Orbán’s Rebellion, Liberal Democracy and Trump’s War in Syria

Hungary’s strongman challenges liberal democracy in Europe. Donald Trump has no policy for the war in Syria.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is likely to win reelection on Sunday. The Washington Post has a good story about the rebellion the EU faces in Central Europe. For more on the political trends Orbán embodies, read:

  • Jan-Werner Müller: We are doing Orbán a great favor by accepting him as any kind of democrat. It is democracy itself — and not just liberalism — that is under attack in his country.
  • Tom Nuttall: Orbán’s depiction of himself as an illiberal democrat is largely window-dressing. Were his pollsters to discover that voters were no longer animated by immigration, he would manufacture a different foe. Orbán’s ideologues assemble theoretical scaffolding to justify the channelling of state resources to favored businessmen under the rubric of “economic patriotism”. The EU harbors not an illiberal democracy, but a semi-autocratic kleptocracy in which loyalty offers the quickest route to riches.
  • Dani Rodrik: Liberal democracy is being undermined by a tendency to emphasize “liberal” at the expense of “democracy.” The European Union represents the apogee of this tendency: the delegation of policy to technocratic bodies.
  • Philip Stephens: The West misread the collapse of Soviet communism. It was not, after all, the end of history. Happy assumptions about the permanent hegemony of laissez-faire capitalism and the historical inevitability of liberal democracy were rooted in a hubris that invited nemesis. For all that, the end of the Cold War did produce a big idea. Now, as we are daily reminded by Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, it is being swapped for a very bad idea.

What is Trump’s Syria policy?

Fred Kaplan writes in Slate that, a year after firing 59 cruise missiles at Syria, President Trump has yet to formulate a policy for the war.

His military advisors have persuaded the president to keep around 2,000 troops in Syria in order to finish the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State and not cede the initiative to Iran, Russia and Turkey. However, Trump’s desire is clearly to get out — and then what?

In The American Interest, Josef Joffe calls retreat a folly. “It is a lot safer and cheaper to stay than to fight your way in again,” he argues.

Iran and Russia are staying for keeps and they would be delirious with joy to see the United States fold, thus strengthening their hold on the larger Middle East.

Radicalization in America’s culture war

Andrew Sullivan argues that unwinding the authoritarian impulse is the center-right’s most urgent task in America’s culture war, just as tempering the zealotry of the social justice movement is the most urgent task for moderate liberals.

Neither is doing well.

The right has almost entirely surrendered to Donald Trump. The left is being radicalized by identitarians. And the two feed off each other, as Dalibor Rohac has pointed out.

What makes the two extremes so dangerous, according to Rohac, is not what they propose — “even though their practical policy prescription are oftentimes asinine” — but rather their uncompromising, absolutist style.

Right-wing radicals … tend to see legal constraints on political power, independent judiciary and free media as undesirable hurdles in advancing the interests of those who gave them their political mandate. Those on the identitarian left sometimes argue that Western-style liberal democracies are founded, as political systems, on white supremacy and patriarchy and that standard political institutions exist with the purpose of protecting the privileges of white, heterosexual males.

Rohac recommends investing in the “mushy middle,” where policy ideas can be debated and compromises reached without the name-calling and anger such exchanges tend to generate in highly factionalized settings.