Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Tucker To Hungary, Nixon To China

While the Establishment intellectuals caterwaul, Carlson's visit to Budapest opens a new way of conservative thinking and political strategy for the aimless American Right

Maybe it’s because I have a personal intellectual investment in the Hungary story, but I can’t think of anything in ages that has revealed the biases and bigotries of the American Establishment like the reaction to Tucker Carlson’s current visit to Budapest. I hope you’ll forgive me for writing about it again, but liberal and Establishment conservative Twitter is going crazy about it. This is a teaching moment.

I had dinner with Tucker last night in Budapest. We talked about why American conservatives should be interested in Hungary. We agreed that it is an example of a country where — unlike our own — conservatives have successfully fought against wokeness and other aspects of the liberal globalist agenda. It’s a country that has successfully stood up to the cultural imperialism of the European Union, and reminded them that the EU was not designed to be a political entity in which rich and powerful Western European countries laid down the law, and the poorer Central European members obeyed unquestioningly. Here’s something Tucker broadcast about Hungary in 2019; it gives you an idea of why conservatives like Tucker and me are interested in Hungary:

You don’t have to agree with everything that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has done in order to come here, study what’s going on, and think about what lessons it might have for American conservatives, who have been routed by the Left and the Establishment Right, which apparently welcomes our new Woke Overlords, and would like to remind them that as trusted public intellectuals, they can be helpful at rounding up others. The key insight about Orban is that he believes that the future of his nation and of Western civilization hangs in the balance. He’s right about that. His various strategies for how to address that existential challenge may be wise or correct, or ineffective or morally wrong, but what sets him apart from American conservative leaders is that he recognizes the nature of the crisis, and is prepared to act boldly to address it. He believes that contemporary Western liberalism has surrendered to a civilizational death wish. I prefer the (possibly flawed) ways that Orban is meeting the crisis than the ways that the American Right is failing to do same.

(By the way, liberal readers, spare me your “How dare you be friends with Tucker Carlson?! Don’t you know that he believes ____?!” garbage. I don’t have cable TV, so I don’t watch his show regularly, but I am sure that there are issues on which we disagree. So what! One of the ugliest parts of the contemporary Left is this weird belief that you have to share the political views of someone with a high degree of consonance in order to be friends with them. Screw that. I think of the contemptible behavior of a friend of mine of four decades, who ended our friendship with a text after she read something I wrote in praise of a Louisiana Senator who voted to impeach Trump; her complaint — her friendship-ending complaint — was that I said Trump wasn’t entirely bad. This is inhumane. This is insane. Tucker was telling me last night about how an old friend of his had become militantly liberal. I asked him if that hurt their friendship. Of course not, he said; they’ve known each other too long. This is how normal human beings see the world. I count strong, outspoken liberals among my friends. I think they’re wrong … but I didn’t become friends with them based on their political views, and I’m certainly not going to quit being friends with them over that.)

Anyway, it is astonishing, but I guess not all that surprising, to read American commentators who heretofore had not said much of anything about Hungary discovering, now that Tucker is here, that Hungary is a dictatorial hellhole that all right-thinking people must denounce. It is remarkable watching their denunciations of right-wing illiberalism in Hungary as I struggle to recall how and when they raised their voices against left-wing illiberalism conquering US institutions and transforming America into a country many of us struggle to recognize.

For example, here’s a prominent Never Trump Republican:

I know Pete a little bit. He’s a good guy, I think. A former Bush White House official, he has spilled vats of ink over the past four or five years denouncing the Trumpist takeover of the GOP. I don’t blame him, frankly. If I were a man of Bushian GOP convictions, I would have felt the same way, and written as he did. In my own case, I shared, and do share, many of his concerns about Trumpism. The difference, I think, is that I try to recognize where Trump and Trumpism came from: in large part out of the failures of the Republican Party, and the Republican leadership class — which is to say, people like Pete Wehner (who, for the record, left the GOP a couple of years ago in disgust over Trump). As late as 2010, Wehner was praising the Iraq War, which was one of the most catastrophic strategic blunders in US history. It is no accident that Donald Trump, the first major GOP presidential candidate (I don’t include Ron Paul) to openly say the war was a mistake, later got the GOP nomination. Do these Republican establishmentarians ever ask themselves what they and their team did to open the door to Trumpism?

More important, what has Pete Wehner ever said to defend Christians, social conservatives, and others targeted by the various manifestations of wokeness that have emerged over the past five years? I searched his entire output of writing, collected on the Ethics & Public Policy Center website, since September 2016, and found exactly zero columns attacking any manifestation of wokeness. The only column critical of left-wing radicalization was a single Atlantic column — April 3, 2019 — lamenting the radicalization of the Democratic Party as made manifest in Bernie Sanders’ popularity. That’s it.

Know how many columns and op-eds Wehner wrote directly attacking Trump and Trumpism since today’s date in 2016? Sixty-five, out of 122 things he has written (collected on the website of the EPPC, where he is a fellow). Opposing Trump and what he stands for has been the overwhelming theme of Pete Wehner’s written output over the past five years, accounting for just over half of his output.

You see the problem. The United States is in the throes of a left-wing cultural revolution that is turning the country into a soft totalitarian society, as I’ve documented in Live Not By Lies, and as journalists like Bari Weiss and Abigail Shrier, activists like Christopher Rufo, and observers like Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, James Lindsay, and Peter Boghossian, are revealing almost every day. You would think that a prominent conservative like Pete Wehner would notice this, and have something to say about it. Nope. Too busy gathering material for the sixty-sixth denunciation of Trumpism; maybe this next one will denounce the interest of American conservatives abandoned by the Pete Wehners of the country in the “autocracy” of Viktor Orban. Better hurry, though — there’s an election coming up, and even many Orban supporters are fearful that he will be voted out after 12 years in power. That’s how it goes in Hungarian autocracy, as seen by Western liberals: Viktor Orban is a horrible dictator who has taken freedom away from the Hungarian people, and that’s why Hungarians should vote him out next year. Golly, that Orban must be an incompetent autocrat if he allows free and fair elections to take place, and he permits anyone to stand in the street in Budapest and denounce him.

The British conservative writer Ed West laments that the US is turning into the Soviet Union. Excerpts:

The Soviet Union’s main adversary in the Cold War was also defined by ideology, to some extent. Many western nations had embraced liberalism, but no other was created with the words of John Locke enshrined in its foundation. Yet liberalism, too, faced its challenges in the late 20th century, not from the obviously failing Soviet Communism, but from rival ideas within the democratic tradition. Starting in the 1960s, a new way of thinking began to predominate in the US that was not really liberal, although its opponents confusingly still referred to it as such.

This new way of thinking was more hostile to freedom of speech, and its adherents began the process of chasing deviant thinkers out of academia that began in the late 1960s and would massively reduce political diversity by the 21st century; it supported not just personal sexual freedom, as did liberalism, but radical ideas about sex, including hostility to the family; it was anti-religion and would become more so when religion clashed with sexual rights. As for freedom of association, the “master freedom” in Christopher Caldwell’s words, this was also incompatible with a worldview that prioritised equality over liberty.

This new way of thinking — progressivism is probably the fairest term — is far less tolerant than liberalism. Indeed, in its hostility to freedom of speech, its Manichean worldview, its suspicion that its opponents are fascists, and the belief that politics should be inserted into everything — from science to children’s books — it is closer to the totalitarian tradition. American progressivism is not communism, obviously, anymore than its opponents are Nazis; the market is perfectly capable of achieving most progressive goals, and America has become more culturally Left-wing as Right-wing economic policies have dominated, globalisation being the common theme that links the two.

But globalisation came with a price, with millions of jobs lost after the 2001 trade deal with China, made two months after George W. Bush had followed the Soviet example by invading Afghanistan. It was in those former industrial heartlands where people first began to notice an epidemic of drug-related deaths that now constitutes one of the greatest social disasters in history.

Four decades on from its superpower rival, the United States had now become a country in which people were dying younger, driven by overdoses and suicides. That this epidemic took so long to register may have been the solitary and often legal nature of the drug problem; unlike Aids, it did not affect too many celebrities, Prince being the exception. But it could also be who the victims were — predominantly rural white Americans, neither powerful themselves nor championed by powerful supporters.


There are other resemblances to the older empire. At the heart of Soviet thinking was the blank slate, the idea that life outcomes are determined entirely, or almost entirely, by social forces rather than genes. As Mao said of the peasantry, “a clean sheet of paper has no blotches, and so the newest and most beautiful words can be written on it”.

Likewise, American progressivism today is entirely built on the blank slate, and as in the USSR, where belief in Mendelian genetics led to internal exile, American social scientists offering any sort of genetic explanation for outcomes face ostracism. Privately, lots of people will agree, but they’ll lose their job if they speak out, or their publisher will drop them, or it will only embolden the party’s enemies and harm the noble goals of progressivism.

Communists saw their political beliefs as so all-encompassing that even science was political: if science contradicted the goals of communism, it wasn’t science. In today’s United States the slow death of liberalism has resulted in the blatant politicisation of science, to the extent that as in Russia, scientists teach things which are obviously untrue because it supports the prevailing ideology. Then there is the media, much of which parrots the party line with almost embarrassing, “Comrade Stalin has driven pig iron to record production” levels of conformity. Once again, if you want to hear the truth, go to the BBC (until the young people who run the website take over).

America, once the most trusting of societies, is heading in the direction of Russia, one of the least trusting. Most disturbing of all is that, formerly the most demographically vibrant of western countries, today the United States has suffered a spectacular collapse in fertility. This is mostly down to stagnant wages among the middle class, who can no longer afford a family with one breadwinner, and a rapid decline of religious faith. But maybe people have also lost belief in themselves, and the ideals of their country.

Read it all. It’s terrific. And what does our ruling class have to say about this crisis? The dominant left-wing elites — including Woke Capitalists — see this as nothing but good news. Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion Are Our Strength™, and all that. The Establishment-class conservatives are too obsessed with politicians like Donald Trump and Viktor Orban to object to any of it — not that they would, because they have already reconciled themselves to the cultural revolution, and are busy constructing rationales for it. Most of the Trumpy rebels are wasting their energy and their minds on ridiculous own-the-libs performative stunts that give right-wingers the feeling of having done something, but which in fact do little or nothing to stop the woke consolidation of power in American life.

The American Left and its Establishment-conservative fellow travelers do not recognize the left-illiberal, soft totalitarian nature of the order they are bringing into existence. Bizarrely, neither do most on the Trumpy American Right, who seem to think that as long as we keep voting Republican and holding the right lib-owning views, that will be enough to protect our liberties.

Silicon Valley and Woke Capitalism are already laying down the rudiments of a social credit system. Where is the sustained opposition to this from the Right? Are there GOP lawmakers thinking of legislation to stop it? If not, why not?

Which brings us to Viktor Orban’s Hungary. It is quite sensible that Tucker Carlson and other conservatives would want to figure out what the leader of this small, relatively poor Central European country has done to hold off those like George Soros and the woke leadership of the European Union, to defend his country and its sovereignty. With our own conservative establishment either neutered or sidelined by pointless lib-owning enthusiasms, thinkers of the American Right who actually care about saving our civilization ought to be coming to Hungary and Poland to study these places, and to make common cause with these people. They could use our solidarity — and we can certainly use theirs.

Writing yesterday in The Spectator, Katja Hoyer pointed out the hypocrisy of the EU leadership when it comes to dealing with Hungary and Poland. Excerpts:

It is quite something when the self-proclaimed ‘illiberal’ prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, reminds Brussels of its liberal principles. As part of the ongoing row over a Hungarian law which bans the ‘depiction or promotion’ of homosexuality and gender reassignment, Orbán has argued that: ‘If we want to keep the European Union together, liberals must respect the rights of non-liberals. Unity in diversity.’

‘Unity in diversity’ has been the official motto of the European Union for over 20 years. The idea that the continent can unite in a common political and economic framework without losing the diversity of its constituent nations underpins the very idea of a democratic union of states. But this principle is proving increasingly difficult for Brussels to abide by as the ideological fabric of the EU begins to tear in a cultural tug of war.

Whether you agree with Orbán on the issue of sex education or not, he is onto something when he points out the EU’s problem with ‘illiberal democracies’. Brussels’s biggest threat does not come from Brexit, or even from the severe economic imbalances within the Union, but from the increasingly unbridgeable conflict between the two principles it purports to uphold: democracy and liberalism.

Read it all. 

This is exactly right, and it exposes the fraudulence of American liberalism too. The US Left does not actually want diversity. It wants ideological uniformity — or else. The American Left has no problem with corporations threatening economic punishments to conservative American states whose democratically accountable legislatures pass laws that the corporations don’t like. Have you seen the Pete Wehners of the Right object to this? Of course you haven’t. Ideological coercion is fine as long as it is coercing democratic majorities to march leftward, or face losing their livelihoods.

Which is the only power capable of standing up to Woke Capitalists, as well as these illiberal leftists in academia, media, sports, cultural institutions, and other places? The state. That’s it. This is disorienting to Anglo-American conservatives, who are accustomed to seeing the state as the enemy, and institutions of civil society, especially business, as friends of freedom. It’s no longer true, and people on the Right who want to fight soft totalitarianism had better start to understand this. This is why American conservatives ought to be beating a path to Hungary and Poland (as well as to Spain, to talk to the Vox party, and to other European countries to learn from non-Establishment populist parties).

Tucker To Hungary is a kind of Nixon To China for conservative American intellectuals and thought leaders. He got here first. He won’t be the last. The unhappy truth is that liberalism as we Americans have known it is probably dead. Our future is almost certainly going to be left-illiberal or right-illiberal. It’s not the future I would prefer, but we are not being given a choice here. While the Establishment right, or what’s left of it, pens its sixty-sixth pointless column denouncing Trumpism while back-door surrendering to soft totalitarianism, and while the MAGA hotheads dissipate their anger in futile performative gestures, the right-of-center thought leaders who want to figure out how to resist effectively will be coming to Budapest to observe, to talk, and to learn.

I’m reading the English translation of a manuscript of a book by Dr. Balazs Orban (no relation to the PM), a Hungarian scholar, called The Hungarian Way Of Strategy. It’s kind of wonky, but I predict that it’s going to be a book that, if it finds an American publisher, conservative intellectuals are going to want to read.

UPDATE: The thought occurred to me that I have no patience for any American public intellectual who normalized and mainstreamed the avowedly Marxist, anti-family organization Black Lives Matter lecturing us on the Right about how Viktor Orban is too icky to talk to. BLM (the organization) has scrubbed the “What We Believe” from its website. No wonder. This is what was there. Excerpt:

Here’s the video clip in which BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors says that she and another co-founder are “trained Marxists.” BLM received over $90 million in donations last year, some of it from corporate sponsors. Fine. People have a right to spend their money on whatever radical organization they want to. But don’t let yourself be gaslit into being convinced that simply talking to Viktor Orban is somehow beyond the pale.

UPDATE.2: I should point out that the “Tucker to Hungary, Nixon to China” analogy is limited. As a reader points out, Nixon to China was a big deal because Nixon was strongly anti-communist. Tucker is not anti-Orban. The analogy is that Nixon going to China occasioned a huge reset of how we thought about and talked about foreign policy and geopolitical strategy. Carlson coming to Hungary opens the door for conservative thinkers to consider what Hungary (and the other Visegrad countries) have to teach us about how to resist globalist liberalism. A lot of US conservatives are intimidated by the false idea, propagated by liberal media and Establishment conservatives, that Hungary is a fascist state. It’s preposterous — and now that Tucker Carlson has violated that taboo with his presence, many more conservatives will start asking questions about Hungary, seeking to know more.

UPDATE.3: This from the mailbag, referring to David Frum’s absurd tweet yesterday saying people in Hungary have to look over their shoulders to see who is listening before they speak:

Greetings from a native of Szeged!

I have watched the social media meltdown of the Left about Hungary with a great deal of amusement, especially all of this ridiculousness about how we Magyars supposedly “look over our shoulders” before we talk to each other because we are afraid of Viktor Orban’s government.

I have lived in the United States for six years now and I can tell you nothing is more terrifying than having a conversation with a fellow conservative in the state of California. Talk about looking over our shoulders! I distinctly remember sitting in a Santa Monica coffee shop with a friend and talking about our admiration for President Trump’s immigration policies, and immediately having four people walk up to us and shout and screech at us.

One of my cousins is a priest in the [deleted]archdiocese, and he’s taken to saying anything that’s right of center in Latin or Greek, knowing that godless heathens wouldn’t know Latin if it crawled up and bit through their fair trade clothes.

Keep fighting the good fight!

UPDATE.4: A Hungarian reader writes:

I’ve been away on holiday and then working late nights, so this might come a little late, but still, I think this is an important point about Hungary today (vs. Hungary 15 years ago). I’ve read your piece where you talked with your driver, Sándor about the state of our country. You write:

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.

This is of course true in the strictest sense. But consider Hungary in 2006 – I’m not even sure how to convey the desperation of the period between 2005 and 2010. After the hopeful years of the first Orban government, the people voted in the left-liberal parties, which first showered money on the people, then rapidly started taking on new loans and making cutbacks “to make the state more efficient”. Péter Medgyessy was outed as a former agent for the communist spy service. Gyurcsány took over without anyone voting for him. Then came the famous Öszöd speech, the siege of the state TV, police shooting out eyes of peaceful demonstrators… and we still had 4 years until the next elections, as the government, totally devoid of all legitimacy clung to power. I remember the mood at the demonstrations: stone-faced or angry people, staring at each other with disbelief: is this really happening to Hungary? The economy was stagnant, corruption was rampant, and as you write, many people left for the opportunities of the West. The president, Laszlo Solyom was refused entry to Slovakia, and the leaders of Hungary just shrugged. We were in a grim place – the cold facts and figures don’t do it justice, it was something that was felt in the air.

Now, you lived in Hungary for a few months, what was the air like? I think if you walk through Budapest, you see smiling people everywhere, beautifully renovated public spaces, lots of tourists enjoying the city. Most of my friends are getting married, having kids, building or renovating houses, greatly helped by the massive cash grants from the state. In contrast to the West, where you have to increasingly police your own thoughts, you are free to do and say whatever you want. Much has been said about the government being anti-gay, but you can walk through Budapest with your same-sex partner hand in hand, no one will bother you. You can enter a civil partnership, you can even adopt a kid (not as a couple, but as a single parent, and then have your partner recognised as co-parent). If you would like to have sex-change operations explained to your children, you can even vote for that in the upcoming referendum. We had a Pride parade last week, where 30 thousand people marched through the city in good spirits, with no incidents at all. Unemployment is half what it was in 2006. And, to me, the most telling sign is that even the tide of emigration has turned: 2019 was the first year when more Hungarian-people born returned than left the country. I see this in my social circle too: people are realizing that although wages are higher in the West, the cost of living is much, much higher too, and that they are not always made to feel welcome in these tolerant, enlightened countries. We are in a very good relationship with our neighbours. Hungary doesn’t just scrape by (barely), we have a programme for helping persecuted Christians, rebuilding churches in the Middle-East, research and scholarly institutes with global aspirations etc. It feels that there are much, much more opportunities now. A remote acquaintance has started a successful artisan coffee-roasting business – something so niche was unthinkable even 10 years ago.

I’m not sure I managed to convey the difference. Again, this is more of a feeling than something that I can clearly prove. And of course, there are many, many problems in Hungary, poverty, corruption, prejudice etc. But my point is, to me, this change in the general mood is one of the most significant achievement of the Orbán government.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now