Heritage Foundation Joins Hungarian Strongman’s Religious Right Fan Club

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Image from France 24.

Hungary’s anti-immigrant, anti-Semitism-inflaming, checks-and-balances-dismantling, power-consolidating president Viktor Orbán has been the object of adoration by American Religious Right leaders for his Christian-nation rhetoric and “pro-family” policies. On Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez joined the club, calling Orbán a “maverick” and promoting his project to “replace the shipwreck of liberal democracy by building 21st Century Christian democracy.”

In the same way that American Christian nationalists decry this country’s growing pluralism, their European allies portray the European Union as a hellhole of decadent, tyrannical secularism and invading Islam that must be saved by champions of “Christian civilization” like Vladimir Putin and Orbán. At Heritage’s Daily Signal, Gonzalez wrote:

As Europe has de-Christianized, at best it has evolved into a values-free, empty husk. At worst it has become a supranational entity that pretends adherence to hate-speech codes, mandatory work rules, open borders, and coercion of everyone into publicly affirming lifestyles they find repugnant—all violations of different freedoms, and ironically of liberalism itself—now form “European values.”

Orban thumbs his nose at European Union pieties with gusto, which is why he can be forgiven if he uses provocative terms to attract attention to an important project.

Gonzalez claimed that Orbán “really doesn’t have a beef with liberal democracy, if understood as a system of representative government where the rule of the majority is checked by constitutional guarantees for minority rights and checks and balances prevents tyranny.”

That feels like the kind of truth-be-damned apologetics that conservatives in the U.S. are engaged in regarding President Trump. Orbán has aggressively set about dismantling checks and balances by attacking the independence of the media, courts, and civil society. In fact, he declared in 2014, “‘Checks and balances’ is a U.S. invention that for some reason of intellectual mediocrity Europe decided to adopt and use in European politics.”

Freedom House calls Hungary under Orbán the “least democratic country” in the European Union, and even some conservative writers have publicly sounded an alarm over Orbán’s authoritarianism and historical revisionism, reflected in the government’s Memorial to the Victims of the German Occupation, which downplays Hungarian collaboration in the Holocaust. In defending the memorial, Orbán said that the victims of the Nazi occupation, “whether Orthodox, Christian, or without faith became the victims of a dictatorship that embodied an anti-Christian school of thought.”

To his credit, Gonzalez recognized that there are some “obvious downsides” to the Hungarian “maverick,” noting that ethnicity is at the centerpiece of Orbán’s anti-immigrant agenda – he calls Hungarians “a unique species.” Orbán is no Thomas Jefferson, Gonzalez acknowledged, writing, “If you believe that all men are created equal, are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that governments are instituted ‘to secure these rights’ and ‘the blessings of liberty,’ then the type of state that Orban wants to build is likely not your bag.”

But Orbán’s ethnic nationalism is “less of an indictment of Orban than one would think,” Gonzalez said, because Hungary isn’t America and Hungarians are “more ethnically separate than most.”

Orbán is trying to “reconstruct a sense of nation,” Gonzalez wrote. “By attempting to reintroduce the Judeo-Christian ethic into a secularized Europe, Orban arguably is giving Europe a chance to do just that.” Orbán’s “values model could have a lot to offer” Americans and Western Europeans, he said. And “we must remember,” Gonzalez wrote, “that even though safeguarding freedom must be our central animating spirit, to do that, we too, must preserve America’s unique culture.”

Former White House adviser Steve Bannon sounded a similar theme in a recent speech in Budapest, calling Orbán the “Trump before Trump” and praising his efforts to ensure the “survival of the Judeo-Christian West.”