Orban’s Hungary is now guru to the American right


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

On Saturday, August 7, Tucker Carlson speaks at the MCC Feszt, a festival organized to celebrate “Hungarian talent.”

There’s a reason the world should take note.

Mr Carlson is an American conservative, a Fox News personality whose show is one of the most popular on cable news in the United States. He has often expressed public admiration for Hungary’s proudly illiberal prime minister Viktor Orban, celebrating him the autocratic leader’s supposed defence of his countrymen from the alleged dangers posed by Muslim immigrants and Brussels bureaucrats. A couple of years ago, Mr Carlson declared that “Hungary’s leaders actually care about making sure their own people thrive”. It was a reference to Hungary’s attempts to reward childbirth. Mr Carlson also said, “Instead of promising the nation’s wealth to every illegal immigrant from the Third World, they’re using tax dollars to uplift their own people.”

In a teaser for a documentary that will cover the Hungarian scene, Mr Carlson has said, “If you care about Western civilization and democracy and families, and the ferocious assault on all three of those things by the leaders of our global institutions, you should know what is happening here right now”.

Mr Carlson’s travels in Hungary are significant for a number of reasons.

First, he’s an influential figure on the American far right. Second, he has become the “voice of White grievance”, as someone christened him. Third, his address (today, Saturday) will be at a conference of far-right activists, which has been organised by an Orbán-backed educational institution.

Clearly, there is a coming together of the far right in America and central Europe. Nativism and implicitly racist and anti-immigrant trends now define right wing politics in the US, a clear departure from Reaganism.

Jamelle Bouie quotes (paywall) Jeet Heer, a columnist at The Nation, on describing this enthusiasm for Hungary as a form of “transferred nationalism”. The term, as Mr Bouie writes, is borrowed from George Orwell’s 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism.”

Orwell wrote: “In societies such as ours, it is unusual for anyone describable as an intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public opinion — that is, the section of public opinion of which he as an intellectual is aware — will not allow him to do so. Most of the people surrounding him are sceptical and disaffected, and he may adopt the same attitude from imitativeness or sheer cowardice: in that case he will have abandoned the form of nationalism that lies nearest to hand without getting any closer to a genuinely internationalist outlook. He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself”.

Whatever it is, the American right’s hero worship of Hungary is quite remarkable. Hungary is a small country, which struts about at least partly because the European Union (EU) sends it handouts even as Budapest criticises EU values. But here we are. Hungary, a wannabe, has become the respected guru to  the right in the world’s richest, most powerful country.

That has to be significant, should the American right hold all the levers of power some time soon.