Orbán's grotesque speech
Cathy Young replies to Rod Dreher
Claire—On July 23, Viktor Orbán relieved himself of a grotesque speech, arguing that the West was now divided between racially pure countries like Hungary and those that like the US and France are “no longer nations: they are nothing more than a conglomeration of peoples.” Indeed, he said, countries with a notable immigrant population were “no longer the Western world, but the post-Western world,” where people “cannot bear to wake up every morning and find that their days— and indeed their whole lives—are poisoned by the thought that all is lost.”
He appealed to The Camp of the Saints, written by Jean Raspail in 1973, as “outstanding … I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the spiritual developments underlying the West’s inability to defend itself.” (The Camp of the Saints is the most nakedly racist book published since The Turner Diaries.) He predicted that white Europeans would one day wind up fleeing to Hungary with savage migrants chasing them. Hungary’s children would have to be prepared to admit the Christians, he said—but of course not the others.
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Unsurprisingly, many found these comments odious. One of his longest-serving advisors immediately quit, castigating Orbán for “a pure Nazi speech” that was “worthy of Goebbels.” (She has since retracted these comments.)
Less remarked, but just as odious, was the argument Orbán made for betraying Ukraine. Since the war began, Hungary has felt perfectly free to undermine European solidarity against Russia. Why? Hungary, Orbán explained, needn’t stick its neck out for Ukraine because Russia would never attack it: Hungary, after all, is in NATO and Russia wouldn’t dare to attack a NATO country. (On reading this, I thought it would be condign if the Supreme Allied Commander announced forthwith that NATO proposes to offer Hungary’s place in the alliance to Ukraine and throw Hungary to the wolves.)
Rod Dreher of The American Conservative, however, found much to admire in Orbán’s speech, and wrote an article extolling it: The Vision of Viktor Orbán. The title claimed that the “extraordinary speech” showed “why he is a Thatcher figure to a future Ronald Reagan.”
In response, Cathy Young wrote a piece for The Bulwark asking, Do American ‘National Conservatives’ condone Orbán’s white nationalism? (It was a rhetorical question.) Dreher replied with “Twenty more thoughts about the Viktor Orban controversy over “mixed race”—including things that hadn’t occurred to you.”
Cathy continues the discussion below.
Late last month, I wrote for The Bulwark about Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s plunge from xenophobia-tinged illiberal populism into near-overt white nationalist rhetoric in his recent speech at a Romanian summer conference—and about the bad excuses made by his conservative American fans. (Despite the outcry over the speech, which declared opposition to a “mixed-race society” and was slammed as a “Nazi diatribe” by longtime Orbán advisor Zsuzsa Hegedüs, who resigned in the aftermath—the prime minister is still scheduled to give a keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas this coming weekend.) One of the Orbán defenders I criticized, Rod Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, has penned a response to critics—myself included—which I think deserves some comment.
Most of Dreher’s blogpost, which sets forth “twenty more thoughts about the Viktor Orbán controversy over ‘mixed race’—including things that hadn't occurred to you,” elaborates on the same points he made in the original piece: Orbán really meant culture, not race; his concern is not race-mixing in the American sense, but the dilution of nationhood; specifically, he is concerned about Muslim migration to Europe because of (supposedly) abundant evidence that it’s incompatible with European culture. And, as in the original post, Dreher’s arguments are all over the place. He stresses, for instance, that the preservation of national identity and cohesiveness is likely to be a particularly acute concern for “people like the Hungarians … with their small numbers and unique (and notoriously difficult) language.” But a bit later, he acknowledges that Orbán is prepared to admit Ukrainian—but not Middle Eastern—war refugees, because “Ukrainians live right next door, and broadly share European faith and culture” while “Muslims from the Middle East and Afghanistan do not.” So it’s actually not about ethno-national identity per se but about European identity (and presumably Christian, though one may wonder, for instance, about Orbán’s stance toward refugees from the heavily irreligious Czech Republic).
What’s more, throughout the post, Dreher continues to conflate—as does Orbán—religion, culture, and ethnic/racial background. He never addresses, for instance, my point about Christian refugees from the Middle East or Africa: Would they be welcome in Orbán’s Hungary, or not?
For the record, I care deeply about the preservation of what is broadly known as “Western culture,” a concept that encompasses everything from the humanistic and liberal tradition to the artistic heritage of Europe and North America. But I also think one of the West’s strengths (notwithstanding the historical stains of colonialism and racism) has been its ability to absorb people from other parts of the world and to import elements of other cultures while exporting its own. Right now, for instance, Asians—both in Asian countries and in Europe and North America—are an indispensable part of the world of classical music, both as audiences and as performers. If, theoretically, at some point in the future the great European orchestras are more than 50 percent non-white, should that be seen as a loss of cultural identity? And if so, why?
Also for the record, I agree (and have written before) that many European countries have had real problems with the acculturation of Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. In France, for instance, there was controversy in 2017 over the Muslim-dominated suburb of Sevran, where women were unwelcome in some cafés. In Germany, a series of public sexual assaults on women on New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne prompted a debate about migration from societies where cultural norms encourage seeing “immodestly dressed” women as fair game. A 2016 poll found that slightly over half of British Muslims believe homosexual relations should be illegal, nearly half of the men and a third of the women think a wife should always obey her husband, and over a third—compared to less than 10 percent of the general British population—agree that Jews have too much power. (Some questioned these results, since the poll included only Muslims living in areas where Muslims are at least 20 percent of the total population—which leaves out about half of British Muslims and probably oversamples those less assimilated and more socially conservative.) Some immigrant communities have high crime rates, though this may have more to do with lack of economic and social resources than with religion or culture.
I will even agree that liberals and progressives have often downplayed these problems out of deference to “marginalized groups.”
But this is where, as I noted my Bulwark article, it is often difficult to disentangle facts from sensationalism and disinformation, and this is a trap Dreher does not exactly avoid when he writes, in an update to his original defense of Orbán, “It is insane that there are no-go areas all over Paris, because of Islamic migrant violence.” Are there high-crime urban areas—or “Sensitive Urban Areas,” as they officially called in France? Yes. (That’s a problem hardly limited to countries with large numbers of Muslim migrants.) Do some of those areas have problems with gang activity and Islamist radicalism? Also true. But these social ills stem from problems far more complex than “Islamic migrant violence,” and the claim of “no-go zones” is absurdly hyperbolic.1
In any case, Dreher’s defense of Orbán on the grounds that there are real problems with migration is a red herring. Plenty of people have discussed problem with the acculturation of migrants (including Angela Merkel in 2010!) without being compared to Nazis. Nor does anyone demand that small, ethnically homogeneous nations such as Hungary or Finland admit masses of migrants that will reduce the country’s core ethnicity to a minority. It’s just that one should be able to talk about these issues without denouncing the mixing of “races” (even if, by “race,” you don’t quite mean race) and without lavishing praise on a novel (The Camp of the Saints) that Dreher himself admits is terrible and grotesquely racist.
One should also be able, by the way, to discuss these issues without talking (as Dreher does) about “importing large numbers of people.” It’s a standard phrase in anti-immigration rhetoric, and it really needs to go. People are not cattle or chickens (or cars, or sneakers, or other consumer goods). It’s dehumanizing, and it quite literally denies migrants any agency.
Lastly: in his direct response to me, Dreher’s defense of Orbán takes a rather … disturbing turn.
Over at The Bulwark, Cathy Young lays into me and other supporters of Orban (but mostly me) for supposedly favoring “ethnonationalism.” Bill Kristol tweets his agreement. This is curious, and not just because I reject the idea that the United States is or should be ethnonationalist. It’s because both Young and Kristol are Jewish, and supporters of the State of Israel and its right to exist, as am I. In what sense, then, are they not in favor of ethnonationalism? Is it only okay to think of your people as belonging to a nation that has a right to exist on its own terms if you’re Jewish, but not if you are Magyar?
I say “disturbing” because, until now, responding to pro-immigration writers who happen to be Jewish with “Oh yeah? Well, what about open borders for Israel?” has been almost exclusively an alt-right trope. Honestly, seeing it from a mainstream conservative like Dreher wasn’t, as they say, on my 2022 bingo card.
But also: Does Dreher realize that non-Jews (not just Arab Muslims, but Christians of various ethnic backgrounds as well as Druze communities) make up nearly a quarter of the population of Israel? This is even aside from the fact that the question of “ethnonationalism” in Israel is particularly complex because of the intersection of religion and ethnic ancestry in the definition of Jewishness, and that Jews are racially diverse in the modern Western sense of “race”—ranging from “white” to “brown” to “black.”
Obviously, Israeli law (the law of Aliyah) privileges Jewish migration. Some European countries with a core ethnic group—including Germany—also give priority admission to immigrants who share that ancestry. No one, to my knowledge, has attacked these policies as racist.
However, plenty of people have scathingly criticized Israel’s 2018 “nation-state law” backed by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which stated that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people,” established Hebrew as the country’s sole official language while downgrading Arabic, and endorsed “Jewish settlement as a national value” to be promoted by the state. One Cathy Young criticized it in a Newsday column titled “Israel’s dangerous nationalist drift.” My criticism was also directed at Netanyahu’s alliance with an ultranationalist party that advocates the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel and Palestinian territories, described as “Judeofascists” by strongly pro-Israel commentator Eli Lake. Dreher seems to think that if you’re pro-Israel, you’re pro-ethnonationalism. Nope. (Bari Weiss, another strong supporter of Israel, gave a blunt “Frankly, yes” answer to the question of whether Netanyahu was a racist in a 2019 appearance at the 92nd Street Y in New York.)
Dreher also takes Kristol and me to task for failing to appreciate that Orbán has supposedly turned Hungary into a safe haven for Jews. He quotes Hungarian historian Laszlo Bernát Veszprémy, who writes in a Newsweek column that while anti-Semitism has been skyrocketing in the rest of Europe, it’s a minor problem in Hungary—precisely, Veszprémy suggests, because of the absence of Islamic migrants.
Again: there are real problems of anti-Semitism among migrants from countries where, in many cases, hatred of Jews is routinely preached by clerics or woven into state propaganda. But yet again, the picture Dreher paints (citing Veszprémy) is vastly oversimplified. The same claim—that Jews in Europe are much safer under right-wing populist governments than under liberal ones—was made in 2018 by Commentary blogger Evelyn Gordon. I delved into it at the time, also for The Bulwark, and found that the data actually paint a far more complicated picture.
Yes, a major 2018 survey of European Jews found that “only” 46 percent of Jews in Hungary said that hostility toward Jews in public places was a major problem in their country, compared to 52 percent in the United Kingdom, 69 percent in Sweden, 80 percent in Germany, and a staggering 91 percent in France. Yet the actual share of Hungarian Jews who said they had experienced anti-Semitic comments or threats in person in the past 12 months—17 percent—was roughly similar to the numbers in France (15 percent), the U.K. (16 percent), and Sweden (19 percent). One reason for the mismatch between personal experience and perception of a general problem may be more public discussion of the issue in Western Europe. (Granted, the number of German Jews who reported in-person slurs or threats in the same survey was considerably higher and genuinely shocking, at 29 percent.) In addition, about three-quarters of Jews in Hungary believed there was a major problem with anti-Semitism in their country’s politics—more than in any country in Western Europe except for the UK, where left-wing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has been the cause of massive controversy.
Veszprémy also stresses that the recorded number of anti-Semitic hate incidents in Hungary (“no more than 70” in 2020, “of which only one was physical”) is dramatically lower than in Germany (2,700 in 2021) and in other European countries. But, without denying the seriousness of the problem in Germany, these comparisons are almost meaningless because different countries do not measure hate incidents the same way.
I don’t know anything about Veszprémy, except that he appears to be one of Dreher’s favorite Hungarian intellectuals. But I did come across an article from a year ago in which he tries to explain away, not very convincingly, the Orbán government’s historical revisionism intended to minimize Hungarian collaboration in the Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II. Veszprémy acknowledges that Hungarian collaborators, including the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross government, were directly involved in organizing deportations, death marches and executions; yet, bizarrely, he thinks Orbán’s acknowledgment in 2017 that “the government of Hungary made a mistake, moreover, committed a sin when it did not protect its citizens of Jewish heritage” is a sufficient rebuttal to the charge of revisionism and minimization. So pardon me if I don’t consider Veszprémy an especially objective source.
The bottom line: I don’t think Dreher’s further explications make a remotely convincing case that Orbán’s speech did not deserve the opprobrium, or that Dreher’s defense of Orbán as a great conservative visionary (“a Thatcher figure to a future Ronald Reagan”) was justifiable. If Orbán is Thatcher today, I’d hate to see Dreher’s idea of the next Reagan. What’s more, Dreher’s bizarre attempt to play the Jewish card in his response to Kristol and me suggests that membership in Orbán lovefests has a bad effect on a person’s character.
Cathy Young is a writer at The Bulwark, a columnist for Newsday, and a contributing editor to Reason. Twitter: @CathyYoung63.
Postscript from Claire—I was astonished that Dreher felt this was a strong argument:
In America, given our history, to protest against “race mixing” has a clear and unambiguously ugly meaning, one that decent people must reject. It is unfair, though, to apply the American framework to Europe, which has a very different history.
Yes, Europe certainly does have a different history. Does the word Rassenschande ring a bell? (Orban chastely refrained from using it, but it was right there on the tip of his tongue.) Someone unfamiliar with the word might wish to refrain from expatiating on European race relations. He could wind up in the ludicrous position of suggesting that Europe’s historic views on “race mixing” are less “unambiguously ugly” than America’s.
Claire—the claim of “no-go” areas in Paris is not merely hyperbolic, but strictly and laughably false. It would be insane if there were no-go zones “all over Paris,” but since there aren’t, what’s insane is believing this. There are indeed “Sensitive Urban Areas,” in France, but not in Paris—the most photographed city in the world, the world’s top tourist attraction, and France’s cash cow. If Dreher doubts this, I invite him to come to Paris, where I’ll take him by the arm and walk him through any neighborhood in the city, at any time of day. I’m prepared to place a very large bet on the proposition that we can not only go to any neighborhood in Paris, but leave. Alive. So he really needn’t embrace Orbán’s Schweinerei on my behalf. We’re just fine here in our mongrelized, denatured, post-Western Paris, protected by our “Soros-affiliated troops,” as Orbán calls them (or as we call them, the Police Nationale).
I’ve tried again and again to explain that this mishegoss about the terrifying no-go zones of Paris is not to be taken seriously. I’ve visited every last arrondissement and suburb of Paris. I can honestly say that I’ve seen them all, and I am certain that no, there are no no-go zones. Not a one.
The myth of the French no-go zone originated with Daniel Pipes, who used the term in 2006. In 2013, I took him on the same tour I now offer Rod Dreher. He and I had a good time. He was satisfied that we were able to stroll through any neighborhood in or around Paris, and with admirable integrity, he retracted the claim. As he wrote:
I stopped and made purchases, had a meal, or visited a mosque. … I then “left,” none the worse for the experience. My forays into the ZUS suggest that they are in fact go-zones for innocuous civilians.
But it was too late. The myth wouldn’t die. It has since been helped along considerably by Russian propagandists: Russia Today’s journalists used to pitch up and feign exaggerated horror at the sight of immigrants minding their own business. They’d shove their cameras into their faces while a voiceover solemnly intoned: “Paris, overrun by filthy and dangerous migrant hordes … The locals cannot bear to wake up every morning and find that their days— and indeed their whole lives—are poisoned by the thought that all is lost … ”