Why Liberals Hate Hungary’s Viktor Orban So Much

Why Liberals Hate Hungary’s Viktor Orban So Much

Hungarian President Viktor Orban was once a dissident against communism. Then he turned to faith and flag—and became a heretic against liberalism.
Sumantra Maitra
By

“The right’s entrancement with [Hungarian President Viktor] Orban has emerged fitfully over the last decade. One could find defenses of the Hungarian regime in places like the New York Postthe Federalist, the Heritage Foundation, and National Review. Yet, until recently, open support for Orban’s Hungary was an idiosyncratic minority position on the American right,” writes Jonathan Chait in one of his two articles last week on the topic, citing yours truly.

In the last couple of days, the leftist Twittersphere had a total meltdown over Hungary. The immediate cause was Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s visit to Hungary to shoot a documentary and take part in a conference.

“In Orban’s Hungary, +90% of media is controlled by the ruling party. Businesses are physically and legally harassed if they don’t toe the party line (or if someone wants them, cheap). Elections are manipulated. Party leaders are mysteriously rich. A model for Fox?” asked The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum on Twitter.

“Orban destroyed Hungarian democratic institutions, taking over the courts and using them as a weapon against his opponents and to enrich his family and friends. There are no more independent media. State contracts enrich his family. The US far right is going over there to learn,” claimed Yale University professor Jason Stanley.

“I visited Hungary in 2016. Again & again, I witnessed a gesture I thought had vanished from Europe forever: people turning their heads to check who was listening before they lent forward to whisper what they had to say. They feared for their jobs, not their lives – but still …” was the observation from The Atlantic’s David Frum.

I have often tried to understand the interesting phenomenon of anti-Orban rhetoric in the United States and Britain, purely from a historical perspective. Leftists have a curious obsession with Hungary. Orban is routinely called “far-right” by a section of the American journalist and pundit class who may never have heard of Jobbik nor have any idea of what the real far-right in Europe can mean or even look like.

Another layer of irony is that the same leftists who despise Orban also support Ukraine against Russia, even when Ukraine’s rebels include the Pravy Sektor, one of the most notorious ultra-nationalist groups in Europe. The entire logic is similar to the “Rambo 3” epilogue in which the film supported the “brave mujahideen in Afghanistan” fighting Russia.

At the same age Applebaum and Frum were shilling for a war that would lead to hundreds of thousands of casualties and more than $6 trillion wasted, Orban was an anti-Soviet dissident. That’s perhaps partially why he is hated so much.

Here’s the great hope, the Anakin Skywalker of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, suddenly turning into a Christian nationalist opposed to mass immigration and unchecked labor mobility as well as sexual “liberation.” Liberal criticism of Orban therefore also stems from his deviation from the anointed path.

One of the theological understandings of post-Cold War Central and Eastern Europe was that they were all trying to overthrow the Soviet superstructure because they were liberals. Poland and Hungary turning back to their pre-World War I roots, therefore, marks a deviation from that path. Apostates are worse than heathens for sacramental liberalism, and Orban is the man who turned heretic.

America isn’t the only one. Recently, the European Union published two reports. The first one was titled “2021 Rule of Law Report.” It explicitly states that “Respect for the rule of law and the equality of Member States in the EU requires EU law to have primacy over national law and the rulings of the CJEU to be binding on all Member States’ authorities, including national courts.” Consider the implications.

If you are a member of the EU, you have to know that EU laws and court judgments will supersede your democratically elected government, laws, parliament, presidency, and national laws. Essentially, this is an imperial system in which the nation-states are provinces, bound under EU supremacy.

The hint at this was explicit. Hungary and Poland cannot be members of the EU and have national laws opposed to any European Parliament diktats on anything from immigration to sexuality.

The second report, which was authorized by the European Commission, warns that memes are tools for radicalization from the far right. It says Doge and Pepe the frog are routinely used in “helping to normalize hostile attitudes toward minorities and political opponents” as well as “a kind of anti-elite arrogance and condescension.”

Once again, if you’re in a member state of the EU, you cannot in the future criticize the elite or use memes, or you’ll be considered a pawn of the far-right.

Let’s go back to the tweets from Applebaum and Frum. People fearing for their jobs due to imposed social taboos and state-mandated ostracism for anyone who oppose extreme social deviancy such as criminal thuggery, as well as unchecked sexual “liberation” and open borders fuelled by an ever-growing NGO-cracy. Does that sound like a “totalitarian Hungary” or the United States?

Orban is not even right-wing in the American parlance. He’s a statist Christian nationalist who uses the state power to impose (or roll back, depending on which side of the spectrum you are) a certain set of values. As David Harsanyi mentioned on Twitter, that has more in common with progressivism, but the progressives simply cannot stand Orban because he is using their own style against them, to impose policies they don’t prefer.

In that way, Orban is far more successful, measured purely by legislative achievements, than both contemporary British and American right, which would rather sit back and let Big Tech decide your morality. His popularity in Hungary and landslide victories are a testament to that.

Watching the meltdown over Carlson visiting Hungary and meeting Orban, I stumbled upon a hypothesis. In an earlier era, British and American liberals from Walter Bagehot to Margaret Sanger opposed any mass democracy or plebiscitary instincts. Now liberals are therefore baffled when that democracy results in normal people rejecting their radical policies. The Hungary meltdown is a sign of that disconnect.

Dr. Sumantra Maitra is a national-security fellow at The Center for the National Interest; a non-resident fellow at the James G Martin Center; and an elected early career historian member at the Royal Historical Society. He is a senior contributor to The Federalist, and can be reached on Twitter @MrMaitra.

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