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Home/Rod Dreher/Unpatriotic Conservatives™ 2021

Unpatriotic Conservatives™ 2021

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban

It seems to me we’ve heard this song before:

Ah yes, that would be the infamous 2003 “Unpatriotic Conservatives” essay that Kristol’s neoncon compadre David Frum published in National Review, smearing Pat Buchanan and other conservatives who were opposed to the coming Iraq War. ‘Memba this conclusion?:

They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.

War is a great clarifier. It forces people to take sides. The paleoconservatives have chosen — and the rest of us must choose too. In a time of danger, they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them.

I re-read the essay, and I must say that many of the things Frum dug up about the paleocons and the things they believe(d) are things I find objectionable even today. But you know what Pat Buchanan, Bob Novak, and Sam Francis, for all their faults, did not do? Use their rhetorical gifts to lead this country into a catastrophic war that destroyed the Middle East, cost America blood and treasure, and shredded our global credibility. Eighteen years after “Unpatriotic Conservatives” and all that followed from it, it takes some nerve for a top neocon to call another conservative “anti-American” because he holds opposing right-wing views about how America should relate to smaller countries.

Besides, what a weird smear. Does Kristol call American leftists who oppose everything he stands for “anti-American”? What is he getting at here? It sounds so canned and desperate. Is anybody really moved by an older man calling a younger man “anti-American” because he goes to a NATO country and American ally, and speaks well of it? Isn’t that, you know, nuts?

This really is a telling moment. I never was a believer in Trump, but I certainly wasn’t a believer either in the pre-Trump GOP establishment. One big reason we got Donald Trump was because of their failures. If we get an American version of Viktor Orban, it will be in large part because:

  1. The Republicans — including Donald Trump — failed to secure the border
  2. The Republicans — including Donald Trump — did very little to stop the illiberal leftist march through institutions
  3. The Republicans — including Donald Trump — delivered tax cuts for the rich, but not very much for the rest of us
  4. The Republicans — including Donald Trump — talked a lot, but in the end, don’t have much to show for it

Even the US military leadership is woke now. Critical Race Theory is ripping through schools and other institutions, tearing the fabric of America apart. Gender ideology goes from strength to strength, with American corporations and media propagandizing children and teenagers constantly on behalf of this insane madness.

Where have the neocons been? One gets the idea that they are actually fine with the illiberal left takeover of society and culture, as long as they get to run foreign policy in their own interests. Or at least they are indifferent to the rout that social and religious conservatives are suffering.

My friend Jay Nordlinger, who is one of the kindest men around, so I’m not going to take any of you speaking ill of him, tweeted:

Well, hang on. Ronald Reagan left office 32 years ago. This would be like someone lamenting Democrats of 1977 abandoning FDR’s legacy. The world has changed massively since Reagan’s era. I will not put down Ronald Reagan, who was the right man for his time. But come on — what have the “Reagan conservatives” conserved? Again, conservatives have been routed, even as we have held national political power for much of the past three decades. We are watching America turning into an illiberal leftist society fast moving into a softer version of totalitarianism — as I explain in detail in Live Not By Lies — and what are the “Reagan conservatives” doing about it? Gassing on about “principled, Madisonian conservatism,” while the country is being torn apart, and ordinary people — say, the kind of people who have no choice but to send their kids to public schools, where their children will be indoctrinated into CRT race hate and gender ideology — get trampled by the woke mob.

(Bari Weiss, who is an anti-woke liberal, could tell the same story about the left-liberals sitting back watching things go to hell, terrified of being called insufficiently progressive.)

We don’t want “the clenched fist, and the roaring mouth, and the ‘wins'” in the sense Jay means. We don’t want to be wiped out. Official conservatism in America has become useless at conserving much of anything except the liberties of Big Business. Trumpian conservatism — long on brash display of emotion, but short on substantive accomplishment — has been too. The hour is late. Yes, I would like some real and lasting “wins,” as opposed to continuing to lose ground to the woke militants who have conquered the American establishment.

Who started the national pushback against CRT in schools? An activist named Chris Rufo, who came to prominence in part through his appearances on Tucker Carlson Tonight. He was doing the work that Republican politicians should have been doing, but weren’t. He convinced late-term Donald Trump to move against CRT, an ultimately futile gesture that mostly served to highlight the fact that Trump could have been speaking out and acting, in whatever limited capacities a US president has about education policy (which is something that is sorted out locally), against this racist ideology all alone. But he didn’t, because Trump didn’t care enough about any of this to be effective. Lib-owning is fun, but it’s no substitute for actual governance, and real strategy.

I can’t think of anything in recent memory that has been more revealing of where we Americans actually stand politically than Tucker Carlson’s visit to Hungary. As I wrote in The Spectator a couple of days ago, Hungary is a country with lots of troubles, including corruption. I won’t go once again into listing all the reasons why it’s important for Western right-of-center people to come here and learn from the Hungarians — I’ve been blogging about that all summer; I invite you to go through the archives here — so I’m going to try to boil it down. First, though, here’s something from  Tucker Carlson’s monologue on Thursday night’s show:

Of the nearly 200 different counties on the face of the earth, precisely one of them has an elected leader who publicly identifies a western-style conservative. His name is Viktor Orban, and he’s the prime minister of Hungary.

Hungary is a small country in the middle of Central Europe. It has no navy, it has no nuclear weapons. Its GDP is smaller than New York state’s. You wouldn’t think leaders in Washington would pay much attention to Hungary, but they do, obsessively.

By rejecting the tenets of neoliberalism, Viktor Orban has personally offended them and enraged them. What does Orban believe? Just a few years ago, his views would have seemed moderate and conventional. He thinks families are more important than banks. He believes countries need borders. For saying these things out loud, Orban has been vilified. Left-wing NGO’s have denounced him as a fascist, a destroyer of democracy.

Last fall, Joe Biden suggested he’s a totalitarian dictator. Official Washington despises Viktor Orban so thoroughly that many, including neocons in and around the State Department, are backing the open anti-semites running against him in next April’s elections in Hungary.

We’ve watched all of this from the United States, and wondered if what we’d heard could be true. This week we came to Hungary to see for ourselves. We sat down with Orban for a couple of long conversations.

But first, a word about Hungary. Even if you understand that the American media lie, it’s always bewildering to see the extent of their dishonesty. Nothing prepares you for it. We’ve read many times how repressive Hungary is.

Freedom House, an NGO in Washington funded almost exclusively by the U.S. government, describes the country as less free than South Africa, with fewer civil liberties. That’s not just wrong. It’s insane.

In fact, if you live in the United States, it is bitter to see the contrast between, say, Budapest and New York City. Let’s say you lived in a big American city and you decided to loudly and publicly attack Joe Biden’s policies, on immigration or COVID or transgender athletes. If you kept talking like that, you would likely be silenced by Biden’s allies in Silicon Valley. If you kept it up, you might very well have to hire armed bodyguards. That’s common in the U.S. Ask around.

But it’s unknown in Hungary. Opposition figures here don’t worry they’ll be hurt for their opinions. Neither, by the way, does the prime minister. Orban regularly drives by himself with no security. So who’s freer? In what country are you more likely to lose your job for disagreeing with ruling class orthodoxy? The answer’s pretty obvious, though if you’re an American, it’s painful to admit it, as we’ve discovered.

Watch the monologue, and Carlson’s interview with Orban, here.Listen to Orban himself, and ask yourself: is this man a fascist? Really? Orban says in the interview that unlike other countries in the EU, he opposes the idea that Europe should become a post-Christian, post-national society.

I’ve mentioned in this space several times over the summer that Hungarian college professors are far more free than their American counterparts. They can stand in their classrooms and say whatever they like about Viktor Orban or anything else, and face no repercussions. That’s how it should be. But in many, perhaps most, US colleges, if an academic criticized a woke sacred cow, he or she would run the risk of losing their job and never being able to teach again. Six years ago, I spoke at a Catholic university on the East Coast in which several professors told me they would never even present the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex and sexuality in their classrooms, not even in a neutral sense, for fear that angry students would denounce them to the administration for creating a hostile classroom environment, and the administration would fire them. The state has nothing to do with it; this totalitarian environment is entirely a creation of institutional culture in the United States.

It takes some cheek for an American, a citizen of a country that is slip-sliding into soft totalitarianism, to lecture Hungary about its alleged unfreedom. Tucker played a clip in which Joe Biden called Orban a totalitarian thug. We Americans have to understand that this is total gaslighting. It’s a brazen lie. As Tucker pointed out, in some ways, Hungarians are more free than Americans. Again, in America, the government won’t come after you for violating orthodoxies — but you will be pursued, for sure. I have been in Hungary for three and a half months, and have had a number of conversations with people who bitterly denounced Viktor Orban. Nobody lowered his voice. In the US, even in my own Red American state of Louisiana, I have been present many times in which people have lowered their voice or at least looked around to see who was listening before they said something completely normal about race, gender, or politics. It’s truly insane.

It’s Friday here in Hungary, and I have been out in the town of Esztergom at a festival that one liberal media outlet described as a “far-right conference.” In fact, it’s a youth culture and music festival sponsored by a college consortium; check out the program on the website and see if this seems like a Nuremberg rally to you. I walked past booths just now where people were promoting yoga, Slow Food Hungary, the national Baptist relief services charity, programs for the Roma people, and so on. It’s a sunny day. Everybody is cheerful. The most political thing that’s going to happen today is a speech in a few minutes by the American talk show host Dennis Prager, whose academic field was the study of Eastern European communism.

OK, so what do we US conservatives have to learn from Hungary? Let’s stipulate that Hungary is a very different country from America. It is ethnically homogeneous, has a very different history, and a very different constitutional system. Some of what Orban’s government has done is legal here, but not under the US Constitution (e.g., the recent law prohibiting pro-LGBT propaganda to children and minors). My enthusiasm for Hungary has more to do with Orban’s ideals. As I see it, Orban grasps the nature of the fight in front of us much more clearly than most of his US counterparts. Perhaps because he is the leader of a small, landlocked country that has had to live for most of the last century under the thumb of foreign powers that controlled its destiny, it is hostile to the tyranny of the European Union. Note well that Hungarians are pro-Europe; they just don’t want the EU overstepping its bounds and telling them how to run their own country. As Orban says in his Tucker interview (I think it is), let the Germans decide for themselves how to educate German children, and let the Hungarians do the same for their own kids. Orban definitely tells Tucker that Trump’s “America First” policy was good for Hungary, because it implies that Hungarian leaders should be looking out first and foremost for the interest of their own country and its people. I agree. Nations, and national sovereignty, is important. The Hungarians don’t want to lose what makes them distinct, and they’re prepared to fight for it. Good for them. They know why you have to value your history, not be indifferent to it, or despise it — and they’re prepared to fight!

Orban understands clearly that the globalist, consumerist, secularist, anti-family ideology that is now dominant in the West will wipe out all the things that conservatives should be eager to conserve. Someone tweeted yesterday that they never imagined that American politics would come down to Team Soros vs. Team Orban. Actually, it does: you can have an aggressively globalist, woke progressive, secular, free-market ideology, or you can have an aggressively nationalistic, anti-woke conservative, religion-friendly (but not sectarian) ideology that believes in the free market, but not at the expense of more important values. The middle ground is fast decreasing. The “principled Madisonian conservatives” and their sort cannot stand against woke militancy. You are going to have to decide, or your stance will be decided for you by circumstances.

One of the more amusing attacks on Tucker Carlson and Hungary has come from pundits who think that Hungary’s lower standard of living is somehow a devastating argument against learning from it:

Nothing says “Ugly American” like pissing on a country because it doesn’t share the American enthusiasm for large appliances. Do you know that even in wealthy Western Europe, refrigerators are generally much smaller than American ones? So what! And:

What is that supposed to prove? All these countries that started out in 1989 with economies and civil societies destroyed by Communism are going to be at a great disadvantage even to poor American states. History came at these people hard. The 1990s were especially bad for them. And when Orban was elected in 2010, he had to deal with an economy that had been badly damaged by his corrupt socialist predecessor. I’m certainly not saying that economic performance and standards of living are beside the point — no political leader can afford to make that mistake — but I am saying that judging a nation’s worth by virtue of its material wealth is gross and philistine. Where is the William Faulkner of Washington state? The Bela Bartok of West Virginia?

There is something more serious here. Let me draw your attention to something I posted in this space last month. Excerpt:

My friend John O’Sullivan and I came back to Budapest with a nice professional driver I’ll call Sandor. We talked all the way back. I really liked him, and learned a lot about Hungary from talking to him. He’s 40 years old, a former teacher who left the classroom mostly because the pay was lousy, and he can make more money driving clients around the region.

After we got to know each other a bit, Sandor said there was another reason he left the classroom. “I don’t want to offend you, but one of my jobs was teaching English. I finally couldn’t stand it anymore. I realized that I was teaching my students how to speak a language that would make it possible for them to get jobs elsewhere and Europe, and they would leave the country.”

It is true that Hungary suffers from an outmigration of its young. Salaries here are lower than in western Europe. Last night in a pub, watching the England-Italy match, I talked to the bartender, who is demoralized by the economic situation here. She said you have to work so much longer just to make ends meet than you do in the rest of Europe. Sandor resists English as the language of cultural imperialism. He didn’t use those words precisely, but that’s exactly what he meant.

Talking to him, I realized like I had not yet done in my three months in Hungary what it feels like to be a citizen of a small, beleaguered country — beleaguered not only by politics (the European Union is always at Hungary’s throat), but also by the sense of loss. Nobody else in the world speaks your language. Your population is shrinking, both from emigration and lack of replacement. It’s a rotten place to be in.

Sandor is angry at the Orban government. He believes it overinvested in football stadiums and underinvested in teaching. Yet he expects to vote for Orban’s party, Fidesz, in the 2022 election. He says the opposition has nothing to offer, other than that they are Not Orban. Besides, he sees Hungary’s identity at stake. Sandor has thought a lot about globalization, in ways that Americans, and people of bigger, richer countries, rarely do.

He doesn’t understand the people in Hungary who are eager to imitate the West, particularly the young. Don’t they know that if Hungary is dissolved and assimilated, there will be no getting it back? Why, he wonders, do they never think about what it means to have a home, a place where people speak your language, and share your own history? He didn’t think about this either when he was young, but now it means a lot to him. He could go abroad in Europe and look for a better job, but Hungary is home. There is no other Hungary.

Why does the West demand that Hungary imitate it? He says that Hungary has had to deal with this kind of thing for a long time. The Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa, he says, ordered Hungarian schools to suppress history lessons that told the Hungarians about their pre-Habsburg ancestors — this, in an effort to control the cultural memory of the subject people, the Hungarians.

“If you don’t know who you are, it is easier for others to control you,” Sandor says. Yes, I tell him, I write about this in my latest book.

More:

I finished over the weekend an excellent book, The Light That Failed, by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes. They are forthrightly liberal academics who explore in its pages the reasons why liberal democracy has had such a rough go of it in Central Europe and Russia since 1989. They also discuss Donald Trump and Trump populism as part of the same anti-liberal phenomenon.

Krastev and Holmes talk about how liberal democracy, led by Americans, was a missionary project to the rest of the world. The Soviets, of course, saw Communism in the same way, as did Mao’s China. According to Krastev and Holmes, it was the fate of the world’s non-democratic countries eventually to embrace democracy, liberalism, and capitalism — this, according to the way Westerners see it. The world must be shown that the American way of understanding politics and culture was the correct way. This is why you see the EU coming down on Hungary like a ton of bricks over its recent law regulating LGBT education and speech aimed at kids. To the EU, this isn’t simply a matter of Hungary, which is more socially conservative, choosing how to educate its own kids in line with its own cultural values. This is a counterrevolutionary insurrection that must be ruthlessly suppressed.

Modern China is not like that. It is certainly an imperialist power, in that it wants to spread its influence around the world. But unlike America “in the heyday of liberal hegemony,” they write, China doesn’t care what kind of government its allies have. It only wants to know that they will act favorably to China’s interests. “The expectation that others should adopt Western-style liberal democratic institutions and norms seemed as natural as the rising of the sun,” they write. That day is over. The liberal hegemony of the European Union, with its demands that Hungary accept its policies regarding LGBT, migration, and the rest, is driving a Western country, Hungary, into the arms of China, as a means of assuring national survival.

There is something to learn here about how our own internal politics work in the US. We are all living right now through the internal colonization of our country by the woke, who control nearly all the major institutions of American life. The woke are ruthless missionaries determined to exterminate ways of living and seeing the world that conflict with their ideological model. We see what they are doing in schools, but consider also the immense power of woke capitalist corporations, accountable to no one, to nullify the decisions of democratically-elected state legislators when those decisions conflict with woke principles. And with respect to the ethnos, the woke and their powerful, well-funded soldiers are making war on the received history of the American people, and in particular on the histories and experiences of white European peoples, trying to inculcate shame and self-hatred so that whites will become demoralized and accept woke totalitarian rule. (Whites, of course, appallingly did the same thing to Indians they conquered in North America, as the Anglo-Americans did to the Cajun French; no conquering culture’s hands are clean.)

Anyway, my driver Sandor correctly understands that economic globalism and liberal cultural hegemony wish to dissolve nations and peoples, and make everyone into deracinated consumers who have cast aside religion, traditions, and all impediments to “diversity,” by which they mean whatever the progressive ruling class says diversity means today. I don’t know if the strategies by which Hungary’s political leaders have chosen to fight this are correct, or at least usually correct. But I admire that they are at least fighting. It is certainly true that nationalist-populist politicians can use these ideas, and histories (real, invented, or a mixture of both), for disreputable, even wicked, ends. But it is also true that the ruling ideology of the West — liberal, democratic, free-market, wokeness — is far too often the enemy of sovereignty, of tradition (especially European), of religion, and of national self-determination. Flawed though it sometimes is, I prefer the way Orban is fighting back to the way our own conservative American politicians are not fighting back. The Hungarians know, in the particular way that people of a small country do, how much depends on the answers to the questions, “Who are we? What are the stories we live by? Who gets to tell them?”

The Bible says, “What does it profit a man to gain the world, but to lose his soul?” Well, what does it profit a Magyar to gain a clothes dryer, but to lose his nation’s soul? I’m not actually joking here. This is a question that is now facing many American Christians, and that is going to face every one of us sooner rather than later. Is our devotion to material possessions and professional status so great that we will deny our own religious beliefs for the sake of gaining access to professional occupations and circles? It may not be obvious to you on the surface, but this is the kind of thing that is most deeply at issue in this Team Soros vs. Team Orban fight.

The idea that an American conservative who admires some of what Viktor Orban does, and believes, is somehow “anti-American” is not only insulting, but is a smear designed to make people believe that to be a real American, you have to endorse selling your country, its institutions, and its traditions out to globalist liberals and American hegemons willing to start wars to turn the whole world into America. Forget it. I love my country, though I don’t love what it’s becoming. If I can learn from the Hungarians how to better resist what the people who are ruining America are doing, then that’s pro-American to me.

Finally, I got this message this morning from a left-wing secular American friend who is living in Istanbul this summer:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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