Higher education and professional schools in Hungary

This time NWONWO’s comments inspired me to write on the topic of higher education and within that the European and thus the Hungarian system of entering medical and law schools right after high school. NWONWO used to believe, and I quote, "that Orban and FIDESZ were just being cynical about how they manipulated these terms and deliberately misconstrued how democratic institutions operate. I am not sure anymore. When one really listens to people like Orban or Kover or Mikola, it strikes me that they neither understand how representative democracies operate nor have any desire to understand them." To tell you the truth I’m not sure either. Or, to be more precise, there are days when I think that this is nothing else but manipulation of the ignorant masses while there are days when I am sure that they don’t have a clue about what democracy is all about. After all, between 1998 and 2002 there were many instances when they blithely ignored democratic rules and conducted the affairs of parliament in a most undemocratic manner.

I don’t know whether any of you remember an old story told by László Kéri, the political scientist who was often invited by the "boys" as a guest lecturer at the by now famous dormitory where Fidesz was born. There were long discussions after the lectures. After one of these evenings, the exasperated Kéri said: "Sorry, I am leaving now and will not return. You are Bolsheviks." What he meant, of course, was that the group of students who later formed Fidesz was intolerant towards those who thought differently. Their zeal and ruthlessness reminded him of the Lenin-led Bolsheviks.

Now comes the question whether this attitude stems from ignorance or from some undemocratic impulse. Let’s face it, democratic thinking is something that must be learned. In American schools, even on the elementary level, students are encouraged to run for office. There is competition: one wins, the other loses. Democracy in action. The Fidesz leadership has not gone through a socialization of this sort. Their formative years coincided with the last fifteen years of the one-party dictatorship. Orbán was twenty-seven years old in 1990. Kövér was even older. Mikola? He lived his whole life during the dictatorship. (He was born in 1947.)

But there is another aspect of the question that must be examined. Orbán occasionally shows a lack of knowledge in areas that we consider part and parcel of a "liberal arts education." Here is this "social contract" stunt. Does anyone thinks that if Orbán were asked what Hobbes or Rousseau meant by the social contract he would be able to give a coherent answer? I doubt it. And that leads me to questioning the European practice of going to law and medical schools straight out of high school. In Canada and the United States one must have a bachelor’s degree before entering a professional school like medicine or law. I think that although it might add an extra three or four years to the future lawyer’s or doctor’s education this system provides better doctors and better lawyers. They have a degree in something else. It can be literature, political science, history, natural or exact sciences. But it gives them a firmer grounding on a higher level in the knowledge of the world. Perhaps if Orbán and Kövér (law school degree straight out of high school) or Mikola (medical school straight out of high school) had a broader understanding of the arts and sciences they would have a different outlook on life and politics. This, of course, may be just a pollyanna former educator speaking.

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Eva- I have no idea if the method of University education contributes to Orban and circle’s general lack of understanding of democracy (I doubt it). I think your story about Keri, however, speaks volumes. As an aside, I do believe, for worse, that Parlamentary democracies do force parties in to a greater ideological rigidity than one would ideally like to see, as the survival of the Government often requires a little “Democratic Leninism”. We are witnessing now within the MSZP that ideological splits within the Party have had a very destructive impact on the PM carrying out his programme. In the UK, Blair’s single greatest accomplishment was to be able to break the orthodoxy of his party and to rule successfully for 10 years despite there being significant ideological difference within the Labour Party. As for your main point on the relative merits of the U.S. and Hungarian “Germanic” educational systems, I think there is no doubt that the U.S. system which requires-for the most part-students to receive a general education at University level prior to taking on a career speciality is preferable. I see that within my own family and the breadth of topics that my wife and I… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
I have never been to University. I have met many who have; I lived in a place where there were more PHDs (or D Phils) per square meter than anywhere else. There were also more idiots and ‘nutters’ than you could shake a stick at in a long day. The problem, at times, was telling t’other from which. Where I was trained we were subject to strict discipline (but not so strict that it stifled initiative). We spent much of our time learning our trade but we also had to listen to music, plays on the radio, read history and do handicrafts and from our point of view art in the form of being able to sketch what we had seen from memory. It was actually the Life classes which we enjoyed the most. So they turned us out as ‘almost gentlemen’. I believe that part of the problem with the eastern (Old Communist) universities dates back to the first few ‘five year plans’ (The late and unlamented Joe Stalin and Co). The pressure was on the universities to turn our technocrats needed in quantity and at speed. To this end the ‘graces’ were ignored, students were stuffed with the… Read more »