On Friday, The American Conservative hosted Balázs Orbán, the Hungarian parliamentary and strategic state secretary to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (no relation), at the Catholic University of America to discuss his recently-translated book, The Hungarian Way of Strategy.
The talk was fascinating, and no surprise given Orbán has been described by Tucker Carlson as “one of the smartest political thinkers I’ve ever met.” In his remarks, Orbán said Hungary’s way of strategy should be of interest for the American right for two main reasons.
“First, sustained persistence and strong survival instincts,” Orbán said. “The last 500 years of Hungary was about survival. Despite the unfavorable odds and the lost wars, every power that defeated us in the last 500 years ceases to exist by now, and we are still standing.”
The second reason Orbán said American conservatives should pay close attention to Hungary is what’s at the “core purpose of political strategy.”
In a time of expansion, and statebuilding, exercising global influence and handling international problems, political strategists can easily forget what it’s all about. I know from the U.S., Europe may look like an open-air museum, but sometimes it’s worth visiting such museums. According to the great Italian painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti, ‘good governance is achieving peace and prosperity for the people of the political community.’ Hence, every country’s main goal is to create these circumstances.
The institutions and intellects of the American “new right,” as it has been inappropriately named, have certainly taken notice of Hungary to the chagrin of major media outlets that have written long articles about Hungary’s American defenders in an attempt to write them off as aspiring authoritarians by capitalizing on misrepresentations of Prime Minister Orbán and his Fidesz Party.
Almost everyone considered on the American new right also embraces Orbán’s second proposition and believe that the purpose of governance is to create the proper conditions for true human flourishing beyond that of materialistic autonomy. However, various factions within the new right, no doubt a consequence of its welcomed growth, continue to wrestle with questions over what America substantively looks like when governed under traditional conceptions of the common good.
I began identifying with the new right after years of being a campus normie-con for a number of reasons. But above all else, I identified with the new right’s sense of urgency, and the recognition that our window of time to act before irrevocable damage is done to the nation is increasingly narrow.
As to be expected of any political coalition, fierce disagreements within the new right remain over the desirable size of government, the role of the church (and which church), a proper understanding of rights, and what role the founding should play. Depending on which side you take, each of these differences have implications on what ends are desirable, and some of the means you’re willing to take to get there, which makes resolving these differences important.
However, too often our deliberations are quickly hindered by considerations of limiting principles and bogged down by other minutia. This jeopardizes our ability to act in the time we still have. Arguing ad infinitum about limiting principles and where we should stop before we’ve even begun to move the needle in our direction is a luxury only the conservative intelligentsia can afford.
What both Orbáns seem to understand better than us is that politics is ultimately a process of trial and error. This is why we need to operationalize a strategy for us to begin tilting the scales back in our favor through enacting, and adjusting if necessary, our policies—and not a moment too soon.
Will our strategy be similar to Hungary’s? In some ways, maybe, but Hungary and the United States is a far cry from an apples to apples comparison. Hungary is a landlocked nation of just under 10 million inhabitants, with a shared culture that extends back almost a millennium before America gained its independence. It’s much more homogenous, and much more religious, then the ever diversifying and ever secularizing United States.
Our American strategy won’t be perfect, but we must have the Hungarian will to act on it because settling the disputes that preoccupy factions of the new right won’t be found in the outset of our journey towards American renewal. Rather, they’ll be vigorously negotiated along the way.