The Corner

Politics & Policy

Liberal Democracy and Us

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In Hungary, the U.S. embassy showed some lead in its pencil, sticking up for liberal-democratic values. I thought this was a remarkable thing. Here’s what happened:

One of the Orbán outlets, a magazine called “Figyelo,” published an enemies list — a list of Enemies of the State. On it were members of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, for example. Also on it were two prominent scholars — Yehuda Elkana and Ernest Gellner — who have long been dead. Maybe they are plotting against the state from Beyond, instead of studying their books?

Orbán, along with his fellows, has been getting franker. And the franker the better, I say. In the last election, he used rhetoric that was more common in the Thirties than now. Good — let it out in the open. No pussyfootin’ around, as George C. Wallace used to say.

Back to the U.S. embassy: After the enemies list came out, our guys tweeted, “Civil society = ordinary citizens working to make their country a better place. The United States condemns #Figyelo’s attempt to intimidate these citizens.”

This is the sort of thing that makes one — or makes me — proud to be an American.

As he was leaving his post at the White House, H. R. McMaster gave a speech. He said many important things, one of which made my eyes widen: “Even in the United States and in other free nations, some journalists, academics, public officials, and saddest of all young people have developed and promulgated idealized, warped views of tyrannical regimes.”

Yes, indeed. I see it nearly every day. It is an important phenomenon of our time.

I said above that I appreciate frankness, and I appreciate Pat Buchanan for this very quality. Other Buchananites pussyfoot around, engaging in little prevarications and shadings, so as not to seem too “out there.” The original Buchananite will have none of it: He lets it all hang out — he makes himself perfectly clear — which, again, I appreciate.

Late in the 2016 campaign, when Donald Trump was refusing to say whether he would accept the result of the election, Buchanan wrote that the “populist-nationalist Right” was “moving beyond the niceties of liberal democracy to save the America they love.”

He has now turned his pen to Hungary, and other nations going in an illiberal direction. “The democracy worshippers of the West cannot compete with the authoritarians in meeting the crisis of our time because they do not see what is happening to the West as a crisis.” The phrase “democracy worshippers” is an interesting one. The frank use of the term “authoritarians” is also interesting.

Hungarians, writes Buchanan, “have used democratic means to elect autocratic men who will put the Hungarian nation first.” Trump, as you know, revived the old slogan “America First.” He has promoted, by retweeting, a U.K. group, Britain First. This is an extremist organization that makes no pretense of democracy. The Conservative prime minister, Theresa May, said so, which made Trump cross.

“To much of the world,” writes Buchanan, “America has become the most secularized and decadent society on earth, and the title the Ayatollah bestowed upon us, ‘The Great Satan,’ is not altogether undeserved.”

See what I mean about Pat? While other Buchananites try to stay within shouting distance of the “mainstream,” PJB simply says what he thinks, speaking for shyer, or more careful, others. And the mainstream has moved his way. Buchanan is winning.

For many years, there has been a battle on the right between Reaganism and Buchananism. The latter was always shellacked by the former. No longer.

According to my nose, liberal democracy is in bad odor on the right these days. The juice, the affections, are with Orbán, the Le Pens, the AfD, and the rest of the illiberals. That “whole global movement,” as Nigel Farage says. But I think of something that John Bolton says, about American leadership in the world, which many people on various continents resent: “They’ll miss us when we’re gone.”

Oh, yes. The same is true of liberal democracy, I think. People may think that it is weak and useless, but they would miss it sorely if it went away — especially if they were on the wrong end of illiberalism, as people, of all stripes, often wind up being. The “niceties of liberal democracy” turn out to be necessities of the life you want to be part of.


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