Hammer: Can We Have a Christian Gov't & Freedom? Based on Hungary You Can Have Both and Thrive


I’m writing from Budapest, the beautiful, Danube-bestriding Hungarian capital.

Hungary, though a faraway land modest in both size and population, has played an outsized role in the American conservative conscience for the past half-decade or so. After just a few days, it is not difficult to understand why.

Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party, is a real-life experiment in government under a framework of national conservatism. Lessons for American conservatives are clear and legion.

Western media typically covers Orban in hysterical fashion, accusing him of autocracy, crypto-fascism or outright thuggery. It is difficult to believe any left-wing keyboard warrior has ever met Orban, much less spent any time with him. I spent a couple hours standing directly next to him earlier this week while he met with a small group of visiting media, think-tankers and other public figure types. That meeting was illuminating.

From firsthand experience, I can attest that the prime minister is nothing like the caricature the media portrays him as. He is personally quite funny, gregarious and engaging, and he handled even critical questions with aplomb.

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Perhaps most surprising for the blue-checked Twitterati types who view him as a power-hungry, barbaric European dictator, he is also a genuine conservative intellectual. Orban spent time at Oxford, and he dedicates one day every week to reading up and immersing himself in substantive political material. To borrow a popular online phrase, he has “done the reading.”

At our meeting, the prime minister’s political director expressly referred to the Hungarian government’s philosophical lodestar as national conservatism. In the past, Orban has also embraced the mantle of “illiberal democracy.” That may sound rhetorically jarring to overly sensitized Western ears, but it amounts to the same criticism of the liberal order as that which is aired by American national conservatives and “postliberals.”

Hungary under Orban rejects the illusion of liberal neutrality, recognizing, as this column has previously phrased it, that “values-neutral liberal order amounts to a one-way cultural ratchet” toward leftism and progressivism.

As euroskeptical Hungary and other like-minded Central and Eastern European nations such as Poland have learned all too well, it is impotent to defensively plead “live and let live”-style tolerance to imperious European Union overlords in Berlin and Brussels. Rather, the only way for traditionalist nations to push back against the EU’s progressive, globalist vision of the good, the true and the beautiful is by offering an affirmative counter in the form of their own conservative, nationalist vision of the good, the true and the beautiful.

Do you think American conservatives can learn from Hungary?

Hungary’s border control is famously strict, as Fox News host Tucker Carlson witnessed in a much-hyped helicopter ride with Orban when he was here last year. Hungary, which, like Poland and other nations in this part of Europe, has been overrun by various totalitarian empires in the past, now prioritizes strict cultural assimilation and national preservation at the expense of neoliberal absolutism and George Soros-style open border delusions.

The Hungarian government under Fidesz is not neutral, furthermore, on basic questions of sexual morality and the Judeo-Christian tradition: Gender ideology is kept out of schools, marriage is vigorously defended as the exclusive union of one man and one woman and Christianity is woven into the very fabric of society and polity alike.

Fidesz has no appetite for policing bedrooms — and Budapest has its annual Pride parade — but the state decisively puts its thumb on the scale in favor of traditional Christian ethics. There are no “drag queen story hours” scandalizing innocent children here.

On the contrary, the government’s public defense of European Christendom and the illiberal way in which its policies prefer traditional religious ethics over “alternative lifestyles” represent a sort of ecumenical integralism — encapsulated by the fact that Orban himself is Calvinist, while his wife is Roman Catholic. Hungary’s much-discussed family policy measures have also been successful in boosting the national birthrate.

The combination here of nationalism, public Christianity and Soros-bashing leads many in the Western media to decry Orban and Fidesz as anti-Semitic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in the Jewish state’s history, considered Orban his greatest European ally. Hungary routinely supports Israel at the United Nations and in its invariable border conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah.

Moreover, Jewish life itself in Budapest is thriving. I spent half a day touring gorgeous synagogues, walking through the historic Jewish ghetto and dining at a very fine kosher meat restaurant. (The goulash was delicious.) And unlike in Western and Northern European countries, which have taken a diametrically opposite stance on the issue of Islamic migration, Jews in Hungary are safe and secure. Armed guards outside synagogues are far from ubiquitous here — unlike, say, in Paris or Brussels.

The view from Budapest, then, is a good one. That’s not to say everything here is perfect; like much of the rest of post-Soviet Central and Eastern Europe, corruption remains a real problem. But American statesmen and legislators can still find much to admire and possibly emulate here. Hungary under Fidesz, to use another phrase popular among the online right, “knows what time it is.”

The time is one of a declining neutral liberal order and of a greater imperative to wield state power to promote good and quash evil.


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Josh Hammer is the opinion editor of Newsweek, a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation, counsel and policy advisor for the Internet Accountability Project ad a contributing writer for American Compass.