If you get your news from the mainstream media, you might think that Hungary just suffered a fascist coup. What actually happened is that, in fair and free elections, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his center-right Fidesz Party easily won another term by defeating a divided opposition led by mediocrities.
The overwrought media response to a free election in a small Central European nation reveals far more about the media than it does about Hungary. Throughout that nation, the freedoms of speech, press and assembly are being exercised against Orbán and his party. This is more than can be said for the European countries whose media and cultural elites are denouncing the Hungarian PM. They do everything that they accuse Orbán of — and worse.
In France, the government has aggressively prosecuted opposition leader Marine Le Pen for tweets criticizing Islamic State brutality. The persecution of opposition leaders on trumped-up charges is one of the key indicators of actual repressive government, but those in the media denouncing Hungary are silent regarding France.
In the UK, the ostensibly conservative government is imprisoning people for making tasteless jokes on social media, when it can spare time from confiscating kitchen knives. But such illiberalism in Europe’s “liberal democratic” nuclear powers has not given rise to histrionics in prominent mainstream publications and institutions. It is at most tut-tutted at.
In Germany, the chancellor decided to unilaterally remake the population of Europe — again. This decision was received with raptures by media and cultural elites; the people who had to bear the burdens of this illiberal and undemocratic act of German imperialism were less delighted. Indeed, much of Orbán’s continuing popularity derives from having been the first European leader to stand up to Germany’s decision to dictate immigration policy to the rest of the EU. The German leader who decided that all of Europe must obey Deutschland is celebrated, while the representative of a small nation who resisted is decried as an undemocratic dictator.
The accusations against Hungary by the American Left are just as hypocritical. Although gerrymandering is one of our oldest political traditions — one that Democrats remain enthusiastic about when they get the opportunity to indulge in it — Orbán is condemned for it. Those who are hysterical over Russia possibly influencing American elections are appalled that Orbán wants to regulate the flow of foreign cash meddling in Hungarian politics and culture. Those who have demonized the Koch brothers have the vapors because Orbán did the same to George Soros. The media that overwhelmingly backed President Obama and almost-president Hillary Clinton complains that supporters of Orbán and Fidesz control too much of the Hungarian media.
The list of examples from both sides of the Atlantic is extensive to the point of tedium. There are reasonable criticisms of Orbán to be made (regarding cronyism, for instance), but his critics in Western government and media accuse him of nothing that they have not done or supported themselves. Those who spent years attempting to force elderly nuns to subsidize and facilitate the distribution of birth control, and who are now literally criminalizing using the “wrong” pronouns for persons who identify as transgender, lack the moral authority to lecture anyone else about illiberalism.
Their hypocrisy abounds, and pointing it out is not mere whataboutism, for it illuminates that elites in both Europe and the United States are increasingly autocratic. Their professed concerns for liberty and democracy are fraudulent, meant to mask their attempts to accrue and consolidate power.
They hate Orbán, not because he is illiberal and undemocratic (he may be, but he is no more guilty of these charges than they are), but because he is an obstacle to their rule and represents an alternative that other nations might emulate. He wants Hungary to remain Hungary — neither assimilated into a pan-European identity nor overwhelmed by migrants. That Hungary and other Western nations have cultures worth preserving is an alien thought to media and cultural elites, despite their incessant talk of multiculturalism. The best of Western civilization is open to anyone, but this does not mean that national cultures are irrelevant and borders obsolete.
Populist movements and governments are a symptom of the West’s crisis, not a cause. In Europe, support for supposedly undemocratic populist politicians and parties is driven by the actually undemocratic policies of the European elite, such as one nation setting immigration policy for the entire continent. In the United States, support for the oafish illiberalism of Donald Trump is in large part a response to the more respectable and polished illiberalism of the Left, such as the persistent efforts to force religious nonconformists to promote and participate in celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies.
One need not support populist leaders and movements to be disgusted by the routine hypocrisy of their critics. I have no personal stake in Hungarian politics, or that of any European nation. But it is clear that the Left no longer offers a liberal democratic alternative to someone like Orbán, if it ever did. Those who claim to champion liberal democracy should examine themselves before condemning others.
Critics of liberalism, such as Patrick Deneen, are being vindicated as supposedly liberal leaders and institutions suppress liberty and treat essential rights like the freedoms of religion and speech as expendable. If the trans-Atlantic elite want liberal democratic alternatives to the likes of Orbán and Trump, then they must offer some.