Is Hungary’s Present the United States’ Future?: On Zsuzsanna Szelényi’s “Tainted Democracy”

Jeffrey C. Isaac in LA Review of Books:

ON APRIL 3, 2022, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz-MPP party won two-thirds of the National Assembly seats—a parliamentary supermajority—for the fourth consecutive time since 2010. In his 12 years in power, Orbán has revised the Hungarian constitution, transformed the state, substantially weakened the prospects for political opposition, and instituted a new quasi-authoritarian regime of “national cooperation” that he has billed as “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy.” In the coming years, it can be assumed that Orbán and his government will do their best to further entrench this regime and continue to promote its example—something Orbán has heretofore done with great success.

Orbán has been amply rewarded for his efforts. He has accumulated vast political power, which he has used to enrich his family, friends, and principal supporters, thus further reinforcing his kleptocratic rule. He has used his power to reshape electoral law, the media system, and the cultural and educational system; to marginalize critics and opponents; and to intimidate independent civil society institutions, most notoriously through the passage of a “Lex CEU” that forced Central European University to leave its Budapest home and reopen in Vienna. This has made him the scourge of the European Union—whose rule of law and transparency requirements he has regularly flouted—and the bane of supporters of civil and academic freedom everywhere.

It has also made him a hero of the transnational far right, a symbol of resistance to the supposed “tyranny” of human rights, gender equality, “woke elitism,” and liberalism more generally. He has long been lionized by the US populist right: fêted at Conservative Political Action Committee meetings; idolized by Tucker CarlsonSteve Bannon, and Patrick Deneen; and regarded as a pioneer of a new kind of “illiberal” regime that promises to save civilization from an evil humanistic overclass.

More here.