On Sunday, the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán clinched a landslide victory in his fourth consecutive election; Fidesz, his party, maintained its control of two-thirds of Hungary’s parliament. As David Harsanyi writes, in recent years Orbán has been presented as the “bugbear of the American left, and [the] false savior of national conservatives.” But in painting Orbán as either a ruthless authoritarian or the West’s last best hope, Harsanyi argues, both the left and right fail to account for the broadly illiberal standards of modern Europe. He goes on to note that while commentators on the left vastly overstate their case when, for example, comparing Hungary to North Korea, many on the right fail to understand or acknowledge Hungary’s shortcomings—particularly as they relate to the country’s demographic and economic challenges.
There is the United States, where courts (for now) often protect ideals of liberalism and democracy embedded in the U.S. Constitution, and then there is Western Europe, where liberal ideals, self-determination, and minority rights are protected only to varying degrees, as convenience and fashion dictate. Right now, for example, Germany is considering prosecuting people who show support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Unneutral treatment of speech may not bother progressives, or they may even advocate it, but it is not a “liberal” position.
The truth is, Hungary is illiberal within the normal illiberal standards of modern Europe. And that’s bad enough. Hungary is singled out for ridicule mainly because it declines to share the cultural values of the European Union or the progressive left, especially pertaining to social policies and to the flow of Middle Eastern migrants into the European Union. These positions, in the parlance of modern debate, are “anti-democratic.”
Hungary is a beautiful country. People aren’t suffering. An average household in Hungary makes around $10,000 less than average Mississippians, the poorest group in the United States. The average Hungarian is far less religious than the average American. The replacement birthrate in the United States is at historic lows, and yet still higher than the rate in Hungary.
Hungary isn’t North Korea or Russia. Neither is it a place Americans should aspire to emulate.