Fifty-seven years ago a young Hungarian poet and journalist, who had escaped into Austria over the border only days before, set out for the U.S. Embassy in Vienna to apply for an immigration visa. The line of applicants, when he eventually reached the embassy, stretched out for about seven blocks. He dutifully joined the queue until a passing friend saw him and dragged him out of it.
“Gyorgy,” he said, “why waste your time queueing as if we were still in Budapest? Come along with me to the Canadian Embassy. There’s only a small line there.”
Gyorgy considered this. He was slightly dubious.
“I don’t know anything about Canada,” he replied. “What kind of country is it? I don’t want to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.”
“What’s there to know?” said the friend. “It’s next door to America and it’s ruled by the Queen of England.”
Gyorgy pondered this. Ruled by the Queen of England, eh? (He was half-way to being a Canadian already.) That probably meant you could call your soul your own, that the policemen didn’t make up the laws as they went along, and that he would be free to write without submitting his work to a state censor.
“I’ll give it a try,” he said.
Last week Gyorgy (now plain George) Jonas was invited by the Queen through her governor general in Ottawa to become a member of the Order of Canada, which is a signal honor akin to the Silver Medal of Freedom in the U.S. or the Order of the British Empire in Britain. In the intervening more-than-half century he has written operas, operettas, plays, poems, novels, major works of non-fiction, television programs, radio programs, magazine articles, and in particular a twice-weekly column of political commentary from a consistently principled classical-liberal standpoint that Canadians of all political stripes feel they have to read. Today he is Canada’s preeminent conservative public intellectual and, as Mark Steyn pointed out a few years ago in this space, that description remains true when you remove the word “conservative” from it. It is hard to believe that Canada would have had a conservative government for the last few years if George had not prepared the intellectual ground for it so thoroughly, so creatively, and so wittily.
My wife’s response to this is to curse the inadequate welcoming arrangements at the U.S. Embassy in 1956. She thinks America needs George more than Canada which is, alas, truer today than then. But I don’t think that George would desert the Queen. They must have occasionally disappointed each other, mainly when Her Majesty’s government fell under the frivolous-left influence of Pierre Trudeau, but these days they seem to get on better all the time. Besides the U.S. lacks some Canadian traditions that must appeal to a man who writes operettas.
Americans must therefore content themselves with taking out a subscription to Canada’s National Post (where George appears twice weekly) or with buying one of his many books on Amazon. My recommendation would be his superbly readable blend of memoirs and reflections, Beethoven’s Mask, which in its Hungarian version goes under the alarming title “History on a Broomstick.” Whatever you choose, though, you can’t go wrong.
Congratulations, George, to you and Canada both. Australia and New Zealand must be kicking themselves.