Authotarian „postliberal conservatism“and „illiberal democracy“: Orban-Hungary as the New Mecca for the US and European far right „civilizational parties“
Europe’s far-right has so far been divided. But now the AfD is looking for its place in a future united front of right-wing populists. The biggest obstacle of the EU opponents in the European Parliament for a common group: the „Russophobia“ of the Eastern European right. If you want to prepare the stage for right-wing populists in the European Parliament, then you do it like the European Commission and think about whether the term “Christmas” should be removed from your own language. In the last week of their session before the Christmasfestival, the MEPs excitedly debated this – quickly cashed in again – measure to maintain religious neutrality, which was one of the recommendations for language guidelines. Even if the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) had requested the debate – it was the far-right who drew the most profit from it for their anti-EU rhetoric. “Long live Christmas!” It shoutws out excitedly in the plenary chamber, and once again the supposed bureaucratic leveling monster EU was sitting on the accussation bank, allegedly trying to uproot people’s cultural roots. In 2022, many EU opponents have vowed to themselves in parliament, not only do they want to make themselves heard in plenary, but also more rights – with a super group of European nationalists, which should give them additional speaking time, financial resources and committee chairs. They are still splitting their forces into two factions: “Identity and Democracy” with 70 MPs from ten EU countries – the political home of the AfD, the French Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen and the Italian Lega around Matteo Salvini. And “European Conservatives and Reformers” with 64 members of parliament from 15 countries – since the British Conservatives left the EU Parliament after Brexit, the Polish ruling party PiS has been setting the tone here.
The dividing line between the two factions is the attitude towards Russia for all other ideological similarities. For historical reasons, the Polish PiS has taken a position that is strictly critical of Moscow and, like the Baltic states, feels threatened by the great power policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. That rubs against the attitude towards Moscow in other parts of the right-wing spectrum. The AfD MEP Maximilian Krah complained in the European Parliament about „Russophobia“. Elsewhere, in “Dresden Talks” with like-minded people on YouTube, he praised the PiS as “sympathetic reactionary”. Now AfD MPs want their party to play a bigger role in the project of an international alliance of nationalists. Their EP boss Jörg Meuthen has become increasingly ineffective within the party. For him, a super right-wing group would actually be a good platform to promote himself at least in Brussels. But in the debate about an ultra-right alliance, others are the spokesmen, for example the Saxon AfD vice-president Maximilian Krah: „We will only overcome the EU together with the other European right-wing parties, with everyone who is suffering from this EU in Europe.“ Immediately after the failure of the most recent unification efforts in Warsaw, Krah reported in the „Dresden Talks“: „But we know that there are now very, very many talks with the aim of uniting all European right-wing parties, at least the relevant ones.“ Krah’s party colleague Markus Buchheit also speaks of “a bundling of patriotic forces, especially in the EU Parliament” and recently gathered like-minded European legal politicians around him, from whom he had assured himself that the AfD was essential for such an alliance. Marco Campomenosi, head of the Lega delegation in parliament, conveyed the message that his party leader Salvini wanted to join a parliamentary group. Representatives of the Belgian Vlaams Belang and the Austrian FPÖ assured that they naturally wanted to take the AfD with them. That is exactly what some in the party seem to be concerned about. Krah regretted that the AfD has not yet been part of the efforts to merge in the EU Parliament, but „currently a bit behind when it comes to negotiating participation“. That is why he demanded: „We have to be more active.“
At the beginning of December the attempt to merge failed – again – and there should initially only be more cooperation below this level. But essential forces in the right-wing camp are going into the new year with the declared will to make a new start. The AfD hopes this time not to be on the sidelines as it was recently. Because so far it is more Salvini, Le Pen and PiS boss Jaroslaw Kaczynski who have the say in the arch-conservative to reactionary camp in Europe. In the background, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been pulling the strings in the unification efforts for a long time. The MEPs of his Fidesz party have been homeless since they were forced to leave the EPP Group in the European Parliament. Orban invited right-wing populists to a summit in Budapest in April. But even then, like now in Warsaw, there was no real breakthrough. Another obstacle are rivalries between the Italian league and its domestic political rivals, the Fratelli d’Italia.
However, Viktor Orban tries not only be the uniting force of the far right wing parties in Europe, but after Biden´s Summit Democracy” is also pereceived by the US Republicans and the US right as vanguard of a “postliberal conservatisms” with an “illiberal democrcy”, means: an authotarian dictatorship. Hungary is the only EU member state that US President Joe Biden did not invite to his Summit of Democracies. For some US Conservatives, however, the authoritarian policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán appear attractive. From. The Summit of Democracies, organized by US President Joe Biden, was intended to set an example against autocratic tendencies around the world. But last week it became indirectly apparent that some US Republicans are now strangling with liberal democracy. All EU member states were invited to the conference, which took place as an online event, with the exception of Hungary – and the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is now able to welcome well-known US Republicans and consercatives.
At the beginning of August, Tucker Carlson, the most prominent presenter of the conservative television channel Fox News, broadcast from Budapest for a week – including an almost submissive interview with Orbán. Carlson’s show „Tucker Carlson Tonight“ runs Monday through Friday every evening at prime time on Fox News and is the most watched political show in the United States. Carlson probably has more influence on the basis of the Republican Party than any Republican politician – apart from former US President Donald Trump, of course. There is now a firmly established illiberal tendency among US Republicans. You have to look to Hungary, said Carlson on his show, „if Western civilization and democracy and family are important to you“. Orbán has drawn the anger of the US for “rejecting neoliberalism” and because he believes that “families are more important than banks” and that “countries need borders”. “Why can’t we have that in America?” Asks Carlson in one of the episodes filmed in Budapest, and replies: “Because our leaders don’t want that. They benefit from the chaos and pain of illegal immigration. „That is why, according to Carlson, the Democrats reacted so hysterically when one pointed out how successfully Hungary“ protects „its borders:“ They don’t want you to know that there is one There is an alternative to all the chaos and filth and crime. «The camera pans over the picturesque inner city of Budapest: According to Carlson, there is no rubbish on the streets, no murderous illegal immigrants, no» Black Lives Matter «demonstrations.
Mike Pence, who was US Vice President under Trump, visited Budapest in late September. There he spoke at the fourth Budapest Demographic Summit, a conference on family and population policy that has been organized by the Hungarian government and has been held every two years since 2015. That same month, Trump’s former Justice Minister Jeff Sessions gave a speech on immigration policy in Budapest. This happened at the invitation of the Danube Institute, a think tank indirectly funded by the Hungarian government and headed by John O’Sullivan. He worked as advisor and speechwriter for her during Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as British Prime Minister. This year the Danube Institute invited the reactionary Christian US author Rod Dreher to Budapest as a visiting researcher for a few months. Dreher not only praised Orbán’s government in the highest terms, but also helped bring Carlson to Budapest. His stay in Hungary prompted two long articles in the New York Times and New Yorker magazines. „How the American Right fell in love with Hungary,“ was the title of the article in the New York Times.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is scheduled to take place in Budapest in the spring of next year. The CPAC is a major annual US Conservative event; Trump has been giving speeches there regularly for years. In Budapest, the CPAC cooperates with the Think Tank Center for Fundamental Rights, which is also indirectly financed by the Hungarian government. Hungary has become a projection screen for US rights, cherishing authoritarian longings, because Orbán has achieved many things that Republicans could only dream of, even under Trump. He used his government power to bring public institutions into line with government and to promote a reactionary social policy. This illiberal policy appears attractive to some US right-wing extremists. »What is the only power that can oppose the woken capitalists and these illiberal left in universities, the media, sports, cultural institutions and so on? The State, ”Dreher wrote on his blog, which appears on the website of The American Conservative magazine. That is why US Conservatives should look to Hungary.
Behind this is the realization that the conservatives in the USA can win elections, but that cultural and social developments have been against them for decades. American society is becoming more tolerant and secular, and conservative influence has declined significantly in the reputable media, culture, and academia. Some conservatives in the USA therefore believe that the only option left for the US right is to use state power to decide socio-political questions in their favor. Perhaps the first test case of this strategy was the conflict over the Critical Race Theory – actually not a coherent theory, but a bundle of anti-racist theoretical approaches – which Republicans claim is taught in US schools. The Republican Party ran a public campaign against the Critical Race Theory, believed to have helped Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin to win the Virginia gubernatorial election last month. Several Republican states have also passed laws banning critical race theory teaching in schools. Critics argue that as a result, teachers may no longer have the courage to address the role of racism in US history.
In recent years, intellectuals and ideology producers of the US right-wing have followed the transformation of US conservatism that Trump has implemented. In the meantime, some seem to be striving for an „illiberal democracy“ as Orbán advocates. The lawyer Adrian Vermeule, who teaches at Harvard University, and the political scientist Patrick Deneen, who works at the University of Notre Dame, represent what is known as post-liberal conservatism with different accents. In their joint newsletter “Post-Liberal Order” Deneen recently wrote that “liberal totalitarianism” is already prevalent in the USA. The previous US conservatism – roughly speaking: the Republicans before Trump – would have allowed this. These „establishment conservatives“ are only a „useful contrast -“ controlled opposition „- for the real powers behind the power – the oligarchs, the corporations, the power elite“ because they advocate liberal values such as religious and academic freedom, freedom of expression and use the free market economy. These fetters must finally be thrown off; this is the only way to defeat „liberal totalitarianism“.
An explicitly illiberal conservatism is also being talked about at the National Conservatism Conference, which has been held annually since 2019. It tries to give Trumpism an intellectually respectable form and to differentiate it from traditional US conservatism. Last year the conference took place in Rome, with Orbán as well as the chairman of the right-wing extremist Italian party Lega and former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini as guests. At the most recent National Conservatism Conference, which took place in Orlando, Florida, almost two months ago, three prominent Republican senators took part as speakers, all of whom are arguably aspiring to become US President: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley.
This also shows how firmly established the illiberal tendency is now among the Republicans. The senators painted a gloomy picture of the USA at the conference: All institutions were infiltrated by the radical left, said Cruz. Even big business and the companies that are counted among the Fortune 500, the 500 companies with the highest turnover in the world, have become „economic enforcers of the hard left.“ The left „hates America“, it uses „culture as a tool to destroy America“. Rubio sees this as a „systematic attempt to take our society, our traditions, our economy and our way of life apart“. According to Hawley, the US left „has great intentions to deconstruct the United States of America.“ One must fear that anyone who describes his political opponent as so nefarious, totalitarian and omnipotent, almost all means in the fight against him are considered legitimate