“Democratic humbug”: A critique of Hungarian “political scientists”

Today I look at a highly charged criticism of Hungarian "political scientists" by József Debreczeni, one of my favorite political writers. For months I hadn't seen or heared of him and I felt deprived. It was only a week ago that he showed up again on "A tét" (The Stake) on ATV. It turned out that he was busy writing a book on Viktor Orbán. A second one. The first came out in 2002, shortly after Orbán lost the elections. The first book wasn't uncritical, but since then Debreczeni's opinion of Orbán has changed so radically that he obviously felt that a "revised edition" was in order.

Debreczeni has always struck me as a very moderate gentleman, and therefore I was somewhat startled when I saw the title of the article in the original. For this post I intentionally mistranslated the title as democratic "humbug" in place of the original "horse shit." Somehow I didn't think that the original title would look too good on The New York Times list of recent articles on Hungary! But from the original choice of words one can sense Debreczeni's utter frustration at reading and listening to "these young so-called political scientists who keep repeating the empty phrases of their profession."

I myself have often complained bitterly about the Hungarian version of political scientists. "Political science" in English means "a social science concerned chiefly with the description and analysis of political and especially governmental institutions and processes." A political scientist usually teaches at a university and writes academically vetted articles and books. American political scientists don't show up every second day on television or in the newspapers. By contrast, the garden-variety Hungarian political scientist is in fact nothing more than a political commentator.

Hungarian political scientists are often very young, almost straight out of college. Debreczeni calls them "the plastic political scientists" who try to dissect politicians' moves from a totally utilitarian point of view. No value judgment enters their conscience. As Debreczeni says, if these guys had been around at the time of World War II they would have measured Hitler and Churchill by the same measuring stick. They don't care a whit about morals, honesty, decency. They claim that if a strategy works, it is the correct strategy.

Debreczeni divides these so-called political scientists into two camps. There are institutions that are financed by parties. Századvég (Fin de siècle) and Nézőpont (Point of view) by Fidesz; Progresszív and Republikon by MSZP and SZDSZ respectively. Then there are the so-called "independent" ones: Vision Consulting, Political Capital, and Méltányosság (Equity). These three are not really independent either because they live off the marketplace, i.e. they sell their wares to parties in need of political advice. The "independents" are the tightrope walkers, the balancing acts. If they say something less than complimentary about Viktor Orbán, let's say, that he is a populist, then immediately they have to say the same about Ferenc Gyurcsány. If Orbán is an authoritarian type of politician, the "Führer"-type (vezér in Hungarian), then Gyurcsány must be the same.

These are the "boys" who, according to Debreczeni, are neither fish nor fowl. What these young people don't want to recognize is that Hungary fell victim to "political fundamentalism." I myself wrote about Orbán's penchant for using religious terms for political ends. American commentators have talked quite a bit about political fundamentalism in the Bush White House. The chief trait of political fundamentalism, just like its religious variety, is an ideology that thrives on simplification. Debreczeni claims that the appearence of this political fundamentalism is responsible for the dramatic changes that have taken place on the Hungarian political spectrum. Debreczeni believes that if these "political scientists" would begin to take this political fundamentalism seriously, their whole "plastic see-saw" between the two poles would collapse.

Debreczeni claims that the appearance of Jobbik came in handy to these "plastic political scientists." Suddenly they didn't have to worry about the balancing act between right and left. They could easily label Jobbik as extreme right and so suddenly Orbán and Fidesz became "the moderate force." But, Debreczeni continues, there is a bit of a problem with this interpretation because if Orbán and Fidesz are moderates then why doesn't the party chief condemn Jobbik? According to Debreczeni such a condemnation is unimaginable. It would be too much to ask the tiger to denounce the predatory nature of the jackal! Pretty strong words, but I am inclined to sympathize with Debreczeni's position.

But then came the European parliamentary elections where the extreme right received 15% of the votes. According to the logic of these youngsters Jobbik's results at a democratic election made the party legitimate, nay, democratic. Debreczeni adds in parentheses that following the same logic one must consider Hitler a democrat. At first blush I really thought that Debreczeni was exaggerating here. Surely, no "political scientist" could say such a stupid thing. But this morning I heard the same assinine comment from one of these people in the new "Ma reggel." Jobbik is a democratic party, said János Betlen; even the argument that Jobbik doesn't recognize the Hungarian Constitution didn't seem to shake his confidence in this idiocy.

According to Debreczeni, SZDSZ's institute, Republikon, came up with the following wise observation: Jobbik is "anti-liberal in the extreme, questions our constitutional arrangement and the market economy, yet it is a democratic party." How is that possible, Debreczeni asks and we can ask with him. "What kind of expertise is necessary to arrive at such absurd results?" Apparently "the boys of Republikon" were split on the issue into two extreme groups. One claimed that Jobbik was a democratic party while the other contended that it was a fascist party. So they had to come to some kind of consensus. "Jobbik doesn't question the existence of multi-party democracy … although at the same time … it is sharply against the existing constitutional arrangement." Again, Debreczeni doesn't understand the logic of it. (How could he, since it is utter nonsense?)

But that is nothing. The youngsters at Republikon–and keep in mind that this is allegedly a liberal think tank–continue: "Jobbik doesn't dispute majority rule based on free election" but "they would like to revive an electoral system that doesn't guarantee universal suffrage." At this point Debreczeni can only say: "This boggles the mind!" That is bad enough, but the young geniuses of Republikon go on and list all those characteristics of Jobbik that clearly prove that Jobbik cannot be considered a democratic party. For example, they have made no secret of their goals: if they form a government they will introduce censorship and will close two of their least favorite television stations and raze their buildings to the ground. "Jobbik is an illiberal party that wants to establish an authoritarian democracy … and it would narrow the guaranteed rights introduced at the time of the change of regime."

So we have a new concept: illiberal demoracy. What kind of democracy is it that limits people's political rights, that limits the freedom of speech or assembly? "Democracy is either liberal or it is no democracy," says Debreczeni. Republikon's study of Jobbik includes this sentence: Jobbik "in place of destructive neo-liberalism wants to introduce a value system based on Christian teachings." For Jobbik "national identity and Christianity cannot be separated." That is political fundamentalism. Again, Debreczeni emphasizes that democracy must be secular because otherwise it is not democracy. Political fundamentalism presupposes a monolithic structure in which anyone who opposes the religiously ordained political system is an enemy representing Evil itself. That person cannot really participate in politics because his activities are harmful to the people. Here we are talking about "a moral life-and-death struggle." In this world view people expect moral guidance from the politician. Debreczeni thinks that this description fits Orbán perfectly. "Who doesn't recognize Viktor Orbán in this portrait? Only those who don't want to. For example, Republikon and all the other institutes. They studied Jobbik scientifically and found it to be a democratic party."

The final straw for Debreczeni was this quotation:  "In the opinion of the authors of the present study no one can be called antidemocratic in a democratic regime simply on the basis of rhetoric." Debreczeni's comment: "Boys! You can eat your science!"

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Thrasymachus
Guest

(1) János Betlen, the Hungarian TV personality, who you call a berk for calling Jobbik a democratic party (whither those strict prohibitions on ad hominems now Dr B?) is…
(a) NOT a political scientist. Just a journalist.
(b) NO friend of Jobbik to be sure! The personal animus between himself and Gábor Vona, the Jobbik President, being well known to absolutely everybody.
(2) However, I find myself personally in total agreement with Debreczeni and yourself regarding, “these young so-called political scientists who keep repeating the empty phrases of their profession.” The empty phrase whose constant repetition particularly springs to mind being all the “humbug” about the economic precedent of depression and the politics of the 1930s. What absolute twaddle!
Good to see you coming to your senses.

Sandor
Guest

God forbid that such a thing should happen to you. Right?
Couldn’t it be that you may have been corrupted by all the arduous reading you have done here? Be careful!

Thrasymachus
Guest

Corrupted? Didn’t you know that all of us in the Hungarian extreme/ultra/far right are incorruptible?
Because there’s simply no more money left to pinch!

Erik the Reader
Guest

Debreczeni is a big lier linked closely to MSZP! So you can’t regard him as unbiased ‘political writer’. He just serves the MSZP interests as a ‘pártkatona’ (party soldier) What about the socialist corruption he is part of? He is just a parody of himself who regards the lier Gyurcsány as the best stateman Hungary has ever had, yet he sees Orbán as Horthy , according to him against Orbán any methods are legal: lies, frameups, untrue negative campaigns.
Debreczeni is the humbug in person: not a trace of objectivity in him!

Odin's lost eye
Guest
From what I have read, seen and experienced is that Jobbik is simply a bunch of thugs bound together into what appears to be a political party. From its pronouncements it is wants to get into power, but to do this it needs to use the processes of democracy. There is a U.K. politician, now a retired MP, Mr Tony Benn, (whose political beliefs I do not like), but who was never the less to my mind is a great parliamentarian. He said that “Only the people have power which they lend for a time to politicians and then they take it back”. I think this is the fundamental point about democracy. Only the people have power! The job of a political scientist is to study the doings and pronouncements of politicians and point out the consequences. The ‘political scientists’ of Hungary are too dependant on support from their political masters to be little more than political commentators and, in reality, are just ‘hack journalists’ and not very good ones ones at that,. I see in Jobbic, Fidesz and to some parts of MZSP a common theme which is to get the people to give them this power and then… Read more »
Thrasymachus
Guest

@Odin’s lost eye
“From what I have read, seen and experienced is that Jobbik is simply a bunch of thugs bound together into what appears to be a political party.”

Pistefka
Guest

Thrasymachus writes:
“The empty phrase whose constant repetition particularly springs to mind being all the “humbug” about the economic precedent of depression and the politics of the 1930s.”
So are you saying that Jobbik is an entirely new phenomenon and not at least partly a rehash of 1930s far right ideology? If so, what is the purpose of all the Fascist symbolism: uniformed “guardsmen”, irredentist maps, turuls and so on? And the promises to bring back the “good old” gendarmerie to solve the “gypsy question”?
Where did anyone get the idea of drawing parallels with the thirties?

Thrasymachus
Guest

Reminiscence is not the same thing as equivalence. It’s the historical correlative of saying that the Germans of the 1930s were rehashing events of 1850. Sounds completely absurd doesn’t it? As if history can go backwards.
Addressing the symbols, and them alone, is not an aid to understanding. It is solely an aid to justifying the politically motivated exclusion of democratic sentiments that are unplatable but are neveretheless there and must be faced.

Thrasymachus
Guest
Sorry Pistefka, my last answer might have seemed evasive. I did not mean it to be. To answer your question directly: yes, it is an entirely new phenomenon. What is the alternative? We must maintain that political movements are light switches that can just click on at times of economic unrest. Nonsense. How many recessions have there been since the 30s that did not have this result? These things are decades in the making. In our case the decades in question are, obviously, 1989-2009; and not, fatuously, 1919-39. But those that would make this comparison are not interested in little details like this. They are either engaged in the kind of thoughtless political shorthand, condemned by Debrecezni, because they are unable or unwilling to think any deeper. Or, as in Dr Balogh’s case their intention is more sinister. Simply, the essential blame for the Jobbik of today are the politicians of 1919-1939 and you get the intended two-birds-with-one-stone result of handing the politicians of 1989-2009 a free pass while giving yourself a tidy justification for the repression of Nationalist sentiment. If I DID subscribe to this scenario, what would I say? Well, what historians say today: that though the Nazi… Read more »
Sandor
Guest
To Thrasymachus: “get the intended two-birds-with-one-stone result of handing the politicians of 1989-2009 a free pass while giving yourself a tidy justification for the repression of Nationalist sentiment.” Well, although these narrow intentions were not contemplated, actually yes, the politicians of ’89 do deserve a passing grade, considering that they had to scramble to get a system going out of nothing and they did do a pretty good job considering the circumstances. Second, there is no need for “tidy justification” to condemn Nationalism, because it is contemptible as it is: the cheaper opiate of the people. Unlike with religion, they have to make no effort whatsoever to comply, all they have to do is howl. “what historians say today: that though the Nazi movement of the 30s was abhorrent, it nevertheless found its origins in the injustices suffered by the German people after WWI.” This is the revealing bit that shows how redolent of ignorance you are. No self-respecting historian would say that Germany suffered “injustices.” They first started a world war, then fought on the soil of other countries, while their own got away with much less damage, then they admitted defeat and agreed to pay reparations, then they… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest

Mr Thrasymachus I am merely an observer of the facts.
I have two questions for you.
The first is ‘what is the difference between the Hungarian guard and the Sturm Abteilung?’
The second question is ‘What is your solution of the Roma question?’
I would suggest my answers are nearer the real truth than yours.
My answer to the first question is that the uniforms are different colours. The Guard wear black, the Sturm Abteilung wore brown –which incidentally were originally made for the Imperial German Army to wear when they went to conquer Africa- Secondly the Hungarian guard do not (yet) have a martyr like ‘Horst Wessel’. A rather nasty little toad! Thirdly the Sturm Abteilung was formed in 1921 and the Hungarian guard formed in 2007
My answer to my second question is that it probably involves place with a gate, over which there are the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (in Hungarian) it also has several ‘krema’.
If I am correct you can send a golden dog biscuit to your self.

Thrasymachus
Guest

First: the small matter of the absence of violence. (I know, an insignificant mere detail; but boy-oh-boy what a shame those gypsy assassins were caught, eh? Until then you could happily claim the MG were responsible couldn’t you? What can you do instead… I know call them the SA!)
Second: Roma “question”? You disgusting racist: you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself you utter hypocrite.

Pistefka
Guest
So if Jobbik and the Magyar Garda are indeed completely new groups, which aim to address problems which have apparently arisen in the last 20 years, then why do they borrow the antagonistic symbolism of the 1930s? For a group claiming to offer an original “third way”, surely it would be better to come up with some more original symbols. And if the answer is that its about preserving and taking pride in heritage, why not revive some national symbols which haven’t been so tarnished by the abuses of the thirties? Surely there are plenty to choose from. Is the fascist imagery just a ploy to wind up “the socialists” more? Or is it the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” idea? Or is this kind of politics something like Historical re-enactment, where enthusiasts dress up in suits of armour or Napoleonic uniforms and have mock battles at the weekend? Or make rousing speeches…on internet fora. I do agree though that history doesn’t repeat itself – this decade is very different from the twenties or thirties, as are the generations which co-exist in it. Some kind of parallels can be drawn, but it intellectualy lazy to take them too far.… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest

Mr Thrasymachus
My second question was “‘What is YOUR solution of the Roma question?’. My answer is what I think YOU and YOUR friends would like to do.
My own solution is nothing like that. Where you have a group of people who are deprived then you have to address their needs and remove the causes of their deprivation. This may take a generation but it MUST be done.
There are two further differences between the Hungarian Guard and the ‘S.A.’. Firstly there is the matter opf violence. The Hungarian police stamp on it as soon as it rears its ugly head, thank God!
The other difference is that the Hungarian Guard is forbidden by the Hungarian courts and by International treaty.

yousuf gabriel
Guest
LET THE SCIENTIST BE FREE FROM POLITICAL COMPULSION Allama Muhammad Yousuf Gabriel Sir, The scientist is an honest fellow. Honest and Sincere. Sincere and sympathetic and deserving the heart-felt gratitude of entire mankind for risking his health and life in his endeavour to render atomic energy safe for utility. His views might be erroneous. His hopes might prove false. Yet his right to gratitude could not be denied him. This case of atomic energy has involved him in a situation most perilous and has thrown on him a responsibility that is heavier than death itself. The consequences of his endeavour in the field of atomic energy might place him in a situation so unpleasant, so irksome, and even abominable as may hardly show a precedent in history. He is not all praises for atomic energy. We know. In the heart of hearts he seems to be well aware of the extreme precariousness of this situation. But he is in a fix. He finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. His inner urge to render atomic energy safe for use is irresistible. But more than that he has at present been rendered into a mere servile instrument in the hands… Read more »
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