‘Nationalist International’ is a counterintuitive phenomenon. Viktor Orbán has become a darling of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, of Geert Wilders and Tommy Robinson.
But the fandom of Mr Orbán does not thrive only on characters famous for their ability to gather a mass following. It also includes Christian thinkers known as solid intellects who would probably rather die than don ‘Make America Great Again’ caps. In the US, we have a journalist like Rod Dreher and a political scientist like Patrick Deneen; in Britain, there are the political theologians John Milbank and Phillip Blond.
Why have these intellectuals backed Mr Orbán?
On June 3, 2018 in a tweet that may as well stand in for the thought of all four writers, John Milbank, a theology professor at Nottingham University, asserted:
“We too readily accuse Poland and Hungary of authoritarianism. Liberals underrate the degree to which their leaders have to take a strong approach both to resist the residual power of corrupt ex-communist crony networks and to prevent their cultures being undermined by consumerism.”
Milbank expressed this opinion shortly before the Hungarian Parliament finally passed the so-called “Stop Soros” bills, a legislative package which put pressure on the operation of humanitarian non-profits and effectively criminalised the provision of legal assistance to asylum seekers.
Quite how this policy has helped root out residual communist fraternities is obscure. Perhaps László Kövér, once Vice-President of the Hungarian communist party’s student wing and today the Fidesz-installed Parliamentary Speaker, could explain this. Or, one might ask Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has a higher share of former communist party members among its MPs than does any other grouping in the parliament.
In Hungary, at least, the reference to “residual communist networks” constitutes a barely coded anti-semitic trope, historically derived from rhetorical allusions to “Jewish Bolshevism”.
Procedural liberalism in oblivion
While some of the thinkers’ sympathy for Orbánism is due to a knowledge gap, more important may be what these writers choose not to see.
According to V-dem, the most rigorous project tracking democracy standards globally, Hungary has become the EU’s first non-democratic country. Already a decade has elapsed since the last parliamentary elections that were classified by OECD’s observers as both “free” and “fair”. Since late 2016, not only state broadcasters but also much of the private media market has circulated propaganda, directed by the Prime Minister’s closest associates. Much of the nominally independent civil service has been captured and the Constitutional Court packed with loyalists.
These are the kinds of realities Orbán’s fans skip over. Our four thinkers belong to the loosely defined grouping of “post-liberal” intellectuals who favour ‘grand narratives’ over the primacy of reason in public discourse. Rebelling against the Enlightenment’s perceived spiritual aridity and excess of rationalism, they prescribe reinstatement of Christendom as a medicinal tonic to cure the social ills of today’s culturally fractured West.