Tag Archives: Ernest Gellner

Viktor Orbán: In praise of nationalism

According to Fidesz’s by-laws, the party must hold a congress every two years, where the designated delegates choose the chairman, his deputies, and several other key party leaders. Of the 1358 delegates present, not one had the guts to abstain or vote against Viktor Orbán, the only candidate for the post of chairman. Naturally, a long speech by the newly elected chairman followed, which was in large measure devoted to the glorification of nationalism and national virtues.

There are many definitions of nationalism, but I decided to use Ernest Gellner’s for the reason that Gellner, who was described as “one of the world’s most vigorous intellectuals” by Karl Popper, the idol of George Soros, came from the Central European region where the roots of Viktor Orbán’s nationalism were planted. Gellner, although born in Paris in 1925, grew up in the German-speaking Jewish community of Prague. He and his family were steeped in the ethos of the multi-cultural, multi-linguistic Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

According to Gellner, “nationalism is primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent.” National sentiment is the feeling of anger aroused by the violation of this principle. After outlining the different ways in which the nationalist principle can be violated, he continues: “there is one particular form of the violation of the nationalist principle to which nationalist sentiment is quite particularly sensitive: if the rulers of the political unit belong to a nation other than that of the majority of the ruled.” And “this can occur through the incorporation of the national territory in a larger empire.”

Hungary can be seen as suffering from this violation of the nationalist principle. According to the latest statistics, almost 1.9 million Hungarians live in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine. Moreover, as Viktor Orbán so often reminds us, Brussels is the modern equivalent of Moscow or, when he ventures further back in history, Vienna. Therefore, if we accept Gellner’s schema, modern-day nationalism should fall on extremely fertile soil in Hungary. On the one hand, there is the pent-up resentment of Hungary’s “mutilation,” and on the other, the Orbán government’s misleading communications about the mechanisms of the European Union.

Orbán’s speech was long and full of self-praise, which can be dismissed as mere fluff not worth spending time and energy on. But his casuistry when it comes to justifying the superiority of the particular over the universal deserves a second look. The taste and outlook disseminated by powerful global firms and political organizations all over the world, which necessarily results in uniformity, is illusory. What is real is the people’s strong attachment to “their cultural identity,” and these people are “in the overwhelming majority” in Europe. It is only a matter of time before “we will win not only in Hungary but throughout Europe and even in the whole western world.” Doesn’t that sound familiar? But then it was the socialist system that was supposed to conquer the West.

Orbán’s nationalist vision is allegedly superior to the western view of the world, in whose center a kind of monster holds the stage, someone deprived of his culture and his national and sexual identity, who relies merely on his instincts. “Politics that discard the natural order of life have always led to barbarity independently from the erudition of its protagonists.” Here nationalist culture and civilization are posited against savagery, cruelty, brutishness, everything that the word “barbarity” conveys.

Let’s return to Gellner for a moment. Quoting Kant, he asserts that “partiality, the tendency to make exceptions on one’s own behalf or one’s own case, is the central human weakness from which all others flow; and it infects national sentiment as it does all else.” Orbán’s nationalism has a large dose of that partiality. He is apt to describe Hungarians as being endowed with superior gifts and faculties. For example, Hungarians must thank their national culture for having the special talent to recognize truth and properly assess situations. In other words, their cultural background destined them to recognize the danger the refugee crisis poses for Europe while others, not having that necessary ingredient in their national culture, are, I guess, just too dense. He claims that “it is this spiritual force that makes us able to calmly contemplate those questions towering over Europe which frighten and deter others.” I’m sure that a great number of Hungarians will lap up all this nonsense.

Once he was confident that his followers were basking in Hungarian superiority, he moved on to the other prong of nationalism, at least as Gellner defined it. “It is a well-known fact that we Hungarians don’t like empires,” and “Hungarians don’t like it when imperial proconsuls want to determine the fate of the nation.” He went on at some length about the evil plans of this empire, but in the long laundry list there is one sentence that I find revealing. “The ‘Empire,’ in order to implement the Soros Plan, wants to get rid of all governments in Europe that represent national interests, including our own.” Although a few years ago Orbán accused Washington and Brussels of working toward his removal, lately he has by and large refrained from such allegations. Of course, it is possible that such an accusation is intended merely to tighten his hold over his followers by intimating that his very government is in danger, but I have the feeling that his fear might be genuine.

November 12, 2017