NO small state has loomed as large in global propaganda media over the past decade as Hungary.
Routinely defamed as a repressive, authoritarian hellhole on the road to a fascist dictatorship, as with many topics in the news these days, the reality is the exact reverse. Viktor Orbán’s government is no doubt far from perfect, but it is Hungary which represents a historically moderate position and its opponents who are the ideological extremists.
Hungary is a much more complex country than its current role as cartoon authoritarian. Every summer it hosts one of the largest psychedelic trance festivals in the world, with security provided by a company owned by a man closely connected to the governing party Fidesz. The psychoactive properties of synthetic DMT were discovered in Budapest in 1956 by Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist Stephen Szára. Hungarians were decisive in the history of modern physics: Manhattan Project founder Leo Szilard, H-bomb creator Edward Teller, Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist Eugene Wigner and legendary supergenius John von Neumann were all born in Budapest. Despite claims of anti-Semitism linked to the Hungarian government’s opposition to atheist billionaire George Soros, Budapest is today the centre of the most visible Jewish community in Europe and arguably the most majestic synagogue in the world, while Jews are assaulted and murdered in diversified Germany and France.
Partly shielded from the north and west by mountains, and from the global culture industry by its unique Uralic language, Hungary has traditionally played a pivotal diplomatic role between Eastern and Western power. It became a kingdom in the year 1000, when the country was flanked to the west by the Holy Roman Empire and to the east by the Byzantine Empire, by requesting a Crown from the Pope. Unlike the excitable Poles, the Hungarians are traditional masters of deploying balance of power strategies to resist concerted pressure from all sides.
In an era in which a humiliated Germany meekly accepts US-led sabotage of its energy infrastructure and ultimately its economy, Europe suffers under US-imposed sanctions, which are hurting it far more than Russia, and Poland suicidally agitates for nuclear war, this tradition of geopolitical cunning continues as Hungary balances fidelity to the military hegemon which currently occupies Europe with its own enlightened self-interest. Hungarian friends report seeing mysterious black vans marked ‘Children’ almost certainly filled with weapons en route to the war in Ukraine. At the same time, Prime Minister Orbán has blocked efforts to pour more EU money into the fiscal black hole of Igor Kolomoisky’s ultra-corrupt Kiev regime.
All this complexity was full demonstrated at Budapest’s Danube Institute at the beginning of the month as the think tank hosted its Second Danube Summit on Geopolitics, Security, and Defence. The event was remarkable first of all for the range of positions on display. At a moment when the intellectual centres of the UK and America are promoting mediocrities and fanatics, the Danube Institute under the leadership of sophisticated intellectual journalist John O’Sullivan continues to sponsor the dialogue that used to be taken for granted across the Anglosphere.
As the most salient point on this spectrum, the intellectual weakness and delusional quality of contemporary Anglosphere discourse itself played a prominent role. Harold Macmillan argued that Britain should be Athens to America’s Rome. The current situation is more like Bevis to America’s Butthead.
The standard model in this case was a steady procession of Nato-bots culminating with Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister of Australia, and more recently claimed to have been an intimate adviser to Liz Truss.
The contrast between his lecture and the speech of another former head of state the previous day was unflattering. Former Czech President Vaclav Klaus received a standing ovation for a lucid, ironic and frank discussion of the pseudo-scientific character of the global discourse on climate change and the political implications of the environmental, social and governance(ESG) standards being imposed on the back of it. Abbott delivered a litany of belligerent platitudes. ‘They are bad, we are good,’ summarised the Hungarian journalist next to me. At the back of the theatre, Klaus blithely talked over him.
The most interesting moment in Abbott’s speech was when he quoted in passing, as if somehow opposing, the eternal maxim of realism from Thucydides’s History of the Peleponnesian War: ‘The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.’ The phrase appears at the end of the Melian Dialogue as the representatives of Athens, degenerated from the victors of the Persian war into a Shqiptare-style protection racket, demand the subordination of the island of Melos at the point of a sword.
Abbott appears to have intended the quote as a moralistic critique of Ukraine and Russia, and by extension China, but analogies to the United States and Europe are equally plausible. Even so, morality isn’t only not the point of the chapter, but the opposite point. The criteria of relative power applies to all international relations everywhere, and at all times, and is emphasised by Thucydides to illustrate the suicidal pride of the Melians. By insisting on moralisms and refusing to bow to the facts, the Melians destroy their own country: the Dialogue concludes without agreement, and Melos is besieged and destroyed.
For more than two decades, America has been on a global rampage, destroying nation after nation in the name of human rights. Abbott’s refusal to acknowledge this point, together with other points, tacitly confirmed the argument of Frank Furedi, the Hungary-born founder of Britain’s Revolutionary Communist Party and now the director of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Brussels, of the increasing geopolitical illiteracy and incompetence of Western elites and their delusional character. As John O’Sullivan himself made clear in a careful speech, US foreign policy is now explicitly messianic and utopian in particular in its zealous commitment to gender ideology, and its commitment to the new imperial ideology of Pride.
It is this reality more than a supposed Hitlerian megalomania of Vladimir Putin which explains the ‘Katehonic’ ideology, and geopolitical strategy of contemporary Russia as described on the second day of the conference by the brilliant Swedish-Russian academic Maria Engstrom. The immediate reference point for the term is the German political and legal theorist Carl Schmitt, who was translated into Russian in the 1990s by Alexander Dugin, the US government-banned Russian philosopher whose daughter was recently murdered by Ukrainian government operatives, but the concept itself goes back to St Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.
The Katehon is the ‘restrainer’ who holds back the antichrist by opposing utopian impulses. As Engstrom demonstrated this vision is not the artificial creation of Putin, but a fundamental theme in Russian national consciousness, referenced by everyone from Pushkin to Alexander Blok. Its centrality partly explains the uniquely metaphysical dynamic of the relationship between the United States and Russia, the two countries identified by Tocqueville as the future powers of the world, irresistibly and inevitably continuing along different paths – the one through free, and the other through dictatorial forms of organisation – to what Carl Schmitt called ‘the same result of a centralised and democratised humankind.’
Europe itself is now caught between these two powers, in the geographical position of Hungary, but in the political role of an imperial satrapy. Whether it can succeed in extracting itself from this pitiful situation depends on the extent to which it can rediscover balance of power politics itself. For now, just as at the zenith of the Umayyad Caliphate when almost the whole of Iberia was occupied it was said that only Asturias was Spain, perhaps one can say that only Hungary is today the West.