The Viktor Orban effect: why American conservatives love Hungary

The Catholic Church in Poland is a more widely popular and legitimate institution, because of the role it played in the resistance to communism. In Krakow this winter, I met the philosopher Ryszard Legutko, a former anti-Communist dissident who grew increasingly disenchanted with liberal democracy in the 1990s, in a way that was illuminating for skeptics of liberalism. His 2016 book, “The Demon in Democracy,” has become a canonical text for post-liberal conservatives. Legutko, 71, argued that Democrats can behave a lot like Communists. While admitting that liberal democracy is superior to communism, he nevertheless maintains that certain characteristics of communist ideology – the belief that it will eventually prevail throughout the world, that it is the apotheosis of human nature, that ‘it represents the climax of history – are true of liberal democracy. democracy too. Both, he says, are totalizing ideologies: there is nothing “natural” about individual rights, “nothing like an individual with rights,” Legutko told me.

Legutko is a member of the ruling Law and Justice party in Poland and was elected to the European Parliament, where he sits on the Committee on Culture and Education. On the living room wall of his pied-à-terre hung a painting depicting the Polish cavalry repulsing the Red Army in blood in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet War. Through the window, the colors of the Polish landscape were so subdued that the city looked like a sepia-toned photograph. “A few decades ago there was a theory that the era of ideology is over, that in a liberal democracy we just solve problems, no one is interested in big ideas,” said to me. Legutko. “They couldn’t be more wrong than that. We are prisoners of certain intellectual patterns.

What Marxists and Liberals had in common, he continued, was “this notion of the progress of history, you can’t go back, you made the omelet, so the eggs don’t go back. are no longer there ”. After the end of communism in 1989, the Polish economy was quickly liberalized through privatization and foreign investment, and a push for Poland to join the EU led to social reforms. “They were telling us, ‘OK, the old regime is gone, and now we are living in freedom,’” Legutko said. “Now that you are living in freedom, you have to do this, you have to do that. Go on. If it’s freedom, we have to do it? We don’t have to. According to Legutko, liberal democracy would not tolerate the family, the church and other non-liberal institutions that Poland was trying to preserve.

Referring to America’s cultural battles, Legutko says that efforts to change traditional understandings of the genre lead to “social engineering.” I stressed that the nomenclature arguments are a matter of combating derogatory speech and the derogatory treatment it engenders. “But you can insult Catholics in Poland and the judge will say, well, that’s an individual opinion or an artistic performance,” he said. It was not about hate per se, he argued, but about power. “You say something about gay activists and you are immediately punished because it is hate speech. Language control, insisted Legutko, was another similarity between liberal democracy and communism. “The language is dictated to you by the powers that be, and if you don’t comply, you are punished.” Legutko’s party has tried to pass a law that would sanction tech companies for regulating speech that is not strictly illegal (although the party has exercised control over how Polish involvement in the Holocaust may be described), an extent in which American conservatives have taken a keen interest.

“My friends from the United States, they see here a country where the Conservatives are not cornered,” Legutko said. “We won the elections, we have the institutions, and that is why we are considered by this liberal machine as illegitimate.” The problem for the modern mind, he continued, was that there was no alternative. “So if we manage to make Poland the country where there is an alternative, that would be something,” Legutko said. “We are almost an extinct species. The world would be lost without us.

During the summer the United States got a taste of what implementing such ideas might look like on this side of the Atlantic. The introduction of bills into state legislatures to control or ban the teaching in public schools of what conservatives describe as critical race theory was arguably the first attempt by post-liberals to use the power of the state in cultural regulation. Christopher Rufo, one of the main activists behind the effort (his ideas were aired on Tucker Carlson’s show), told the New Yorker that the aim of his movement was to “create rival power centers” within state agencies. In a debate with conservative writer and lawyer David French, Rufo challenged “the tension of naive libertarianism which says that all interference in the state accepts statist ideology, and therefore we should unilaterally abandon all authority or orientation or any formation of state institutions. . “

In electoral politics, postliberal influence finds expression in JD Vance, the author of the bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” who occupies a distant second place, albeit gaining ground, in the Ohio primary for the nomination. Republican in the Senate. Vance is a good friend of Dreher’s and is enthusiastically supported by Tucker Carlson, who has called Vance one of the very few personalities “showing up because they really believe in something,” a comment that seems to ignore the general overthrow of Vance’s politics, from a mild-mannered former anti-Trump moderate, to a hard-swinging cultural warrior who transcends the boundaries he once embraced. Vance also converted to Catholicism in 2019 – Dreher attended his reception in the church – because, he said, he found “Catholicism to be true.” Vance embellishes his speech with terms from the post-liberal lexicon of the right. On the Carlson show, he argued that the Tories should “seize the assets of the Ford Foundation” and redistribute them to people whose lives had been destroyed by the “radical open borders program,” a very strong program. orban, otherwise very American. , proposal.

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