The Vindication of Viktor Orban
Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister strongly opposed to immigration, will feel vindicated in his view that western Europe is reaping what it has sown through a disastrous policy of liberal multiculturalism that will not be repeated in central and eastern Europe. He has plenty of support.
I think he’s right, but before my fellow conservatives look forward to Orbanism spreading in Western Europe, read this piece by James Traub on what Orban’s (popular) rule has meant in Hungary. Excerpt:
Orban’s Hungary is not Putin’s Russia, or even Erdogan’s Turkey, but it is a country where checks on the power of the state have been steadily eroding. “You now have an intrusion of the state into your every day life in a way that was not true before,” Laszlo Seres, a journalist for an opposition newsweekly, argues.
Government officials, he says, are now rewriting the history curriculum and appointing teachers; obscure right-wing authors from the past have suddenly been resurrected. Orban has appointed party officials to the Constitutional Court and the prosecutor’s office. In Freedom House’s most recent rankings, where 1 is most free and 7 least, Hungary scored a 2 for overall freedom, political rights, and civil liberties; Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, by contrast, got a 1 in all cases.
One of the first measures the Fidesz-controlled legislature passed in 2010 established a body, appointed by the parliament — and thus by Fidesz — to regulate the media. The law made it a crime, punishable by fines of up to $900,000, to publish “imbalanced news coverage” or material deemed “insulting” to a group or “the majority” or that insulted “public morality.” The law provoked outrage abroad just as Hungary was assuming the rotating presidency of the European Union. In what would become a pattern, Orban responded by submitting to parliament a slightly less onerous measure, which then passed muster with European authorities.
The most draconian elements of the law have not been applied. No media outlet has been fined or closed down for insulting Orban or Fidesz or the Hungarian people. Although Orban has turned public media into Fidesz propaganda organs, private newspapers and television stations remain critical of the government. Gergo Saling, editor of the investigative online news site Direkt36, told me that “the fear was much bigger than the reality.”
Later in the piece, Traub writes about the far-right Hungarian party Jobbik:
Jobbik has increasingly gained the support of well-educated young people, sick of all the traditional parties, including Fidesz [Note: Orban’s party — RD]. The single smoothest person I met in Hungary was a Jobbik legislator, Marton Gyongyosi, a 38-year-old graduate of Trinity College Dublin, who sat with me on a crimson velvet bench in the misleadingly named Press Room (in fact, no press was normally allowed — I was an exception) in Budapest’s magnificent 1904 parliament building. Gyongyosi demurred when I described Jobbik as a “conservative” party.
“For the Hungarian people,” he said, “conservative parties in Western Europe are also liberal.” Both the left and the right in Europe, he said, were secular heirs of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Hungary, he said, was struggling to “defend its sovereignty” in the face of post-Christian European values.
Jobbik is openly anti-Semitic, which Orban is not, at least not yet, thank God.
Here’s the thing: I am inclined to agree about liberalism and post-Christian Europe — meaning that I fear that liberal, secular democracy and all it implies cannot sustain itself, either in the face of Islamic terrorist attacks in the short run, or, in the long run, by reproducing itself. I mentioned in this space earlier this year something a scholar involved in advising the EU said to me: that EU governments know that their nations cannot endure the collapsing birth rate and the withering away of the traditional family, but they have no idea how to reverse this trend. The scholar told me that in his view, only a religious revival could do it — and that’s not on the horizon. But we may be surprised.
Anyway, I find myself in the same place as Livy described the Romans at the end of their Republican phase: as being unable to endure our vices or the cure, if the cure is illiberal democracy, à la Orban. What if that’s the only thing that stands a chance of holding Europe together, though? This is something we have to soberly consider, by which I mean we cannot dismiss it as an unthinkable possibility, even if we find it extremely distasteful. If we do not consider why Europeans would be attracted to an illiberal regime, we will fail to appreciate the appeal of such a political option, and act accordingly.
When I was in Italy earlier this year, I was surprised to hear a few conservative Catholics expressing admiration for Putin. Over the weekend, a reader in Paris e-mailed to say you hear a lot of admiration for Putin among the French today. If I were French, seeing the terror that has played out on the Paris streets this year, and considering the futility of the government’s gestures till now, and the haplessness of the liberal establishment in the face of the deadly challenges facing the country (not just from Islamic radicalism), I cannot say I would not be tempted to consider stronger medicine.
“Is France Ripe for an Authoritarian Regime?” What is remarkable about that Op Ed piece in the conservative Le Figaro newspaper, is that it was written not in the wake of today’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris—but the day before.
As I write, it is still unclear how many have been killed in the French capital—the reported total has reached at least 140–but there is no question that the massacre could have a devastating impact on France’s already very shaky democratic institutions.
According to the Le Figaro, when asked by IFOP, a respected French poling agency, if they would accept a non-democratic form of government to bring necessary reforms to France, 67% of the French said they would opt for a government of non-elected technocrats. 40% percent said they would back a non-elected authoritarian regime.
Again, that survey was carried out the day before the bloody carnage in Paris. People may have poured out into the streets in an impressive show of unity earlier this year in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, but that moment of attempted racial harmony was brief and the situation has been fraying ever since.
A shaken but defiant President Francois Hollande has declared that ISIS’s attack was an “act of war.” It was “prepared, organized and planned” from the exterior with complicity from people inside France. Among other measures, he has called up more military, closed the borders, and announced a nationwide state of alert. France he said will be will be “pitiless in attacking the barbarians” of ISIS both abroad and at home.
But the fact is that for months now France has been on extra alert–policemen and soldiers with bulletproof vests and automatic rifles patrolling the airports, guarding Jewish schools and synagogues, checking the bags of people entering large department stores and museums. France’s security agencies have been monitoring all forms of communication.
They’ve attempted to block would-be jihadists from going to Syria, tried to deal with hundreds, perhaps thousands of others–who have come back. They claimed to have thwarted some potential attacks.
One of the reasons they were bombarding Isis training camps in Syria was that they knew a plot against France was in the works. As President Hollande said today, “We know who they are, where they are coming from, who are these terrorists.”
Yet, despite all that, the ISIS terrorists managed their devastating strike.
It would be marvelous indeed if the Muslim community in France and its leaders could somehow take more of the lead in dealing with the Islamic radicals within their own ranks, speak out even more forcefully against them, condemn the more radical schools and Imams, Indeed, the great majority of French Muslims have rejected radical Islam for years.
But the more Islamophobia spreads, the more the French government cracks down, the more ISIS and other radical Muslim groups will achieve their goal. That is, to convince French Muslims that there is no way moderation will work in France, no way they will ever be accepted as full citizens in this country. The only solution is radical Islam, jihad, the way of al-Qaeda and Isis.
If that happens, than the current Islamic “Fifth column” in France could morph from a few hundred or thousand young radicals, to a much more terrifying threat.
The problem is that, at this time of national crisis, France lacks any great leader of vision and courage. There is no De Gaulle or Clemenceau in the wings. Only Francois Hollande.
Here’s a response typical of the liberal establishment. The author is David Gow:
Friday the 13th is a clear historic watershed: either Europe bows to the angry, intolerant clamour of the Right and makes itself an authoritarian, xenophobic fortress or it re-asserts republican values of openness, tolerance, equality – while protecting all its citizens.
I do not believe any person of good will wants Europe to become “an authoritarian, xenophobic fortress,” but it’s pretty clear by now that “republican values of openness, tolerance, equality” are not capable of dealing with the deadly challenge facing Europe. What, then, is?
Over the weekend, I read Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission, and will post on it later today. It’s not really a good book, but it is an amazingly diagnostic novel. It’s not anti-Muslim in the least, but is rather a depressing commentary on the despairing state of secular materialist France. In the book, the French accept an authoritarian president from the Muslim Brotherhood because they are terrified of the far right, and because they are exhausted, and the strong leadership he promises is more appealing than the enervated purposelessness that they live with.