Turn East, Young Conservative
Writing in The European Conservative, Gergely Szilvay explores the “
There is a fascinating debate currently raging about Hungary and Viktor Orbán, between pro-Orbán American conservatives like Tucker Carlson and Rod Dreher on the one hand, and anti-Orbán neoconservatives like David Frum and Bill Kristol on the other. Dennis Prager has also stepped into the fray, saying that, in his view, Central European countries like Hungary and Poland are fighting for the West. However, the reality is that U.S. conservatives, particularly neoconservatives and libertarians, do not understand the underlying differences between the American and European styles of conservatism.
Two years ago, Hungary’s secretary of state for economic strategy and regulation, László György, visited the United States. He met with Republican politicians and toured university campuses, explaining the economic policy of the Orbán government.
When he arrived home, he commented that he found the university audiences reasonable and was confident that he had been convincing. He did not find, however, the same openness among the ranks of Republican politicians. Inasmuch as the discussion had focused on social and cultural matters, they were in agreement, but they were unable to comprehend Hungarian economic policy, which they regarded as leftist, statist, and an example of ‘big government.’
The difference between the Hungarian and American approach to economics is symptomatic of a deeper divide between Central European and Anglo-American conservatism. Where American conservatism seeks to curtail government power, Central European conservatism harnesses state authority to accomplish its aims.
Szilvay goes on to talk about how in Hungary, laissez-faire capitalism is viewed with suspicion because of the way capitalists took advantage of the people in the 1990s, in the immediate aftermath of Communism’s fall. Central Europeans are capitalists, but they believe that the state has to play a strong role in preventing society from being exploited by capital. Then follows an interesting discussion of the differences between European conservatism and American conservatism. More:
American conservatism, with its Lockean roots, is—from a Continental point of view—not really conservatism, but rather, old-school liberalism. European conservatism—whether counter-revolutionary, reactionary, Christian democratic or something else—is not Lockean.
Also at play are opposing conceptions of natural law. Americans believe in its Lockean Enlightenment form (individualistic and rationalistic), whereas continental Europeans tend to accept the original, premodern, Aristotelian-Thomist version of it, which is communitarian and more pragmatic. And there are also some English conservatives who do not accept natural law at all, such as, for example, Michael Oakeshott.
To illustrate the point further: for American conservatism, ‘individual freedom,’ ‘individual responsibility,’ the ‘free market,’ and ‘small government’ are the key phrases. In the continental European conservative tradition, however, the key phrases are ‘nation,’ ‘security,’ ‘law and order,’ ‘cultural tradition,’ and ‘religious heritage.’
Central European conservatism, after the fall of communism, has been—and still is today—anti-communist and patriotic, focusing on national traditions and Christianity. It stands for national independence. For us, freedom means national freedom. Anglo-American conservatives, on the other hand, fear government intervention, in part because of its association with connotations of ‘social engineering.’ But how can a nation respond to decades of leftist social engineering, especially when it was as aggressive as communism? Using state power, communism destroyed our local, organic communities and our traditional elites. Today we have to use state power to rebuild those communities and create new national elites. Society will not heal itself—nor will the free market heal it. If your house is destroyed, you must actively rebuild it; it won’t be rebuilt by an ‘invisible hand.’
That last quoted graf is really important for us Americans to grasp in the era of Woke Capitalism, and the general capture of every institution in American life by woke ideologues. If not for the state stepping in to protect families and institutions from the predation of entities like the Walt Disney Company, who will? The forces arrayed against the family, religion, and tradition are so powerful that only the state can offer a meaningful measure of protection. Think about it: Woke Capitalist entities are accountable to no one, but at least the people have a say in who represents them. American conservatives have got to become less squeamish about using the state in this way. As Szilvay’s opening story indicates, grassroots conservatives already are fine with it, but the leadership and intellectual class on the American Right disagree. That, of course, is changing. See Ron DeSantis. See J.D. Vance. See Josh Hawley. And see the rise of the so-called “New Right” thinkers in the US.
One more clip from Szilvay:
Rod Dreher likes to say that postliberal American conservatives need to look beyond the English Channel to broaden their minds about what conservatism means, or could mean, for them. They may learn that rather than curtailing the authority of the state, conservatives should promote and defend our cause through the government and its institutions. Maybe this is why Orbán’s Budapest is becoming an international capital for the next generation of Western conservative intellectuals.
Very true! If Americans want to see the conservatism of the future, they should go to Budapest and learn how and why to use state power for conservative ends. You and I as American conservatives might prefer to live in a world of “small government,” but that ideology is no match for powerful culturally left-wing institutions (like, incredibly, major corporations) that aim to subjugate and destroy the ideals and institutions we conservatives value.
I was talking just this week to a Christian who works in the tech field, and he said the workplace wokeness there is so aggressive, and so inescapable, that he has to lie almost every day just to do his job. He has a bad conscience about it. We talked in passing, but I passed on my contact information so we could speak at length for an interview for this blog. The point I would make here, though, is that the only counterforce in this country capable of defending that man from the politicized workplace is the state. When we have a DeSantis presidency and a GOP Congress, I expect that that beleaguered man will have champions who will protect him.
This photo recently ran in the Hungarian media. Viktor Orban is known for taking Thursdays to read. What’s on his desk? One of the books is the Hungarian version of Live Not By Lies. Another is T.S. Eliot’s classic The Idea of A Christian Society. Can you imagine a conservative national leader who reads T.S. Eliot’s social criticism?
UPDATE: Sorry, forgot to post the books earlier: