Loyalty Is Very Bad For Your Country

When leaders are loyal only to power and their staff loyal only to their boss – who is representing the interest of the actual people?


Cover page of economic weekly HVG featuring Orbán and his fellow Fidesz-founders as a mafia gang as early as 1999. They have always been operating on the basis of loyalty, prioritizing power over everything else. Orbán was never challenged as the leader of Fidesz and he had always kept a grip on his men, almost as in omertá. What happened after 2010 when they came back into power was not really a surprise.

As Andy Smarick at has pointed out that by 2016 American domestic policy produced the two most loyalty-centered candidates:

The 2016 primaries elevated a tandem of presidential nominees possibly unparalleled in their combined prioritization of loyalty. Hillary Clinton, as documented in Shattered, “priz[ed] loyalty most among human traits.” After her 2008 election loss, she rummaged through old emails of campaign staffers to unearth disloyalty. She and her husband even assigned “loyalty scores” to members of Congress.

President Trump is growing infamous for his insistence on loyalty. He evidently asked then-FBI director Comey to pledge loyalty. Entire articles have been written about Trump’s surrounding himself with loyalists throughout his career. He deploys subordinates to publicly display their loyalty (even if he subsequently undermines them).

— Andy Smarick,

But by placing loyalty above everything else, we de-prioritize truth, justice, even the notion of public interest. The same is happening in Hungary, with Orbán and his party revolving around him, loyal only to him, and with party soldiers going above and beyond to prove their loyalty, often proactively.

Worse, even? That we seem to appreciate mafia-like loyalty that transcends law, morality and naturally, the public interest. People clap like baby seals to the very thing that destroys their country and puts their interests last.

Pundit after pundit goes live on TV to evaluate politicians’ moves as if they were looking at a chess game: Does the move help the politician win? Does it help to get what he wants? To get power? To get elected? To gain popularity? What people don’t understand is that what helps the politician get the power is not the same as what is good for the country and the people in it. Those are different priorities.

Loyalty is one such thing. It keeps a boss comfy in his seat – but it’s detrimental to the organization he leads. Or the country.

Analysts like to call themselves value-neutral whey they evaluate politicians. They say things like “it is good for Trump because”, or this is bad for Orbán, because…”. But neither of these means that it’s good or bad for me. The problem is that analysts aretalking to an audience that assumes that these analysts are talking about the public interest (however defined). But it couldn’t be further from the truth. When an analyst says that Politician did well, when he really means is that said Politician did well for himself. What viewers hear, however, is that Politician did well for them.

So when a politician secures loyalty (either by coercion or blackmail or populism), it really shouldn’t be celebrated. And when he demands loyalty, that should really be a red flag.

But the game of politics is not the war of two guys at the expense or their populations. Not even the war of a guy on his own population to stay in power. It should be about policy, not loyalty.

When it comes to loyalty, truth, policy, right or wrong don’t matter. That is not the modus operandi of life. That is the way armies work where obeying the order is supposed to surpass everything in priority, even the life of the soldier, and it is definitely above right or wrong.

But this is not a war. This is not an emergency. This is life, and life should be geared towards truth, facts, reality, and prosperity. I don’t care whether a politician is winning or losing. I don’t care if he is comfy in his seat. And neither should you. As a matter of fact, we are probably better off if his seat is never really secure. Keeps them honest and keeps them trying to appeal to voters – rather than growing over us and intimidating us with the help of a loyal public administration. What I care about is how it that affects my life. And not just their policies. Their communication itself influential. When they lose inhibitions and spout unacceptable intolerance, fear, hatred and antagonism, it is debilitating and damaging to the interest of the public.

Compound this confusion with the sentiment that wants to empower a strong leader and you have the toxic combination of a power-hungry leader and his loyal, uninhabited soldiers, both doing what it takes to hold and accumulate power. No regard to law, justice, just lots of lip service paid to the public interest. The public, meanwhile, keep coming up with reasons to shrug off what they cannot deny.

Loyal party soldiers are often excused for just being loyal. But that is the moral equivalent of the Nuremberg defense – and not much different in practice. When loyalty overwrites everything else, the leader will lose touch and we have all seen how it goes.

As a result, the leader’s subsequent decision-making will be formulated in a toxic environment. We can trust neither the seriousness nor the rectitude of decisions made by leaders who need not appeal to justice, morality, ideology, history, or other legitimate justifications in order to earn their subordinates’ support. And if a leader’s colleagues routinely fail to pressure-test his or her ideas, those decisions will be extremely fragile.

— Andy Smarick,

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