Only a useful idiot can think that Orbán is about conservatism.
Even conservative academic outlets couldn’t avoid Orbán’s censorship – even though they used to be the ones spreading the word of how OK Orbán is.
Századvég has been an Orbán-friendly think tank that hasn’t stopped winning taxpayer money ever since Orbán came back into power in 2010. Prodigal amounts of money. In exchange for the money, there were supposed to deliver – no, not advise or constructive criticism. Only loyalism.
That was the mistake the august group of very wise scholars of Századvég made when they published a thematic issue of their academic journal on rent seeking. Yes, you heard it right. In Christ’s 2018th and Orbán’s 8th year in power they still thought they could get away with it – as long as they do it with the heartfelt intention of giving good advise to Orbán about how he should run his economy.
One scholar even made the tiny observation that ever since 2010, rent seeking had been executed on a grand scale and with patriotic ideology and that it crowds out competition, distorts the market, resulting in efficiency losses – and it might even be incompatible with a democratic order. (In case you have missed it, rent seeking is the same as corruption.)
These men obviously believed hard that their little professional opinions matter. They shouldn’t have. And for everyone else it was blatantly obvious that you can’t do that here anymore. This is not the country where helpful intentions are tolerated. Orbánism only has place for aggressive, hysterical loyalism – not for helpful advise.
But the scholars of Századvég wanted to believe. If they openly accepted that their job is to thoughtlessly serve and assist to the building of Orbán’s power they could not have called themselves scholars anymore. So they clung to the illusion – and acted accordingly.
Those who want to believe will always find a reason to believe. Many people, intelligentsia or otherwise, have been laboring under the misapprehension that they are participating in some principled, “conservative” movement – not just assisting to state capture. It felt better – it will always feel better – than admitting that this is not the ideological baby they labored with. They feel helpless to change the regime – but they can always change their minds about it, distance themselves from its most dictatorial moves, blame scandals on bad apples, believe that the good king doesn’t know and wouldn’t want it to happen.
Much like women in sexist societies, these men believed they were kept for their brains – not for ideological arm candy. But the truth is that both functions (being used as a female or being used as a scholar) require the same thing: to tell everyone that it is not what it looks like. That you diet and exercise for yourself, not because you would be dumped otherwise. That you love this guy, don’t just depend from him financially. That you have pleasure when he has sex on you, not just relief when he finishes.
Much like sister wives of a bald thug, scholars are dependent from the autocrat. And they claim that they love him despite his faults. And that they are there voluntarily. In this vein, they told everyone that they knew Orbán personally, they just haven’t met him for ages because he is busy. They told everyone that this is not an autocracy, this is not just a power-seeking gang that took over every state position, this is not just about the wholesale theft of taxpayer money, European or otherwise. No. This is conservatism. This is christianism. This is just right wing governance and persecuted for it.
They said this at home and abroad. When you want to believe, you will tell everyone, investing all your professional and personal reputation that it is all just… It is not what it looks like. The criticism is just… And those who want to believe abroad, those who want to ignore Orbán’s antics – they will lap up these testaments, thirstily, as proof that there is nothing they should be doing, no difficult choices to make, so they can get down to their own power business.
Telling everyone this regime is about conservatism was thus easy for these scholars. It was motivated by their own need to save face – and their audience wanted to hear that desperately. These claims were much in demand by those who also wanted to believe.
But just like the blond bimbo, a dependent scholar is also net welcome to give advise. Imagine the blonde advising her thug of a boyfriend on driving. Or how to invest green. The bimbo would be punched – or just dumped so fast she would learn her place once and for all. And that is what happened to the professors. They also believed that their advise is needed – and that was a mistake.
Authoritarianism is always the same, whether it is on personal or political relationship, whether it is done in the name of one religion or the other, one -ism or the other. When you depend, you love. When you deny that you depend, you will be punched. If you believe that it is about principles, gods or -isms, you are in for a cold awakening. So when you give advice to an autocrat on how to fulfill election promises and improve the economy, he will go WTF. That’s not what he grabbed power for. And if you try to align your precious -ism with what is happening right now, you will have a lot of cognitive dissonance to deal with.
Even the pre-1989 autocracy encouraged what they called ‘constructive criticism’. It was the idea that you are allowed to criticize something – as long as you suggested a better alternative. For those whose mind is less ideologically clouded, the two traps in this proposition are obvious:
- One couldn’t fix one thing while leaving the disaster of the planned economy- and ultimately the regime – unchanged.
- It also happened to be a useful tool to let naive dissenters out themselves.
Because make no mistake, in an autocracy every criticism is seen as an attack on the regime (see #1 above). But they encourage it because it is always a useful thing to know who among your ranks thinks everything is not awesome. And is dumb enough to say so. Those naive idealist are useful. Out them, report them, show your loyalty to your overlord.
Orbán, on the other hand, doesn’t even encourage suggestions for improvement. Maybe in his personal dealings with people, when the few who are allowed near him need to be cajoled and made to feel important to go out and do some more of Orbán’s bidding. But the system has never asked for advise on how to run an economy or a country. Not even gentle, loving advise from deeply supportive, conservative economists.
Publishing a thematic issue on the topic of rent seeking in the country where the corruption is admittedly the feature of the system – not a bug – cut straight into the artery. And even though no one would ever read such a journal and it would make no difference to Orbán’s regime, this one was not allowed to fly. The deeply supportive, conservative economists were made a precedent out of.
After the issue was published the journal’s own parent foundation backpedaled, fired the editors and issued a statement that the offending issue was retracted and the journal will “support the government’s line” from now on.
And it wasn’t even the first such conservative journal. A month earlier Kommentár met the same fate, having spent a few months as a kind of internal opposition to Fidesz, arguing for conservative purism – a thing that no one really cares about in government. So one day Orbán’s loyalists swarmed the journal’s offices, the editorial board had been replaced, and the new leadership promised “to be more conservative than ever” and more “pro-government”.