Hungarian Conservative

How to Fight ‘Cultural Socialism’? The Right Must Learn to Use the State

A participant displays a placard reading 'Court of (George) Soros' as members and supporters of the ruling FIDESZ party demonstrate in front of the European Commission's local headquarters in Budapest on 14 June 2024
A participant displays a placard reading 'Court of (George) Soros' as members and supporters of the ruling Fidesz party demonstrate in front of the European Commission's local headquarters in Budapest against a decision of the European Court of Justice on 14 June 2024.
Attila Kisbenedek/AFP
‘This is why the model pioneered by Viktor Orbán and Fidesz matters so much to Western conservatives. Orbán understood a long time ago that powerful private actors—especially George Soros and his Open Society Foundations—exercise disproportionate power over Hungarian affairs, or at least seek to do so. Similarly, public institutions that have been captured by illiberal progressives operate as if they have a natural right to evade scrutiny and accountability. And if leaders of the political Right are too shackled by their right-liberal convictions to take the fight to them, why shouldn’t the cultural socialists do whatever they think is necessary to win?’

It is extraordinarily difficult for Western conservatives—that is, right-liberals—to grasp the reality of our postliberal cultural and political order. It remains an article of faith that the State is almost always wrong, and that the freedom of private institutions should be protected against it. 

This conviction emerged understandably on the Right—at least on the Anglo⁠–⁠American Right—in the postwar period, with the rise of the centralized power of the administrative State. The classic statement of conservative dogma is this line from Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Address:  ‘In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.’

The key words there are  ‘in this present crisis’. Four decades later, what does the present crisis have to say about the proper role of government? It is clear that the old conservative solution is not only unhelpful, but at times handicaps the attempt to roll back the illiberal, even oppressive, acts of unaccountable private actors. 

In the United States, for example,

conservative politicians and commentators have noted the increasing radicalization of academia with alarm,

but have generally not attempted to halt or roll back the illiberal leftism on campuses through legislation—even though nearly all colleges and universities, even private ones, receive government funding. The reason is simple: they resist government interference in private institutions.

That was a defensible, even laudable, approach in decades past. But today? Surveys show that unlike forty years ago, conservatives today are a tiny and shrinking minority among faculty. Students, in turn, are far more liberal than their generational predecessors were. Having been captured by wokeness, the illiberal left-wing ideology that centers on race, sex, and gender, American universities are factories churning out hateful and destructive ideas and practices. 

Consider too the role of private foundations in public life. Writing in City Journal, N.S. Lyons details the role one extremely rich and influential private institution, the Ford Foundation, has played in giving rise to some of the worst ideas in public life. The foundation, established by the heirs of Henry Ford, founder of the eponymous car manufacturer, sits on an endowment of over $16 billion, and gives away around $1 billion annually—typically to leftist causes, even radical ones. 

Few Americans know about this. Lyons says we cannot remain indifferent to the consequential public acts of this elite private foundation:

 ‘America today faces a multitude of escalating sociopolitical crises that are rapidly tearing apart the body politic: a rapacious strain of tribal identity politics; spreading legal, cultural, and moral chaos; lawlessness in the streets; and the entrenchment of an oligarchic managerial elite, increasingly willing to cast aside any remaining shred of democratic or national sovereignty in pursuit of top-down global  ‘ ‘progress’’. Behind every one of these fractures, one finds the ongoing work of the Ford Foundation.’

In his powerful new book The Third Awokening, political scientist Eric Kauffman takes note of the immense, undemocratic, and malign power wielded by ideologically-captured private institutions—he calls these wokesters  ‘cultural socialists’—and says that an important means of countering it is through government action. It is worth quoting Kauffman—who identifies as a classical liberal—at length:

 ‘The only major institution that clearly lies outside the sway of cultural socialism is elected government. Thus, government takes on greater importance as the one institution that cultural liberals and conservatives can use to restrict the ability of mediating institutions to pursue illiberalism and deculturation. The cultural socialist politicization of institutions means we are entering a period in which power over certain policies must be centralized, away from autonomous institutions and toward elected government.

Governments can be scrutinised by the press and voted out of office. Institutions operate behind closed doors and are publicly unaccountable. While institutional autonomy is a laudable aim because centralization is inefficient and organizations are best-placed to make their own decisions, the incursion of illiberal ideas into these spheres leaves us with no choice but to limit institutional freedoms. 

Some liberals believe power should always be devolved downward. But this is a chimera which ignores the tripartite nature of power in society. It misses the reality that emergent authoritarianism from below, not executive authoritarianism from above, is the main threat to freedom today.

This is why the model pioneered by Viktor Orbán and Fidesz matters so much to Western conservatives. Orbán understood a long time ago that powerful private actors—especially George Soros and his Open Society Foundations—exercise disproportionate power over Hungarian affairs, or at least seek to do so. Similarly, public institutions that have been captured by illiberal progressives operate as if they have a natural right to evade scrutiny and accountability. And if leaders of the political Right are too shackled by their right-liberal convictions to take the fight to them, why shouldn’t the cultural socialists do whatever they think is necessary to win?

Orbán has long understood what Prof. Kauffman has recently discovered: that

the authoritarianism of illiberal elites, especially within powerful institutions, is the central threat to liberty.

This too is why those who lived under communism, and who I interviewed for my book Live Not by Lies (the Hungarian version is titled Hazugság Nélkül Élni), were able to sense the rise of a new kind of totalitarianism in the West long before most Americans and other Westerners could: because we in the West, even conservatives, could not imagine totalitarianism emerging from illiberal private actors operating by the standard rules of liberal societies. For two generations of Western conservatives, formed during the Cold War, who could only see the State as the enemy, it was literally inconceivable to us that a super-wealthy left-liberal financier like George Soros could become the source of a new kind of totalitarianism. 

But Orbán saw it. And he also saw how ostensibly liberal democratic structures like those of the European Union were compromised by what Kauffman calls cultural socialism—and were prepared to flatten any people who opposed them. If the democratically elected representatives of a people don’t stand up to illiberal left-wing oligarchs and their allies in unaccountable managerial bureaucracies, there are no other forces powerful enough to do so.

In former times, the cultural left was entitled to a presumption of innocence and goodwill in their governance of private institutions.

Those days are over.

They now unapologetically use apparently neutral institutions to carry out politically meaningful acts. It is far more advanced in the United States than in Hungary, in part because we Americans have never had a Viktor Orbán (no, Donald Trump doesn’t count; he was massively outmaneuvered by these shrewd operators in his first term).

This is certainly not to say that everything Fidesz has done to combat the problem is defensible. In some cases, its policies might have solved one problem but created another. Accusations of corruption, even from conservative Magyars who vote for Fidesz, cannot all be groundless. This is a problem that the party must confront if it is to hold on to the confidence of Hungarian voters. But the fact that Fidesz is not perfect is no reason to abandon the only real defense conservatives have against the diktats of the cultural socialists in power. 

Once again: the possibility that the government will overstep in fighting this cannot paralyze it in the face of aggression by private oligarchs and ideologically-captured institutions maneuvering behind the veil of public-spiritedness. In the U.S., the longstanding reticence of conservatives to interfere in the business of the private sector, based on an outdated political theory, must end. In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is showing the way, not because (as the media and activists say) he is anti-democratic, but because he dares to assert accountability over areas the Left have longed believed they owned. 

Fidesz got there first. If Donald Trump wins the White House in November, he should dispatch a team to study how the levers of state in Hungary have been used to level the playing field. To be sure, America is not Hungary, and what works here cannot always be replicated in the U.S. Plus, not everything the Hungarian government has done on this front is commendable or defensible. 

That said, there is no better example of a conservative government identifying the ways illiberal progressive private actors work to influence public policy behind the scenes, and acting to counter them, for the sake of a more just democracy. When you have a political scientist as prominent in the Anglo–⁠American world as Eric Kauffman saying the Right has no choice but to defend itself in these ways from powerful illiberal actors and the institutions they control, you know that Hungary’s moment has arrived. 


Read more from Rod Dreher:

US Embassy Pride Picnic: Tea Party on a Civilizational Titanic
https://www.hungarianconservative.com/articles/opinion/shocking-illiberalism-at-a-hungarian-campus-why-reforming-hungarian-universities-must-continue
Gender, Children and Family — Hungary Gets It Right While the U.S. Stumbles
‘This is why the model pioneered by Viktor Orbán and Fidesz matters so much to Western conservatives. Orbán understood a long time ago that powerful private actors—especially George Soros and his Open Society Foundations—exercise disproportionate power over Hungarian affairs, or at least seek to do so. Similarly, public institutions that have been captured by illiberal progressives operate as if they have a natural right to evade scrutiny and accountability. And if leaders of the political Right are too shackled by their right-liberal convictions to take the fight to them, why shouldn’t the cultural socialists do whatever they think is necessary to win?’

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