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The Treason of the Conservatives

By championing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his model of venal “conservative” rule, Western critics of liberalism have clarified where they really stand. When the chips are down, they would be more than willing to sacrifice democracy and sanction industrial-scale theft.

BUDAPEST – The global far right is gloating. After recent setbacks, one of their standard-bearers, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, won an overwhelming victory in this month’s parliamentary election. While figures like the Italian nationalist politician Matteo Salvini have appeared to pay a price for their past adulation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, the runner-up in the first round of the French presidential elections, and Orbán (Putin’s closest ally in the European Union, and also a servant of China) most certainly did not.

Assorted post-liberal, illiberal, and anti-liberal intellectuals have long celebrated Orbán’s Hungary as a nationalist-conservative Disneyland (where men are still men and women are still women). Now, they are hailing him as the true leader of the West, whose electoral victory must be seen as a decisive popular rejection of liberalism. But their willingness to justify even the most unsavory aspects of Orbán’s rule demonstrates something that was already evident during Donald Trump’s one-term presidency in the United States: they will pay any price for their illiberal policy preferences to be realized, even accepting authoritarianism and kleptocracy.

The Hungarian election was free but not fair, because it was held under a system that international observers have rightly described as electoral autocracy. Those falling for Orbán’s self-advertising as an “illiberal democrat” have bought into the idea that democracy is real so long as the ruling party does not openly stuff the ballot boxes. But democracy requires more than fraud-free elections; it also requires the effective use of essential rights, not least a free media environment in which parties can make their case to citizens.