Orban In The Lone Star State
The liberal and neocon big guns are trained on the Hungarian PM as he prepares to address CPAC today
Hello from Dallas, where I’ve come to attend the CPAC conference. I arrived yesterday afternoon from Frankfurt, an 11-hour flight that seemed much longer because of that fat ten year old brat whose Mama, sitting next to him, did not give him proper home training. I have never felt compelled to speak to somebody else’s kid and tell them to stop jumping around and slamming the seats, but a guy can only take so much. I really don’t understand parents like that mom (she was one of those educated-sounding mothers who believes that you can address your child like he’s a college student, and reason him into behaving well). I’ve traveled with small children of my own, and let me tell you, as a parent, you are mighty grateful for the tolerance of other passengers. But you also know that you have to meet those other passengers halfway. That requires vigilance, and making sure that your kids treat other passengers with respect. Of course, this is a lot easier to do when you have been raising them at home to have manners, which really are only respect for others.
That kid is going to have a hard time in life because his mother indulges him so much. I hope I never see those two again. Anyway, I barely slept on the plane, and crashed like an oak tree in a hurricane when I made it to the hotel. It is 104 degrees in Dallas! Even though Dallas in August is one of the last places on earth you want to be, it is good to be here in this north Texas city, which was my home for six years. I really love the people here, and after living in Mitteleuropa for most of this year, it is a blessing to be back among people who are effortlessly friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I love Europe, but the people there really are different. I think Southerners and Texans may take for granted the politeness of our cultures to strangers. I don’t say this as a criticism of Europeans, but rather as praise of what we Southerners (of all races!) have. When I relocate to Budapest this fall, this is going to be one of the things I miss most, and one of the things I will most look forward to when I make my (frequent) visits back home. That, and ice in your Coke Zero. Speaking of, I hope and pray to the dear Lord who made Texas that I have the chance to go by a Sonic and get a Route 44 Coke Zero crammed to the top with Sonic ice.
One of the reasons I’m here is to observe how Hungarian PM Viktor Orban is received by the CPAC audience when he gives his keynote speech today. As you regular readers know, I’ve been a booster of Orban since I went to Hungary last summer, and realized through personal experience that the US and European media line on Orban and his government is profoundly misleading. Other Americans — even liberal ones — I’ve encouraged to come to Hungary and see for themselves have had the same experience. I’ve written for a year now that I believe American conservatives have a lot to learn from Orban. The United States is not Hungary, and some of what works there would not work here. Nevertheless, I appreciate Orban’s aggressive conservatism, especially his social conservatism, when compared with the all-hat-no-cattle version we tend to get from American conservatives. And, I appreciate how Orban instinctively knows that we are in a struggle for the future of Western civilization — and acts like it.
Before I fell asleep yesterday afternoon, I read a couple of things slamming Orban and his appearance at CPAC, in the American media. I know some of you are tired of me writing about Hungary and Orban, but the PM’s appearance at CPAC is a sign of the growing influence of Hungarian conservatism on the American Right. It is vital that we conservatives who understand the Hungarian situation better than these critics speak out against what is sure to be a tidal wave of ill-informed criticism. Let me make clear that I do not consider all criticism of Orban and his government illegitimate. If you don’t share his principles and beliefs, it’s perfectly fair to criticize him. And even if you do, it’s still fair to criticize him when he does something problematic or flat-out wrong; I’ve done that before and I will do it again below — but I do so from a position of admiring him and wanting him to succeed.
What I hate is critics who do so in bad faith, either distorting the facts or outright lying. This is so common in the Western media that I decided this summer to quit cooperating with those who want to do pieces about what’s happening in Hungary. I went out of my way to help a journalist whom I knew would write critically about Orban’s Hungary, but who I trusted to write fairly, with nuance. My trust was misplaced; I’m never doing this for anybody again.
One of the pieces was an editorial in The Dallas Morning News, my old paper, which was full of half-truths and outright distortions. I was going to write about it, but the truth is, nobody reads or cares about newspaper staff editorials these days. Of greater concerns is a column by Bill Galston, every Washington conservative’s favorite liberal, writing in the Wall Street Journal, criticizing harshly Orban’s controversial speech a couple of weeks ago in Transylvania. Here is a complete transcript of the speech for you to check its text against the claims made by its critics. The Brookings scholar’s piece is behind a paywall, so I will quote the most relevant parts here at length. Galston writes:
In this speech, Mr. Orbán characterized “population replacement or inundation” as one of the principal challenges of our time, and he recommended an “outstanding” book on this issue, “The Camp of the Saints,” by the French monarchist Jean Raspail. This poisonous novel is the ur-text for the notorious “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that white nationalists have cited approvingly in the U.S. and in Europe, which holds that elites are using immigration to undermine the cultural and political power of white Christian populations. Mr. Orbán said that the book explains “the West’s inability to defend itself” against threatening hordes of non-Western immigrants.
I have said before, and I’ll say it again: Orban made a big mistake in recommending that book. It is a bad book, as I’ve written here. But the one good thing about that bad book — and this is what Orban cited in his recent speech — is how it reveals the spiritual void that compels European elites to fail to defend their countries and civilization from mass Third World migration. You don’t have to believe in the Great Replacement conspiracy — I do not — to recognize that this is happening all over western Europe. “This” being the mass migration of non-European peoples into Europe. You don’t have to believe that it is a conscious conspiracy to recognize that it is happening, and that it is causing profound, and almost impossible to resolve, political and social problems.
According to Raspail’s bad book, and I guess according to Orban, the West is unwilling to defend itself because its leaders have lost confidence in Western values and Western civilization. They look to the Third World “Other” for deliverance. The Greek-Egyptian poet C.F. Cavafy expressed this in his great 1898 (!) poem about an exhausted, decadent civilization, called “Waiting For The Barbarians”:
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
What’s the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
He’s even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.
You see what he’s getting at here? The wealthy, advanced civilization that awaits the barbarians has grown tired of governing. It has lost confidence in itself. It is eager to surrender to the Other, because they will relieve the leadership class of the burden of rule. “Those people were a kind of solution” because the decadents are full of self-doubt and self-hatred. The barbarians are not. Whatever else their flaws, they are confident.
I recommend reading Raspail’s repulsive book only to get that sense. You can get the same thing, though not as sharply defined, in Michel Houellebecq’s non-racist 2015 novel Submission. Only if you haven’t read it could you possibly think it was anti-Muslim. The villains of the book are the same villains Raspail identified (though Raspail also identified the dehumanized Third World horde, from India, as villains — something Houellebecq does not do). In Houellebecq’s book, the French are sunk in malaise, and are desperate to be delivered from their decadence. They submit to Islamic rule — the French Muslim leader of the book is elected, after all — because he represents a kind of solution.
We in the United States do not have this decadence to the same extent that the Europeans do, nor do we have the same kind of migration problems (in part because our national culture is significantly different, and more flexible, than Europe’s). But we are well on the road to it. Indeed, every institution that has gone woke has been “Europeanized” in this sense. What American readers should understand is that Europe is governed by a political class that has absorbed the values we in America see restricted to universities, corporations, and other woke institutions. The hatred these elites have for Christianity, for whites (the worst haters are themselves guilt-ridden whites), and for Western civilization is powerful, and consequential. Now, imagine that entire nations, and the European Union governing confederation, are governed by people with the same values as American universities. You get an idea, then, of what Viktor Orban is up against — and why ordinary European people listen to him.
Here, from his speech, is what Orban actually said:
In such a multi-ethnic context, there is an ideological feint here that is worth talking about and focusing on. The internationalist left employs a feint, an ideological ruse: the claim – their claim – that Europe by its very nature is populated by peoples of mixed race. This is a historical and semantic sleight of hand, because it conflates two different things. There is a world in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe. Now that is a mixed-race world. And there is our world, where people from within Europe mix with one another, move around, work, and relocate. So, for example, in the Carpathian Basin we are not mixed-race: we are simply a mixture of peoples living in our own European homeland. And, given a favourable alignment of stars and a following wind, these peoples merge together in a kind of Hungaro-Pannonian sauce, creating their own new European culture. This is why we have always fought: we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race. This is why we fought at Nándorfehérvár/Belgrade, this is why we stopped the Turks at Vienna, and – if I am not mistaken – this is why, in still older times – the French stopped the Arabs at Poitiers. Today the situation is that Islamic civilisation, which is constantly moving towards Europe, has realised – precisely because of the traditions of Belgrade/Nándorfehérvár – that the route through Hungary is an unsuitable one along which to send its people up into Europe. This is why Poitiers has been replayed; now the incursion’s origins are not in the East, but in the South, from where they are occupying and flooding the West.
You see? He is using “race” clearly in context of nation and civilization — positing Europeans (Spaniards, Poles, Swedes, French, and yes, Jewish citizens of those nations, and more) against Muslims not born in Europe, and those who affirm Islamic values, not Christian democratic ones. He says clearly that “we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race” — meaning, obviously, people who do not hold to the values and religion that constitutes European civilization. Orban didn’t mention the United States, but on the basis of what he cites above, he would see Latinos and black Americans as part of the same civilization as Hungarians. Whether he would see assimilated American Muslims as part of that civilization, I couldn’t say. What I think he might say — might — is that to the extent that Muslim immigrants to America have assimilated American values over Islamic ones, they are “mixed race” in the specific sense that he means, even if they are 100 percent ethnically Arab.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, Mr. Orbán proceeded to express his opposition to a “mixed-race world”—that is, a world “in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe.” These countries, he claimed, “are no longer nations: They are nothing more than conglomerations of peoples,” and they are no longer part of what he calls “the Western world.” He made no effort to exclude the U.S. from this judgment, and it is difficult to imagine how he could.
Well, he probably made no effort to exclude the US from this judgment because he was speaking to a group of Hungarians, in Transylvania. Believe it or not, America is not the center of the world, and at the center of everyone’s consciousness around the world.
As I’ve said, Orban made a big mistake by using the word “race,” when from the context of the speech he clearly means “nations”. I believe that this was a political and rhetorical error by Orban. He was speaking to a Hungarian crowd, in Europe. A Hungarian reader of this blog e-mailed me the other day to explain the connotations that the Hungarian word for “race” that Orban used carries, and how it was likely received by his Hungarian listeners in Transylvania. It is plausibly defensible. Nevertheless, a European leader has to be more careful using that kind of language in the post-Nazi era. And Orban himself, knowing that he is now a lot more visible in the US, and knowing that he faces a Western media that is bound and determined to take every utterance of his and give it the worst possible spin, cannot afford to make these errors.
That said, I have to emphasize here that Americans simply have no idea how the rest of the world sees the idea of “nations” and their connection to distinct people — yes, “races,” though the American sense of the word “race” is not necessarily how the rest of the world sees it. In the same way that psychologists only recently came to understand that what they assumed was normative about human psychology is actually only normative of the psychology of Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (W.E.I.R.D.) people, we Americans ought to wake up to the reality that the rest of the world sees the idea of “nation” rather differently than our universalist, Enlightenment society does.
In France — after the Revolution, another Enlightenment regime — they feel so strongly about universality of citizenship that the government does not collect data based on ethnicity. But nothing could be clearer than that France has a massive problem assimilating Third World migrants, especially Muslim ones who hold on to their religion as a marker of identity. The inability of official France to recognize this, because it violates universalist republican ideology, means that the governing class cannot deal with the world as it really is. And this opens the door for politicians and movements of what the regime intellectuals and journalists call the “far right” to prosper, because whatever sins and failings those politicians have, they can at least bring themselves to deal with the real world, and don’t lose themselves in an ideological fog.
(Note well, this is why we Americans were so damned stupid about Iraq. We really thought that deep down, inside every Iraqi was a liberal democrat eager to get out. We didn’t notice that Iraqis see themselves as Shia or Sunni, and as members of clans. Similarly in World War I, the Bolsheviks believed that international solidarity among the proletariat would trump nationalism. They were wrong.)
A reader sends this email about the nation point:
The title of your recent “What is a Nation?” post reminded me of a 2007 article by French political philosopher Pierre Manent (attached)–have you read it?
Manent makes the argument that the form of the nation is basically indebted to Christianity (as opposed to liberal scholars who tend to attribute its emergence to capitalism): “Only through the crystallizing of the nation can Christian liberty coincide with Christian obedience. At that time Christendom was broken apart and the “commonwealth of Christian subjects,” the Christian nation, was born.”
Whether one agrees or disagrees with his argument there, his diagnosis of our situation (remember this was written in 2007) is stunning:
More precisely, whether we are French or Germans, Italians or Spaniards, we no longer define ourselves as belonging to Christian nations. We have discarded, or at least greatly curtailed, the claim to national sovereignty; we have even agreed to erase our borders, which were so carefully drawn and passionately defended until not so long ago. And as I speak, uncomfortably set between our rump nations and a half-baked Europe, we are asking ourselves whether to go farther in the direction of a limitless European empire of universal fellow-feeling, or to stop at this point and confront our necessities—or perhaps even to go back a little and try to breathe some new life into our old nations, since we are not sure after all that it is possible or desirable to live a “post-national” life.
Thus we are caught again in the “Roman syndrome.” We are torn between the opposite directions of the imagination I tried to describe. On one hand we experience the passion for the little platoon, morally much smaller than the ancient city since it is deprived of political self-government, and on the other hand we experience the imperial urge toward what is beyond the horizon, beyond the borders of Europe, however defined. We are fast losing the middle dimension, with its inseparably physical and spiritual aspects, on which we predicated everything worthy of still being cherished in our several national histories as well as in our common European history. In this sense, I think that we are on the verge of self-destruction. To parry this threat, nothing is more important than to get a grip on our centuries-old development, and that means first of all becoming fully aware of the originally Christian character of our nations.
On another point, I take it from your brief reference to Mexico wanting to be Mexican that you’re aware of this recent New York Post piece, on Mexico City starting to be overrun by remote workers from California? The quotation from the woman who moved from San Fran at the end of the article is so telling in terms of how the left thinks about ‘equity’: it’s just pursuit of wealth covered by a racial identity claim so as to position oneself as more needy than actually economically disadvantaged citizens of another nation.
Orban has spoken often of the critical importance of Christianity to the foundations of the West. This too has the usual liberals up in arms. They cannot imagine religion as anything other than a threat to liberal politics. But Pierre Manent, who is one of the world’s most important political theorists, understands this point very well. That’s too complicated a point to get into here, but that Manent quote — I wasn’t familiar with his 2007 essay “What Is A Nation?” — should underscore that Viktor Orban is one of very few Western leaders at his level who grasps that post-Christian, post-national Europe is destroying itself. He is determined that Hungary will not go that way, if he can help it. The politicians, journalists, and intellectuals who hate him are so committed to secular liberal democracy as an ideology that they would rather see the destruction of our civilization than cease to worship that idol.
(Side note: I struggle with this myself, because I can’t think of an existing political system that would be preferable to liberal democracy. But I can see plainly that the forces of the Left, both in Europe and in the US, no longer believe at all in liberal democracy, and that as long as we on the Right pretend that we are living in a world where liberal democracy is what our opponents — who control all the high ground in this culture — accept, then we will lose. This is the problem with the American Right: we think that liberal democratic norms are sufficient to beat back the soft totalitarianism of the Left. They aren’t. They manifestly are not. I wish they were! But when a malicious ideology has conquered nearly all the private institutions of our liberal democracy, and whose partisans are using it to press anti-white racism and a monstrous sexual ideology onto the people, and demonizing anyone who objects — well, unless “liberal democracy” is going to be a suicide pact for a culture and civilization, something else is needed. Viktor Orban posits “Christian democracy” — a democracy based affirmatively on Judeo-Christian norms, which rejects racism and gender ideology.)
The time will come, Mr. Orbán concedes, “when we have to somehow accept Christians coming to us” from the West and “integrate them into our lives.” He excluded from his “Western world” Christians from the global South and all non-Christians.
His defenders contend that his real target is Islamic immigration. But as the Bulwark’s Cathy Young points out in a stinging critique, the Hungarian word for “race” that Mr. Orbán used has a longstanding anti-Semitic resonance. This partly explains why Hungary’s chief rabbi responded so strongly.
Nowhere in Galston’s piece do you see the slightest recognition that Hungary, alone among the Christian nations (as far as I know), has established a cabinet-level ministry dedicated to helping Christian victims of religious persecution. The Hungarians did this on the initiative of Viktor Orban. From the piece I wrote about visiting the ministry:
As we talked in his office, Azbej told me that the persecution of Christians worldwide is the worst human rights crisis of our time, “and the most concealed.”
More than a third of a billion people around the world — Christians — are persecuted, Azbej said, but their plight is barely mentioned in United Nations, European Union, and human rights NGO circles.
“The reason for that is mostly political. First of all, the Muslim majority countries, they don’t necessarily persecute Christians, but they are interested in hiding the fact that Christians are persecuted,” Azbej said. “Second, the Western liberal governments and politicians want to conceal this fact, simply because it doesn’t fit their narrative. In their narrative, Christianity is the oppressor, is the persecuting ideology that they say— falsely, I think — is persecuting sexual minorities. They are only interested in that.”
Azbej said he and his staff have to deal with this denial every day in the diplomatic world. This is why his Hungary Helps program not only has to deliver aid to persecuted Christians, but has to advocate for them too.
“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “Nigeria currently is where the most severe Christian persecution takes place. Last year there were close to 3,000 reported cases of jihadists murdering Christians for their beliefs. Whenever I talk with Western diplomats and politicians about this, they try to convince me that it has nothing to do with persecution.”
Azbej recalled a conversation with a high-ranking Western diplomat.
“When I explained about the genocide committed by Boko Haram against Nigerian Christians, he told me it wasn’t religious persecution. This was near the beginning of my appointment, so I was really shocked. Do you know what he told me the cause was? Climate change. He said it was farmer-herder conflict caused by climate change.
“I explained the reports and the testimonies we received on the ground,” Azbej continued. “It is true that herders are attacking farmers, but the herders are all jihadists who get weapons and funding from al Qaeda. We had numerous testimonies of them overrunning villages and burning Christians inside their churches. We had a report where they burned alive 150 Christian martyrs inside their church, then they razed the church to the ground and built a mosque instead. But the Western diplomat kept insisting it was climate change.”
Azbej said his secretariat logically belongs in the foreign ministry, but instead he reports personally to PM Orban, because the issue of persecuted Christians is a priority for him. Whenever the secretariat receives representatives from persecuted Christian churches, Azbej takes them over to meet Orban. (A couple of years ago I was present in a meeting with Orban at the Buda Castle in which a bishop from a Middle Eastern church thanked Orban with great emotion for all that Hungary had done for his people).
“We don’t look at this work as a government policy,” Azbej said. “We look at this as something from above.”
Does Bill Galston care about these persecuted Christians? Does he even know about them? Hungary knows, and Hungary cares. I have heard the same thing from others who work in the field of defending the persecuted Christians of the Third World: that the Western nations — even the supposedly Christian United States of America — don’t care at all. This, I think, is not because the ordinary people of America wouldn’t care. It’s because the media and the professional class — the NGOs, government officials, and the rest — don’t care, and don’t make it a priority of informing their peoples, much less lifting a finger to support them.
I know for a fact, because I’ve met with these people, that Hungary has given political asylum to some Arab Christians whose lives were in danger from Islamic fatwas. Don’t tell me that Hungary doesn’t care. The first time I went to Hungary, I was in the room with a Christian bishop from Iraq, Nicodemus, who personally thanked Orban (who was present) for giving him asylum. Another European nation (I won’t say which one here) had refused it to him, even though he was on an ISIS hit list. Do you ever hear that in the US media? Do they ever talk about things like that at Brookings?
Here is something I wrote in TAC in 2019, after a startling meeting with Orban and a group of intellectuals and thought leaders. Excerpts:
Orban begin our session with extended remarks about Hungarian and European politics, and the role of his Fidesz Party in them. He said that when he was elected in 2010, he had one mission: to save Hungary from economic ruin. By the time Orban’s 2014 re-election bid rolled around, the economy was stable, and he described the mission of his second terms as “to say what I think.”
“I realized in 2014 that I was the only free man among the prime ministers of Europe,” he said, explaining that by “free,” he meant that he had a strong, united parliamentary majority behind him. He added, “In Western political life now, you can’t say what you think.”
When the migration crisis hit Europe in 2015, Orban famously shut Hungary’s borders to Middle Easterners. Orban said that Hungary’s was the only government in Europe to respond to the crisis in its own interests, and in the interests of Christianity in Europe. With a population of only 10 million, and as a country where Christianity, as elsewhere on the continent, is fragile, the Hungarians concluded that allowing large numbers of Muslims to take up residence here would mean the death knell of Christianity in time.
This scandalized the European political class. Orban doesn’t care. He told our group that he understands that he is dealing with elites who believe that being a post-Christian, post-national civilization is a great and glorious thing. Orban rejects this. He said the main political question in the West today is how fractious pluralities can live together peaceably. He said, “Here the most important question is how not to have the same questions as them.”
Orban pointed out that the UK and France were once colonial powers in the Middle East. He added, “But Central Europe was colonized by the Middle East. That’s a fact.” He’s talking about the Ottoman occupation of Hungary, from 1541 to 1699. Orban told our group that the room we were sitting was part of a Church building that had been turned into a mosque during the occupation.
Explaining his decision to shut the borders to Muslim refugees, Orban said what tipped the scales was consulting the Christian bishops of the Middle East. Orban: “What did they say? ‘Don’t let them in. Stop them.’”
Middle Eastern Christians, said Orban, “can tell you what is the [ultimate] end of a society you have to share with Muslims.”
Sitting at the table listening to the prime minister was Nicodemus, the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Mosul, whose Christian community, which predates Islam by several centuries, was savagely persecuted by ISIS. Archbishop Nicodemus spoke up, thanking Orban for what Hungary has done for persecuted Christians. Nicodemus said that living with Muslims has taught Iraqi Christians that they can expect no mercy. “Those people, if you give them your small finger, they will want your body,” he said.
“The problem is that Western countries don’t accept our experience,” the prelate continued. “Those people [Muslims] pushed us to be a minority in our own land and then refugees in our own land.”
Under the Orban government, Hungary frequently extends a helping hand to persecuted Christians.The archbishop exhorted Orban to stay thecourse in defense of Christians. For 16 years, he said, Iraqi Christians begged Western leaders to help them. Addressing Orban directly, Nicodemus said, “Nobody understands our pain like you.”
So, look, are we supposed to reject the testimony of that Iraqi Christian bishop, because it offends our liberal democratic universalism? Is that bishop supposed to hate Viktor Orban, even though Orban and his government were the only ones who helped him and his people, because the governing and media class of the US and Western Europe hate Orban? I would say that Orban must consider this bishop to be part of his idea of “nation,” because he invited the man to live in Hungary, where he, as a Christian, will be safe from his persecutors. That doesn’t mean that Orban would want to open Hungary’s borders to every foreign-born Christian, but it should give pause to those Orban haters who think that he’s a European white supremacist.
About Galston’s citing Cathy Young’s smearing Orban with anti-Semitism because he used the word “mixed race,” I would point out, as I so often do, that there is no major city in Europe safer for Jews than Orban’s Budapest. This is a fact. This is because Hungary does not have a big Muslim migrant population. There are, sadly, some home-grown European anti-Semites, even in Hungary. Thankfully, these people do not have power, and in Hungary at least, are relatively minor players on the scene. But you know what neither Bill Galston nor Cathy Young told their readers? That the anti-Semitic political forces were part of the anti-Orban opposition coalition in this spring’s elections. During the campaign earlier this year, the hapless opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay said of his coalition (which included the far left and the far right):
“What Viktor Orbán embodies in his person, this rainbow coalition – namely, liberals, communists, conservatives, and fascists –, we represent them separately in the alliance” of the opposition, where “everyone can keep his own vision of the world”.
No, you didn’t hear that from Galston or Young, and you haven’t heard that from the Western media reporting on Hungary. What doesn’t fit their Narrative, they leave out.
Back to Galston:
Mr. Orbán’s attack on immigration is only one element of what he termed “the great historic battle that we are fighting: demography, immigration and gender.” These are the issues at stake in the battle between left and right, the issues he says will “decide our future.” In this context, he flatly opposes same-sex marriage and the ability of same-sex couples to adopt children, arrangements he regards as “Western lunacy.
Yes, this is true. The liberal Galston cites it without commentary, as if it were offensive enough on its face so as to not require commentary.
In fairness, Mr. Orbán’s concerns extend beyond the culture war to include the non-metaphorical war between Russia and Ukraine. “This is not our war,” he insists, adding that if Russia’s demand for Ukrainian neutrality had been accepted, the war never would have happened. Nor would it have broken out if Hungary had been “a little luckier” and Donald Trump and Angela Merkel were still in charge. Now that it has, however, the task of the European Union “is not to stand alongside either the Russians or the Ukrainians, but to stand between Russia and Ukraine.” Translation: Europe shouldn’t care who attacked whom, or about the choice between democracy and autocracy.
Mr. Orbán is certain that Ukraine will never win the war; a new strategy is needed, and its focus should be on restoring peace, a process from which the Ukrainians must be excluded. Because Russia wants security guarantees, the war can be ended only with “Russo-American negotiations.” Translation: The U.S. should force Ukraine to accept neutralization and the loss of substantial portions of its territory. Never mind the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Never mind the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s open-door policy, which has been central to the alliance since its creation. What seems to matter most to Hungary’s leader is ending the hostilities to reduce energy prices.
Where to even start with this? I’ve seen some liberal commentators referring to that speech as Orban defending Putin. He did not such thing — as you can see from reading the speech. Orban has from the beginning condemned the Russian invasion, but as a realistic leader — one whose nation borders Ukraine, and which could easily be pulled into the war if it expands — he has recognized all along that this is not a winnable war for the West.
Contra Galston, Orban understands that NATO’s open-door policy is not self-justifying. Russia has a legitimate reason to oppose expanding NATO to its borders, and to a territory that until the breakup of the USSR, was part of Greater Russia. This does not justify Putin’s invasion, but again, narcissistic Americans have to understand that the entire world doesn’t agree that America is right about all things. Moreover, Galston doesn’t seem aware of the fact that prior to Russia’s invasion, and the makeover of Ukraine into One Of Us, the Zelensky government was considered to be one of the world’s most corrupt — right up there with Putin’s Russia, in fact. Zelensky has been brave in his resistance to Russia’s invasion, but that doesn’t retroactively restore Ukraine’s virginity. Hungarians and Romanians, in fact, recognize that prior to the outbreak of war, the Zelensky government was hard on Hungarian and Romanian minority populations living inside Ukraine; he didn’t want those communities educating children in their own language. Galston and other liberal critics of Orban ought to understand that the concept of “nation” is thought of differently by Europeans, and everybody around the world, than it is among Americans, especially American liberals.
And then there’s this bit from Tom Friedman’s column the other day, which he almost certainly received as a leak from the Biden Administration:
Dear reader: The Ukraine war is not over. And privately, U.S. officials are a lot more concerned about Ukraine’s leadership than they are letting on. There is deep mistrust between the White House and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine — considerably more than has been reported.
And there is funny business going on in Kyiv. On July 17, Zelensky fired his country’s prosecutor general and the leader of its domestic intelligence agency — the most significant shake-up in his government since the Russian invasion in February. It would be the equivalent of Biden firing Merrick Garland and Bill Burns on the same day. But I have still not seen any reporting that convincingly explains what that was all about. It is as if we don’t want to look too closely under the hood in Kyiv for fear of what corruption or antics we might see, when we have invested so much there. (More on the dangers of that another day.)
Finally, Galston’s moralistic slam against Orban for supposedly caring more about energy prices than Russian imperialism and autocracy is exactly the kind of garbage we heard back in 2002, when pundits slammed critics of the coming Iraq War on practical grounds (e.g., liberal democracy is not possible in a country with its social realities). Back then, righteous critics like me sneered that the naysayers didn’t care about moral principles like democracy. Well, we were wrong. Similarly, unlike Bill Galston, who lives in Washington and governs nothing, Viktor Orban lives in a nation that is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, like Germany and other European nations. Washingtonians aren’t facing the prospect of freezing in the dark this winter; Hungarians and other Europeans are. Moreover, the German economy is the engine for Europe’s economy. If German industry cannot get Russian gas, it’s going to slow down or even shut down, which is going to mean economic depression for all of Europe.
Orban understands that his first duty is to look out for the interests of the Hungarian people, who elected him. Not the interests of Brussels. Not the interests of Washington. It takes real nerve for an American pundit living in the comfort and safety of Washington to fault a European leader responsible for the well being of his own people that he’s a bad man for not wanting them to suffer in a cold winter, and then endure an economic depression, for the sake of Ukrainian sovereignty. In fact, said Orban, governments fall because of the kind of economic turmoil that is headed Europe’s way because of this war.
I strongly urge you to read the long part of Orban’s speech having to do with assessing the war and its results. It is an example of visionary realism — and by next spring, a lot of people will have a Strange New Respect for Viktor Orban’s vision. Here’s part of it:
The third is that Europe is in trouble: economic trouble, but also political trouble, with governments falling like dominoes. Just since the outbreak of the war, the British, the Italian, the Bulgarian and the Estonian governments have fallen. And autumn is still ahead of us. The big price rise came in June, when energy prices doubled. The effects of this on people’s lives, which are creating discontent, are only just beginning to arrive, and we have already lost four governments.
And finally, the world is not only not with us, it is demonstrably not with us. Historically the Americans have had the ability to pick out what they identify as an evil empire and to call on the world to stand on the right side of history – a phrase which bothers us a little, as this is what the communists always said. This ability that the Americans used to have of getting everyone on the right side of the world and of history, and then the world obeying them, is something which has now disappeared. Most of the world is demonstrably not on that side: not the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, South Africa, the Arab world, nor Africa. A large part of the world simply refuses to take part in this war, not because they believe that the West is on the wrong side, but because for them there is more to the world than this war, and they have their own problems that they are wrestling with and want to solve. [Emphasis mine — RD] It may well be that this war will be the one that demonstrably puts an end to that form of Western ascendancy which has been able to employ various means to create world unity against certain actors on a particular chosen issue. That era is coming to an end and, as they say in the bombastic language of politics, a multipolar world order is now knocking on our door.
Do you get that? Orban has condemned Russia’s invasion, but he is also saying that many countries around the world may or may not be against Russia, but they definitely believe that their own national interests are more important than standing with Ukraine here. Viktor Orban certainly does believe that. You, America reader, don’t have to agree with that, but I certainly hope that you grasp that there is far, far more to Orban’s critique of the West’s stance regarding Ukraine than you get from Galston’s snide dismissal.
I will not engage with Galston’s criticism of what sounds like Orban’s irredentism in the speech. I don’t know enough about the details of the politics to take a clear side, but if Orban is pushing for the reclamation of pre-Trianon Hungary, then I think it is a wrong, and a mistake. I wouldn’t blame Orban’s neighbors for being upset with this. Most Hungarians, in my experience, believe that Hungary was unfairly robbed of two-thirds of its territory with the 1919 Trianon Treaty. Whether they are wrong or right, that is not remotely the most important battle facing them now, and can only be a distraction. When I was in Romania this summer, I talked with a Romanian conservative who, when he found out I was living in Budapest, said, “I wish we had a Romanian Orban” — meaning a politician who stood up fearlessly for Romanian culture and tradition and interests, against the demands of Brussels. The more Orban paints himself as a Hungarian irredentist, the less support he will get among conservative, Christian European peoples who otherwise support his worldview. If American commentators are too parochial (and, paradoxically, too internationalist) to understand Orban’s message, Hungarian irredentism would be a case of Orban being too nationalistic to grasp the broader interests of Hungary to make common cause with the conservative nations of his region. There are plenty of Slovaks, Slovenians, Serbs, Croatians, and Romanians who would generally sympathize with Orban’s conservatism, but who would understandably abandon ship if it required them to back Hungarian irredentism. Orban and Hungary are too isolated on the world stage now to take that risk.
Galston ends with:
At the National Conservatism Conference this September, Mr. Orbán’s supporters must either separate themselves from his speech or, through silence, associate themselves with its noxious sentiments
Gosh. A liberal commentator at the Brookings Institution believes that you either have to reject fully Orban’s speech — including the economic and foreign-policy realism on Ukraine — or be a fascist. You’re either For Us or Against Us. As Orban said in that speech, Hungarians are suspicious of this dividing the world into Good or Evil, because this is what the Communists did. We Americans should be wary of it too, because this is what George W. Bush and the foreign policy elites in the early 2000s said to strong-arm people into supporting this catastrophic Iraq War.
Galston is using the same method here to strong-arm American conservatives into backing endless war with Russia via the Ukraine proxy (even as we face a far more serious enemy in China); to strong-arm Americans into accepting mass migration into Europe; and to strong-arm Americans into accepting gender ideology, with its redefinition of man and woman; and to strong-arm Americans into ignoring the religious aspect of this clash of civilizations (I wonder what Bill Galston and Cathy Young think about whether Israel has a right to pursue migration policies that preserve its status as a Jewish state. I do, and so, I’d guess, does Viktor Orban. Why should it be okay for Israel, but not for Hungary, or any other country?)
Today and the rest of this week, you will hear lots of stuff in the US media denouncing Orban as an “authoritarian,” and as someone who has ended democracy in Hungary (this, despite the fact that in the free and fair election Hungary held this spring, Orban received an even greater mandate than his party expected; I guess the US liberal and neoconservative commentators are going to have to cancel the Hungarian people). I ask you to keep an open mind. I hope American conservatives, and others, will listen to what Orban has to say when he’s here in America. As the Hungarian scholar and commentator Lazslo Bernat Veszpremy has written here in TAC recently, the immense problem of Third World migration is going to get vastly worse in this century. It cannot be wished away with sneering from American liberals and libertarians. LBV writes:
The inconvenient facts of Europe’s migration crisis are these: First, the population of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region will see drastic growth in the coming decades. Second, the MENA region is set to lose much of its drinking water and food sources. Third, advances in electric vehicles and renewable energy sources could soon rob the region of much of its GDP. All of this will prompt millions of people from this region to leave for Europe.
The confluence of these factors will dramatically affect Europe’s cultural and political milieu, and will do so in a way that legitimizes hardline European politicians of the right. Put another way, if you don’t like Viktor Orbán’s style of right-wing politics, wait till you see who comes after him.
I spoke this summer to a Hungarian who put it to me like this: all those people from Africa and the Middle East are going to have to go somewhere. China won’t have them, and has proven with its cruel treatment of its own Muslim minority, the Uighurs, that it will stop at nothing to Sinicize (read: de-Islamify) people living within its territory. Russia, similarly, will not accept these migrants, and is not squeamish about doing whatever militarily it needs to do to stop them. That leaves Europe. Either Europe finds the willpower to stop this mass migration, or it will be destroyed. There is no middle ground. If Europe doesn’t find peaceful ways to do so now, the unwillingness of most European peoples to look to the Third World masses as “a kind of solution” will cause them to turn to future leaders who will make Viktor Orban look like a creampuff. It would serve Americans, protected as we are by our oceans, well to understand that these are the stakes in this, the real world. If you don’t like Viktor Orban’s way of meeting the problem, what do you propose? A lot of people may find that we prefer Orban’s flawed way of looking at it to the refusal of elites of the Left and the Right in the US and Western Europe to deal with it effectively at all: