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Viktor Orban On National Mission

He says Hungary has one. What about us? America's used to be spreading liberal democracy; what is it now?
Screen Shot 2021-09-20 at 4.43.16 PM

At a recent event at Budapest’s Matthias Corvinus Collegium, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gave a speech in the presence of Niall Ferguson, whom he mentions in the text. If you speak Hungarian, here is a video link to the speech. Here is a link to the English-language translation of that speech. Excerpts:

What is the reason for the West’s paralysis? In summary, we Central Europeans take the view that the West has gradually lost its faith in its own mission. It no longer seeks meaning in its own history; instead, it keeps saying that it will end soon. It re-interprets or deletes entire chapters of its history, finding them shameful and so to be cancelled, and in the meantime, it is unable to replace them with anything else. And those who are not paralysed, but in fact very much active, are such deconstructive, negative forces that they would be better off paralysed. In Popper’s book of the same title, which lays the foundations for the ideology of open society, we read that those who attribute a special value and a special mission to their own nation or political community are effectively the enemies of open society and are in fact – whether they’re aware of it or not – building tyranny and oppression.

This view is perhaps the most influential and most destructive conclusion of post-World War II Western thinking. Its importance is extraordinary, as today open society – we can safely say – is the West’s only intellectual school of thought that can be regarded as ideologically consistent. However, the concept of open society has deprived the West of its faith in its own values and historical mission, and with this now – at the time of the Muslim flood and the rise of Asia – it is preventing the West from setting its own mission against the rising intellectual and political power centres. This is like choosing the slow agony of life without action over the achievements and flaws of an active life just because there were flaws and errors in that life.

More:

When I talk about Christianity, I must make a detour, drawing your attention to a threat. When we hear about Christian democratic politics, we must be aware that Christianity consists of two things: faith and the forms of existence inspired and created by faith. When in politics we talk about Christianity and Christian democracy, we mean the latter. On issues of faith, governments have no competence. Salvation and perdition – which are the true issues of faith – are simply beyond the boundaries of the realm in which the politics of the day has any legitimate authority. When we talk about Christianity and Christian democracy, we defend the forms of existence that grew out of the societies imbued with Christian faith. Defending personal dignity, the freedom of man created in the image of God, family as was created in Christianity, the national community and communities of faith. This is the essence of Christian democratic politics, not the defence of religious beliefs and dogmas.

Orban, who is addressing college students, goes on to talk about what he calls the Hungarian national mission: “defending the independent Carpathian Basin.” I imagine that non-Magyar Carpathian Basin peoples might have a different take on what it means to be independent. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to hear the prime minister speak in this patriotic vein to these students. Earlier in the talk, he pointed out that given the uniqueness of the Hungarian language, that

our culture, Hungarian national culture, which has been documented for many hundreds of years and whose beginnings reach as far back as the millennia spent on the steppe can only exist within us, through us and by us. Without us, it becomes forever lost to the whole of humanity. This is no easy mission.

This is profound. He is asserting that there is a reason for the existence of the Hungarian people, and that if they disappear, something vital to humanity’s well being will have been lost. This brought to mind something I read a while back by the ethnobiologist Wade Davis, who pointed out that we have a finely developed sense of why we should preserve endangered plant and animal species, but we overlook how much of worth is being lost every day when traditional peoples and their languages die out or die as a distinct culture because of assimilation.

Orban’s main beef with George Soros and the Eurocrats is that they favor a society in which all this real diversity is seen as a problem to be overcome. They say they favor “diversity,” but what they really favor is cultural surrender and annihilation. Orban told the students that they should be patriots, not stateless technocrats:

However, the Hungarian intellectual elite of the day is to be recognised by the fact that they don’t just sense but are keenly aware of this specific Hungarian mission. This is where you come into the picture. Therefore, over here – in harmony with their own professional career objectives – it is the duty of people of intellect to understand this mission, to reflect on it in relation to issues concerning public life, to grasp and to describe the ever-changing forms and expanding content of that mission, and to offer it to members of the nation who pursue professions of a different, non-intellectual nature. In other words, in Hungary, the status and performance of members of the Hungarian intelligentsia – that you yourselves belong to – are always a strategic issue for the nation, not a mere matter for the individual. Within this, supporting talent, or to use a modern term ‘fostering talent’, is one of the Hungarian nation’s greatest challenges and resources at the same time.

This means that due to the outstanding intellectual abilities the Lord bestowed upon you, you have a special responsibility for the future of the Hungarian people. The weight of one thousand one hundred years weighs heavily on your shoulders. Be grateful for that, and do what you have to do.

Read it all. 

What would that kind of speech sound like if given by an American president? If he were true to history and the American character, he would talk about the national mission to bring liberal democracy to the nations. That has been the felt mission of the country across the centuries, and encompassing both political parties.

Now though? I don’t believe in that mission. Do you? I don’t think that makes me less of a patriot. As a general rule, we have no business telling other countries how to run their affairs when our country is falling apart. The woke have taken up the historical American mission and interpret it as telling foreigners that they need to be woke. God forbid that any of my descendants bear arms against another country that the US ruling class decides needs to be punished for being insufficiently woke.

But what does this national mission mean on the political Right? I presume the old-school neocons are looking for another war to fight to prove our national greatness, but I don’t sense that most conservatives believe in exporting American values to the world like we used to. Am I wrong?

I could be wrong. Most of the right-wingers I hang out with think that America today is either an exporter of bad ideas, or at least has so much work to do on shoring up the home front that it has no business meddling in the business of other countries. But maybe I’m out of touch with where most people who identify as conservative are these days on national mission and American exceptionalism. You used to hear right-of-center politicians and thought leaders all the time talk about our national mission to spread the ideals of democracy around the world. After Iraq and Afghanistan, how can people believe that? I’m serious — how can people justify this as a good idea, or even a feasible one?

I’m trying to think about the kind of patriotic “national mission” speech I would want to hear from an American leader in 2021. What would he say? I think I would want to hear a speech in which the leader talked about how we can’t pass on what we don’t have — and that we have lost the habits of mind and of the heart that make for a healthy liberal democracy. I would want to her the leader speak of national mission as recovering who we once were, at home: rebuilding families, re-establishing communities, rediscovering religion, valuing history and tradition, learning to receive our country, its people, and its folkways in a spirit of stewardship, and so forth.

What do you think of Orban’s speech? What kind of speech like that would you want to hear from an American leader?

If you’re a European reader, what kind of speech like that would you want to hear from a leader of your own country? Me, I would want him or her to talk about Europe’s mission to conserve what it is in danger of losing: its rich, diverse history, its culture, and most of all its ancestral religion. Orban talks like this. I wonder how many European religious leaders do.

UPDATE: After posting this, I checked e-mail, and found this there from a reader:

As someone who considers himself a conservative classical liberal (or a classical liberal conservative, depending on how you look at it), one of the more unsettling realizations of our current time is that liberalism (not as practiced and professed by the Left) did this to itself. Not deliberately, of course. But a shift to illiberalism was always possible in an ideology that professed itself able to accommodate all sorts of viewpoints and ways of being. The irony, of course, is that nothing really is all-encompassing. Even classical liberalism needs a line drawn somewhere, but the nature of the ideology makes it difficult to draw any lines. Something which cannot impose limits on itself will eventually walk itself off a cliff because it cannot convincingly argue a reason not to.
The big political story of our time is that liberalism, after an incredible run of success, is now failing, if it hasn’t already. It’s failing due to its aforementioned inability to set limits for itself and also because both the Left and Right have lost faith in it. The Left sees it as unable to delivery equity and it’s ability to deliver equality is also viewed as suspect. The Right sees how easily it can be subverted for nefarious purposes. Thus, we’re currently in a transitional phase where both sides are seeking alternative frameworks and ideologies. The Left, further along the timeline, has settled upon a system that’s socialism in all but name. The Right’s still figuring things out, but it, too, is flirting with some dangerous ideologies.
This is why people like Viktor Orban, in my view, represent the future, at least as far as conservatism and right-wing politics go. No matter what President Biden might say (and he’s certainly no authority on the matter), Orban is far from Hitler and, for someone who’s illiberal and undemocratic, seems to understand democracy better than most of our own politicians here in the U.S. Orban isn’t perfect, but, when faced with committed autocrats, authoritarians, and oligarchs, Orban seems a much better bet, indeed.
The problem is, Orban also represents a distant future. He’s in many ways a product of a much longer history that involves communist totalitarianism. In other words, we’re probably not getting our own Orban this decade and considerable amount of bad has to transpire before we become a society willing to hand our own Orban a chance to run the country. Also, bear in mind the U.S. doesn’t have a parliamentary system, so voting for an Orban-like figure may be a different ballgame from trying to elect a party to which such a figure belongs.
I still consider classical liberalism something worth defending, even to the point of failure. It is, after all, the ideology underpinning the greatest experiment in human history. But I’m also resigned to the fact it’s a fight which will ultimately end in failure. I just hope whatever replaces it will be something other than Wokeism or MAGAism (to which Q-Anonism belongs).

UPDATE.2: A disillusioned military veteran writes:

As far as America’s mission abroad losing your support, I think this is the logical extension of the gradual realization among conservatives that shoring up the imperium may not be in their current best interests, especially when every single elite class sees you as kulaks to be purged.

You cannot alienate between a third to half of your population by regarding them as utter scum and then be surprised when they fail to fight and die on command. This is a logical extension of the left absolutely and completely winning the culture war. The right needs to take a hard look at the status quo and ask the question of cui bono [who benefits?] before they spend blood and treasure.

Freedom and democracy spread abroad in 2021 do not mean classical liberalism in the West. They mean CRT, gender ideology, LGBTQ, and every other progressive tenet — and God help any country like Poland or Hungary that dares to think otherwise. You are not allowed to dissent, to question, or to oppose or the full weight of the world order is brought to bear against you, as Hungary is now seeing.

This was not always the case. From the 1970s up until the 2000s, there was still a social conservative hope that the world order might be something friendlier, and you had no shortage of Catholic theocons who went in that direction. But when the US failures in Iraq resulted in the Obama administration (see Douthat on this) and the left won the culture war in 2015, any chance of that happening became nil. Right now social conservatives are begging not to be treated like pariahs in their own country. Anyone who wants to export that model abroad is insane.

There can be a hypothetical discussion on exporting classical liberalism, but right now that isn’t viable in the US, let alone abroad. Instead you have a progressive wokeness that apes classical liberalism and inhabits its spaces and its language for the purpose of improving its brand, and making it look like something benign, even positive.

This is something I have reflected a lot on as I think back on our defeat in Afghanistan. We were sold a war to defend our way of life and freedom, and we ended with those like myself who were dumb enough to answer the call finding ourselves as pariahs in our country, and who need to be denied influence and power until we die off. It is an America where people fear what they say for fear of losing their job based on an ever-updating orthodoxy, where true thoughts can only be shared with family or near-family, and an America with a growing class divide, political violence having reemerged on both sides, and a general stigmatization and dismemberment of everything we were told to go fight for. Something to remind the next time someone seriously argues for a crusade.

As someone who is all too aware that the barbarians are real and brutal, I would just say that those entrusted with positions of duty and responsibility cannot care more about these issues than those at the top. Our military, intelligence, and diplomatic leadership couldn’t beat the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Iranians in Iraq. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the woke army will behave any better against the Chinese or the Russians. So gradual decline sets in, just as it did for the Ottomans, quite independent of anything you or I might want.

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