Home / reactionary populism / “Hungary” is the “Denmark” of the American Right. What does that mean?

“Hungary” is the “Denmark” of the American Right. What does that mean?


Denmark is a real country. In comparison even to most other European states, it is a robust social democracy – albeit one with features that the American left would considerneoliberal.”

Since 2015, Denmark has implemented increasingly hostile policies towards refugees and immigrants—with the notable exception of Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s recent invasion. What do I mean by “hostile?” For the American right, some recent Danish policies are the stuff of dreams.

The 2015 refugee crisis… increased pressure on mainstream parties and, as the number of people claiming asylum in Denmark increased – especially from Syria – Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s centre-right government introduced measures aimed at making it less attractive to apply for asylum in Denmark.

[In 2016] the Folketing passing laws restricting access to family reunification for Syrian refugees for up to three years, and a ‘jewellery law’ under which valuables were confiscated from refugees to pay for their stay. Then in 2018 the government took measures targeting ‘non-Western residents’ in underprivileged areas, such as harsher penalties for crimes committed within or near a ‘ghetto’, a term originally used in the legislation although subsequently dropped.

The Social Democrats’ own approach to immigration became even harsher after Frederiksen succeeded Helle Thorning-Schmidt as party leader in 2015…. In reality asylum seekers tend to re-migrate anyway and often return to human smuggling networks to help them get to other European countries instead. But the Danish government certainly cannot credibly claim it is taking a ‘humanitarian’ approach when it has declared it wants to stop asylum claims altogether.

There’s also an imaginary place called “Denmark.” This “Denmark,” along with “Norway” and “Sweden,” is an object of desire for some U.S. progressives and leftists. It not only serves as a model for U.S. economic policy. It also proves that the progressive agenda will work.

The Danish model of social democracy (the real-world one) is still overall superior to America’s increasingly dysfunctional political economy. The choice between the two isn’t difficult. But it’s pretty clear most U.S. progressives prefer “Denmark” to Denmark. Current Danish refugee and immigration policy is a bug, not a feature.

I’ve remarked before that Hungary is the “Denmark” of the American reactionary right. However, it’s not entirely clear if national conservatives, integralists, reactionary populists love “Hungary” or Hungary.

It seems that Viktor Orbán’s racist politics – once barely implicit, now explicit – is cool with them. As you may know, last week Orbán delivered a speech which sparked widespread condemnation. One of his close advisors resigned in protest, calling the speech a “pure Nazi text.”

Summaries of Orbán’s speech cannot adequately convey its depravity, so I offer an extended excerpt related to one of its themes:

The second challenge is migration, which you could call population replacement or inundation. There is an outstanding 1973 book on this issue which was written in French, and recently published in Hungary. It is called “The Camp of the Saints” [Le Camp des Saints], and I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the spiritual developments underlying the West’s inability to defend itself…. A battle is in progress between the two halves of Europe…. There is now less talk about migration, but, believe me, nothing has changed: Brussels, reinforced with Soros-affiliated troops, simply wants to force migrants on us…. It is important that we understand that these good people over there in the West, in the post-West, cannot bear to wake up every morning and find that their days – and indeed their whole lives – are poisoned by the thought that all is lost….

In such a multi-ethnic context, there is an ideological feint here that is worth talking about and focusing on. The internationalist left employs a feint, an ideological ruse: the claim – their claim – that Europe by its very nature is populated by peoples of mixed race. This is a historical and semantic sleight of hand, because it conflates two different things. There is a world in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe. Now that is a mixed-race world. And there is our world, where people from within Europe mix with one another, move around, work, and relocate. So, for example, in the Carpathian Basin we are not mixed-race: we are simply a mixture of peoples living in our own European homeland. And, given a favourable alignment of stars and a following wind, these peoples merge together in a kind of Hungaro-Pannonian sauce, creating their own new European culture. This is why we have always fought: we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race. This is why we fought at Nándorfehérvár/Belgrade, this is why we stopped the Turks at Vienna, and – if I am not mistaken – this is why, in still older times – the French stopped the Arabs at Poitiers. Today the situation is that Islamic civilisation, which is constantly moving towards Europe, has realised – precisely because of the traditions of Belgrade/Nándorfehérvár – that the route through Hungary is an unsuitable one along which to send its people up into Europe. This is why Poitiers has been replayed; now the incursion’s origins are not in the East, but in the South, from where they are occupying and flooding the West. This might not yet be a very important task for us, but it will be for our children, who will need to defend themselves not only from the South, but also from the West.

How has reactionary intellectual heavyweight Patrick Deneen reacted to Orbán’s speech?

What about CPAC? Orbán spoke at its meeting in Hungary last May. The organization invited him to speak at its forthcoming meeting in Texas.

“Let’s listen to the man speak,” Matt Schlapp, chair of CPAC, said in an interview at the America First Policy Institute summit in Washington. “We’ll see what he says. And if people have a disagreement with something he says, they should raise it.”

Perhaps CPAC is just taking a stand against “cancel culture”?

“When we silence people we skip the chance to learn why [we] agree or disagree [with] their POV,” tweeted ACU chairman Matt Schlapp on Thursday, following a backlash over Orbán’s upcoming CPAC appearance. “Cancel culture is the judge and jury of speech. The most tragic part is that the left is guilty of the fascism they always charge. The more free speech the sooner we find the truth.” (CPAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Orbán’s appearance)

Let’s go to the videotape:

CPAC cancelled an appearance scheduled for the conference last year in Orlando by Young Pharaoh, the hip-hop artist, after he was accused of antisemitic remarks on social media. After the May meeting in Hungary prompted allegations of antisemitic comments, CPAC also issued a statement affirming its rejection of antisemitic and racist views.

Caleb Ecarma notes that:

However, Schlapp and CPAC have a long, nearly annual tradition of silencing those whose views they consider beyond the pale. “BREAKING: The ‘extreme conservative’ and Junior Senator from the great state of Utah, Senator [Mitt Romney] is formally NOT invited to #CPAC2020,” Schlapp wrote in a 2020 tweet, apparently targeting Romney’s anti-Trump views. CPAC has also barred a number of far-right figures from attending over the past five years, including white nationalists Richard Spencer and Nick Fuentes. Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was set to speak at CPAC 2017 but was cut from the lineup after a video surfaced of him suggesting that some sexual relationships between minors and adults are acceptable. A more recent CPAC cancellation saw organizers revoke an appearance from Young Pharoah, a rapper who had shared antisemitic tweets, at last year’s “America Uncanceled” conference.

Obviously, American reactionaries swoon over Orbán’s ethnocivilizational rhetoric, his largely successful campaign against independent academic scholarship, and his policies aimed at increasing gender inequality. American reactionaries share Orbán’s affinity for Vladmir Putin. Republicans have, to some extent, borrowed their new, more effective attacks on LGBTQ+ rights from Orbán.

But does the reactionary right endorse, let alone understand, the extent of Hungary’s corruption? Orbán consolidated his hold on power by transforming government agencies into extensions of his personal patronage network. My limited experience with “ordinary” followers of Tucker Carlson suggests that they have no idea. Orbán administration’s corruption – just like that of the Trump administration – doesn’t make it into their information environment. Curation of their news sources does the bulk of the work; motivated bias handles the rest.

I don’t doubt that a number of reactionaries, and perhaps a majority of its intellectual vanguard, are untroubled by the fact that Hungary no longer qualifies as a democracy. Some contemporary conservative nationalists and reactionary populists outright oppose liberal-democracy; others think that the “threat” now posed by the left justifies suspending some of the values that undergird constitutional democracy.

Many simply see their movement as securing democracy against widespread cheating by Democrats.

I suspect that some subset looks favorably upon Orbán because they’ve been sold on “Hungary.” The elites to whom they look for cues say that Hungary is a vibrant democracy, so Hungary is a vibrant democracy.

I know that some readers will dismiss the idea that the average FOX viewer – let alone some percentage of right-wing elites – supports “Orbán” rather than Orbán. Keep in mind that the reactionary embrace of Orbán didn’t come from nowhere, but it isn’t simply an example of an ideological bromance. Orbán’s rising star among U.S. “conservatives” is the product of a concerted public-relations campaign by the Hungarian government.

Carried out by a network of government offices, Washington lobbyists, Hungarian diaspora groups, educational institutions and government-funded foundations, the effort’s main impact has been to bolster Mr. Orban’s image as a conservative leader on the world stage — and to counter his reputation as an authoritarian nationalist who is cozying up to Russia and China….

Much of what the Hungarian network has done is legal and standard operating procedure in Washington. But some of its activities touch on gray areas, including transparency requirements for those acting on behalf of foreign interests, concerns arising from overseas efforts to sway presidential campaigns, and the ethics of think tanks accepting money from governments or their proxies….

The network’s efforts can be traced to around 2011, the year after Mr. Orban became prime minister for the second time. As he worked to raise his global profile, he convened people with ties to Hungary from around the world in a Diaspora Council partly “to assist in developing a coordinated representation of the Hungarian position and interests in foreign media and toward decision makers,” according to government documents.

There’s nothing particularly novel about the Budapest’s campaign to win American friends and influence U.S. politics. Many other governments – including those of Bahrain, Georgia, Malaysia, Norway, and Ukraine – hire lobbyists and lobbying firms. Most cultivate interpersonal networks of politicians, government officials, and other Americans with policy influence. Some donate to American think tanks and universities – a practice that dictators, oligarchs, and kleptocrats sometimes use to “launder” their reputations.

(Governments have even found ways to directly inject money into the U.S. political process.)

So part of the story involves preexisting ideological affinity – with a major assist from a concerted political campaign by the Orbán regime to cultivate support from American conservatives. U.S. reactionaries emulate Orbán; Orbán knows how to speak their language.

More than one vector accounts for this convergence. Both Orbán and American reactionaries borrow rhetoric and ideas from the European far right, which itself incorporates U.S. conservative discourse – and likely receives financial support from American dark money groups. This circulation of ideas isn’t new; we also find evidence of it among the most extreme offshoots of reactionary populist and far-right movements.

Such fluidity also makes it determine the degree that the U.S. right approves of Orbán or “Orbán” and of Hungary or “Hungary.” Does the answer matter? Maybe. Some Republicans actively support Orbánism. Others may find its actual practice repugnant. The size of each group could, in years to come, determine how easy it is for the next reactionary populist to put an end to de facto U.S. democracy.

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