János Kornai’s encounter with István Széchenyi (2)

I’m gratified that there are so many admirers of István Széchenyi among the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. So, I will gladly continue with my summary of János Kornai’s lecture on Széchenyi. I made sure that there would be plenty of Széchenyi quotations. After all, we are only too familiar with the economic policies of the Orbán government. One doesn’t have to dwell on them. I think it will be much more useful to read what Széchenyi had to say about economic development almost two hundred years ago. The comparison between his ideas and the current government’s policies should be self-evident.

 

István Széchenyi’s birthplace, Palais Wilczek, Vienna (1737)

Although economists talk a lot about labor, capital, and investment one mustn’t forget that behind all these are the interests, motivations, hopes, and expectations of people. Széchenyi, who was a genius, instinctively realized what today’s economists express in mathematical formulas. Here are a couple of important quotations for you in bilingual format:

* * * 

Amely gazdaságbéli tárgy hasznot hajt, annak előbb-utóbb sikere lészen; amely pedig hasznot nem hajt, annak előbb-utóbb bizonyosan vége szakad. Nincs is senki, akinek tehetségében s hatalmában lenne oly tárgyat hátráltatni, mely kinek-kinek hasznot hajt; s viszont olyat előmozdítani, mely kinek-kinek kárt hoz… Lovakrul, 18. oldal (1828)

. . . én sem tapsolok annak, hogy az emberi cselekedeteknek leghathatósabb indító oka a nyereség; de a dolog úgy lévén, ki tehet arrul! És nincs-e nekem igazam, hogy minekutána az emberek természetét meg nem változtathatom; a legerősebb rugó által akarom a közjót előmozdítani. A nyereség keresés az emberben már jókor felébred s szintén az életnek legutolsó szempillantatjáig megmarad… Lovakrul, 19. oldal (1828)

“Whatever economic enterprise is profitable will be successful sooner or later; the one that is not will surely come to an end. There is no one who would have the talent or power to hinder such an enterprise that brings profit or promote one that causes harm to individuals.

“I don’t applaud either that the most effective motive of human activities is profit, but that it is the case is a fact of life. And aren’t I right that, being unable to change the nature of man, I want to use his strongest motivation for the promotion of the common good? Seeking profit is awakened in man early and it remains with him practically to the last seconds of life.” On horses (1828)

 * * *

Széchenyi would be mightily surprised if he heard the current political leaders of the country talk about businessmen as speculators or raptor-like capitalists.

Or here is another Széchenyi quotation Orbán should take to heart. It is about “trust.” It is a well known fact that investors are shying away from Hungary because they have lost trust in the country’s government.

* * * 

S nehány csalárd ember az egész ország becsületét veszedelembe hozta. Mennyi idő kell most majd ezen csorba kidörzsölésére! A becsületes cselekvő mód haszna legtávulabb időkre hat, egyes személyekre is jól sül el, s hát még nemzetekre, melyek élete oly hosszú. De ha maga a becsület nem átkozna is a furcsaságot, a fortélykodást, a csalást, az ész se hagyja helyben… Hitel, 139. oldal (1830)

And a few deceitful men risked the trustworthiness of the whole country. It will take a long time to repair the damage! The benefit of honest conduct will have a lasting effect even on the fortune of individuals but especially on the future of nations whose life is long. But even if honor didn’t condemn deviance, trickery, and deceit, reason wouldn’t tolerate them.” Credit (1830)

Or:

* * * 

...sokszor az nyer bizodalmat, ki nem érdemli, s így nem ritkán a bitorlott reputatio emeli legbüszkébben nagy, de üres fejét. Világ, 1831, 268. oldal (1831)

“Often  an unworthy individual gains the confidence of others and therefore not rarely does it happen that usurping reputation raises most haughtily its big but empty head.” Light (1831)

 * * *

It would be interesting to hear Széchenyi’s opinion about the marathon sessions of the Hungarian parliament when he himself was so critical about thoughtlessly formulated laws.

* * * 

A legnagyobb hiba hozni egy törvényt s visszavonhatatlanul szentesíteni – mielőtt az egész kompendiumot praktikusan jónak nem találják. Ezt a törvényt egy esztendőre hozzuk, próbaképpen – mindig alkalmat ad a törvényhozó testületnek méltósággal kicsusszanhatni. – A mostani szokás szerint – következetlenségeknek teszi ki magát az ember! Napló, 724. oldal (1832. október 15)

“It is the greatest mistake to enact and irrevocably sanction a law before proof for the compilation can be found in practical terms.  We are enacting this law for one year as an experiment. Thus we are giving the lawmakers an opportunity to retreat with dignity if necessary. As the custom is now, one exposes oneself to inconsistencies.” Diary (1832)

* * * 

Viktor Orbán made it clear that the changes must be revolutionary and immediate. No time to think anything over or discuss anything with different interest groups or the opposition. We are only too aware of the consequences. Chaos and confusion.

Széchenyi was a man who strongly believed in “gradual progress.”

* * * 

Anglia fokozatos kifejlődése révén tökéletes… Hogyan áll Magyarország, ahol annyi minden hátramaradt. Meg kell vizsgálni és össze kell hasonlítani a kettő mechanikáját és fokozatos kifejlődését – hogy Angliából a jót mindjárt befogadhassuk – nem pedig véres válság árán. Napló, 721. oldal (1832. október 23)

England due to its gradual development is perfect. . . . Where is Hungary where so many things remained behind? We must study and compare the mechanics and gradual development of the two in order to immediately adopt the good from England. Not at the price of a bloody confrontation. Diary (1832)

* * * 

Széchenyi was ready to imitate and imitate gladly.

* * * 

…Hunniát még eddig isméretlen fényre magasítandja –ha tanácskozásink közt több lesz a philosophia, mint a rabulismus, több a praxis, mint a theoria; képviselőink közt több a nemesen gondolkozó, mint a privilegiált ember, több a hazafi, mint a kormányfi vagy népfi… Világ, 281. oldal (1831) 

Hunnia would be elevated to hitherto unknown glory if among our debates there would be more philosophy than quibbling, more practice than theory; among our representatives more noble thinkers than privileged men, more patriots than government officials and ignorami. Light  (1831)

* * * 

And naturally, one of the really significant differences between Lajos Kossuth and István Széchenyi was their different views on the country’s independence. Széchenyi didn’t think that an independent Hungary was a viable entity for at least two reasons. First, Hungarian nationals were a minority within Hungary’s historical borders at the time of national awakening in the region. Second, Hungary didn’t have the economic background to make it in the modern world apart from the more developed provinces of the Habsburg Empire.

The Széchenyi estate, Nagycenk

So, we can be fairly certain that István Széchenyi today would be a wholehearted supporter of the European Union.

The Orbán regime picked the wrong historical figure to place on its national pedestal. He would be the first one to refuse to lend his name to the harebrained ideas of György Matolcsy. As I mentioned earlier, conservative governments usually view Széchenyi as a historical model but, let’s face it, the Orbán regime is anything but conservative. Everything with this government seems to be out of kilter.

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Wondercat
Guest

@Prof Balogh: Thank you. Did you describe his Hungarian as old-fashioned? I suppose it is. It must be. But is it not also a pleasure to speak aloud, to hear, to drink in?

Pete H.
Guest

I did know much about him, but after your two posts I am starting to admire him. Thanks for the mini-series.

Guest

London Calling!
Yes he certainly was a visionary.
There’s such a stark contrast between what he advocates and what Orban practices.
To then use him as an exemplar for the Orban regime shows astonishing ignorance and hypocrisy.
How can the populace not see it? How can he not see the obvious conflicts?
Not the sharpest knife in the drawer!
A very illuminating entry Eva. Thank you.
Yes – a true genius. I have put Nagycenk on my tourist trail list!
Regards
Charlie

Kirsten
Guest

But which ideas of Szechenyi are then so attractive to Fidesz etc. that they had to re-name Roosevelt ter to Szechenyi ter? Certainly there are some people who know his texts, or not…? (Admittedly I also wondered how Fidesz fits into the Bibo kollegium.)

Member

@Kirsten “ideas of Szechenyi are then so attractive to Fidesz etc. that they had to re-name Roosevelt ter to Szechenyi ter”
Oh, no. It’s not that Szechenyi is so attractive to them. Considering their political performance I don’t think they have any idols besides Mammon.
It is partly anti-American sentiment. They didn’t want major squares to be named after the statesmen of the “evil empire”. The other reason is basically the “let’s change some shit because we can”. Putting it a bit more decently, to assert power. This is a “revolution” after all, so let’s make it look like one.
These guys are a lot simpler than you think.

petofi
Guest

@ Mutt: “..it is not that Szechenyi is so attractive to them..”
I beg to differ. They love the resonance of the name; it’s historical fame, not what it stands for.
Standard practice for Fidesz to appropriate a cult symbol or figure; empty it of its original meaning; and then to fill up the ‘vessel’ with a meaning of their own.

LwiiH
Guest

@ CharlieH, the manor house is very nicely done up and the museum is well worth the visit. If you happen to go note his emphasis on food production and the improvement in productivity that happened shortly afterward. Coincidence? I think not.
OT, the external shock that everyone was waiting for may have just happened in the Netherlands. With the HUF floating yesterday between 298 and just under 300, currently sitting @ 298.711561497 with OV unlikely to get anything from Brussels today given his wonderful press conference yesterday in which he claimed that he doesn’t know why negotiations haven’t started and blamed the IMF and the EU for his problems… So lets put this into perspective. This is one of the most important things he’s got to deal with and 5 months after the initial talks broke up he still doesn’t know what he needs to do to get the talks restarted…. after all this trips to Washington he still has no idea what the EU and IMF want.

Wondercat
Guest

OT: NEW YORK TIMES opinion piece today on recent developments in Hungary, and on the jousting between Brussels and Budapest.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/24/opinion/bruni-in-hungary-the-usual-scapegoats.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212_20120424
We are described as a nation with a tropism toward beer and a talent for brooding. Of course, not being Hungarian, Bruni has got THAT all wrong.

Odin's Lost eye
Guest
Professor I do not know how to tackle this one. Sometimes change has to be revolutionary, especially where it is correcting a goof (or set of goofs) which have been allowed to ‘grow up’ over a period of years and distort the original intentions of the system. As an example I will use a taxation/levy system at onetime put into place in the U.K. Here successful companies were taxed and the monies (or part of them) were given to failing companies in a particular section of industry. As a result the failing outfits ‘went to the wall’ (later than they should have) and the successful ones also atrophied because they were unable to afford to ‘recapitalise’ and modernise etc. I think that Mr Obarma in the U.S. is desperately trying to reorganise its Income Tax situation. This at the moment the Big Bosses pay a smaller percentage of their income (in tax) than their employees pay. Professor you remark that ** “Széchenyi would be mightily surprised if he heard the current political leaders of the country talk about businessmen as speculators or raptor-like capitalists” **. In some ways Orban is correct about “raptor like” but the previous governments (including his… Read more »
Guest
London Calling! Odin’s observations are interesting indeed. Both Odin and Széchenyi glance the topic: One of the fascinating facets of the Hungarian psyche – and to an Englishman it is something very difficult to come to terms with when it happens to him! – is the blatant ability to ‘change the truth’ – or alter ‘reality’. And then deal with the situation in the ‘new reality’. You do it with such brass neck! – Or in Odin’s idiom – “You have so much bark on you”! This is in no way intended as an insult – in England this would be done too – but with much more subtlety. Orban does it with Europe blatantly. And even more blatantly with his own people. In the film the witness the Dike Keeper was absolved of his sins by simply changing the truth – and wiping the slate clean. I know it was an allegory – but it rings true as what occurred under communism. “The truth is what we say it is”. More examples? Well the rewriting of Széchenyi’s history – by depicting him as being murdered in the film is a travesty. It just devalues the rest of the film;… Read more »
Paul
Guest

OT – very good in-depth article on the IMF situation on the Contrarian Hungarian blog – http://thecontrarianhungarian.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/hungary-imf-talks-central-bank-law-check/#more-2544
And the Forint is continuing its gentle fade of the last week or two…

Eva Balogh
Guest

Off topic but I find it so hilarious that I must share it with others.
We all know that Jobbik has rather peculiar views about homosexuality in general and wants to eradicate it from society altogether. Never mind that it has always existed and most likely will exist in the future.
The latest is that a certain Gábor Ferenczy (Jobbik MP) wants to take out György Faludy, a poet, from the basic curriculum because he was “a communist turned supporter of SZDSZ who openly declared his bi-sexuality.” Instead of Faludi Ferenczy suggested the inclusion of Cécile Tormay, an anti-Semitic writer popular between the two world wars.
The only problem is that Mr. Ferenczy didn’t even bother to find out something about Ms. Tormay. She was a well known lesbian.
I am still laughing my head off. More about it in Népszabadság (http://nol.hu/belfold/a_jobbik_leszbikusra_cserelne_a_biszexualist_az_alaptantervben#)

Paul
Guest

An anti-Semitic lesbian? That must be a very small subset of humanity!

petofi
Guest

@Paul…”…a very small subset of humanity..”
If that small subset displays moron-ism, fascism, and egotism….well, those proliferate in the fertile ground of Hungary.

Member

petofi: “Standard practice for Fidesz to appropriate a cult symbol or figure; empty it of its original meaning; and then to fill up the ‘vessel’ with a meaning of their own.”
I bet you anything, if there would be a “flash survey” conducted amongst the average Fidesz and Jobbik fans (for example right at the Peace March) 80% of them would not be able to name more than two, max three things Szechenyi has done for Hungary.

petofi
Guest

@ Odin’s Lost Eye
Ahh, the balm of Shakespeare’s words do soften an aging, withering heart.
Problem is, the moron’s don’t care about being discovered.
The True Believers will not think otherwise until the whole
house of cards has fallen, and they’ll just be shaking their heads then.
Hungarians are always in the shit because they’re, for the most part, all Divas enacting a leading part for which God has chosen them….ask Viktor.

Eva Balogh
Guest

Paul: “An anti-Semitic lesbian? That must be a very small subset of humanity!”
And the funniest thing is that this moron is a Hungarian teacher.

Kirsten
Guest

Charlie, I can never really decide whether this cheating is done consciously or unconsciously. I read here that it is likely that most people may not really know why Szechenyi is considered a great Hungarian. Until now I thought that the deeply felt “Hungarianness” has some backing in the ideas of the national heros. After all, given the importance of national pride, there should be something presentable to those who are curious to learn what makes people so anxious about their nation. But now I would not rule out that it is just an empty box and then the creation of reality aka cheating is so natural that those suffering from “Hungarianness” may not be aware of it.

petofi
Guest

@Kirsten
Cheating is so ingrained because of a giant inferiority complex most Hungarians suffer from. This results in a curious inversion. Have you ever suffered an insult from a Hungarian?
After some time, he turns the situation on its head–HE imagines that he’s been served up an affront and bears a grudge against you! I’ve seen it time and again.

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