While the world helplessly watches the escalation of terror in Ukraine and Middle-East, ignores the signing of Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) that prohibits more regulation of financial services with unforeseeable consequences on democracy, some commentators in Western media find an easy target. Hungary, who, according to Fareed Zakaria, “decided to end freedom”. Isn’t this a stupid decision from a country known for the bravery of 1956 and from a man who first called for ending the Soviet Occupation in 1989 and disregards “Washington Consensus” in economic policy since 2010? Or is it something completely different?
One of the noteworthy political essays of 2012 was Francis Fukuyama’s “The Future of History - Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?”.
Although his thesis on End of History from 1989 proved completely wrong - ultimately because it assumed a homogenization of the global civilization based on the “Western blueprint” and supported by “Pax Americana” – he recognized that liberal democracy, as politics defining ideology, for various reasons, is not capable to maintain its own social base.
Building on the consensus “No bourgeois, no democracy” Mr. Fukuyama calls for a new ideology that “would reassert the supremacy of democratic politics over economics” and that “could not simply rely on the existing mechanisms of the welfare state.”
He concludes, that “mobilization will not happen, however, as long as the middle classes of the developed world remain enthralled by the narrative of the past generation: that their interests will be best served by ever-freer markets and smaller states. The alternative narrative is out there, waiting to be born.”. A narrative based on the assumption that “…individuals are not sovereign entities but beings heavily shaped by their surrounding societies”.
Mr. Fukuyama, maybe half-jokingly, expected such narrative (or ideology) to be written by “an obscure scribbler (…) in a garret somewhere”…
Fast forward to summer of 2014 and Mr. Fukuyama is not happy at all, that none other than a European Prime Minister, Mr. Viktor Orban discussed at a Summer University an alternative narrative of democracy that is – Voila! –“parting ways with Western European dogmas” and wants to replace welfare state with “workfare state” that “it is not liberal in nature”.
One has serious problems understanding the issues Mr. Fukuyama has with Mr. Orban’s ideas as Mr. Fukuyama himself would change welfare state – that puts the “rights” of (readymade!) individual over of the very community that enables and empowers the subject of those rights. His thinking is heavily shaped by the same pragmatic conservative – some would say populist thinkers - as the thinking of Mr. Orban.
In his 2002 book Our Posthuman Future he insists on restating human dignity based on “natural law” based as the only way to escape the dehumanization of emerging bio-technologies, meeting Mr. Orban’s intention of empowering people via work and education (mandatory all day schooling) instead of simply meeting the “right for welfare” of individuals. Ironically, this statement is fully compliant with the original. “Old Whig” liberal aspirations. Too bad, the concept of liberalism has been hijacked by “New Whigs”, the liberals who believed the idealism of French Revolution while piously turning their head in the other direction at the sight of horrors the “revolutionary ideas” have caused around the world from Marxists to Stalinists.
His disapproval was accompanied by many other high profile (liberal) voices from New York Times to CNN and Washington Post. Some reactions to Mr. Orban’s speech can even qualify as character assassinations!
Regardless of the theoretical and practical feasibility of Mr. Orban’s ideas - articulated many times before, including at his inception speech in Hungarian Parliament in April 2014 but also at the same Summer University in 2011 – we all have a sense that something is not quite right here.
Some things, actually.
Civilized people would feel embarrassed if it turned out that the official inception speech has less significance in “serious media” than a Summer University easy philosophizing where half of the audience was consuming sausages with bier at the time of Mr. Orban’s talk (I know, I was there). The whole media-affair might be just an effect of the drought of serious political subjects during the vacation season.
Also, almost nothing he stated there couldn’t be found within current western political thinking.
Austrian economist Ludwig von Misses warns us in agreement with common sense and the popperian epistemological concept of “fallibility” in his 1962 essay The Concept of a Perfect System of Government that “…the concept of the perfect system of government is fallacious and self-contradictory.”.
The fact that welfare state needs to be followed by some more efficient form of government is articulated (following Mr. Fukuyama) in a 2014 book The Fourth Revolution by none other by the Editor-in-Chief of the most liberal of political magazines – The Economist - John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge concluding “The state is in trouble…The mystery is why so many people assume that radical change is unlikely”.
They too are waiting for the birth of the new state model that could serve Western civilization as efficiently the others (Singapore, Turkey, China, etc.) are served by theirs.
Maybe worth mentioning here, that cultural differences have long been studied and factored in within their corporate governance by multinational companies and what in politics seemed a good idea just years ago (exporting democracy to Irak, anyone?) was never a best practice in business community. While politics and governance are still lagging behind businesses in scientific and technological innovation, this gap is quickly closing. In Singapore, for example, “…the government has concluded that a slowdown is the right price to pay for keeping a harmonious society. The data tells it so.” – as related by Shane Harris in his essay The Social Laboratory. The governance solutions adopted by Singapore, might suit its “artificial”, pro-business, collectivist and very multi-cultural existence, but other countries, more mono-cultural and culturally more inclined to individualism (as Hungary, for example) might want to choose fundamentally different systems of governance.
Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla, joins the music with his 2014 essay The Truth about Our Libertarian Age - Why the dogma of democracy doesn't always make the world better by stating that “The next Nobel Peace Prize should not go to a human rights activist or an NGO founder. It should go to the thinker or leader who develops a model of constitutional theocracy giving Muslim countries a coherent way of recognizing yet limiting the authority of religious law and making it compatible with good governance. This would be a historic, though not necessarily democratic, achievement.”.
He also warns from the “intellectual drunkenness” conferred by our default “libertarian age” – resulted from the end of Cold War - that has been accepted almost as a “dogma”, as opposite to an “ideology” that can be understood and perfected accordingly: “Our hubris is to think that we no longer have to think hard or pay attention or look for connections, that all we have to do is stick to our “democratic values” and economic models and faith in the individual and all will be well”.
Intellectual drunkenness and hubris we see when reading the reactions from Western, especially US based “serious media”.
Fareed Zakaria, goes as far as “explaining” on CNN Why one country decided to end freedom? Unfortunately he also commits serious errors in his Washington Post opinion, starting with the arrogant expropriation of term “illiberal democracy” and not accepting Mr. Orban’s definition as if the world owes something to Mr. Zakaria for coining it back in 1997.
He goes on by misinterpreting Mr. Orban’s “ The stars of the international analysts TODAY are Singapore, China, India, Russia and Turkey." and "The most popular topic in thinking today is trying to UNDERSTAND(!!!) how systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies and perhaps not even democracies can nevertheless make their nations successful,” with " The illiberal role models for the FUTURE, he explains, are Russia, Turkey, China, Singapore and India." etc
So far so good, but we still don’t have the explanation of the violence (some calling for Hungary’s punishment!) and character assassinations (nazi Orban!) of Western commentators against Mr. Orban.
To understand this, we might need to go back to 1978 to the essay of Communist dissident of Vlaclav Havel, The Power of Powerless that says “…the more room there is in the Western democracies (compared to our world) for the genuine aims of life, the better the crisis is hidden from people and the more deeply do they become immersed in it. It would appear that the traditional parliamentary democracies can offer no fundamental opposition to the automatism of technological civilization and the industrial-consumer society, for they, too, are being dragged helplessly along by it. People are manipulated in ways that are infinitely more subtle and refined than the brutal methods used in the post-totalitarian societies.".
It is clear that escaping totalitarianism or post-totalitarianism is just the beginning.
It is also clear that post-communist countries are mired into the (already described) “intellectual drunkenness” of Western Europe camouflaged in the feeble riches of the now failed “welfare state” without noticing that further steps need to be taken to achieve full sovereignty and freedom. Otherwise one cannot escape to be “dragged along” crises generated by excesses he never had a chance to enjoy. One needs to achieve not only physical (1989) but economic and intellectual freedom as well. As long as one cannot, think, understand – if political terms and systems of government are more dogmas than perfectible knowledge - and act upon understanding, such freedom is not possible. Sure, the "automatism of technological civilization" is direct consequence of the overruling power of "modern state" that, while being the one of the greatest invention of European Enlightenment, also its greatest enemy. Started as potent mediator among particular interests, slowly has taken and "mechanized" duties and responsibilities that the citizens, themselves, as a community of people, should have exercised. A direct consequence of this is the emergence a new breed of power bearers, the bureaucrats, who are also the biggest opponents of any due overhaul of the state as a system of government. Another consequence: people's inability to think outside the given construct that represented as an end in itself, looks inevitable. But the end is not the “system of government” itself, but the benefits it can create to the society. When the society is aging, the inequalities and social tensions are increasing –even more so in the periphery of “the West” where Hungary is - is quite likely that “obscure scribbler” might be a politician, or more precisely a politician from “periphery” who cannot afford to wait for solutions from elsewhere. After more than 25 years of democratic experience, Mr Orban - by far the most experienced politician of the country - who has nominated as young student “state theory” as his pet research subject, is surely not an outsider in a race to reinvent democratic state.
Yet, it seems so.
It is not a mistake from the authors of The Fourth Revolutions to call the previous three avatars of modern state, "revolutions" as they all have been changed in violent fashion. The last one went defunct during the two World Wars. While this time we surely won't see such upheaval, some verbal violence from the "media defenders" of the status quo is surely warranted. Especially, when the “shots” are aimed at such an easy target as Mr. Orban - not very “fashionable” politician - and Hungary - not very important and, in many ways, isolated country. Still, we are yet to see any serious reaction on the political side.
But, if the “verbal violence” is intended to deter Mr. Orban from his intentions, they might be very well mistaken as both Mr. Orban and the majority of the Hungarian democratic community firmly believes Thomas Jefferson’s statement “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”.
This is not to say that Hungary, under Mr. Orban has achieved the best of all imaginable worlds, but that no one has the right to rob Hungary from the chance to build something that serves the interest of Hungarian society better as the current dogma of liberal democracy. Because, as Mr. Orban explained at the same Summer University in 2011, “…the true power of a state stems from the community because the state is nothing but a means for achievement of community’s purpose”.
Finally, if I was a western journalist and wanted to understand the Hungarian soul, would always keep in my mind that there is no one who expresses more faithfully the deepest of its realms than the greatest Hungarian poet S. Petofi:
"Szabadság, szerelem! Liberty, love! E kettő kell nekem. They are all I need. Szerelmemért föláldozom For love I sacrifice az életet, my life, Szabadságért föláldozom For liberty I sacrifice Szerelmemet. my love."
This was true in 1848-49, in 1956, in 1989 and as long as there are forces - political, military or otherwise - that are threatening the country’s sovereignty to think, understand and act according to the principle “Don’t do for others, what you wouldn’t wish to be done for you” – the credo of the Hungarian ”illiberal democracy”.