John Lukacs on Paks

John Lukacs, the internationally renowned historian, was born in Budapest in 1924 but left Hungary at the age of 22 in 1946 when he foresaw that the Soviets would most likely force Hungary into a Soviet dominated eastern bloc of communist countries. A year later he joined the faculty of Chestnut Hill College where he spent forty-seven years until his retirement in 1994.

It is not easy to write a short introduction to somebody like John Lukacs who has in the last sixty years profoundly influenced historical scholarship on such varied topics as the history of the United States in the twentieth century, history and historiography, Adolf Hitler, George F. Kennan, Winston Churchill, and World War II, just to mention a few themes of his more than thirty books that appeared between 1953 and 2013. The scope of his scholarly interest is so wide that I can’t possibly do justice to it here. I’m sure that one day books will be written about him and his work. As it is, he has already been the subject of several scholarly articles.

John Lukacs is a conservative. In fact, he describes himself as a reactionary in the sense that he favors a return to earlier times. He dislikes mass culture and what goes with it. Lukacs’s bête noire is populism, which he considers to be the greatest threat to civilization; as he said, it gave rise to both national socialism and communism. A large portion of his scholarly works centers on Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. In fact, he wrote a whole book on their struggle, The Duel: 10 May-31 July 1940: The Eighty-Day Struggle between Churchill and Hitler. But he also wrote separate volumes on these two men.

As a conservative he has been a favorite of Viktor Orbán and in general of the Hungarian right. During the first Orbán administration he was awarded the Corvin Chain, a decoration that was given out by Miklós Horthy between 1930 and 1943 to people for their achievement in the fields of science, literature, and the arts. Their number was limited to 12. It was in 2001 that Viktor Orbán revived the tradition. John Lukacs was among the first twelve recipients. But then Orbán lost the election and his successors decided to let the decoration lapse. In 2009 Lukacs received an honorary doctorate from Péter Pázmány University.

"A real Catholics cannot be a nationalist"

“A real Catholic cannot be a nationalist”

Considering that Lukacs finds populism and its practitioners abhorrent, I can’t imagine that he is too keen on what has become of Viktor Orbán. I can’t believe that the radical and abrupt changes that have been introduced into the Hungarian political system in the last four years are to the conservative Lukacs’s liking. But, as he says in his open letter translated and published here, it is not his task to comment on Hungarian politics. On the other hand, again as he himself remarks in the letter, even before 1988 he found that Viktor Orbán was no friend of the West. For a man who passionately believes in the mission of Western civilization, as Lukacs does, this attitude must be worrisome.

* * *

It was almost sixty-seven years ago that I left the country of my birth. Since then the fate of my country, my nation has often touched and gripped my heart, but I never dealt with or wrote about Hungarian politics.

Today, at the age of ninety, it is still not becoming. Yet something induces me to do it. I thought about this for two long nights.

The Russian-Hungarian agreement on Paks has been haunting me.

I don’t receive Hungarian newspapers. And only rarely Hungarian periodicals. In the mornings I click on Népszabadság for a few minutes. As far as I know, many Hungarians read this paper. That’s why I’m sending my letter there. Perhaps my words will reach a few hundred readers.

The present prime minister has honored me for many years with his attention and friendship. Still, I feel it my duty to address my opinion contained in this letter to him as well.  I have known his ideological inclinations for a long time, more than twenty years. The way I see it, even before 1989 he had a certain aversion to the so-called “West,” Western Europe and England.

But now he has reached a demarcation line. I don’t agree with those who talk and speculate about the economic consequences of the agreement on Paks. Will electricity be cheaper or more expensive in ten years when this project is completed (if at all)? My dear Hungarians, we have no way of knowing this, but even if we knew it, it is unimportant. The essence of a country, its fate is not an economic statistic. The essence of a country is who we are and where we belong.

History doesn’t repeat itself. That of nations rarely and only in small measure. The character of a man changes the least.  In the future perhaps this is the most profound question for Hungarians. Not just the dearth of Hungarian self-confidence. (Although that too!) But who we are, where we belong, which way to go.

Our St. Stephen wasn’t only a saint without peers but also a great founder of a state. At the time, more than a thousand years ago, the vast Greek Orthodox Byzantium almost completely surrounded the Carpathian Mountains. If Stephen had chosen accommodation with them he would have secured enormous advantages in the short run. But he didn’t choose that road. He chose Roman Christianity, papal legate, western wife, “Europe” (although that concept did not exist yet). It was this choice that shaped the faith, the character of Hungarian Christianity over the next one thousand years.

Western powers often did nothing or very little for us. And yet when Hungarian leaders a few times chose the “East” these ventures always ended in catastrophe. In the recent past the essence and origin of the tyranny that subjugated Hungary wasn’t communism but Russian occupation. At the end of the Second World War the great Churchill, who already knew that the Russians would occupy the whole of Hungary, repeatedly told Roosevelt (unfortunately in vain) that Hungary belongs not to Eastern but to Central Europe. The Hungarian masses rejected the East in 1956 and also in 1989.

What can we expect, what kind of reward from the Great Russian Empire? Nothing. Széchenyi and Kossuth already saw that. One must acknowledge and respect the Russians just as our distant relatives, the wise Finns, do. But we don’t have a place there. Accommodations with them cannot be the centerpiece of our endeavors. We honor their achievements, their great artists. But the spirit of the Hungarian mentality, the Hungarian intellect, Hungarian art and culture is western. Not Russian, not even American. Those who speak to us—in spite of all their greatness—are not so much Tolstoy or Dostoevsky as Dante, Shakespeare, Pascal, Goethe, and Tocqueville. The West was often our cross, but we must take it up because it is also our star. We should value our Russian neighbors but we must not accommodate them or fawn upon them because close association might be a lasting burden and a detriment to the Hungarian people for a long time to come.

Since 1989 we have been responsible for what we choose, what we do, and what we think. The Hungarian character and spirit are not eastern. Pax Vobiscum! These are the last words of the old Latin mass. Go in peace! But now Pax Nobis! Peace be with us!

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Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Agreeing with much of his excellent books and also having his endorsement, that is on the back cover of a book that I recently edited, Transylvania Today: Diversity at Risk, I can say that as usual, John Lukacs has it right.

Salvation 2014
Guest

John Lukacs is a great scholar. I am going to visit him. I want to be touched by his mind.

This is crisis in old Hungary. A political meltdown is taking place. Are we going to see a rerun of the last days of WWII?

All decent conservative and liberal citizens of Hungary must unite to oust this incompetent or just criminal Fidesz regime to save what is left from the better days of Hungary.

A large part of Fidesz members can rejoin the new regime after a thorough cleansing.
Let us salvage the good ones from the Orbanian purgatory.
Self-criticism was the crazy buzz in the old times.

Ovidiu
Guest

Great letter.
However, what matters is where the Hungarians think, or rather feel, that they belong.The same deal that Orban has made recently with Tsar Putin would have meant political suicide in Poland or in Romania.Those people don’t know either where do they belong but they know for sure- and they have known it for 200 years since the birth of the modern political nations-that they do not belong to the Russian sphere.
The reaction would have been immediate, visceral, and popular.No need for letters from intellectuals to explain them such a thing.

An
Guest

@Ovidiu: The beauty of the letter is not that it explains the dangers of “belonging” to Russia, but that it expresses how a lot of Hungarians feel.

spectator
Guest

“A real Catholic cannot be a nationalist”

That’s the point, exactly.

spectator
Guest

Another, I think more significant point: there is no ideology behind Orbán’s decisions, only interest, his interest of that. Therefor – with all due respect – the letter will have absolutely zero effect, and it isn’t Mr.Lukács to blame for.
Unfortunately the addressee nearing his God-status and a voice of humans can not reach him easily, to the voice of humanists he’s already deaf long since.

Paul
Guest

OT, but an interesting article from Budapost:

http://budapost.eu/2014/01/anti-semitism-declining-but-still-at-average-european-level/

Hungarian Jews claiming that anti-Semitism is actually declining in Hungary and that it isn’t much worse than in places like the UK.

This is so very different from my personal experience as to be quite puzzling. In my experience, anti-Semitism is very widespread in Hungary, in fact it seems to be regarded as a perfectly normal ‘main stream’ opinion, not as something to be kept to be guarded about.

And, again, in my personal experience, anti-Semitism in the UK is practically unknown. We still have or share of racism and bigotry, but you almost never hear any of this directed at Jews.

Paul
Guest

An :
@Ovidiu: The beauty of the letter is not that it explains the dangers of “belonging” to Russia, but that it expresses how a lot of Hungarians feel.

I don’t dispute that this IS how many (perhaps most) Hungarians feel, but the more important point is surely that, whilst feeling this, they do nothing about it.

Where is the “immediate, visceral, and popular” reaction that Ovidiu would expect (I think quite accurately) from other countries in the same position?

They may not like it, but they accept it. Why?

tappanch
Guest

John 1:46
“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

John Lukacs
Can any good thing come out of Russia?

An
Guest

@Paul: Good question, Paul. Probably the same reason why Hungary puts up with Orban.

tappanch
Guest

@Paul #7

I gave the details of the poll a week ago, see
January 21, 2014 at 5:32 am | #24

“Somewhat anti-Semitic: 35-40%
Hard-core anti-Semites 15-16%”

I do not think the numbers are great.

One can also argue this way:

although a sixth of the people would repeat the Holocaust,
but half of them do not show antisemitic prejudice to the researchers.

tappanch
Guest

“Those who speak to us—in spite of all their greatness—are not so much Tolstoy or Dostoevsky as Dante, Shakespeare, Pascal, Goethe, and Tocqueville.”

What is wrong with Tolstoy?

Unfortunately, almost no Hungarians have read or even heard of Tocqueville.

School children should have been taught since 1990
about the importance of checks and balances,
about the role of the free citizenship, where citizens are not servants of State.

The 6-year old children of 1990 are 30 this year.
But they were not taught of the Sacred Principles of Democracy, only about of the Sacred Crown.

Yes, the Golden Bull of 1222 contained a “ius resistendi”, a resistance clause against a king that breached the Bull.

But only the apparatchiks of the era, the bishops and noblemen were given this right.

How many times was this article #31 exercised before it was withdrawn in 1687?

Booming 2014
Guest

Szombat and Andras Kovacs…http://www.szombat.org/politika/a-magyarorszagi-antiszemitizmus-szamokban

The public smells encouragement for prejudice from newspapers, radio and TV, and every one in the Peace Marches is a Zsolt Bayer reader.

Extreme and increasing prejudice is flowing on the streets, in taxis, buses, churches.

The clean up may take 50-70 years.

tappanch
Guest

Because the Golden Bull of 1222 is the basis of the Fidesz constitution, let me quote some paragraphs from it.

III.
Clergy and noblemen cannot be taxed.
XXIV.
Muslims and Jews cannot hold office.
XXVI.
Land cannot be sold or given to foreigners. If it was sold then it should be repurchased.
XXX.
[Except four, enumerated office holders, ] no person can hold two offices at the same time.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Paul :
OT, but an interesting article from Budapost:
http://budapost.eu/2014/01/anti-semitism-declining-but-still-at-average-european-level/
Hungarian Jews claiming that anti-Semitism is actually declining in Hungary and that it isn’t much worse than in places like the UK.
This is so very different from my personal experience as to be quite puzzling. In my experience, anti-Semitism is very widespread in Hungary, in fact it seems to be regarded as a perfectly normal ‘main stream’ opinion, not as something to be kept to be guarded about.
And, again, in my personal experience, anti-Semitism in the UK is practically unknown. We still have or share of racism and bigotry, but you almost never hear any of this directed at Jews.

I’m a bit skeptical about the TÉV study itself, and even more about the comparative statements made by the researcher regarding other EU countries.

Anyway this study doesn’t measure how Jewish people themselves perceive anti-Semitic discourse, threats or discriminations. On that subject, the EU-FRA conducted last year a multi-country survey according to which Hungary fares much, much worse than the UK…

http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2013-discrimination-hate-crime-against-jews-eu-member-states_en.pdf

Peter Litvanyi
Guest

Dear Eva, you should post/ share Mr. Bela Liptak’s very brilliant evaluation on the Paks project instead. Needless to say he is against the whole lot but rather than based on ideological reasons he stands on solid technical grounds. As you know I have very little in common /politically speaking/ with these two gentlemen; nevertheless I believe that Dr. Liptak’s opinion is more relevant. It’s not about “crosses” but rather about reactor cores and cooling systems. Just a suggestion: Peter Litvanyi.

LiptakForPresident
Guest
Member

INVOLUTIONAL IRENICS

“[T]he fate of my country, my nation has often touched and gripped my heart…”

“The present prime minister has honored me for many years with his attention and friendship…”

“Our St. Stephen wasn’t only a saint without peers…”

“Western powers often did nothing or very little for us…”

“Pax Vobiscum!…Pax Nobis!…”

A rather exalted way to say Hungary shouldn’t cosy up to Russia.

Andy -- Russian roulette
Guest
Lets be clear about what we have here: We have a Philosopher’s letter to a plain Crook They are on 99.9% different wavelengths. One is a Guru of History and Western Civilization Studies, the other is a bank-robber, a self-appointed feudal baron, not of the most brilliant mind in intellectual matters. I do hope Orban listens and asks Lukacs for some additional practical advice as he is digging a terribly deep hole for himself and the country he’s come to ‘lead’… The likelihood of any genuine request for advice is unlikely. Oban’s only advisors are in electioneering – on how to dominate and win elections – and I doubt he is strong enough to admit that he could use some additionhal know-how in cultural, economic or similar, refined matters. Orban is not so dissimilar to the vast majority of Hungarians!!! The only thing that really matters for most is their private life and family and a few friends left over from the old school days. The rest of the people are not really worth lifting a little finger for !!! Mr Lukacs: Nice try! Be forewarned: Do not be disappointed if you fall on deaf ears… and an intellectually not… Read more »
Jano
Guest

Eva: You have an unfortunate typo saying, Hungarian self-cionfidence. Figured you want to correct it before any of the trolls pick up on it.

nwo
Guest

It is nice to see Lukacs come out and stands on principle. It is unfortunate that so many conservatives-like Lukacs- continued to believe for so long in Orban and FIDESZ because, I suppose, they were blinded by ideological labels. Real conservatives should be the most horrified by what is happening in Hungary. As you noted, populism (and in this case also radicalism) only leads to extreme forms of government and inevitably to a loss of freedom, and at least since the beginning of the 20th century, to huge losses of human life.

Jerü
Guest
nwo, for every argument there is a counterargument. Pat Buchanan asks whether “Is Putin one of us?” (ie a paleo-conservative). So some conservatives must agree with Orban even on ideological grounds. http://townhall.com/columnists/patbuchanan/2013/12/17/is-putin-one-of-us-n1764094/page/full This issue is absolutely not about conservatism vs. liberalism or anything like it. It is about common sense. The decision of Orban and his sycophants/oligarchs is a tragic decision which deliberately ties our future to an autocratic empire ruled by siloviki for the next 60 years at least and which allows Russia to control Hungary in various ways, in fact in many more ways than Russia currently has a leverage over us. And this is when Russia wants nothing else from countries like Hungary (Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Gerogia etc.) than to control them, not overtly, it would probably be too obvious, but it will ask for some favors from time to time (besides making us pay like a katona tiszt). Why? Because Orban needs some leeway to control energy prices (of which the Index revealed MOL-related games which also involved Russian oligarchs is only one part) to get reelected (and remain so) and to take advantage of the business of the century (Paks 2), I am sure Orban… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

The voter registration of the new citizens without Hungarian address has been accelerated.

November 1, 2013: 48 thousand
January 7, 2014: 100 thousand
January 27, 2014: 130 thousand

Their notification address is in

e-Landia 30.5%

Romania: 42.6%
Serbia: 15.2%

Hungary: 1.3%
Slovakia+ Ukraine+ Austria: 1.0% (“countries forbidding dual citizenship”)
Germany: 0.9%

not yet processed: 5.5%
All other countries 3.0%

latefor
Guest

“Those who speak to us—in spite of all their greatness—are not so much Tolstoy or Dostoevsky as Dante, Shakespeare, Pascal, Goethe, and Tocqueville.”

Mr Lukacs seems to dismiss my generation (the 45 plus) who were brought up on Tolstoy, Puskin, Gogol, Dostoevsky and Constantin Simonov and Jevgeniy Yevtushenko just to name a few Russian literary greats.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Hungarian joke, reloaded: “What is democracy? The longest path from dictatorship to dictatorship.”

tappanch
Guest

“In the recent past the essence and origin of the tyranny that subjugated Hungary wasn’t communism but Russian occupation.”

Professor Lukacs calls attention to an important dichotomy here:

Soviet Union as the biggest Communist country in the 1948-1989 period.
vs
Soviet Union as a cover for the Russian Empire.

tappanch
Guest

Orban gives a retroactive pay raise to policeman on March 1 .

In a speech today, he declares that the “jogállam” (constitutional state) was restored in 2010!

I think Fidesz cynicism knows no limit.

Stork
Guest
tappanch (re 27): one important issue to note is that Hungary (not even Csonka-Magyarország) had never been part of the Russian Empire/orbit until 1945. Hungary became part of the Soviet/Russian ‘sphere of interest’ only after WWII. I guess the SU/Russian Empire has different preoccupations until then. Once however the Russians got used to the idea the Hungary became a natural part of its empire/sphere of interest over which it had ‘legitimate security interests’ that became the default situation. Edward Lucas’s post shows that it now became mainstream even in Germany to think that Russia should have a say in the fate of Central-Europe, as a quasi ‘stake-holder’ (to use this idiotic term). Why? Well, just because this is what people, Western politicians got used to after WWII. Moreover, Germany will do anything for Russia (remember what a pal Schröder is to Putin, for example) on which it depends for its traditional energy resources, which acts a huge and logical market for Germany and because Germany has a now DNA-ingrained bad consciousness towards Russia. So Germany will be very understanding towards Russia’s ‘concerns’ whatever those may be. This is how generations of German intellectuals, politicians were socialized; they have to apologize… Read more »
Joe Simon
Guest

Ed Teller visited Paks and spoke highly of the plant, safety, etc. He has a bronze bust erected in his honour. (So far he hadnot asked to remove it) Finnland is also cooperating with Russia in the nuclear field. Not to lose the eastern market is popular in Hungary.

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