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Orban, and the cultural Imperialism of Brussels

Here’s a secret: This writer is not much of a fan of Viktor Orban, or his Government. That statement puts me at odds, of course, with much of the contemporary “dissident right”, both in Ireland and in the rest of the western world. There are good reasons why many conservatives cheer the Hungarian Government, and these are often overlooked by progressives expressing a form of unthinking tribal disdain for “Europe’s Trump”.

Orban deserves credit on several fronts: In terms of Europe’s reaction to the various migrant crises that have afflicted it over the last decade, he has been almost alone in his conviction that that there is no automatic right to migrate to another country for economic reasons. His people have rewarded him for that with successive terms in office. On the family, and cultural issues, he may be the only senior European leader to recognise the inherent value of tradition, and of children – consistently introducing policies to encourage and support people who want to start a family. On matters of climate and security, he has served the needs of the Hungarian people – as both he, and apparently they see it – before the “agreed common agenda” of the European Union. For a fellow leading a small country, he has consistently chosen a different path to that of the Irish Government when it comes to asserting national interest in Brussels. It is not a coincidence that he is much more popular in Hungary than Messrs. Martin and Varadkar are here.

But for all of that, there is, too, the downside: Many nationalists and conservatives have come to see progressivism as such an existential threat to civilisation that they will cheer almost any and every effort to repress those ideas, even when doing so sets a precedent that they would call tyrannical if progressive Governments did it to them. Imagine, for example, if the Irish Government passed a series of laws restricting media ownership, resulting directly in Gript, or other critical outlets, passing into the control of Government supporters, and people like me being compelled to write about how great the latest idea from the National Women’s Council is. We would howl in anger. As we should. But that is almost precisely what Orban has done to progressive media outlets in Hungary. Imagine further if the Irish Government started appointing Judges based not on their qualifications, but on their support for the Government. And imagine if politically sensitive cases were then referred quietly to panels of loyal Judges who heard them in secret. That is what is happening in Hungary. If it was happening here, I might suggest that some readers would be howling about evidence of corruption of justice. And they would be right to.

So no, I am not a fan of Viktor Orban, on the principle best articulated by the fictionalised Sir Thomas More in “A man for all seasons”: “I would give the devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake”.

Mr Orban, it is fair to say, is more Thomas Cromwell than he is Thomas More.

But the European Union’s dispute with Hungary should raise questions for the left, as well as the right. If there’s one thing we all agree on these days, after all, it is that Imperialism is deeply wrong. The British Empire was evil, as was that of the Belgians, and the Germans, and the French. Why? Because those Empires suppressed local customs and languages and cultures and practices in favour of the idea that their own civilisation was inherently superior.

Is this not also the idea of the European Union, as expressed in its conflict with Hungary?

Much of what gets done in Brussels these days is effectively cultural imperialism. It is the expressed view of the European Parliament, after all, on timeless occasions, that there is only one accepted EU position on just about every cultural controversy one might think of. There is one acceptable immigration policy. There is one acceptable foreign policy. The EU is much more of an Empire, these days, than the British Commonwealth is. And when it comes to Hungary, it is deploying all the financial power at its command to ensure that the Hungarians get back in line with “European values”.

As I type this, I already hear in my ear my good friend and ardent Europhile, Jason O’Mahony, saying that “if they don’t like it, they can always follow the British out the door”. To which the correct response is, I think, “be careful what you wish for”.

The idea of an ever-growing European cultural imperium is entirely threatened by Brussels itself. And there is danger in the fact that Brussels is becoming ever more dogmatic in support of a progressive ideological settlement at the precise time that consent for that settlement is waning right across the continent. If Brussels makes sharing the values of Brussels a precondition for continued membership of the club, then, like every Empire that did so before it, it will find itself slowly shrinking.

Because Orban, much to the consternation of his critics, is much more popular in Hungary than Brussels is, just about anywhere. Even if, perhaps, he should not be.





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