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Orbán’s Role in the Illiberal Realm is Growing

Dénes Sályi 2019.01.15.

Coming to power in 2010, Orbán introduced a new political culture to Hungary. After Fidesz won with a two-thirds majority for the second time in 2014, he named this new political approach illiberal democracy.

In mainstream Western self-reflection, ’illiberal’ is totally unacceptable, nearly the synonym of dictatorship. Orbán only meant a bigger role of the state in capitalism and a conservative political philosophy within the framework of democracy (a mixture of partial Keynesianism and insistence on Christian tradition) as opposed to a radical leftist-liberal modernist ideology. In the majority of Western media, however, he is portrayed as the representative of creeping authoritarianism. In response to criticism coming even from Fidesz’s political family, the European People’s Party, the Hungarian Prime Minister has started to use the term Christian Democratic instead of illiberal.

Tusk on Values: Christian Democracy Not Opposite Of Liberal Democracy

The division between the European liberal and leftist elite and their political movements and their Christian-conservative counterparts is a long story. With the migration crisis and the deepening of globalization, this conflict has only intensified. Orbán has become a leading figure (in some media THE leader) of the camp in Europe wherein conservative ethos and the defense of the nation-state are equally emphasized.

It seems more and more certain that this two-fronted contest in Orbán’s policy is not just another campaign element or communication trick but a fundamental part of his strategy, right or wrong. His good relationship with Erdogan and Putin can be explained partly by Hungary’s geopolitical situation and energy dependence (on Russia) and partly as an attempt to increase his country’s maneuvering capacity—quite determined by its NATO and European Union memberships. In other words, ’to diversify’ a dependence on globalization. His efforts to build an informal alliance with Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party; Salvini, the new leader of the Italian Right; conservative politicians of Bavarian CSU and other European politicians of this sort demonstrates that he would like to make a certain anti-globalization front along a conservative, Christian line. Of course, he must know that the size and strength of his country won’t render him a leading role. His aim may be to give an intellectual inspiration to others with his country as a model.

Orbán on Western Europe: There Is Liberalism but Not Democracy

Although Orbán’s sphere of activity is naturally confined to Europe, the Brazilian trip to participate in the inauguration ceremony of the clearly rightist new president, Bolsonaro, was part of his policy to find allies among critics of political correctness and defenders of traditional values worldwide. Bolsonaro considering Trump a positive example for himself made several radical statements during the campaign. After coming home, Orbán referred to Brazil as a possible representation of Christian Democracy. Considering the Brazilian President’s often aggressive tone—which even seems extremist at times—the question may arise whether he will be able to represent the Christian Democratic tradition.

Orbán’s speeches give the impression that he really believes that modern democracies may be lost if they are fallen hostage to ultra modernist radical social engineers who want to change the traditional social fabric of communities (such as heterosexual marriage, nations, religiousness, customs etc.). And, on top of all that, they want to make mixed societies through migration. He thinks the catastrophic demographic situation in aging European countries will leave them defenseless against raw and underdeveloped but fresh and fertile offensive civilizational forces carried by tremendous waves of Muslim people from Africa and Asia.

Whether his analysis is right or not, exaggerated or realistic, only time will tell. One thing is undoubtedly true, however. Like the Washington Consensus in economic policy, intellectual consensus about the possible way for the West (and the world) along a neo-liberal utopia is over. Let’s consider Fukuyama’s end of history theory: history is going on. The civilizational fight for the soul of the people between ’modernists’ and ’traditionalists’ in order to shape the future will persist as well.


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