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Hungarian Conservative Thought: A Competitive Advantage by Balázs Orbán

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Hungarian Conservative Thought: A Competitive Advantage

Bertalan Székely (1835–1910),
The Discovery of the Corpse of King Louis II, 1860, oil on canvas, 181,5 x 140 cm, Hungarian National Gallery

To say that our world is undergoing a radical transformation is hardly more than a commonplace. Like most commonplaces, the statement does not warrant such a dubious epithet because it is not true. On the contrary, the problem is its very unarguability. It is in times of radical change that we take the full measure of people, countries, and ultimately ideas, which we might also call ideologies, worldviews, or lifestyle choices. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we are about to get our first taste. Does it really have enough nutritional value to keep us going on the long, bumpy, difficult road ahead?

It is somewhat less of a commonplace to observe that the current pandemic did not cause many of the changes we see, but only accelerated processes that were already under way. What is happening would have happened anyway, in other words, it is just happening faster. But the coronavirus pandemic also draws our attention to another, related issue: the real question is which civilization’s or nation’s values, which way of life and political system, appear more crisis-resistant, based on whether they coped well or badly with challenges of the pandemic. Of course, comparisons of this sort between different countries are frequently made, showing the relative success or failure of each in protecting its citizens. Equally naturally, this data supplies ammunition for political battles, and this may be inevitable, but the cultural and civilizational significance of these events is of greater long-term interest. It may be relatively easy to see whether a country has been successful in fighting the pandemic, but much harder to recognize the reasons for success or failure. The pandemic is actually a sort of stress test, putting both our values and cultural characteristics to the test.

It is easy to compare East and West, autocracy or democracy, or even to measure the crisis management performance of left-wing and right-wing governments

Any number of criteria could be used to compare individual regions or countries in terms of the characteristics that improve or impair crisis management effectiveness. It is easy to compare East and West, autocracy or democracy, or even to measure the crisis management performance of left-wing and right-wing governments. Of course, we are faced at once with the problem of comparison: the statistics of each country can be compiled in different ways, so it is difficult to say with precision just how each is performing. It is much more worthwhile to focus on the attitudes of the leaders and citizens of each country in responding to the pandemic. One key measure in this regard is a sliding scale of inertia, from chaos to organization, as well as a series of closely connected questions related to value commitments. The degree of pandemic-related chaos in a given country depends on several factors: the number of severe infections and deaths as a proportion of the population; whether the health care system can withstand the extreme load; the degree to which economic performance declines; the extent to which unemployment rises; whether or not measures to limit transmission are accepted by citizens; and the degree to which political stability declines. We should bear in mind that in the view of many commentators, Donald Trump, the former head of the world’s preeminent superpower, lost the presidential election of 2020 largely as a result of his inadequate handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

There is no space for a detailed analysis here, but even so we may risk the broad claim that, based on all the above considerations, the most important Anglo-Saxon countries under conservative leadership—and other countries where Anglo-Saxon conservative ideas predominate—have responded rather chaotically to the crisis, while conservative-led Central European nations have, albeit on a wing and a prayer, made the landing. We need only mention the United States and the United Kingdom, and perhaps also Brazil, where the government follows predominantly Anglo-Saxon libertarian ideas. At the beginning of the pandemic, the leaders of these countries were ideologically committed to minimizing restrictions on personal freedom, and, when the situation deteriorated, they were forced in several instances to introduce stricter measures than those in place in continental European countries. In addition, these measures often differed from region to region, and at times seemed to change by the week. Meanwhile, large numbers of citizens refused to follow precautionary guidelines, not infrequently employing methods of civil disobedience. The countries of continental Europe, by contrast, and in particular those of Central Europe with conservative governments, chose to act pragmatically, though they too see freedom as an indispensable value. The result of this was that hospitals were not overburdened and chaos did not prevail, due in large part to adequate measures taken in good time and, no less importantly, a willingness on the part of citizens to follow the rules.

I consider this observation important only because it helps us to understand how Anglo- Saxon conservative thinking has become so ideological, and why conservative thinking in Central Europe, including Hungary, is much more pragmatic. The fact is, the underlying attitude for which intellectual circles sympathetic towards Anglo-Saxon conservatism used to berate Central European politicians and populations has suddenly become a competitive civilizational advantage. Taking this idea as our point of departure, in this article we shall examine why the conservative tradition in Central Europe— including Hungary—can be a competitive advantage in a changing world. Using four criteria, we will outline the differences between the Anglo-Saxon and Hungarian conservative traditions based on historical and geographical characteristics, and their relationship to modernization and liberalism.

WHAT EXPLAINS THE NATURE OF ANGLO-SAXON CONSERVATISM? 

At first glance, it may seem surprising that ideology emerges as a criterion for Anglo- Saxon conservatism, since both apologists for and critics of this school of thought tend to emphasize its pragmatism. The facts of the matter, however, are by no means so straightforward. Another difficulty is that in many respects the conservative culture of each Anglo-Saxon country is not the same: for example, conservative thinking in the United States differs markedly from that in the United Kingdom. There is nothing surprising in this, but our current analytic perspective will tend to seek out common features, since only by reference to common problems can common solutions be found.

Historical Reasons

Anglo-Saxon conservatism is a political tradition with core values that include the protection of the personal liberty of the individual against the power of the state and the upholding of the institutional system which guarantees the continuity of this liberty, while in economic terms it focuses on the inviolability of private property and the importance of free trade, production, and other economic activity, with as little state interference as possible.1

The fact that these values have a long tradition also means that in different periods they manifested differently, and with differing emphases. Principles were interpreted differently when first the gentry and then the people employed them to demand rights from their sovereign, when the state founded upon them became a vast colonial empire in the nineteenth century, or when another state no less reliant upon them became one of the superpowers of the twentieth-century Cold War. Thus, understandably, in each era the Anglo-Saxon conservative tradition has been interpreted to fit the needs of the time, and, as a result, accrued ever more new meanings. The extension of freedom, which began essentially as a political movement, later became a political philosophy and ultimately an ideology. After all, the society which espoused it was forced to confront the question of whether and to what degree its values, which were rooted in a specifically English context, could be considered universal. In other words, could these principles be considered valid in some timeless, metaphysical sense, or were they merely well-suited to the contingencies of the British state and its later colonial possessions?2

Geographical Reasons

Continental powers fundamentally fear the emergence of nomadic peoples, while maritime powers are themselves nomadic

Anglo-Saxon countries, as a rule, have long coastlines. For this reason, throughout their history they have been naval and trading powers, and frequently established overseas colonies. One consequence of this was that they encountered foreign cultures more frequently, and, as a result, regularly had to define the relationship of foreign cultures to their ownContinental powers fundamentally fear the emergence of nomadic peoples, while maritime powers are themselves nomadic.3 In addition, Anglo-Saxon countries have at times pursued an expansionary foreign policy. This was, in part, to establish their values, including some form of their own social, political, and economic arrangements, in a given territory.4 There were economic and political reasons for this, since it enabled them to create a ‘familiar’ environment, a semi-domestic environment within their area of influence. At the same time, these processes led politicians and thinkers in these countries to ideologize, to a certain extent, the particular merits of the British or American way of life, as well as their political and economic systems, and to argue that they should replace the customs and traditions of indigenous peoples.

This is why Anglo-Saxon traditions and values have increasingly lost their pragmatic character, becoming instead a kind of political ideology with expansive political aspirations. These ideologizing processes were present during the heyday of the British Empire, during the Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, and after the emergence of the post-1990 neoliberal world order, and all have left their mark on Anglo-Saxon conservative thinking.5

Attitude towards Modernization

As we will see later, from their earliest manifestations, industrial and social modernization has posed dilemmas for Hungarian conservatism. These dilemmas were not so marked for Anglo-Saxon conservatives. The first Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the middle class in the British Empire and the United States were home-grown, essentially domestic developments, meaning that there was no need to confront the question of whether adopting the trappings of modernity would change the way of life of those living in these countries, since the change was not experienced as the importation or adoption of foreign ways, but rather as the sort of organic development which plays such a prominent role in conservative thinking.6

Attitude towards Liberalism

The Anglo-Saxon conservative tradition sees classical liberalism almost as a brother. For Anglo-Saxon conservatism, which considers freedom a core value, classical liberalism, which proclaims individual political and economic freedom, has always been a natural ally.7 So much so that classical liberal authors are considered integral to the tradition of Anglo-Saxon conservatism, and criticism of the former began to be expressed only from the second third of the twentieth century onward.8 In addition, and regardless of the era, classical liberal authors have done much of the ideological work of making Anglo-Saxon conservative values universal. That is, while from a conservative point of view, Anglo- Saxon values were ‘created’ specifically for the British Isles, and possibly for the societies ofAnglo-Saxon colonies, some classical liberal authors sought to continually expand the scope of these values, seeing them as essentially universal and with global applicability.9

For the above reasons, Anglo-Saxon conservatism and liberalism, at least in their classical forms, went hand in hand. They saw each other as allies against far-right and far-left ideologies, and considered their shared, partly overlapping heritage a value to be defended. Only recently have we seen conservative voices critical of classical liberalism in the Anglo-Saxon world.10 This phenomenon is important, because a similar critique of classical liberal ideas was made a century and a half ago from a conservative Hungarian perspective. And this change in attitude is, in no small part, a consequence of a changing world, as Anglo-Saxon countries, after several centuries of expansion, appear to be on the defensive on multiple fronts.

WHAT EXPLAINS THE NATURE OF HUNGARIAN CONSERVATISM? 

The guiding thread of Hungarian conservative thinking has always been to represent the Hungarian national interest, and thus the preservation of the country’s sovereignty and freedom—this is understood to supersede any theoretical concepts.11 The Hungarian conservative tradition is in this sense pragmatic, in that it makes flexible use of the means at its disposal to attain its ends. One might remark that there is nothing surprising in this, since conservative thought is taken to be pragmatic in principle. But how does this attitude manifest itself in Hungarian conservative thinking? In the fact that Hungarian conservative thinking is essentially defensive in character. If the central problem has always been the protection of Hungarian sovereignty, national and individual freedom, and the attainment of the national interest, then the economic and cultural expansion which has come to seem natural and self-evident in Anglo-Saxon countries has here taken a back seat. Indeed, Hungary’s experience has rather been one of being conquered by foreign powers, and of alien ideas and social phenomena entering the country despite having no organic roots within the local culture, meaning that the defence of Hungarian values and the attainment of the national interest became the guiding motives of Hungarian conservatism. As in the Anglo- Saxon example, it is also possible in the case of Hungarian conservatism to outline in four regards why Hungarian conservative thinking has become essentially defensive in nature.

Historical Reasons

The last five centuries of Hungarian history have essentially been the history of a struggle for independence. Since the Battle of Mohács in 1526, when the Hungarian Army was defeated by the forces of the Ottoman Empire, the country has enjoyed only a few decades of fully sovereign independence. Nevertheless, the Hungarian elite has always considered it a priority to secure the Hungarian interest, increase Hungarian manoeuvring space, and maintain or regain the rights of the nation—even against a legitimate ruler. This is a tradition of Hungarian political thinking that modern conservative (and initially liberal) thinking considered a basic tenet. This is because, in a strict sense, we can talk about conservatism only following the Enlightenment, as well as, in part, the French Revolution, and as an essentially reactionary idea.12 Hungary was in a very special situation at the beginning of the nineteenth century. After the failure of Ferenc Rákóczi’s War of Independence (1703–1711), the national idea had lost prestige among the nobles of the country: a significant proportion of the elite sought the favours of the imperial court, and Germanization was widespread. This was most evident in the declining use of the Hungarian language and Hungarian customs.13

Even if there was resistance in aristocratic circles, they were formulated mainly against the modernizing measures of the imperial court, which encouraged the development of bourgeois society, while the goal of this resistance was precisely to maintain the old Hungarian hierarchical order. This group, called ‘order conservatives’, sought to maintain the formalities of a hierarchical society, thus rejecting any formal modernization, whether public, social, or industrial. They were opposed by the new wave of nobles and bourgeois of the Reform Era (1825–1848).

At this point, a Hungarian author generally brings up Count István Széchenyi, and it is impossible to omit him indeed, since it was in his thought that both the modern liberal and conservative traditions of Hungary, which had not yet diverged, reached maturity.14 (The reasons for their ultimate divergence will later prove decisive in forming the character of Hungarian conservatism.) The essence of Széchenyi’s political and economic programme was as follows: if we do not wish to disappear forever from the stage of history due to competitive disadvantage, we must take the modernization of the country into our own hands. At the same time, Count Széchenyiand the intellectuals of the Reform Era hoped to preserve Hungarian values and way of life, and to regain sovereignty and freedom. It is also worth pointing out that while the ‘order conservatives’ focused on formal conservatism, the leading personalities of the Reform Era concentrated instead on content issues. In other words, they recognized the pattern arising from Hungary’s aforementioned historical peculiarities, according to which the possibility of Hungarians shaping their own way of life depended on re-establishing a Hungarian state which was as strong and independent as possible.15

Geographical Reasons

Hungarian—and, incidentally, continental conservatism in general—developed in a completely different geographical environment than Anglo-Saxon conservatism. The cultural significance of this self-evident fact is a perennial topic within the field of political geography. The importance of geography is particularly marked in Hungary’s case. The Carpathian Basin is a closed unit, over which the Hungarian state extended its power for a thousand years. Although the former Kingdom of Hungary naturally had—in modern terms—spheres of interest and vassal states, the extension of borders beyond the Carpathian Basin was never part of the political programme of the country’s rulers. Rather, the primary goals of Hungarian national strategy were the protection of borders and the preservation of territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the state. The Hungarian state needed this defensive attitude in almost every period of its history, starting with the Mongol invasion of the late thirteenth century, continuing through the ever-greater threat posed by the Ottoman Turks from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, culminating in the occupation of most of Hungary by the Habsburgs and the Ottomans until the late seventeenth century, and the dangerous proximity to the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. In some ages, the defence was successful, in other ages, it was not, but for the purposes of this study, the question of success or failure is incidental. What is interesting, however, is that defensiveness as an attitude has been present throughout the history of the Hungarian state.16 And defence is a practical activity. It results in situations in which certain fundamental principles must at times be given up—even if only temporarily—so that when peace returns life may go back to normal.

Attitude towards Modernization

Thirty years later, however, the same elite recognized that if they did not embark on the path of national modernization,  Hungarians could disappear from the stage of history

The start of social and industrial modernization in Hungary essentially coincides with the birth of Hungarian conservatism in the modern sense, and created the fundamental problems conservatism sought to remedy.17 When Emperor Joseph II, employing what we might call a top-down approach, ran up against Hungarian traditions and the Hungarian legal system, he attempted to modernize his empire by force, provoking resistance from Hungary, and from the Hungarian elite in particular. One reason for the resistance was that the ‘king in a hat’18 planned to modernize the empire at the expense of Hungary. Thirty years later, at the beginning of the Reform Era, however, the same elite recognized that if they did not embark on the path of national modernization, Hungarians could disappear from the stage of history, in line with Herder’s prediction. Here, too, the pragmatic attitude can be seen in action: the contemporary elite did not see modernization as an end, but as a means. When they perceived a process as running contrary to the national interest, they resisted it, but when they found that a given means helped assert Hungarian national interests, they were the first to adopt it.

The Hungarian elite wanted to modernize Hungary, but at the same time to preserve a way of life they saw as according with the nation, and stemming from its own values. These values included freedom and sovereignty, and, closely linked to these, the social order arising from the historical Hungarian constitution—in other words, that modus vivendi which, to a greater or lesser extent, characterized Hungarian society as a whole.

Attitude towards Liberalism

It is beyond the scope of this article to explore all the debates and intellectual histories of the liberal–conservative tradition of the nineteenth century, which broadly favoured Hungary’s modernization. What is certain, however, is that this political alliance actually came to power with the 1867 Compromise—the arrangement which gave birth to the Austro- Hungarian Dual Monarchy. It did not take long, however, for internal splits to emerge as to the direction this political programme should take: this essentially led to the separation between Hungarian conservatism and liberalism. At the same time, it remains indisputable that both Hungarian liberalism and conservatism formulated their political programme with Hungarian national independence and the enforcement of national interests in mind.

The first governments of the post-1867 era were formed by the dominant party of the time, the Deák Party, later known as the Liberal Party. Glancing through the list of prime ministers from Gyula Andrássy to Kálmán Tisza, we see an ever more rapid turnover of office holders, all from within the Liberal Party. One does not have to be a political expert to realize that there must have been a political, economic, and governmental crisis behind the increasing frequency with which the office of prime minister changed hands. Disagreements between the ruling party and members of the government were common, and economic performance, in contrast to the favourable assessment of posterity, showed very dubious results during the first years of Dualism. In the first half of the 1870s, the threat of state bankruptcy was a daily topic of conversation. It was in this situation that János Asbóth, a former government official and Member of Parliament, published a book entitled Hungarian Conservative Politics, which— as the name suggests—emphasized the need for a conservative change in political direction.19 The significance of Asbóth and his work cannot be overemphasized, as his ideas are, in a sense, echoed in Hungarian conservative thinking to this day. The essence of Asbóth’s critique is that the bankruptcy of liberal politics stems from the fact that liberals consider theory more important than practice.20 In other words, they are more interested in whether liberal principles prevail in a political decision than in whether the decision is truly to the benefit or detriment of the nation, or in line with Hungarian interests.

It is worth noting that Asbóth’s criticism is directed against the excessive liberalism of the governing elite. He criticizes the rapidly alternating liberal administrations for adopting Western patterns in the belief that these will bring automatic benefits, without considering their long-term effects on the life of the nation. For example, Asbóth cites the regulation of economic conditions.21 Governments expected so much from free competition that they introduced all the elements of a laissez-faire economic system almost at once. According to Asbóth, this was a mistake: at that time Hungarian economic actors were not yet ready to compete with better-funded Austrian and Czech industries, and the domestic economy, far from flourishing, entered a period of recession. This is a painfully familiar phenomenon—we need only consider the missteps of the Hungarian liberal administrations in the post-1989 period.22

Asbóth’s polemical volume was published in 1875. It did not achieve its aim, in the sense that no conservative party of the sort seen in Britain was established in Hungary. At the same time, the debate it provoked did not fail to elicit a response. The policies of Prime Minister Kálmán Tisza, who came to power in 1875 and had one of the longest terms in office of any Hungarian prime minister, owed much to certain elements of Asbóth’s criticism. Though still formally liberal, Hungarian governments became more and more conservative, more focused on national interests and practical results, and the period of spectacular economic growth in the Hungary of the Dual Monarchy can be dated to the period in which these principles were operative.23

The system of Dualism, with all its lasting and temporary successes, survived in Hungary until the end of the First World War. The fall of the system coincided with the devastating trauma of the Paris peace treaties, including the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which drastically truncated Hungary’s territory. In response, Hungarian conservative intellectuals placed the blame for the calamity on the political principles followed during the era of Dualism, which they considered excessively liberal.24 The leading figures of this trend includedGyula Szekfű, Pál Teleki, István Bethlen, and Tibor Joó. In addition to their criticism—and this is especially true for Szekfű and Bethlen—these men made it their mission to lay the foundations of true Hungarian conservatism, and to generate a kind of modern conservative awakening.25

Another thread in this conservative revival was the elaboration of a response to the new circumstances of the twentieth century. As we have seen, as early as the nineteenth century, some Hungarian intellectuals were already formulating critiques of both capitalist and socialist economic models and the ideologies underpinning them, which viewed progress as a series of steps on the ineluctable path towards modernity.26 Then, from the 1920s onward, criticisms of these economic and social models were supplemented by critiques of fascism, national socialism, and communism.27

Curiously—and yet typically of the era—the alternative to modern, alien ideologies came from the ecclesiastical world. The Hungarian conservative perspective was shaped by a number of prominent ecclesiastics such as József Mindszenty, Ottokár Prohászka, or László Ravasz. Despite their religious background, the familiar, pragmatic aspect of Hungarian conservatism emerges in their writings. They saw in Christian social teaching an idea that fundamentally aligned with the Hungarian mindset, and through which the socialist and national socialist-inspired social organizations, which were essentially mass-based in nature, could be countered. It was at this time that the Hungarian conservative tradition, in addition to its national ethos, finally acquired a culturally Christian character; the tenets of Christian thinkers of the time still resonate on the political right today, as do the pragmatic, conservative voices criticizing the liberalism of the nineteenth century.28

WHY IS THE HUNGARIAN WAY SO ADVANTAGEOUS?

If we consider the patterns outlined above, several conclusions can be drawn. First, it is now clear that post-1989 conservative thinkers picked up a thread that was severed, at the latest, in 1949. National independence and national interests, sovereignty, economic development, Christian cultural foundations, and pragmatic scepticism towards foreign ideas—all these aspirations emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century and came to define Hungarian conservative thinking. Then, in the post-1989 period, as the symptoms of crisis began to multiply within the political and government system based on left-liberal principles, the critiques formulated by an almost 150-year-old conservative tradition began to be voiced once again.

This movement calls itself national conservatism, and, curiously, the views it espouses reflect— presumably unintentionally—the principles of national Hungarian conservative though

But it is also worth noting that this separation between liberal and conservative thinking took place in Hungary as early as the nineteenth century, and not only in the closed milieu of intellectual salons. Asbóth’s comments were widely communicated and critiqued. And although later governments responded by accepting some of his suggestions, the anti-liberal attitude of Hungarian conservatism is undeniable from this point on. In the West, only Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss formulated a similarly impactful critique, and a good half-century later. The preeminent new voice in Anglo-Saxon conservative thinking was Roger Scruton, who, with The Salisbury Review he founded in 1982, helped make Anglo-Saxon conservative thinking more open to the national idea. He was also one of the first to criticize the progressive left, seeing the greatest challenge to his own views in the multiculturalism that it promoted.29 In fact, it was not until the 2010s that a conservative movement capable of formulating a comprehensive, substantive critique of liberalism, based on solid intellectual foundations, was able to spread its wings in Anglo-Saxon countries. This movement calls itself national conservatism, and, curiously, the views it espouses reflect— presumably unintentionally—the principles of national Hungarian conservative thought.30 The movement is critical of globalization, encourages opposition to the unconditional enforcement of free trade, criticizes liberal politics for its lack of interest in practical results, and sees the pursuit of national interests and the preservation of national traditions as the primary task of politics. So what was new in the West in the 2010s is essentially the natural state of conservative thinking and politics in Hungary. It is not difficult to see why it has turned out this way. We Hungarians already had to deal with the problems currently faced by the West—and especially in the Anglo-Saxon world—in the nineteenth century. We were among those compelled to adapt to a changing world, rather than the other way around. We had to learn how to preserve our independence and how to assert our interests in a world where conditions did not depend so much on our will as on the limitations of our strategic thinking and room for manoeuvre.

Today, the Anglo-Saxon world faces similar challenges in a changing global environment. The list of challenges continues to grow: the centre of the world economy is shifting eastward, and China’s sphere of influence is expanding. The processes of globalization are undermining the foundations of everyday life, with the result that many ordinary citizens feel lost in the world. All this is a consequence of the increasingly doctrinaire nature of liberalism, which, with its universalizing policies, its abolition of borders and natural communities, and an ever more unequal distribution of economic benefits, no longer serves the interests of the citizens of Western states. Once it was the American Indians whose lives and futures were threatened by a changing world; now it is Americans of all backgrounds.

Hungarian conservatism has a ready answer to these dilemmas. We possess a 150-year advantage in responding to challenges beyond our control by asserting our national interests and putting freedom and sovereignty at the heart of our policies. The pandemic is just one of the twenty-first-century challenges facing every country around the world. In a changing environment, Western nations, including the Anglo-Saxon countries, should be much more interested in preserving and defending the status quo than in being the engines of change. This protection and preservation is what we Hungarians have centuries of experience in, and it is on this bedrock that Hungarian conservative thinking has been constructed over the centuries.

If there was ever a time to learn a lesson from Hungary, this is it. The Hungarian model is more than competitive when it comes to defence, flexibility in the service of national interests, and modernization from within.

Translated by Thomas Sneddon

This article was originally published in Hungarian in the 1 (2021) issue of the journal Kommentár, pp. 94–105.


Balázs Orbán is a Hungarian lawyer, political scientist, and politician who serves as Political Director to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Minister of State to the Prime Minister’s Office. He is the chairman of the board at Mathias Corvinus Collegium, Hungary’s leading talent management institution and knowledge centre, and he also leads the advisory board of Ludovika – University of Public Service. Orbán lives in Budapest with his wife and two sons.


NOTES

1 Jeremy Jennings, Early Nineteenth-Century Liberalism—The Oxford Handbook of the History
of Political Philosophy 
(Ed. George Klosko, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 1.

2 See: Locke, Dicey, and Humphreys.

3 The reasons for the divergence in political organization and worldview between continental and seagoing countries was examined, albeit from a different perspective, by Carl Schmitt and a contemporary military historian, Andrew Lambert. Both concluded that continental countries typically attach greater importance to the preservation of order and their established way of life, and seek to preserve their specific values vis-à-vis maritime powers, which are more likely to encounter external influences and even to act as influences themselves. Carl Schmitt, Land und Meer. Eine weltgeschichtliche Betrachtung (Land and Sea. A World-Historical View) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2008); Andrew Lambert, Seapower States. Maritime Culture, Continental Empires and the Conflict that Made the Modern World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).

4 For example, British colonial official Sir Kenneth Owen Roberts-Wray called the English legal system and the rule of law the greatest gifts the crown had bestowed upon the colonies of the British Empire.

5 For instance, Francis Fukuyama’s famous work, which proclaims the ‘end of history’ was in fact merely preaching a worldwide takeover by the Anglo-Saxon (American) system. We must not forget that Fukuyama has always considered himself a neoconservative thinker. Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992).

6 The achievements of early modernity directly helped establish the more liberal Anglo-Saxon conservative values (for instance, free trade and personal freedom).Rein Staal, ‘The Irony of Modern Conservatism’, International Political Science Review Revue internationale de science politique, 4 (1987), 351.

7 Samuel Freeman, ‘Liberalism’ in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 2.

8 Yoram Hazony, for example, sees even John Locke as a forerunner of today’s progressive universalism, but Leo Strauss had a similar perspective as did Carl Schmitt. See Yoram Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism (London: Hachette UK, November 2018), 31–32; Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 251; Stephen Holmes, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 41.

9 Albert Venn Dicey, for example, considered the rule of law feasible only in the social context of the British Isles, but Michael Oakeshott no longer imposed any such condition on the applicability of the rule of law. Stephen Humphreys, Theater of the Rule of Law. Transnational Legal Intervention in Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 30–38. 

10 The alliance between conservatives and liberals is a natural corollary of their historical experience of the twentieth century. However, its theoretical foundation was laid during the first decades of the Cold War. William F. Buckley, an American conservative thinker, proclaimed in the columns of National Review that he had established a so-called fusionist movement, which sought—through a combination of classical liberal, libertarian, and conservative ideas—to establish a Western ideology to oppose the totalitarian Soviet Union. The volume summarizing the intellectual debate was edited by Buckley in 1970, and its authors include almost all the major conservative and liberal American thinkers. In the introduction to the volume, Buckley himself writes, as it is also clear from the text, that the aim of the project was in no small part to restore the worn-out reputation of conservatism, and to gain acceptance for it among liberals. See William Frank Buckley, ed., Did You Ever See a
Dream Walking? American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century 
(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill, 1970), xvii. In practice, therefore, a kind of defensive or conformist constraint can be detected behind the author’s words. Curiously, the circle of intellectuals formed at that time went on to create the philosophy of Anglo-Saxon universalism two decades later. SeeCharles Krauthammer, ‘Universal Dominion. Toward a Unipolar World’, The National Interest (Winter 1989/1990), 46–49. It is clear that, in exchange for credibility, a significant number of Anglo-Saxon conservatives have sacrificed their sensitivity to particularities on the altar of liberal universalism. The reckoning with this deficiency has only just begun. Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism.

11 Albert Apponyi put it all in this way: ‘The Hungarian nation has two wings upon which it may soar. One
is indeed a reverence for freedom, and the pursuit of liberal ideas, but the other is the awakening of national self-awareness and national feelings. If the bird of state cannot open that wing which seeks the fulfilment and strengthening of national feelings, then the other wing, that of liberalism, can only beat the air uselessly, unable to rise, soar, or move at all.’ Albert Apponyi, Emlékirataim. Ötven év. Ifjúkorom – Huszonöt év az ellenzéken (My Memoirs. Fifty Years. My Youth – Twenty-five Years in Opposition) (Budapest: PantheonIrodalmi Intézet, 1922), 208.

12 ‘Reactionary’ is not intended here in any pejorative sense: it is merely that it came about as a reaction
to the events and social changes brought about by the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolution. Gábor Vaderna, ‘Dessewffyek. A konzervativizmus három útja’ (The Dessewffys. The Three Paths ofConservatism), Századok, 3 (2017), 484.

13 Mihály Vörösmarty also registers this symptom of crisis in The Flight of Zalán (1825), an epic poem written to help stimulate and direct the reviving Hungarian national idea.

14 András Lánczi, ‘Eszmék kora. Asbóth János és a modernség’ (The Age of Ideas. János Asbóth and Modernity), Holmi (August 1992), 1136.

15 Ervin Csizmadia, A magyar politikai fejlődés logikája (The Logic of Hungarian Political Development), (Budapest: Gondolat, 2017), 308–310.

16 Writing not only of Hungarians, but about the whole Central European civilization built around the Danube, the Italian Germanist Claudio Magris stated the following in his classic literary travel guide: ‘Mitteleuropa is a great civilization of defensiveness, of barriers thrown up against life […] of trenches and underground passages to protect oneself from outside attack. Danubian culture is a fortress which offers excellent shelter against the threat of the world, the assaults of life and fears of losing oneself in perfidious reality.’ Claudio Magris, Danube (Trans. Patrick Creagh, London: Harvill Press, 2001), 155.

17 ‘The key issue with regard to the place and progress of the peripheries and semi-peripheries—or whatever terms we choose to use to indicate backward or neglected regions—is still the relationship with modernity and the tolerance of social, political and moral tensions associated with voluntary modernization and its reconciliation with national identity. Széchenyi regarded England as the model state for modernization, while a few decades later János Asbóth, perhaps the most colourful conservative thinker in Hungarian political life, also made at least as many references to America, though generally to disparage it. Asbóth reacted sensitively to the ambiguous phenomena of modernity as they were unfolding in Hungary.’ (Lánczi, ‘Eszmék kora’, 1128–1129.)

18 ‘In order to avoid taking the Coronation Oath, which would have obliged him to confirm noble privileges and liberties, Joseph refused to be crowned King of Hungary and thus earned the contemptuous sobriquet of “the king in a hat” (a kalapos király).’ Brian Cartledge, The Will to Survive, A History of Hungary(London: C. Hurst and Co., 2011) 139.

19 In Asbóth’s view, the uncritical pursuit of liberal principles, both in terms of the economy and the organization of the state and the settlement of ethnic issues, did not serve Hungarian interests, and the poor performance of the government reflected this. See László Szendrei, ‘Asbóth János Magyar conservativ politika c. munkájának kialakulási közege és sajtóvisszhangja’, Történeti tanulmányok XIII. A Debreceni Egyetem Történelmi Intézetének kiadványa (‘Genesis and Press Reception of János Asbóth’s Hungarian Conservative Politics’, Historical Studies XIII. Publication of the Institute of History of theUniversity of Debrecen) (Ferenc Velkey, ed., Debrecen, 2005), 101–103.

20 In István Schlett’s interpretation, Asbóth examines possible patterns of political behaviour in a four-part matrix. Thus, a politician can be conservative and radical in theory, as well as conservative and radical in practice. He describes good politics as a political model consisting of radical (i.e. liberal) principles and conservative (i.e. considered) action. It is worth noting that liberal principles here are essentially synonymous with modernization. And the fact that he considered these principles to be salutary in conservative practical implementation means that he considered them to be practical only if they were really in line with the Hungarian national interests. István Schlett, A politikai gondolkodás története Magyarországon II (History of Political Thought in Hungary, II) (Budapest: Századvég, 2018), 635–637.

21 János Asbóth, Magyar conservativ politika (Hungarian Conservative Politics) (Budapest: Légárdy Testvérek, 1875), 94.

22 One interesting parallel is that contemporary Hungarian liberal criticisms of Asbóth’s work are uncannily reminiscent of similarly motivated statements made today. Critics generally considered Asbóth’s views exaggerated, and accused him of being short-sighted, not recognizing global processes. (Szendrei, ‘Asbóth János’, 111.)

23 The successes of Dualism was largely due to the fact that the dominant liberal party was generally able, thanks to its one-nation character, to integrate criticism from the conservative side. In contrast to previous liberal practice, Asbóth and Kálmán Tisza also essentially supported the centralization of administrative functions, seeing the broad competences of the counties as an obstacle to effective governance (Schlett, A politikai gondolkodás története Magyarországon II, 667), a position that has been a defining element of Hungarian conservative thinking for decades. See Aurél Dessewffy, X.Y.Z. könyv (X.Y.Z. Book) (Pest: Trattner–Károlyi, 1841), 5. The reception of conservative criticism is even more characteristic of Kálmán Tisza’s son, Prime Minister István Tisza. László Tőkéczki pointed out that IstvánTisza deliberately limited the implementation of the liberal doctrine because he was aware of its destabilizing effect. See László Tőkéczki, Tisza István és a konzervativizmus – Gróf Tisza István, a vasgróf a mai magyar történettudományban. A 2004. október 27- én megrendezett konferencia előadásai (István Tisza and Conservatism – Count István Tisza, The Iron Count in Today ‘s Hungarian History. Presentations at the Conference of 27 October 2004) (Tisza István Baráti Társaság, 2004).

24 One example of this is Pál Teleki, who in his book On Europe and Hungary blamed the spread of materialism and radicalism—in other words the uncritical enthusiasm for foreign ideologies, which was a consequence of economic modernization and prosperity—for the fall of Dualism and with it the Kingdom of Hungary. See Pál Teleki, Európáról és Magyarországról (On Europe and Hungary) (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1934), 20. Following a different line of argument, the historian Tibor Joó reached similar conclusions, arguing that the introduction of the liberal concept of the nation in the nineteenth century led necessarily to aspirations for national independence, and was thus a direct cause of the Treaty of Trianon. See Tibor Joó, A magyar nemzeteszme (The Hungarian National Idea) (Budapest: Franklin, 1939), 22. For both Pál Teleki and Tibor Joó, the adoption of foreign models was one of the primary causes of the national calamity.

25 In a work examining the Hungarian national idea, János Gyurgyák considers Gyula Szekfű to be the greatest exemplar of conservative renewal. One of his merits was that he was able and willing to face the errors of Hungarian historical figures, which earned him the criticism of his contemporaries on numerous occasions. János Gyurgyák, Ezzé lett magyar hazátok. A magyar nemzeteszme és nacionalizmus története (What Has Become of Your Hungarian Homeland. The History of Hungarian National Thought and Nationalism) (Budapest: Osiris, 2007), 291–293.

26 Gyula Szekfű describes the evils of capitalism as follows: ‘But time has passed, and capitalism has both increased in size and become more frightening, indeed monstrous, in appearance, building factories and crowding hundreds of thousands and millions of people into the unhealthy, immoral air of big, smoke-filled cities. And the longer the unlimited freedom proclaimed by liberalism endures, the more freely the big capitalist businesses shall devour the small, and the economically strong exploit the economically weak, especially the workers.’ Gyula Szekfű, Három nemzedék. Egy hanyatló kor története (Three Generations. The History of a Declining Age) (Budapest: Life and Literary Printing House R.T., 1920), 307.

27 For example, József Közi Horváth writes about Cardinal József Mindszenty: ‘He was one of the few who saw clearly from the first—and did not hide their conviction—that both national socialism and communism were deadly enemies of our Christianity and Hungarianness.’ József Közi Horváth,Mindszenty bíboros (Cardinal Mindszenty) (Budapest: Magyarországi Mindszenty Alapítvány, 2002), 74.

28 In one of his writings, József Mindszenty states: ‘The means of expurgating Christian education lead to coercion and murder. Against the denial of basic values, we Christians must have the courage to insist upon the existence of God, the eternal destiny of the immortal soul, human dignity, and the consequent necessity of a free human conscience.’ Quoted by Gábor Krajsovszky, Amíg Isten végtelen könyörületéből jő a virradat, éljetek hűségben Istenhez, egyházhoz, történelmi magyar hazához! (So Long as the Dawn Comes from God’s Infinite Mercy, Live in Faithfulness to God, the Church, and the Historical Hungarian Homeland!) (Budapest: Pázmány Press, 2013), 17.

29 In his obituary of Scruton, the American philosopher and lawyer Robert P. George points out that the British thinker sang on many points from the hymn sheet of Anglo-Saxon conservatism. He rejected its market partisanship and individualism, and made the community a central element of his thinking. Furthermore, he did not see government intervention for the benefit of the community and its values as the work of the devil. Robert P. George, ‘Roger Scruton Was a Conservative. But What Kind?’, The New York Times (29 January 2020), https://www. nytimes.com/2020/01/29/opinion/roger-scruton.html. It is evident that these characteristics are also features of Hungarian conservatism. Roger Scruton always had a particular openness to Central European conservative thought. According to his widow, part of the philosopher’s heart always beat in Central Europe. Scruton himself noted that his journal, The Salisbury Review, provided an important publication space for conservative thinkers in Central Europe in the 1980s, and he himself visited the countries of our region frequently, and assisted in the revival of conservative thought in Hungary in particular. It is curious that for many years Scruton was persona non grata in British academia, as a result of his 1985 book Thinkers of the New Left. The validity of his conclusions is now self-evident. See Roger Scruton, Conservatism. An Invitation to the Great Tradition (All Point Books, 2018), 103.

30 According to the movement’s own self-definition, ‘National conservatism is a movement of public figures, journalists, academics and university students who have recognized that the past and future of conservatism are inextricably linked to the idea that without values, a prosperous community cannot be built.’ According to the movement, nationalism is an indispensable yet neglected element of the best of Anglo-American conservative thinking. The most important supporter of the movement is the Edmund Burke Foundation, of which Yoram Hazony is the chairman.

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