasons. But can we not do something, while we still have the freedom to act?
In Hungary, economic freedom means that your job is often dependent on your loyalty to the regime, and where Orbàn-supportive oligarchs police their workforces for dissent.
How does he know this? “Often dependent”? Define “often”. You would get the idea from this that Orban is running a police state. This is 100 percent not true. I have indeed heard that in some offices and institutions, you could fear for your job if you were known to be opposed to Orban. But Hungary has a vast private sector. Nobody cares what you think about the government there. And even in the public (state-owned) sector, I doubt very much that Sully’s claim is true. Peter Kreko, one of the most principled and outspoken anti-Orban liberals, told me that he can stand in his university classroom in Budapest and say whatever he wants about the Orban government, without having to worry about reprisal. When we shared the stage in Esztergom at the ideas festival a couple of weekends ago, Peter said to the crowd that Westerners who describe Hungary as “fascist” are very, very far from the mark.
Besides which, in how many institutions in the USA would your employment be at risk if you were believed to hold incorrect opinions about race, sexuality, or gender? Are we really so sure we have the right to get on our high horse about Orban?
In Hungary, representative government means an election system that Orbàn has so gerrymandered and rigged, he can win two-thirds of the parliamentary seats with less than 50 percent of the vote — and thereby amend the constitution to perpetuate his kleptocracy. In Hungary, the judiciary has been so shamelessly packed, it is loyal first of all to Orbàn, whose power keeps increasing as a result of his gerry-rigged super-majority in parliament. And Orbàn himself appears motivated by nothing as much as the amount he can steal from his own citizens. Which is quite a pile of lucre.
None of this is particularly hard to find out. This miserable cultish regime doesn’t try very hard to disguise its brand of corrupt illiberalism…
“Miserable cultish regime” — now we have moved from analysis to hysteria. Peter Kreko — again, one of the most prominent Orban critics — co-authored this 2018 paper explaining Hungary’s situation. He points out that Fidesz has gerrymandered the electoral system to its own benefit. If true — and I suspect it is — then that cannot be defended. But note well that the popular liberal opinion in the US today holds that processes can be rigged to achieve particular outcomes if it produces politically desirable outcomes — such as advantaging favored minorities. Liberals in the West who criticize Fidesz for rigging the system to get more votes need to explain why that’s bad but their own schemes to bring about “equity” by rigging hiring, testing procedures, and so forth, is acceptable.
The more you pay attention to Hungary and its critics, the more you come to see that we are dealing with a Leninist “who, whom?” dynamic — that is, one in which it’s not principle that judges the morality of an act, but outcome.
So, here’s that Kreko excerpt:
The Fidesz regime’s stability rests on more than a tilted electoral playing field, however. It does have some genuine support from the people. For more than a dozen years, the ruling party has regularly led its closest competitor in opinion polls by fifteen to twenty points. Hungarians rose up against communist rule in 1956 and embraced democratic reforms in 1989. They enjoy the secret ballot, face no threat of violence, live in a country belonging to that club of democracies called the European Union, and get news from journalists who need fear no jail time. Yet these same Hungarians tolerate and indeed vote for an increasingly autocratic regime.
Although the Hungarian populists’ ideology has paternalist features that set them apart from other populist parties, Hungary’s case is part of a larger trend. The nationalistic turn in Hungary has undoubtedly drawn legitimization from the Western world’s larger shift toward identity politics. The general backlash against political correctness and “gender ideology” led the Hungarian leaders to realize that there is nothing inevitable about the growing influence of progressive-liberal values.
These global changes have re-amplified the authoritarian characteristics of Central and East European political culture, especially the prevalence of “hierarchy values” over the values of egalitarianism, intellectual and affective autonomy, and mastery (ambition, daring, and the like). Low social trust and disillusionment with democracy and capitalism have made it hard to build a civil society robust enough to defend pluralism.
You see this? Kreko, who is a social scientist, is explaining that Hungarians, like others in the region, have a different set of values from Western liberals. To be perfectly clear: Kreko and his co-author are lamenting this! I strongly encourage you to read the entire Kreko paper. Assuming that he is accurately describing cronyism throughout the government, I agree with him that this should be rejected. To be very clear, that is one aspect of Orban rule that I would not support for America, and I’m quite sure that none of my fellow US conservatives who are interested in Hungary would want that. But Kreko and his co-author explain why a lot of Hungarians actually support Fidesz.
Back to Sully:
The second source of Orbàn’s appeal is his dogged refusal to accept any Muslim refugees from Syria, and to have set up an effective fence to ensure that migrants have to bypass Hungary to get to the EU. The third appeal seems to be his willingness to deploy old-school fear of gays and transgender people to rally the heartland against toxic Western elites. The themes of country, family, Christianity, and ethnic homogeneity are Orbàn’s go-to arguments/dog-whistles, as you can see in the video above.
Well, yes, we do admire Orban’s defense of Hungarian sovereignty. Angela Merkel broke EU rules in 2015 to open the floodgates to Middle Eastern refugees. Hungarians can look at what is happening in Western Europe, with crime rates and even terrorism from Muslim migrants, and have decided they do not want that there. They have seen how difficult it has been for Muslims to assimilate to European societies, and are drawing clear lessons from the experience of their EU partners. Hungarians also know that Western NGOs, such as George Soros and his Open Society Foundations, have openly advocated for open borders. Hungarians speak a peculiar language that nobody else speaks, and have a culture that nobody in the world has. They do not want to be assimilated into the globalist mass — and they don’t apologize for it. We conservatives are supposed to be appalled by that? Viktor Orban defends his nation. From Kreko’s paper:
For a large segment of society, [Orban’s] story is the nation’s story, and the barbs launched against him by foreign critics simply mark yet another chapter in the old tale of Hungary’s long, lonely walk through history. As Martin Fletcher has put it, “Orbán’s unashamed nationalism, blunt speaking and brazen defiance of Brussels resonate in a country for which the 20th century was a litany of humiliations.”
About Sully’s line on LGBTs, this only makes sense if you believe that everything LGBT activists want is right and just, and the only reason to object to any of it is bigotry. Which is nonsense. In Hungary today, civil partnerships are available to gay couples, though they are not allowed to adopt children. Gay marriage was available to no Americans until Massachusetts became the first state to legalize it in 2004. Civil partnerships came into existence in 2000, when Vermont became the first state to pass them into law. Those troglodytic Hungarians are already ahead of where nearly all American states were twenty years ago.
Many Americans and Western Europeans simply cannot accept the fact of moral differences among populations. Hungary, like other Visegrad nations, is much more conservative on LGBT than the West. It is we in the West who are the global outliers on LGBT. It is interesting to observe how so many on the US left are all about “decolonizing” institutions, but are eager to force Western cultural values of which they approve onto unwilling foreign countries.
This past summer, Hungary’s parliament passed a law forbidding pro-LGBT information targeted to minors. I understand why people like Andrew are angry about that, and in any case, such a law would surely be unconstitutional in the US. Nevertheless, if it were possible to stanch the raging river of propaganda thrown at American children, I would be very happy. Hungarian parents don’t have to worry about malefactors like this woman screwing with the heads of their children:
These are the people you entrust your 2 year old with pic.twitter.com/49Q0lqEv7T
— Libs of Tik Tok (@libsoftiktok) August 16, 2021
Furthermore, unlike the European Union states from the West, Hungary has not tried to push its more conservative standards on others. It only asks to be left alone. Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, said that Hungary ought to be thrown out of the EU over its media law. This is the media culture around LGBT in the Netherlands:
In the Netherlands, there’s a show for kids called Gewoon Bloot (Simply Naked) that features adults standing nude before children, teaching them about body parts. Read more about it here. Here’s a screenshot from the program’s website (translated into English):
If you go to the show’s website, you can see past episodes — but I don’t recommend it at work, because there is actual full-frontal nudity.
Viktor Orban did not tell Mark Rutte that his country should be kicked out of the EU over its perverse standards for media and child sex education. He only wants Hungary to be left alone. What’s wrong with that? What right do other countries have to tell Hungary, or any other EU nation, how they can and can’t educate their children, according to their own values?
This below from Sully is a tell, a way you know that the critic doesn’t really understand what is happening in Hungary vis-a-vis George Soros:
Tucker then described Orbàn’s opposition as a bunch of anti-Semites (some are) without once noting Orbàn’s own rhetoric: “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward, but crafty; not honest, but base; not national, but international; does not believe in working, but speculates with money.” Hmmm. Tucker knows this. His decision to deflect from Orbàn’s anti-Semitism and suggest that he was the main force opposing it is simply despicable.
Once again, we turn to liberal anti-Orban academic Peter Kreko and his co-author to explain what’s actually going on:
Observers often call the anti-Soros campaign an instance of anti-Semitism. No doubt the image of a Jewish financier running a worldwide conspiracy is a familiar anti-Semitic trope, and the designers of the campaign were fully aware of the popular reactions triggered by billboards across the country saying, “We shall not let Soros have the last laugh.” It would be wrong, however, to interpret the state’s propaganda in ethnic or racial terms. Relations between Hungary and Israel have never been stronger, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu—another well-known Soros foe—has supported the campaign.In parallel with it, Orbán began speaking more about the need to fight anti-Semitism, and justifying his policies against refugees in part by invoking the need to protect Hungarian Jews from attacks by Muslim immigrants. The main advantage of the campaign against Soros is not that he is Jewish, but that he can be built up as an “umbrella enemy”—the puppet master allegedly pulling the strings of all the government’s foes, including the NGOs, the critical media, the opposition parties, and the EU.
The fact that George Soros is Jewish makes it easy for liberals to assume Orban’s attacks on him are anti-Semitic. As Kreko appears to acknowledge, an expatriate Hungarian Gentile billionaire pushing the same causes as Soros would draw the same kind of reaction. In 2015, Soros wrote:
First, the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future. And, to do that, it must share the burden fairly — a principle that a qualified majority finally established at a Sept. 23 summit.
A million foreigners annually, with no end in sight. That did not happen, thank God, but had Europe done as Soros suggested, it would have meant the end of Europe. Viktor Orban understands what George Soros is all about. Besides, this past summer in Budapest, in my daily walks through the Jewish quarter after anti-Semitic violent attacks broke out in Paris, London, New York, and other Western capitals, I was shocked to see no police or soldiers guarding synagogues and Jewish businesses. Orthodox Jews walked the streets without fear. This happened in Orban’s Hungary — not Macron’s Paris, Johnson’s London, or Biden’s New York. Why do you suppose that is? Do you think there is something to be learned from Orban?
Tucker actually allowed the prime minister to give the impression that Hungary was now dealing with immigration from other European states, when, of course, it’s Hungary that’s fast losing its younger population to freer societies like Germany and the UK. He also let Orbàn give the impression that he was defending a Christian country against secular nihilists, when, in fact, post-communist Hungary is profoundly secular, and Orbàn’s adherence to Christianity is about as credible as Trump’s.
You’d get the impression from this that Hungarian youth are emigrating because they can’t abide Orban’s oppression. In fact, they are emigrating for the same reason all the EU countries that formerly were part of the Soviet bloc are losing people to Western countries: there are more economic opportunities there. Salaries are much higher in the West than in Central Europe. If you have language skills and a desire to travel and make more money than you could back home, why not? Young people in low-wage states like my own, Louisiana, migrate to work in states where the wages are higher — and it’s not because we live in an unfree state.
Moreover, Sully is being disingenuous in his attack on Orban’s Christianity. I don’t know if he practices the faith or not (I know from personal contact that his son Gaspar is a genuinely devout Christian, and is working towards being a military chaplain), but Orban has never claimed that Hungary is today a bastion of living Christian faith. He has instead claimed, correctly, that Hungary is historically Christian, and that Hungary’s Christian legacy is something well worth defending. I think he truly believes it, but even if he didn’t, some things are true even when Viktor Orban and Donald Trump say them.
We have just watched in Afghanistan the power of an outgunned and outmanned force of religious tribalists to defeat a bigger and technologically superior army. Read your Michel Houellebecq: there is no way decadent bourgeois Europe is going to turn back a serious internal challenge from militant Islamists. You can’t fight a strong god with a weak god, or no god at all. This is something that is impossible for liberals to accept, but it’s true.
And in his authoritarianism, Orbàn is often in direct conflict with Tucker’s usual politics. Take Orbàn’s response to Covid. He swiftly seized emergency powers that allowed him to “suspend the enforcement of certain laws, depart from statutory regulations and implement additional extraordinary measures by decree.” That power was indefinite. Tucker didn’t let his viewers know that.
Well, Tucker might not have known that himself, because as soon as the initial Covid emergency passed three months later, in June 2020, Parliament voted to remove those powers from Orban. Andrew didn’t let his readers know that.
Tucker routinely lambastes Twitter’s clumsy, private sector attempts to censor some Covid19 info. But did he mention Orbàn’s policy of preventing dissemination of what the government regards as “misinformation”? Nah. Maybe that’s because in Hungary, Orbàn would put you in jail for one to five years for challenging the government diktat.
That law against disseminating Covid misinformation was part of the March 2020 bill granting Orban emergency powers to deal with the crisis. It was repealed three months later. The context here was the global advent of a deadly virus that no one knew how to deal with. It is not at all unusual for a government dealing with wars or other national emergencies to clamp down on the spread of false information that can undermine the safety of the country and public order. It may or may not have been a wise idea for Orban to do this, but it only lasted for three months, and it was repealed. Sully seems to think that it’s still on the books.
The US spans a continent and is overwhelmed with hundreds of thousands of migrants pouring over the border right now; Hungary, in stark contrast, is the size of Indiana, and losing population fast, as its young and brightest emigrate in large numbers.
Again, the lack of context here is important. Andrew would have you believe that the “best and brightest” are leaving Hungary in protest of Orban’s government. In fact, all the former Communist countries of Central Europe are hemorrhaging workers to the West. People tend to move where they can make more money. If the Left takes power in Hungary after next year’s election, this will not change. We are talking about a migration that is primarily economic, not political. The former Communist countries have had to rebuild their economies from the rubble of Communism, and in the face of the destruction of trust that is an essential part of civil society — especially a free market society. It is unreasonable to expect them to be on par economically with Western European countries. This is an unfair comparison.
In fact, it’s hard to see any area where Hungary could be a sane model for the US. Its size, demography, culture, homogeneity, history and economy are so, so different. Our very Constitution forbids the idea that the US could be deemed a “Christian democracy,” the term used by Orbàn to describe his country. So what is the appeal?
Its appeal, surely, is that it represents post-liberalism. Go there and you’ll see white people everywhere, with none of the racial and cultural diversity in so much of the West.
Ah, that’s it: we on the Orbanophilic Right must really be racist. It is sad to see Andrew Sullivan, who has kept his head in the face of leftist illiberalism, falling for the Leftist canard that the only reason to oppose the things the Left proposes is bigotry.
In Budapest, the color of my skin is the same as most Hungarians’, but I am an outsider there. I don’t speak their very difficult language. Their history is not my history. Their culture is not my culture. I enjoyed being among them, admiring what is theirs, and they were quite welcoming to me. I would go back in a heartbeat if invited. That said, I would not blame them at all for not offering me or people like me citizenship, on the grounds that they wanted to keep Hungary Hungarian. I think every nation should have the right to determine who gets to live within its borders. If Israel wants to keep non-Jewish immigration to a minimum, what business is it of mine to tell them they’re wrong? If Norway wants to only let in other Europeans as immigrants, on the grounds that they will have an easier time assimilating to Norwegian norms, so what? That makes sense. If Turkey curbs non-Muslim immigration because its leaders fear diluting the Islamic character of the country, why is that wrong?
Liberal modernity sees national particularity as a problem to be overcome. People like Andrew and me are cosmopolitan, and enjoy the pleasures of travel, of ethnic restaurants, and all the delights of global culture. But not everybody is like us, and it doesn’t make those people who prefer to keep things as they are immoral or foolish to defend what is theirs from those who would force them to change.
Think of Brexit. Here, an English journalist who opposed Brexit explained it to American readers:
The U.S. negotiated with Canada and Mexico to create a free trade zone called NAFTA, just as the U.K. negotiated entry to what was then a free trade zone called the “European Economic Community” in 1973. Now imagine further that NAFTA required complete freedom of movement for people across all three countries. Any Mexican or Canadian citizen would have the automatic right to live and work in the U.S., including access to public assistance, and every American could live and work in Mexico and Canada on the same grounds. This three-country grouping then establishes its own Supreme Court, which has a veto over the U.S. Supreme Court. And then there’s a new currency to replace the dollar, governed by a new central bank, located in Ottawa.
How many Americans would support this? How many votes would a candidate for president get if he or she proposed it? The questions answer themselves. It would be unimaginable for the U.S. to allow itself to be governed by an entity more authoritative than its own government. It would signify the end of the American experiment, because it would effectively be the end of the American nation-state. But this is precisely the position the U.K. has been in for most of my lifetime. The U.K. has no control over immigration from 27 other countries in Europe, and its less regulated economy has attracted hundreds of thousands of foreigners to work in the country, transforming its culture and stressing its hospitals, schools and transportation system. Its courts ultimately have to answer to the European Court. Most aspects of its economy are governed by rules set in Brussels. It cannot independently negotiate any aspect of its own trade agreements. I think the cost-benefit analysis still favors being a member of the E.U. But it is not crazy to come to the opposite conclusion.
Who was that English journalist? Why, Andrew Sullivan, writing in 2019 in New York.
If he would set aside his anti-Orban hysteria and think about why Viktor Orban is popular in the same way he analyzed the psychological appeal of Brexit, I don’t think he would come around to supporting Orban, but he would have a better understanding of why conservatives in both Hungary and outside of Hungary are interested in him.
Here, then, is my bullet-point summary of why conservatives like me are interested in Viktor Orban and his program. Some conservatives would add to this list, probably, and others might subtract. It’s why I’m interested in him, and I suspect that I speak for many:
- He values localism, particularity, and sovereignty, believing that each nation should have the right to decide its own way of life, in accord with its own values
- He understands the Realpolitik of the current moment, and the barely-concealed illiberalism of liberals
- He grasps clearly the threats from racial and gender politics
- He defends the traditional family, and supports it with policies encouraging family formation
- He believes in the free market, but will not defend its claims at the expense of the common good
- He understands immigration as a potential threat to the stability and cultural continuity of the nation
- And in all these things, he is willing to fight hard for the things he believes in
My primary concern with Orban’s governance is the high toleration for corruption and cronyism. I think the cost-benefit analysis still favors being on Team Orban, and it’s not even close. I invite Andrew Sullivan to re-examine his premises — and maybe even to go to Hungary for a months as a fellow of the Danube Institute, which is run by his old friend John O’Sullivan. As I said, I don’t expect him to join Team Orban, but I think he will realize that it’s not crazy to come to the opposite conclusion.
I’ll end on this, for those who are really interested in this stuff. Here is a link to the transcript of an interview with Orban at the 2020 National Conservatism conference in Rome. I was there and heard this live. Check out these excerpts:
[ORBAN:] In our understanding the liberal government model failed, obviously failed two times in one decade. First in 2008, during the financial crisis in Europe. Liberal governments failed. They were not able to regulate their economy in a proper way and they were not able to defend their own economy against the crisis. And it was not just because of the conjuncture, it was because of the structure and the loss of competitiveness.
And then, in 2015 the liberal governments failed a second time, which was the migration crisis. And the liberal governments failed to protect their own citizens, they failed to protect their own borders, and the security of their own citizens, and stop illegal migration, so it means that liberal governments failed.
And the principal basis for liberal governments was liberal democracy. Liberal democracy in that sense is over. We need something new. We can call it illiberal, we can call it post-liberal, you can call it Christian democratic, whatever, but we need something new, because on that basis we cannot provide good governance for the people.
And don’t forget that democracy means two things. First, to provide a chance of participation for citizens, and second, good governance. Democracy makes no sense without good governance. And now it is obvious that on a liberal basis we cannot provide good governance for the people. So we developed a new theory and a new approach: that is Christian democracy. And instead of liberal freedom we use Christian liberty, so we have a wording how we describe the system we have built up. It is very unique, nobody likes it outside Hungary, the liberal press is always attacking us, making jokes of us, but it works. And the people vote for it again and again and again. This is my approach, and that’s the reason why I believe in Christian democracy.
And this is probably the point where I have to make some comments on Catholics. Because national sovereignty and Christian democracy and the anti-empire attitude that we have, somehow involve the Catholic Church into the discussion. As some of the professors pointed out in their books, if we would like to build up sovereign nation states we have to resist the attempts to build an empire. And I would like to mention that the reason why we think that Christian democracy is a good description for us is that the universal Catholic approach is the only one – I am a Calvinist, anyway –, the only one which appreciates and accepts national sovereignty. It is a global idea but considers sovereign states valuable.
That is the reason why in Hungary, where 75% are Catholic and 25% are Calvinists, we are able to cooperate for national sovereignty on a Christian-democratic basis. That creates a national unity for national sovereignty, as we understand. So Christian democracy I think is the best framework to conceptualise what we are doing.
One more bit:
Christopher DeMuth: The immigration crisis of 2015 has played a major role in the rise of conservative movements and parties around Europe. You have had several successes in stabilising the situation. Is that a problem solved, and we don’t have to worry about it, you can turn to other things, or are there looming additional problems for Hungary or for Europe or generally?
Viktor Orbán: First of all, just as a description. In Hungary we have Muslim migrants that amount to zero. So we don’t have any. The Hungarian situation is totally different from that of the Western countries and the Southern countries. It is pure mathematics to understand to where the Western countries will develop in terms of demography and composition of their societies.
Mathematics is a very severe thing. It is obvious that they will create, will develop or evolve a society which will be a composition of a big Muslim community which is growing, and a Christian community which is decreasing. That is how the Western countries will look like, whether we like it or not. It is not a wish, it is not a critique, it is a description, you know, of what is going on, not just because of the migration crisis in 2015 but because of the previous 30 years as they understood the whole issue of migration, and because of the poor performance of families, in terms of reproduction of their nations in many countries.
So the outcome in many countries is a society, a new type of society consisting of a decreasing Christian element and an increasing Muslim element. The liberals support that process, because the liberals think it is good. They don’t like Christian society, they don’t like the identity as we understand societies, so they think that the new composition of Western societies would provide a nicer life, a better life than it was during the so called Christian Europe. Therefore they support that process.
In Central Europe we have a different approach. We don’t know whether they are right or not. Probably their life and their society will be happier as a mixed society, probably. But we would not like to take the risk. That is our point. My goal is not to convince the Westerners that what they are doing is bad, because it is not my job, it is their nation and it is their country. What I would like to ask from them is to not force us to follow the same track that they are proceeding on, that is the Central European position – just to clarify the present situation and political dispute.
The second is, the migration crisis became important not just because of migration. The migration crisis raised the issue of identity. And the identity issue was forbidden in Western political disputes. It was not PC, it was not correct, so to raise the question of who we are, what is happening, what kind of changes are going on in our society, where is our national identity, where is our religious identity, these issues were not fashionable – may I say in that way? – in the last 20-30 years.
But because of the migration crisis there was no chance to avoid that dispute, and that is the reason why now, in many countries, we have identity issues at the centre of political disputes. What does it mean to be French? What does it mean to be German? It is more complicated anyway. What does it mean to be Italian? Or to be Central European, or Hungarian? These issues are legitimate again. That is the reason for the books written by some of you: Strange death of Europe, Virtue of Nationalism, and those kinds of books became very, very popular in Hungary and Central Europe, because now the issue is on the surface. We can’t avoid discussing those issues.
Therefore migration is bad, because it is a real danger, but on the other side it generated disputes which provided a chance for us to explain who we are, and raise the question that without defining who we are again, we cannot be successful and competitive with those nations, as I mentioned, who are just strengthening their own national identity.
So the dispute is OK, the dispute is good, the dispute is the only chance for national conservatives to get a majority in society. Because to get a majority does not mean that you have a majority in the government. Majority means that you have a majority of the opinion of the people. And the migration issue is a good cause for Christian democrats and national conservatives to explain again to the people what is at stake, what is really important, and how we imagine the future.
So use the chance, that was always my point. OK it is a bad development of course, because of the turmoil in Africa, and so on, and because of the pressure on the border, it is not good. But intellectually don’t miss the chance to clarify again who you are, and what is your vision on your own future. And that is how we understand migration.
If you are the kind of person who says Viktor Orban doesn’t like migration because he thinks black and brown people are icky, you are being foolish, and ought to grow up.
UPDATE: James C. writes:
By Andrew’s standards, a social conservative like me could look at the socially liberal, democratically elected governments of the Netherlands or Sweden, and denounce them as “regimes” because they pursue policies I dislike.
Funny you mention those two countries. After every election in those countries, there is a stitch-up by opposing parties to form governments of “grand coalitions”. However, the Orbanite conservative parties are always shut out by the “right” and the “left” (in reality little different) in a cordon sanitaire, their voters denied a voice.
Both prime ministers. Stefan Löfven and Mark Rutte, have been in power for many years—Rutte as long as Orban—despite never garnering more than 31% support in any election.
And let’s not even get into the Swedish and Dutch state media, which are nakedly conformist, with commercial media also almost entirely in lockstep. Politically incorrect opinions are banished to corners of the internet.
Meanwhile, political opponents are openly tried and convicted for their speech. (Wilders again recently).
But let’s talk about the Hungarian ‘regime’.
MSPs have passed Scotland’s controversial new hate crime law.
The legislation consolidates existing law and extends protection for vulnerable groups with a new offence of “stirring up hatred”.
It was passed by 82 votes to 32 a day later than expected, after MSPs ran out of time on Wednesday while debating a raft of amendments.
Opponents of the bill said they still have concerns about a possible chilling of free speech.
There were four abstentions.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I am delighted Holyrood has backed this powerful legislation that is fitting for the Scotland we live in.
“Parliament has sent a strong and clear message to victims, perpetrators, communities and to wider society that offences motivated by prejudice will be treated seriously and will not be tolerated.”
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was first introduced last April in response to an independent review of Scotland’s hate crime laws by Lord Bracadale, but has sparked fierce debate.
Under the bill, offences are considered “aggravated” – which could influence sentencing – if they involve prejudice on the basis of age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or variations in sex characteristics (sometimes described as “intersex” physical or biological characteristics).
It also creates new offences of “stirring up hatred” – which previously applied only to race – and abolishes the offence of blasphemy which has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years.