1. Beyond the “Fanaticism of the Center”: Giving Poland and Hungary Their (Qualified) Due
Do Poland and Hungary remain free countries? Yes. Is there fear in the streets of Warsaw, Budapest, and other Polish and Hungarian cities? No. Observers should not confuse Orban’s animosity toward George Soros with anti-Semitism. Soros, a partisan of transnationalism and radical libertarianism, shows little respect for the Jewish religion and is no friend of the state of Israel. Applebaum is right about one thing: Polish elites are divided in two, and old friendships, including political friendships, have been severed. But elections are free, and political liberty is intact.
Let us return to the question of the “fanaticism of the center” of which Pierre Manent has spoken. As Daniel Pipes points out, the “6Ps: police, politicians, press, priests, professors, and prosecutors” in the rest of Europe remain blind to Islamist fanaticism. They are fully convinced of the historical “culpability” of the old “liberal and Christian civilization.” In Ireland, Catholic hospitals are now commanded to perform abortions, an abomination by any standard. In France, one can be imprisoned for two years for trying to persuade a pregnant woman not to have an abortion. In Canada, a refusal to endorse and uphold the “metaphysical madness” of the new language of human self-identification that accompanies gender theory is punishable under the law.
Is this the noble democracy that our ancestors swore to uphold?
Legutko makes the wholly persuasive case that the Poles associated with Solidarnosc thought they were fighting for truth, moral nobility, classical metaphysics, respect for religion, and the family. They believed in a democratic republicanism that bowed before the goodness and greatness of God. They were, Legutko suggests, insufficiently appreciative of the nihilist turn taken in the West, which began in the 1960s but whose theoretical roots long predated those momentous days.
We should not romanticize the countercultural efforts of the Poles and Hungarians. That is even more true of the more unsavory civilizationalist parties and movements in Austria, Greece, and elsewhere. But until the broad center of the intellectual and political spectrum steps away from its flirtation with nihilism and post-political illusions, we must show more understanding for those who wish to save the remnant of Western civilization that still exists.
Lévy and Applebaum confuse conservative patriotism, albeit of a clumsy and defensive sort, with an incipient authoritarianism, even totalitarianism. They could not be more wrong. They are blind to the myriad ways that late-modern democracy is in the process of losing its soul. They do not see that it is becoming a new form of coercion and authoritarianism, not unlike the “democratic despotism” of which Tocqueville warned. The conflagration is much broader and deeper than they suppose. True liberals, who are also true conservatives, have every reason to be wary—and not just about events in Poland and Hungary.