Orban, Western Civilization, and CPAC

I watched Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s CPAC speech so you don’t have to. American conservatives held CPAC in Orban’s Hungary because they want to follow Orban in establishing an authoritarian regime within a democratic political system.

They also hate America.

Towards the end of his 30 minute speech, Orban identified the political right with “Western Civilization” by which he meant traditional male-headed families and the pre-eminence of the “Church” among institutions. “The cause of the nation is not a matter of ideology, nor even of tradition. The reason that churches and families must be supported is that they are the building blocks of the nation.” In other words, what conservatives want is Patriarchal Families, a Patriarchal Church, and Patriarchal Government.

However, the popular image of “Western Civilization” is almost entirely about progress–the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Declaration of the Rights of Man in France, the Declaration of Independence in the United States, printing, global exploration, philosophy, poetry, Voltaire, and Shakespeare. Orban constricts “Western Civilization” into the elements of family and religion that in fact were the least distinct characteristics of the Modern West. It sounds like Orban is identifying Western civilization with figures like Clovis, Charles Martel, and Charlemagne, all of whom flourished before the accomplishments usually identified with “Western Civilization.” That’s both bizarre and dumb.

Of course, the idea of progress also served to cover up the monstrosity of the slave trade, native genocides, colonial tyrannies, or religious war. That’s an important part of the story of Western Civilization and so have the advent of ideas of religious tolerance, the resistance of Black populations in the U.S. and other countries, women, LGBT’s, and the various peoples subject to Western colonization. That resistance and the cultural creativity of all these populations is now an important part of the history of Western Civilization as well. However, Orban follows U.S. conservatives in ridiculing the critique of progress and new centers of political power and cultural creativity as “woke” despite not identifying himself with the original progress of the West. Such is the way with conservatives in Europe as well as the U.S. but there’s also a way in which Orban is writing conservatism out of Western Civilization.

To the extent that there is a Western Civilization, it’s morphed since WWII into a global culture. That’s partly a political matter resulting from the spread of democracy and the UN, partly an economic matter with the development of global corporations and global markets, and partly a matter of popular culture as the recording industry, movies, and television programs reached global audiences along with trends in Black American culture, anime, and KPop. An American pop performer like Demi Lovato is just as welcome in Sao Paulo, Brazil as San Diego, CA. There has also been global pressure on monotheism as Christianity declined dramatically in Western Europe, various kinds of pagan figures were revived by comic book mythologies, and Chinese, Korean, and Japanese forms of ancestor worship became globally recognized.

In the West, official values are liberal and multicultural and dominate in the major institutions, high culture, and popular culture. Conservatism is mostly a counter-culture appealing to large populations ambivalent about modern life but having few of its own cultural products. This is something Orban recognizes better than most Dems in the U.S.–

This problem–if I am not mistaken, both in America and Western Europe, is the domination of public life by progressive liberals. The problem is the fact that they hold the most important positions in the most important institutions, that they occupy the dominant positions in the media, they are the progressive left telling us what is true and that they produce all the politically indoctrinating works of high and mass culture. They–the progressive left–tell us what is the truth and what is not, what is right and what is wrong. And as conservatives, our lot is to feel about our nation’s public life as Sting felt in New York: like a legal alien.

Orban operates under the assumption that conservatives are such strangers in society that “the cause of [national conservatism] is not a matter of ideology, nor even of tradition.” That’s because conservative ideologies (fascism in Europe, militarism and supply-side economics in the United States have so little credibility. Given post-WWII communism, Hungarian conservatism has little tradition while the main traditions of American conservatives (slavery, segregation) are just as negative for conservative politics in the United States as fascism is for the European right.

For Orban, the patriarchal family and religion are the only institutions that can be used as conservative reference points. Because the West is so identified with liberalism, Orban has to avoid talking about the West in order to promote “Western Civilization.”

Orban isn’t impressed with Trump either. His main comment is that “President Trump has undeniable merits, but nevertheless he was not re-elected in 2020.” In other words, Trump’s pretty much a loser and the real model for American conservatives should be Hungary.

What about Orban’s “12 Principles for Conservatives?” It’s almost all warmed over stuff that U.S. conservatives have been doing for years if not decades.

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