I didn’t know Balint Vazsonyi very well, but like many conservatives I came to admire him before he died of cancer last week at the age of 66.
It was impossible not to respect the guy. Vazsonyi was an immigrant from Hungary — a refugee of Communism — who achieved distinction as a concert pianist. According to the Washington Times obituary
, he once played all of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas in the order they were composed over the course of a single weekend. Late in life he also became an eloquent spokesman for the American constitutional order. He ran the Center for the American Founding
, toured the country promoting
the founding principles of his adopted country, and wrote a best-selling book, America’s 30 Years War
It’s been said that nobody appreciates the United States like a person who wasn’t born here, and Vazsonyi expressed a Tocquevillean love of country. “By the time I got my citizenship in 1964, I was grateful and immensely proud to be told by the judge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that I would not be a Hungarian-American, nor any other hyphenated American,” he wrote in his book. “While no one suggested then, or has since, that I disown or forget my upbringing, I was now simply and officially, American.”
My personal encounters with Vazsonyi were limited. I once visited his home at the Watergate complex, and we would chat at various functions around Washington, D.C. We also engaged in a spirited debate. In 2001, my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru and I proposed amending the Constitution to permit foreign-born Americans to serve as president — half seriously, and half on a lark. Vazsonyi, an immigrant with a deeper understanding of the United States than most native-born Americans, dissented. I replied to him the next day, suggesting that Vazsonyi was exactly the sort of immigrant we had in mind and proposing a candidacy in 2008. Vazsonyi blushed and demurred: “The reason I am so certain about the special nature of American tolerance is precisely my own inability to acquire, even to emulate, it — and that after 40-plus years of trying.”
At that point, I just shrugged and decided he was entitled to his opinion — which, incidentally, is probably more shared by ordinary Americans than my own. Presidential timber or not, there’s no denying Balint Vazsonyi was a great patriot who will be sorely missed.