This is Not the Past, This is the Future
Viktor Orbán strongarmed himself into another term and left no doubt as to what he and other authoritarians have in store for us
This Sunday, Hungary’s conservative Fidesz Party continued their domination of electoral politics, gifting authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán a fourth term. The victory itself was more or less a foregone conclusion. Under Orbán’s direction, Fidesz has used their power to create a virtual one-state system in which all media and culture is controlled, depriving rivals of any opportunity to reach potential voters and, to top things off, the electoral system itself has been so co-opted and engineered that it would probably wouldn’t matter anyway.
Bolstered by the victory, Orbán took the stage and made his intentions clear. In recent weeks, with the beginnings of the war in Ukraine, Orbán has attempted to walk a very thin line in response. His close relationship with Vladimir Putin was one of the few talking points his opponents could use against him, and so Orbán tacitly condemned the aggression while refusing to join NATO allies in assisting the insurgency. Now, unburdened by the election, Orbán explicitly called out Volodymyr Zelensky as “an enemy,” naming him as part of an international conspiracy spearheaded by George Soros. The basis for Orbán’s power, as is the case with Right Wing authoritarians, is this conspiracy theory that charges Jewish plotters with liberal traitors in attempting to overthrow Christendom and “legitimate” power hierarchies.
In declaring a mandate for himself, Orbán touted the victory as a message to the European Union, neoliberal bureaucrats, and as a promise that his illiberalism is “not the past, this is the future.”
Unfortunately, this warning is going unheard. Those who are desperate to ignore the very open and acknowledged plot by authoritarians to destroy liberal democracy and install Hungary-like illiberal regimes around the world absolutely refuse to see what is directly in front of them. And, if they continue to look the other way, Orbán’s prediction could very well come true.
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While media and politicians continue to frame the Ukrainian War as an isolated incident, a major, historical event is developing right beneath their noses. History tells us how these things happen and how they play out, and only those determined to look the other way can possibly deny what is gaining traction and momentum.
Liberal democracy, with its focus not only on representative government and self-determination, but also the multicultural, cosmopolitan nature of democratic societies, in which free-expression and tolerance are prized, is largely touted as a given by those same outlets and politicians. The reason is because the modern order is supposed to be unchallenged. The myth that America’s supposed “victory” in the Cold War brought about a utopic and permanent state of liberal democracy that would spread around the world has reared incredible damage, and this insistence that everyone is in favor of this continuing and that no movement, no matter how obviously authoritarian and antidemocratic, is still within that tradition puts us in incredible danger.
Orbán is instructive. In Hungary, he built his power base by appealing to a sense of “tradition,” a myth of “Western Civilization” that he claimed was endangered. By capitalizing on the refugee crisis in Europe and Islamophobia, Orbán convinced Hungarians that liberal democracy, with its free and fair elections and prizing of melting pot cultures, was actually a weakness that could be exploited. George Soros, as the scapegoat of long-existing, antisemitic conspiracy theories, was a puppetmaster pulling strings behind the scenes, using the refugees as a Trojan Horse of sorts to undermine Hungary and ultimately deliver it to the New World Order, one-world government. Orbán told this story like other authoritarians before him and used it to change the country to his liking and control.
American conservatives prize what Orbán has in the same way they look at Putinist Russia and see the world of their dreams. They loathe liberal democracy and have since it reared its head in the 18th century. If given the opportunity, they would enact almost identical pieces of legislation, prioritizing white and wealthy Christians, controlling culture and media, targeting gay and trans people, and demonizing political opposition. In the past, America has suffered similar situations, and this would wind the clock backward.
And why? Because progress and freedom are dangerous to these projects. Orbán, Putin, and the American conservatives they traffic with are obsessed with restoring past hierarchies exclusively prioritizing white, wealthy men. They use religion, conspiracy theories, and white supremacist paranoia as a means of galvanizing and radicalizing their bases and creating a reality where their plans might come to pass. And now, with wealth hoarding and the corruption of politics and international systems, the pieces are in place for the toppling of the neoliberal world order and its replacement by something brutal and nightmarish.
The movement of history is strange. Sometimes it is imperceptible, like the rotation of the Earth. Other times, it sweeps forward in a mad rush, leaving billions wondering how something so massive could have ever happened and how they had ever thought the past might continue on unchanged.
We’re experiencing the latter. In the United States, history has been rapidly shifting for the past few years while forces enabling excessive wealth extraction and redistribution from the bottom up radically changed everything beneath our feet. For some, it was the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that alerted them to the change, but, once more, Trump was merely a symptom of a larger disease.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a bevy of experts and institutionalists, should have never happened. The world system should have prevented it. And, it never should have continued once the Western powers and their corporations sanctioned Russia. Yet, here we are. Reeling from reports of mass atrocities and planned genocide, unsure where it’s all heading.
Orbán, Putin, and conservatives in America and throughout the Western powers, see this as their moment. And they’re right. Liberal democracy has been corrupted and coopted so extensively by neoliberalism and the excessively wealthy and powerful that its structures are run through with poison. The resulting radicalization by populations suffering through austerity and the dying of their cherished mythologies is useful for authoritarians. They feed off it. They use it to create movements to fight phantom “enemies” like Soros and the “international Left,” neither of which really exist or function anywhere near what they warn against.
Instead, it gives them a new mythology to impose upon the world, a mythology that allows them to pass any law they want, revoke any freedom which offends them, discriminate against any vulnerable person or community they dislike, and further consolidate their wealth and power while making the people labor as cheaply as possible. We’re reaching a new level of this, a fresh hell of exploitation and mutation.
The twilight stage of neoliberalism as a hidden force, this system as a silent algorithm running in the background, is going to usher in a new age of authoritarianism and fascism. It can be averted, we can avoid this hellish world, but first we have to accept that it is both happening and possible. Playing around the edges, calling Orbán simply a “nationalist” with “controversial” views only gifts him legitimacy and room to expand. Liberals in media and politics, themselves corrupted by the blood money and profiting off the exploitation, are absolutely failing to grasp the enormity of the situation or their part in it.
As a result, the infection gets worse, and the movement grows. The “elections” in Hungary, as well as Orbán’s shift in tone and emphasis on his mission, should be a clear signal. Unfortunately, those who need to hear it are refusing to listen.